We open on Ash Williams, bound and gagged. His friend Kelly is possessed by a demon. His friend Pablo believes the evil’s inside him instead. And the Brujo is gonna cut it out of his brain with a kitchen knife. You wanna talk about drama with stakes? Try being tied to one.
Tonight’s episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead — “The Host” — is a straight continuation of last week’s events, as the Ghostbeaters and their witch-doctor ally do battle with a creature from the pit of hell. While it doesn’t hit the heights of the previous chapter’s psychedelic vision quest, it reveals some surprising depths — and no, we’re not talking about the consistently stellar soundtrack. (PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water”! Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold”! Talk about two songs you rarely see listed back to back, but here it works.)
Let’s begin with the beast. Eligos remains as creepy and otherworldly as ever, his body vibrating around his blood-red jaws like an extradimensional epileptic seizure. By the time he completes his takeover of Kelly, she’s looking pretty freaky too, with her face and jaw distended by the demon’s presence within. With any luck the show will keep coming up with antagonists this inventively ugly.
Some aspects of the exorcism work like gangbusters too. At one point, the Brujo force-feeds Kelly/Eligos (Keligos?) live leeches, which wriggle into her mouth in a gloriously gross visual. At another, he covers her face with a cloth and douses it with sanctified water — that’s right, it’s holywaterboarding. And it’s quickly one-upped by the demon-possessed woman herself, who near-instantly pisses the liquid through her jeans and all over the floor. You’ve got to hand it to AvED: It’s willing to go there, wherever “there” is.
But there are misses mixed in with the horrific hits. The show has never made a secret of its CGI, which is fine; surely there are horror-hounds who enjoy sloppy digital fakery the way we love squibs-and-Karo-syrup gore. Still, some of the shots this week looked as chintzy as a screensaver, from Eligos’ arm emerging from Kelly’s mouth to a spray of computerized pea-soup projectile vomit. The former’s easy enough to understand — it ain’t easy making a human limb emerge from someone’s mouth like a jack-in-the-box. But the latter? So no one on set could master an effect that The Exorcist pulled off during the Nixon Administration? It’s enough to knock you right out of the story.
However, most of “The Host” relies not on the spooky scary shenanigans, so much as the idea that you care about the people they’re happening to. Ash and his overgrown-14-year-old bluster, Kelly and her “cool girl who hangs out in the smoking section” vibe, Pablo’s ability to be as reliably upright as his haircut — five episodes deep into the season, our heroes really are an enjoyable trio of protagonists. So what if everything happening to them is preposterous? When it comes to horror-comedy, psychological realism doesn’t enter into it. All you want are leads you’d want by your side when the chips are down and the zombies have you surrounded.
The coup de grace against Eligos is the moment that brings it all together. Once Pablo lures the entity out of their friend, Ash is ready to blow it to kingdom come with his shotgun, except the beast teleports far too quickly for the boomstick to get a bead. Then our hero flashes back to something he said during his drug trip last week: “Shoot first, think never.” It’s a terrific credo for the character, not least because Bruce Campbell hilariously plays any instance where thought is required like the strain might cause his head to explode.
And it leads to a kick-ass climax: El Jefe tosses his shotgun in the air, then takes a swipe at the demon with his chainsaw-hand in slo-mo. The creature disappears. The shotgun lands back in his hand, he levels it where it lands, and just before he pulls the trigger, bang, that’s where Eligos reappears. BOOM — the demon is dispatched in a spray of green jelly. Instinct prevails over logic, chaos over order, magic over reason, fun over not-fun. For both the character and the show itself, nonsense makes perfect sense.
Previously: Feed Your Head