You got horror in my comedy! You got comedy in my horror! Stop — you’re both right!
With the possible exception of Ghostbusters, the Evil Dead franchise is the greatest horror-comedy hybrid yet devised. On one side, you’ve got the physics-defying mayhem of Looney Tunes, the comic combat of the Three Stooges, and the jut-jawed hambone heroism of Dudley Do-Right. On the other, you have the power-tool slaughter of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the reanimated relentlessness Night of the Living Dead, and the gross-out body-fluid splatter of The Exorcist. Somehow, Sam Raimi and his collaborators sussed out the common ground between them all, then cranked up the violence until it was funny and revved up the slapstick until it was scary.
Six episodes into its first season, AvED shows no signs of either slowing down or slipping up. In fact, in sheer entertainment terms, this week’s episode — “The Killer of Killers” — may be the best of the bunch so far. Yes, it lacks the genuine jump-scares of the pilot’s haunted-house atmosphere — hard to pull off when your climactic battle is staged in a greasy spoon — or the inventively awful creature design of the Eligos installments. But it more than makes up for this with crackerjack jokes, no-nonsense viciousness, and enough gore to fill an elevator in the Overlook Hotel. Directed by Michael Hurst, whose resume is full of rollicking genre fare (Hercules, Xena, Spartacus, the Bruce Campbell–starring Jack of All Trades), it’s the most fun you’ll have in 24 minutes this weekend.
Much of that is down to the dialogue, which at times feels like one literal-LOLworthy line after the next. Ray Santiago gets the lion’s share as Pablo, for whom he’s developed a genuinely rock-solid comic rhythm. “Ash, if I was a Deadite, I would be honored to have you chop my head off,” he says to his mentor at one point, seemingly oblivious to what a dubious “honor” that really is. And his explanation to Kelly of her behavior while possessed by Eligos is beautifully blunt: “You were in full-on bone mode, like a praying mantis.” It’s looking more and more like he’s the prophesied El Jefe, if the actions of his magic medallion are any indication. Regardless, he’s a blast as is.
But Ash himself gets some good gags in himself, and oddly enough they’re in the suave sex-machine mode that was such a turn-off back in the pilot. With all the subtlety of a shotgun blast, he propositions the waitress at the diner, billing his potential services as worth much more than the money he owes her for the meal — a whopping $22.89. When he retires to the men’s room for the rendezvous (which wouldn’t have happened even if Deadites hadn’t swept in and slaughtered everyone), he gazes lovingly at his own reflection in the mirror and utters a line that would make Buffalo Bill proud: “I’d do me all day long.” Even the name of the waitress, Nancy, is funny, given Campbell’s role as Ronald Reagan in Fargo.
So yes, plenty of yuks. But how about those yucks? Befitting its violent title, “The Killer of Killers” went absolutely apeshit in the splatter department. It starts, sorta, with a creepy kooky mysterious and spooky fire-skeleton-thing that grabs Lucy Lawless’ character, tells her she’ll never get the Necronomicon for herself, and drags her into the late Brujo’s bonfire, where they both appear to explode.
And when one of those point-of-view tracking-shot “drafter” entities bum-rushes the diner, things really get started. The entity instantly kills half a dozen bystanders, including two innocent highschoolers who wind up impaled on their own ice skates. Nancy the waitress is another victim; she revives and wreaks havoc before Kelly splits her skull open with a deli slicer and bashes it to pieces with a meat tenderizer. A police captain goes Deadite as well and winds up getting disemboweled by Ash’s chainsaw and decapitated by his shotgun. But first, he grabs another teenager as the kid runs for the door and kills him by tossing him up into a ceiling fan.
It goes to show that on AvED, no character is immune from horrible death at the hands of evil — schoolkids, cops, parents, trailer-park residents, witch doctors, booksellers, you name it. This is a show that understands that when it comes to splatstick, you can’t make an omelet without breaking every egg in the dairy section. Don’t ever change, Ash J. Williams.
Previously: The Exorcist(s)