Sunday, September 4, 2016
Ash vs. Evil Dead - Bait
Sam Raimi trusts Ash in the hands of a different writer and director.
Sam Raimi got the Starz television series Ash vs. Evil Dead, the follow-up to his classic horror trilogy of The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness, started off in the right way, directing the pilot episode and co-writing the teleplay with his brother Ivan and Tom Spezialy. The pilot was the only episode of the show's ten episode first season to be written or directed by Raimi, though. Not counting non-canon video games and comic books, the show's second episode is the first chapter in the story of franchise hero Ash not to be directed or written by Sam Raimi. (There was an Evil Dead remake directed by Fede Alvarez, but Ash wasn't featured.)
Writing duties on this episode fell to Dominic Dierkes, a former staff writer on The Onion News Network who has written for shows like Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory and Workaholics. Shows I have no familiarity with at all. The lucky filmmaker who took on the responsibility of taking the helm from Raimi was Michael J. Bassett, who has several genre credits to his name - Deathwatch, Wilderness, Solomon Kane, and Silent Hill: Revelation.
Bassett and Dierkes' episode picks up at the exact moment the pilot ended on, with Bruce Campbell's Ash having accepted the role of El Jefe/The Chosen One in the battle against the evil forces unleashed by the Book of the Dead, thirty years after his previous experiences fighting the Deadites. With the evil running rampant in the streets of Dearborn, Michigan, Ash and his new cohorts Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) argue over what their course of action should be: Kelly's father had called her to tell her that her mother, who died six months earlier, has suddenly shown up at their home, so she understandably wants Ash to help her save her dad. Instead, Ash wants to take the Book of the Dead to an expert to figure out how to stop this Deadite plague that he started by reading from the book in a moment of drunken, stoned stupidity. If he can do that, he'll be saving more than just one dad.
The decision is made for Ash when one of his sidekicks steals the Book of the Dead to force him to go to Kelly's house. So he hits the road in his 1973 Oldsmobile, the same car he had in The Evil Dead that has since appeared in every movie Sam Raimi has made, and dives back into the action.
It was always known that the music of Ash vs. Evil Dead would be good, because the same composer who provided the score for the original trilogy, Joseph LoDuca, is also the show's musical composer. What's a cool added bonus is the classic rock that has been included in the soundtrack. The first episode was bookended by songs by Deep Purple and The Amboy Dukes, and here we get another Deep Purple song - "Highway Star" - playing over the bloody action that takes place in Ash's Oldsmobile. This episode closes out with some Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
I also have to commend the decision to make Ash vs. Evil Dead a half hour show rather than an hourlong, because it is really working out for the show so far. These first two episodes blast along at a quick, fun pace without a second of filler. They stick to the point - although there are some cutaways to disgraced Michigan State Police officer Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) as she follows Ash's trail, seeking to find the source of this demonic activity that caused the death of her partner, the episode keeps most of its focus on Ash's journey to Kelly's parents' place and his interactions with her folks.
Bassett doesn't quite have the level of flair to his direction as Raimi does, but did a fine job with this episode, and does throw in some wonky camera angles here and there, most notably in a moment when he has the camera mounted to the end of Ash's shotgun.
There's also some fun to be had in the staging of certain shots. When Ash gets to Kelly's house, he finds her mother acting completely normally, claiming to have been wandering with amnesia rather than dead - you see, she crashed her car off a bridge, and her body was never found. Ash is fairly certain that mama is a Deadite, but he has to bide his time, waiting for her to show her true colors. During this time, he has dinner with the family, with his shotgun still strapped on his back but his chainsaw set off to the side. I found it really funny to see the chainsaw sitting on the counter in the background of the shots of Kelly's mom sitting at the table, smiling and talking to her family.
Kelly's mom is played by Mimi Rogers, an actress I haven't seen in anything for a while, although her IMDb page tells me that she is still working quite regularly. I was somewhat surprised to see her show up on this show, and in such a small role, but she was a welcome presence.
For the first bit of Ash/Evil Dead without Sam Raimi calling the shots, 'Bait' is an excellent continuation of the story and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Dierkes wrote some great, very funny dialogue, and Bassett carried the torch without a stumble.