Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Walking Dead vs Ash vs Evil Dead

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It’s time to raise the dead as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two of the hottest horror properties on the small screen, Season 6 of The Walking Dead and the premiere episode of Ash vs Evil Dead!

The Walking Dead: Season 6

Back in 2010, when The Walking Dead launched, many people said that the series had missed the zombie boat. After being introduced into the popular consciousness in the late 1960s and '70s through the films of George Romero, the genre exploded back into popularity in the early 2000s with films like 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake and the sublime horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead.

Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead is an "end of the world" story about of a group of survivors led by former police officer Rick Grimes, played by the increasingly grimy Andrew Lincoln. Rick is a good man at heart, and tries his best to protect the ersatz family that forms around him, but sometimes makes choices that get a lot of people killed.

Surrounding Rick are a cast that have grown and evolved over the course of the series, including biker and sometime group conscience Daryl (Norman Reedus), master scavenger Glenn (Steven Yeun), the moralistic Morgan (Lennie James) and katana-wielding badass Michonne (Danai Gurira). By Season 6 the main cast are so battle hardened that "the walkers" (never referred to as zombies) pose little threat in small numbers, so the stakes are raised by introducing a new bunch of characters who have been living in relative safety since the original outbreak.

Kicking off with a bang and not slowing down, this season is probably the best since 2010. Superb action, nail-biting suspense and genuine character development — the opposite of previous seasons where the group spent the whole time in one place arguing with each other. You really get the feeling that nobody is safe, particularly with one heartbreaking death that I’m not going to reveal. It’s been a long time since I shed a tear for a fictional character.

Much like other quality cable drama series The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, there is so much backstory to The Walking Dead that it can be hard for new viewers to get into. Unlike The Sopranos, I have a hard time recommending viewers sit through five entire seasons to catch up at this point — there is just too much heavy going along the way to reach the awesomeness of Season 6. Conversely, if you watched the early seasons and gave up because of the glacial pace, I highly recommend checking out the first few episodes of this season to see how much has changed.

The Walking Dead is currently screening on F/X, available on Foxtel.

Ash vs Evil Dead: Episode 1

Derided as a "video nasty" when released in 1981, The Evil Dead was a low budget horror movie shot over a period of four years by director Sam Raimi and a bunch of his friends in a cabin in the woods. Driven by a slapstick sensibility and practical special effects (as opposed to CGI), the film quickly became a cult classic, largely due to the charming yet cartoonish presence of leading man Bruce Campbell.

In the original and two entertaining sequels Campbell played Ash Williams, a buffoonish man prone to quips, poor life choices and taking a ridiculous amount of punishment from the zombie-like "deadites. Case in point: at one point Ash gets bitten on the hand, so rather than turn into a deadite he chops the hand off and replaces it with a chainsaw. Groovy.

Now, 34 years after the release of the original film, Ash is back. Due to rights issues there are no references to the polarising third instalment Army of Darkness, which means no S-Mart and no mechanical hand, but what has been added more than makes up for this. Ash is joined in his battle with the deadites by laconic workmate Pablo (Ray Santiago) and no-nonsense Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), along with suspended cop Amanda (Jill Marie Jones), who is under investigation after shooting her partner in the face because he turned into a deadite. Lucy Lawless (the actress formerly known as Xena) also plays a role that is barely a cameo in the first episode, but promises to expand throughout the season.

Being a cable TV production, the gore flows thick and fast, with practical effects once again ruling the day. This first episode is directed by series originator Sam Raimi, and is packed with visual references to the films, notably the tracking camera / point of view shots that still generate chills after all these years. It will be interesting to see if subsequent episodes can match the madcap energy of the premiere under the hand of different directors.

At the end of the day, Ash vs Evil Dead lives or dies on the performance of one man: Bruce Campbell. Fortunately, he knocks it out of the park. The 57 year old actor still possesses a commanding physical presence and is unafraid to look foolish, which is handy as Ash is essentially an heroic moron.

Not for the squeamish, Ash vs Evil Dead captures the spirit of '80s horror movies and adds a wicked sense of humour — as demonstrated in the scene where the bar tramp Ash is making love to turns into a deadite half way through (after the immortal line "I’m getting a little winded here, how about we focus on me for a while?"), but he decides to finish anyway. Very wrong, but very funny all the same.

Ash vs Evil Dead is currently available on streaming service Stan.

The Verdict

While they exist at opposite ends of the character spectrum, Rick Grimes and Ash Williams share some common traits. They are both able to take an inhuman amount of abuse and keep fighting, often display questionable morality and frequently make poor choices that place their friends in mortal danger. I don’t think Rick has ever been attacked by his own severed hand, though.

On a tonal front, The Walking Dead is so serious that you sometimes find yourself wishing for a moment of levity, or at least a break from the relentless tension. Ash vs Evil Dead is pure horror/comedy, pushing the boundaries of good taste in search of a good belly laugh. 

The Walking Dead: Season 6 — 9/10

Ash vs Evil Dead: Episode 1 — 8/10

Did you like what you just read? Well, John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out! You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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