Feature 66 – Ash Vs. Evil Dead: “El Jefe” (2015)

or “The B-Team”

Featuring: Bruce “My Name is Bruce” Campbell , Lucy “Xena: Warrior Princess” Lawless , Jill Marie “Girlfriends” Jones

Director: Sam “Drag Me to Hell” Raimi

Writers: Sam “Darkman” Raimi , Ivan “Darkman” Raimi , Tom “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” Spezialy

Origin: USA

Review_____

“Well, it’s just… something happened that hasn’t happened in, like, thirty years.”

Feliz Día de los Muertos Malvados, folladoras de perros! For those of you that flunked out of high school Spanish, that means “Happy Day of the Evil Dead, dog fuckers!”

Ash. Is. Back. Alright! (Not to be confused with the Backstreet Boys, who didn’t make their fans wait nearly as long for their reunion tour).

Yes, after nearly a quarter of a century, the Deadite defeating dumbass with more bravado than brains has returned to pick up where he left off! Having been harassed by B-movie geeks about when we’d see Evil Dead IV: Army of Darkness Part 2 – Deadite By Dusk (in 3-D), the brains of Sam and Ivan Raimi and the chin of Bruce Campbell have combined their powers to bring the Stihl-handed hero of legend back for a Starz pilot series that may or may not lead to additional seasons once it’s complete (Update: it was approved for a second season before the first episode even debuted!).

Though there have been numerous comic books, video games, and even an Evil Dead remake in the time since we last saw Bruce himself don the scars of The Chosen One, the closest we’ve had to seeing Ashley J. Williams on our screens in the flesh again was the tongue-in-cheek My Name is Bruce. Entertained by it as I was (went to two showings of it on opening day!), it still felt like a 90 minute tease. Like paying for a night with the prostitute of your dreams only to find out they have a bad yeast infection, so the most you’ll get is a handjob. Sure, you came, but you could’ve stayed home and gotten yourself off for free.

By the way, I did my best to make that comparison as inclusive as possible for everyone. However, if you feel left out because you’re asexual or lack the equipment to reach climax via manual stimulation, my apologies. I tried.

Now come on, space truckers! Let’s get space truckin’!

When we last left our hero…well…it’s not made explicitly clear. The when the show’s timeline is picking up from isn’t specific beyond Ash telling everyone that it’s been “30 years” since he last dealt with Deadites. Given that there’s a scene in the episode where he fills in his co-worker Pablo on his unpleasant past with the Necronomicon and it only uses clips of the first two Evil Dead movies, I’m taking a stab that this series is a direct sequel to Evil Dead II. In 1987 (“30 year ago”?), ED Dos re-wrote the events of the original, making the first Evil Dead redundant. AVED (not to be confused with “Community“‘s affable Asperger’s nerd Abed) also leaves out any mention of Ash having traveled through time, so maybe it’s based on ED2‘s storyline (what with the severed hand) while sticking with ED‘s ending where Ash survived the night and there was no Army of Darkness time vortex thing. On top of that, Ash’s absurdly high-tech Dark Ages cyborg hand from AoD is nowhere to be seen either. It’s been replaced instead with a prosthetic mitt carved from rosewood that makes for a great ass paddler when you’re plumping the ol’ Ballpark Frank in the hot dog warmer of an unclaimed dreg you sweet talked at last call!

But I’m putting the funeral cart before the skeletal horse here. It’s been a long time, so let’s see what Ash has been up to for the last three decades! For starters, he lives in a trailer (just like in My Name is Bruce) and instead of working at S-Mart, our hero works at a dirt mall department store called ValueStop. I’d like to think there’s some “fall from grace” tale at work here where Ash lost his lofty S-Mart position (too many sexual harassment complaints to HR?) and is now forced to work at VS, but my guess would be that it really just ties into the whole “we don’t own the rights to Army of Darkness” complication. Confounded studio politics nonsense.

He’s sporting the aforementioned artificial extremity, and using it as a story prop to pick up soused lasses at the local dive bar just waiting to go down on the next guy who says he lost a hand while saving an endangered child. And what of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis? That Book of the Dead we all know and love, with its dust cover of human flesh and its ink of human blood? Ash kept it. Such is how he gets himself knee deep in the dead(ites) again, as you may have guessed. Thanks to a misguided attempt at male posturing nudged on by a few puffs of “green remorse”, Mr. Williams is about to unleash a whole new world (“a new, fantastic point of view!”) of trouble on his backwoods Michigan burg.

However, Ash won’t be alone in cleaning up his mess. He’s joined by his co-worker and biggest fan Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Pablo’s friend-slash-unrequited crush Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Pablo gives our man the moniker of “El Jefe” (we have a title!) and worships the ground he walks on (despite smarmy dickhole Ash blatantly violating the “bros before holes” edict), having unwavering faith that his hetero man-fatuation will be the hero this town needs. As for Kelly, Ash tries his “smooth talking grandpa” schtick on her, and let’s just say she’s well inoculated against our protagonist’s verbal Spanish Fly.

If you’re worried about there being too much talk and not enough action in this establishing episode, then belay your trepidation you tiny fool, because El Jefe and the Ashketeers throw down with a few demonically possessed podunks before all is said and done! I’ll spare you the details for your own viewing, but I will give you this much – it’s just as splatstick wacky sauce as you’d expect from a Sam Raimi fight scene!

