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'Ash vs. Evil Dead' review: Blood-and-gutsy as ever

“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres Saturday, Oct. 31

“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres Saturday, Oct. 31 on Starz, starring Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo. Credit: Starz / Matt Klitscher

THE SHOW "Ash vs. Evil Dead"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Saturday night at 9 on Starz.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Ashley J. "Ash" Williams (Bruce Campbell) has tried to move past the horror that stole his innocence -- not to mention his hand -- over 30 years ago. But he still can't quite escape that past, or grow up either. He lives in a trailer park, smokes pot, drinks hard, consorts with ladies of the evening -- and still drives the trusty gas-guzzling '73 Oldsmobile Delta '88 and listens to Deep Purple and Emerson Lake and Palmer on the 8-track.

For old times' sake, he has even kept a memento from those unpleasant long-ago nights in the woods: The "Necronomicon Ex Mortis," or book that summons the dead . . . the evil dead.

Ash works at a local big-box store where his friend and co-worker, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago), thinks he's the coolest guy alive. But the dead -- the evil dead -- have returned, and it's up to Ash, Pablo and another co-worker, Kelly (Dana Delorenzo), to figure out how to defeat them. A local cop, Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), wants to help too. (Lucy Lawless joins later in the season.)

This new series is based on the Sam Raimi-directed camp-horror cult films (which also starred Campbell), "The Evil Dead" (1981) and "Evil Dead II" (1987), Raimi is one of the executive producers of this 11-episode adaptation along with Tom Spezialy, a veteran TV producer. Starz has already ordered a second season.

MY SAY There were a thousand ways to screw up this remake, and only one way to do it right. "Dead" fans will be pleased to learn that the right one, or mostly right, arrives Halloween night.

The hardcores will have some reservations. (They usually do.) The humor's a little too broad . . . Ash is maybe just a little too self-assured and decisive . . . The frequent sight gags and one-liners (all mostly good) are a forcible reminder that the comedy here takes precedence over the horror.

But even the hardcores will agree (or should) that what worked before can't possibly work in 2015. The world has moved on, and TV has, too. For that matter, so has Ash, who is thicker about the midriff, but also older and wiser. Raimi once compared him to Hamlet. Here, he's a mashup of the Terminator and Al Bundy.

Perhaps what matters most to fans is whether the gonzo bloodlust of Raimi -- or at least that of the twenty-something filmmaker circa 1981 -- has been preserved.

It has been. And how.

Joel Coen, editor of the original "Evil Dead," long ago recalled that Raimi had once shared with him the ingredients of his secret sauce: " 'The innocent must suffer. The guilty must be punished [and] you must taste blood to be a man.' "

In fact, the beset protagonists of "Ash vs. Evil Dead" have moved well beyond the tasting. When heads of the dead are severed, blown away, sawed off, or chopped in half, the blood shoots everywhere, but most often in the direction of the living, whose mouths -- understandably and unfortunately -- are agape.

Much like the movie, Raimi and Spezialy haven't cluttered up the story with much of a story either. Stephen King, an early admirer and perceptive critic of "Evil Dead," once said the film had "the simple, stupid power of a good campfire story." The same holds true for the TV series.

Meanwhile Lucy Lawless's character, Ruby, doesn't even appear in the first two episodes. (Program notes describe her as "a seductive figure . . . steeped in the ancient mythology surrounding the evil dead . . .").

Xena and Ash in the same show?

This campfire story may not be getting any smarter, but it should get even better.


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