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'Ash vs Evil Dead' a rip-roaring, groovy time on Starz series

'Ash vs Evil Dead' a rip-roaring, groovy time on Starz series
Ray Santiago (as Pablo), left, Bruce Campbell (Ash) and Dana DeLorenzo (Kelly) in Starz's "Ash vs Evil Dead." (Matt Klitscher / Starz)

Let us now praise Bruce Campbell, the strong-chinned star of "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II," "Army of Darkness" and now "Ash vs Evil Dead," which splendidly, even triumphantly converts the comedy-horror movie franchise into a TV series, premiering Halloween night on Starz.

For all of creator Sam Raimi's directorial inventiveness, there would be no "Evil Dead" worth celebrating without Campbell, a genre unto himself: a hero no less heroic for his buffoonery and no less a buffoon for his heroism.

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The series, whose first episode Raimi directed and co-wrote (with brother Ivan Raimi, show runner Craig DiGregorio and his fellow "Reaper" vet Tom Spezialy), begins with close shots of laces being drawn tight. Fans will know that this is meant to recall Ash's strapping on of the Deadite-dispatching chain saw he sometimes wears where his right hand used to be and also that, given the many years since "Army of Darkness," released in 1992, it's actually a corset he's wearing.

Never the likeliest of heroes, Ash has been hiding out more or less where we left him, working as a stock boy at a big-box store. Now middle aged, puffy, easily winded and conflict-averse, he lives in an untidy trailer (much as Campbell, playing a version of himself, did in the 2007 film "My Name Is Bruce"), to which he sometimes brings prostitutes and where he has, apparently for old times' sake, stashed a copy of "Necronomicon Ex-Mortis," a book of bad magic bound in flesh and written in blood. As in earlier editions of the series, his own sloppiness will be responsible for letting the demons out.

Though Ash is something of a knucklehead when it comes to women, the series has invested heavily in strong female characters, including Dana DeLorenzo as a tough new sidekick for Ash (Ray Santiago, less tough, is his other one); Jill Marie Jones as a state trooper and Lucy Lawless as a woman whose intentions are not yet clear — but still, Lucy Lawless. (It's family casting: Lawless starred in and as "Xena: Warrior Princess," which Raimi produced with career-long collaborator Rob Tapert, who's also Mr. Lucy Lawless.)

Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless talk to Hero Complex editor Meredith Woerner about their new Starz series "Ash vs. Evil Dead."

His big-budget "Spider-Man" films notwithstanding, Raimi is a filmmaker born to make B's, and DiGregorio too is an inspired choice to run the show, "Reaper" having been made much in this spirit. The mere presence of Campbell, also known to TV viewers for the long-lived "Burn Notice" and the shorter-lived "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.," is in itself a seal of a particular sort of quality. When the chain saw and shotgun eventually come out, and Ash, ego once again properly inflated, pronounces the word we have been waiting for — "Groovy" — it's a thrilling moment in a long line of thrilling moments when the reluctant hero (the best kind) accepts his destiny and strides out to regulate the chaos.

"I'd say it's a gift from God," Ash says, surveying his handiwork, "but that would be giving the man upstairs a little too much credit. This is all me, baby."

Although the special effects have been modernized and improved, if not necessarily bettered, from those of the films — the lack of money, one might say, is no longer all on the screen — there is something resolutely old-fashioned and personal, even heartfelt, about "Ash," whose aesthetic roots are in the films of Frank Tashlin and the Three Stooges and the comics of Harvey Kurtzman and "Mad" magazine as much as "Vault of Horror." You wouldn't want to call anything with so much blood in it sweet, exactly — but it kind of is.

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'Ash vs Evil Dead'

Where: Starz

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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