[Warning: The following contains images of extreme horror gore of a very cartoonish variety. Nevertheless, it may prove disturbing.]
You don't need to be familiar with the Evil Dead films in order to enjoy Starz's new series Ash vs. Evil Dead, which premieres on Halloween. But if you're curious about what references you might be missing, we're here to help.
How it all started
In 1978, friends Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell decided to take a chance and make a short comedy-horror film called Within the Woods starring Campbell as one of the hapless vacationers who gets slaughtered while spending a weekend in a remote cabin. The short was good enough to draw $90,000 in funding for a full-length feature, which became...
The Evil Dead(1983)
Campbell got upped to leading man (as opposed to first casualty) to play Ashley J. "Ash" Williams for the first time in the franchise. Ash and four other college students go to a cabin, which, by now is clearly never going to be on our vacation destination list. Thanks to a tape recording of incantations from the Naturom Demonto, a Sumerian version of the Book of the Dead, evil demons and spirits descend upon them, as they do.
The film became a hit, in part for its innovative camerawork, extreme gory mayhem (so much dismemberment and karo syrup fake blood!) and a few surprising black comedy elements. In particular, everyone -- demons included -- tended to be very lippy and cheerfully crazy.
Check out Cheryl, who was possessed, locked in the cellar:
Or Shelly, who's also possessed and got her face burned off (around 1:35 in this best quotes compilation):
Finally, check out the trailer, in which you can see a montage of Ash arming up with a chainsaw:
Evil Dead II(1987)
From here on out, the franchise really hits its stride when it comes to its ramped-up humor and making Ash a hero who is unfazed by the inane horror around him. He's found his voice and delivers one-liners that are cheeky, yet smarmy-sounding all at once. Returning hallmarks included: the cabin setting; the frantic camerawork; the grimoire, now called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis; chainsaw action and the evil demonic spirit zombies hereafter known as Deadites.
The film introduced new trademarks, however. Here are highlights:
"Groovy" Ash's deadpan delivery of this outdated slang gives it new life and becomes both his catchphrase and descriptor. Fun fact: Campbell's Twitter handle is @GroovyBruce.
Disembodied parts fight back Ash has to decapitate his possessed girlfriend, but then her head attacks him and bites his hand. Later, his now-possessed hand tries to kill him in this excellent sequence that pushes Ash to take extreme measures:
Amorous Deadites Ash keeps losing his girlfriends to possession, which leads to twisted creepy moments when they seem to come on to him.
Ash vs.... Evil Ash? The evil that was unleashed by the Necronomicon takes the form of Ash's reflection, continuing the theme of self-attack that was started by his hand.
Inanimate objects turn on Ash, who snaps
"I'll swallow your soul!" Another fun catchphrase, from a Deadite this time
Ash becomes a low-tech cyborg In a sequence reminiscent of Ash arming up in the original film, the chainsaw is installed where his possessed hand once was. Also, the return of "Groovy."
Ash, the Medieval hero Somehow Ash falls through a time portal and is transported back to a time when there are knights and, apparently, Deadites. After he kills one with his shotgun, he realizes his situation when the knights begin to cheer him. Seriously, Ash can't catch a break.
Army of Darkness(1992)
Ash's adventures continue in the vaguely fantasy setting and introduces a few fun variations on familiar themes.
S-Mart employee of the millennium Since this is a time-travel tale, the film plays up all the anachronisms that Ash's presence brings in 1300 A.D. Part of that is giving him a backstory, one of a very loyal employee of S-Mart who knows how to wield a shotgun, or a "boomstick," to the unwashed Medieval folks.
The Necronomicon could save him To travel back to his own time, Ash needs to get the Necronomicon and say this incantation precisely, "Klaatu barada nikto," which is a phrase that original appeared in 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still. Guess how well Ash did?
Another amorous Deadite Really, just never get involved with Ash because 1) He won't stop you from inevitably getting possessed and then 2) He'll kill you.
Then again, he has a silver tongue
A replacement for the chainsaw hand
Ash vs. lots of Evil Ash Ash sure loves to beat himself up in this series, and in Army of Darkness, he first becomes victim to multiple tiny versions of himself:
And then a horrible, mitosis-cloned version:
Back to the future Somehow, despite himself, Ash always wins and was eventually able to get home, where he promptly reigned supreme at S-Mart.
Evil Dead (2013)
Die-hard fans of the franchise don't really count this reboot as part of Evil Dead proper. It wasn't directed by Raimi, Campbell is missing (although both produced the movie) and so is the signature humor. Pass.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015)
Now you're ready to delve into Starz's new series, which premieres on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 9/8c. Groovy.