Sam Raimi's Evil Dead franchise has never played by the rules. Although there have been three films in the series (four, if you count Fede Alvarez's unpleasant and unsuccessful 2013 reboot), each negates the one that came before: Cast members change, timelines shift and crucial narrative details get rewritten.
Fans of the blood-soaked films tend to obsess over the constant retconning, but by doing so they forget the genre in which the series sits. There's not a single horror series that's kept its canon organized. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser – none can boast a consistent cast of characters or sturdy mythology, just a fresh roster of nubile victims and the same old bogeyman who almost always gets goofier as the series wears on.
At least Evil Dead offers a twist: We're not invested in the series for its undead villain, but for its brash, idiotic and increasingly less attractive hero. That would be Ash Williams, a stock boy who repeatedly finds himself stumbling into a battle against the Deadites, interchangeable demons fond of possessing Ash's loved ones and re-enacting Three Stooges bits. Bruce Campbell started playing the reluctant hero in 1981's The Evil Dead, and has carved a career out of the role (including 2007's My Name Is Bruce, in which the actor is mistaken for a real-life monster-killer). For good reason, too: Campbell brings an endearing and comforting cockiness to the role, allowing Ash to be a quippy good guy and a comforting distraction from Raimi's extreme gore.
Fortunately, Campbell is back for Raimi's latest attempt at brand extension: Ash vs. Evil Dead, a new television series on the U.S. network Starz (airing on Super Channel in Canada). Just as TV has become the go-to arena for franchise resurrections (Fuller House, Heroes Reborn, X-Files, Gilmore Girls), so have Raimi and Co. brought back their chainsaw-handed doofus, though once again the details of his previous exploits have been reworked.
No longer battling hellions at discount store S-Mart or transported into a postapocalyptic future (as various endings of the third Evil Dead film put forth), Ash is now a past-his-prime clerk at the Value Stop electronics shop. Between strapping on his girdle, using his wooden hand to pick up women in dive bars and generally looking like Elvis (had the King lived longer and settled in a trailer park) Ash is up to his usual stupidity. He accidentally summons the Deadites while trying to seduce a local barfly and finds himself in a good-versus-evil battle for the world.
Plots were never the franchise's strong suit, but Raimi excels at producing lots of over-the-top violence, all accented with a streak of slapstick and one-liners. Judging by the first two episodes of the new series, Raimi hasn't lost his touch for evil. Heads are lopped off, necks stabbed, eyeballs gouged and Ash's infamous chainsaw is put to good use. For anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, the crimson action might be shocking. Or it might have been a few years ago, before The Walking Dead introduced cable viewers to the pleasures of mass-consumed gore-tertainment.
There lies the only problem with this revamp. While Campbell is as entertaining as ever, the series' other main draw feels a bit, well, bloodless. When the film series debuted, its affinity for squishy guts and rivers of blood was bold enough to set it apart from competitors. Now, with zombies overcrowding networks and Hannibal dining on human livers during prime time, Evil Dead's shock value is somewhat lessened. Still, if the one complaint is that the world caught up with Raimi's tastes, then that's hardly a complaint at all. Ash vs. Evil Dead is not as revolutionary or essential as the original films, but it is just as slickly entertaining. Bloody inconsistencies and all.
Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres Oct. 31 at 10 p.m. ET on Super Channel.