After only minutes of the new Starz series “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” the squirts of blood, the flying viscera, and the bashed-in heads are no longer horrifying. They’re hilarious, not least of all because they are clearly fake.
The characters — led by Bruce Campbell’s horror icon, Ash Williams — are so thoroughly splattered with a syrupy, orangey substance that they look more like Halloween-themed Jackson Pollock paintings than blood-strewn victims, and at least one replica head is shown doing enough “Exorcist” spins to rival a roulette wheel. Effects-wise, the show isn’t aiming for digital realism so much as analog comedy. Even the inevitable CGI effects are mediocre enough to maintain a humorous tackiness.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which premieres on Saturday at 9 p.m., is the latest extension of the franchise (including movie sequels, video games, and comic books) that began in 1981 with Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” The Starz series, produced by Raimi, Campbell, and Rob Tapert of the original film, merges the murderous-demons motif with half-hour sitcom pacing and TV tropes, as a few plotlines — including one with a cop — begin to converge across the 10-episode season. I can’t say whether “The Evil Dead” fanatics will like the series; purists may quibble with this (the sexual content) or that (the iPhone sequence). But I can say that I found it all fairly amusing, as the material kept veering into cheap horror slapstick.
Ash Williams is still a vain slacker, although when the show opens he is straining in front of a mirror to stuff his midriff into a corset. He works as a stock boy at Value Stop, he lives in the Mossy Haven trailer park, and he spends his off time cavorting with hookers, drinking, and smoking pot. One night, stoned with a female companion who says she’s turned on by foreign languages, he pulls out and whimsically reads from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, also known as the Book of the Dead, also known as the ancient tome written in blood and bound in human skin that, when read aloud, unleashes spirit zombies. Whoops.
Soon the Deadites — taking the human form of people Ash knows — are after Ash, his young work buddy Pablo (Ray Santiago), and the woman Pablo is crushing on, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Ash had to cut his own hand off in the 1981 movie, and when we first see him in the TV series, he is wearing a wooden replacement. But by the end of the pilot, which was directed by Raimi, he has pulled his chainsaw hand out of retirement to help him more efficiently decapitate Deadites. “You can’t outrun evil,” Pablo says to Ash, after seeing what the Deadites can do. “Watch me,” Ash replies, now in hero mode again, and dad mode, too, since his rapport with Pablo has a torch-passing vibe to it.
And that’s the story, for the most part. The mod squad begins a journey to a store called Books From Beyond that may help end the siege. Detours — and human forms with white eyes and green teeth — ensue. Meanwhile, a detective named Amanda (Jill Marie Jones) is searching for Ash, since she survived a Deadite attack. So is Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a woman who blames Ash for the Deadite murder of her family 30 years before. Despite the fact that he’s a loser, Ash, with his mock-heroic jaw and his 1973 Oldsmobile, is much in demand.
Lawless, by the way, appears only briefly in the first two episodes that were made available for review. But Starz promises she will gain prominence as the season develops. Xena the Warrior Princess has a few things she needs to tell Ash.