I still remember seeing the Evil Dead movies for the first time. I was a little late to the game, not seeing them until sometime around 2003, but those three movies have been an irremovable staple in my life ever since. I ran out and bought them on DVD as soon as my teenage self had scrounged the pennies to do so, and even bought Army of Darkness twice when I stumbled upon a copy of the (at the time, very rare) director's cut at an Amoeba Music in San Francisco. These movies played a rather large part in making me the man-child I am today, is what I'm driving at. And they're not even particularly good.
WAIT, come back from the comment section, I'm not done elaborating! These movies are not good in the same way that the tattered stuffed animal from your childhood was no longer plushy and fluffy. You loved that stuffed animal the same way we all love these movies. Their character is derived precisely from all of the cracks in the already thin veneer, from the “student film” level of the acting, to the laughable special effects and green screening. We don't love these movies in spite of their flaws, but because of them. This, in fact, is something of a central tenet to anything that gets the high falutin' “cult classic” label attached to it. Nobody watches Rocky Horror Picture Show for the riveting cinematography, or Plan Nine From Outer Space for the landmark performances.
I think the best thing about the Evil Dead series is the way you get to watch the movies evolve. Each installment plays off of what you loved while bringing something wholly unique to the table. The first film has almost all of its best moments occurring by accident, and is just a wonderful sequence of escalating torture and gore. The movie has almost no comedic intent behind most of its scenes, instead relying on the macabre sense of humor of its intended audience to make the laughs come. Evil Dead II is the moment where Raimi and co. realized that they had something special on their hands and began to play with the concepts more. Who could forget Ash's slapstick battle with his possessed hand, or the moment where every inanimate object starts laughing its ass off at him as he slowly breaks with reality? And let's not forget that this was the movie that brought us the iconic chainsaw hand. Army of Darkness is where they finally get to let their freak flags fly. It is the most balls to the wall ridiculous of the trilogy, has the most deliberate laughs built in, and is just ohmygodsofuckinggoodyouguys. Ash is at his snarkiest, the plot builds off of the events of the first two, but is even more absurd with its “man-out-of-time” angle, and the movie embraces and celebrates every awful facet of the series that got it to this triumphant place.
Which leads us to Ash vs Evil Dead. I always thought that Army of Darkness was a fitting conclusion to a series that had become (just the right amount of) a parody of itself. I want you to remember that parenthetical statement, because it's going to be important. As of the time of my writing this, I have seen four episodes of the show, and I honestly can't tell who this is being made for or why. If I wasn't a fan of the series already, the show takes enough for granted in terms of pre-existing knowledge that it would be incredibly alienating. Conversely, as a fan of the films, I can't help but feel that all this show is doing is desperately trying to slam some ill-fitting nostalgia goggles on my face, repeatedly pointing at itself, and saying “Hey, dipshit! Remember when we did this thing? Well now we're doing it again! Laugh you fucking simpleton!”
See, there's a difference between a loving homage to your source material, and simply doing the whole shebang all over again. A good sequel will raise the stakes, building on what the hero has learned to place them in a new situation, all while elaborating on what has been learned from the prior installments. The original trilogy did this fantastically. The first film was simply a teenage gore fest, the second film brought in the power of the necronomicon to do other evil magic, and the third film sent Ash back in goddamn time. The stakes get raised with each installment and Ash levels up suitably to combat them. Ash vs Evil Dead, so far, has accomplished none of this (in fact, Army of Darkness appears to have been removed from canon altogether). The bigger budget has allowed for a larger playpen for Ash and company, with more set pieces and locations, not that it shows in any other regard as the deadites still get cheekily wheeled towards the camera on hand-trucks as you can hear the episode director furiously masturbating off-screen. There is a scene in the pilot where Ash fights a deadite possessed Bratz knockoff doll where slapstick hilarity ensues, but all I could think was that it was a sadly hollow imitation of when they did it in Evil Dead II with his evil hand, or in Army of Darkness where he fought a bunch of tiny versions of himself (something they could get away with the second time around because it raised the goddamn stakes).
Really, the whole pilot plays out like the showrunners had a checklist of elements from the original trilogy that they were methodically running through. Two hapless authority figure characters wander in to the situation, one of whom will be dead within two minutes? Check. Montage of Ash getting all of his equipment ready with a bunch of jump cuts? Check. Recreation of the scene from Army where Ash jumps and catches his chainsaw on his stump? You'd better fucking believe that's a big ol' check. I was actually amazed that they didn't have a scene where he needed to get something exactly right only to have him fuck it up and get indignant, but hey, there are six episodes left in this series, so who knows. They couldn't even be bothered to come up with a good reason for the deadites to come back, so their premise is simply that he gets baked and reads the necronomicon to a girl he's trying to bone on the pretense that it is poetry. Our hero has somehow unlearned everything he gained in the original movies, apparently.
This isn't to say that the series is without merit. There are definitely some moments that made me actually laugh out loud all by my lonesome. When Ash is stabbing his possessed manager in the neck with a broken bottle for what feels like half an episode, I nearly shot beer out of my nose. When he insists that his friend's returned formerly dead mother must be a deadite and punches her in the face during a quaint family dinner, I actually shot beer out of my nose. The problem is that these moments are somewhat few and far between, and they don't actually say much of anything about the show's quality overall. I mean, The Hangover 2 made me laugh a couple of times, but it doesn't change the fact that it was a painfully uninspired retread of familiar territory (see what I did there?).
But I honestly can't stay too mad at Ash vs Evil Dead. It's entirely the fault of people like me that it exists, and exists in this state. After all, Raimi had moved far beyond Evil Dead, most notably with the Spider Man series and the surprisingly great body dysmorphia/eating disorder metaphor Drag Me To Hell. But all we could talk about whenever we had the opportunity was the series from the 80's and early 90's that captivated our hearts. We couldn't let it simply be. We had to have more. Well, now we have it, and so far the best we can say about it is that it isn't actively ruining our memories of the OG trilogy. So there you have it, I guess. Ash vs Evil Dead is not an affront to everything we hold dear. I just wish it had the balls to do something interesting instead of simply reminding us of the existence of something better.