This story’s not just about Ashley and his pals, though. The non-such sections introduce us to another newcomer: Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), who has her own run-in with the soul swallowing Kandarian pests that leaves her very confused, very disturbed, and having an all too brief crossing of paths with one Miss Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless), who’s no doubt going to be playing a much larger role herself further into the series. Know how I know(by)? Look at her last name. Don’t get it? Brush up on your Evil Dead lore, you plebeian!

As someone who’s been playing mediocre Evil Dead video games and reading lackluster Army of Darkness comics (written by fanboys whose scribing skills don’t stretch beyond slight variations of Ash’s jerkoff dialogue from the last movie) to fill my Ash hole (wait a minute…) for the last 20 years, “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” is the long awaited return to form I’d become so sure was never going to happen. As someone who’d lost all hope and become quite cynical about the whole scenario, I wasn’t on the “The cup’s half full” side of the line so much as amidst the “The cup’s fucking broken and sitting in a landfill somewhere” group. But I’m so happy that “AVED” doesn’t suck that I almost feel some modicum of restored hope for humanity! Quite a feat since I’d given up on the species as a whole shortly after turning seven.. Or was that after watching Se7en?

The cast show some big promise already. Campbell is just as snide and sleazy in Ash's shoes as you remember, Santiago makes a good sidekick fanboy without being too cloying (though he’s really skirting the line, so I hope he doesn’t cross said line in future episodes), DeLorenzo does the tough girl thing fine (but is no scream queen, so I hope they keep her wails to a minimum), while Jones makes for a great contrasting straight character so far! I’m almost as invested in where her story goes as I am Ash’s! Lawless Lucy hasn’t done anything yet though, so I can’t establish an opinion based on a handful of lines and 20 seconds of screen time.

The more mature tone of the show is odd at first blush. Watching Ash getting jiggy with it (“it” being a bar fly’s backside) in the confines of a ladies’ toilet den and saying “FUCK!” remind you that this ain’t happening on basic cable. Starz is PREMIUM, baby! That’s not to say it isn’t immature at the same time, but this is the first ED sex scene that didn’t involve a rapist tree, so you get what I’m saying.

One of Raimi’s caveats when it came to bringing this fan bait to life was the use of as many practical effects as the budget could stomach. I appreciate his love for traditional effects and I would shake his hand for doing so. Unfortunately, the computer effects that we get stuck with the rest of the time aren’t the best. Nor are they helped any by happening alongside the practicals, which have the benefit of looking real because they’re as close as you can legally get to real gore and mutilation without making a snuff film. I do have to say that I’m pleased at how far digital arm stump technology has come in the last 20+ years, though! You’d think Bruce Campbell really did lob off his own hand for the sake of realism! Incredible what a green spandex glove can do…

All in all, “El Jefe” does what a premiere episode should: it caught my attention and makes sure I want to see more. I plan on coming back and reviewing the first season as a whole once it’s finished its run. I was just so twitchy and anticipatory to finally see Campbell don his chainsaw hand again and cut some chucklefucks in half that I had to share my feels on the premiere with everybody ASAP! I’m looking forward to what Lucy Lawless and Jill Jones’ characters bring to this b-movie A-Team, and not just because Double L showed us in Spartacus (boy did she ever) that she’s not afraid to bring out her 36Cs! Probably won’t happen, but at least the specter of her nudity will be hanging pleasantly over the proceeds.

On a final fun note of “can’t unsee” to leave you all on, if you shorten the title of the series a little it becomes “Ash Vs. ED“, as in “Erectile Dysfunction”. Think about it: we’re watching a man in his mid-50s (in a series written by equally aged gentlemen) struggling against an unseen force that haunts everything he does, making it impossible to live a normal life without stressing over the phantasmal monkey on his back. Hell, it ruins all of his romantic relationships and even literally interferes with his sex life! Gives the series a whole new metaphorical “age vs. virility” perspective, don’t it?

Oh well, at least Ash doesn’t have to deal with his dick looking like a melted tube of lipstick. Trust me, it’s a real hard sell to get over with the gals. Pun intended.

Moral of the Story: You can only use the term “retard” if you are one or you know one. Like a friend. Or a family member. Or your gardener.

Screenshots_____


Bruce Campbell stars in What Women Want 2: Get Medieval.


I know the copyright stuff probably wouldn’t allow it, but I’m saddened that isn’t a box of Ecto Cooler.


“Jeez, baby, you ever think of waxing your crack? Looks like you’ve got Macy Gracy in a head scissors back here!” (Reviewer Note: from where I’m sitting, at least her breath is minty fresh!)


It’s Leatherface’s dream journal!


This week on “CSI”, the crew are called in to find out what really happened at Justin Beiber’s Sweet Sixteen party.


“I’ve seen BLUUUUE SKIIIIES, through the teeeeears in my eyes. And I realize… I’m going home.”


That is some savage glaucoma! It’s gonna take more than a spleef to clear that up. Grandma’s gonna need a bottle of hash oil!


For some reason, Pablo wasn’t prepared for Ash to make fun of his new haircut. When the bliss of your denial is shattered.


If you put pictures of the 3 female cast members of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” through one of those photo mash-up programs, you’d get Dana DeLorenzo.


Just as it’s finally about to happen, Kelly reconsiders her Kingpin roleplaying fantasy.


“Hi. Is It my turn to be in the show yet? No? Okay. I’ll just keep waiting here then.”


“Damn it, Kyle, THIS is why I always ask you to chew your Gushers with your mouth shut! Get me a washcloth!”

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Anubis will return next time in
“Snake’s On a Game (of Death)”

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