I’ve decided to flip my regular format for good and provide my review before the recap. After last week’s grotesquerie and my reaction to it, I feel like I need to say something before my normal blow-by-bloody-blow recap. The recap will of course include my usual silly commentary sprinkled throughout.
In the first entry of the franchise, The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi gave his audience a straight-up horror film with very little comic relief and a whole lot of scary, gory horror. ED pitted its protagonists against a terrifying force that slowly possessed each person until only Ash was left alive, and he seemed to get possessed right at the end of the film. In the next entry, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Raimi introduced a lot more comedy, but was able to blend it seamlessly with the horror; the film was very, very funny, but also scary. In the end of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, Raimi more or less abandoned the horror in favor of a comedic take on a medieval saga. There were a lot of slapstick and one-liners, but nothing truly frightening.
The nauseating slapstick events of last week’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead episode, “Baby Proof,” seemed cut right from AOD’s cloth; this season seemed to have settled for outrageous laughs at the expense of scares. “Tales from the Rift,” however, is a strong return straight to the series’ roots in horror.
Now this is more like it.
“Tales from the Rift” starts with a loving scene as Ruby watches—or rather, listens—as her child, now cocooned, consumes a meal. It’s appropriately icky and leaves a lot to the imagination since the child cannot be seen (in fact, we don’t even know if it’s still a child or a young adult). Kelly shows up and a battle royale ensues between the two women. Sadly, it seems to end in Kelly’s death and subsequent possession by the entity known as Kaya (Chelsie Preston Crayford). That the death itself is devoid of comic relief makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Kelly’s been a stalwart fighter in the war against the Deadites. DeLorenzo has thrown herself into the role, turning Kelly from what could’ve been a one-note, foul-mouthed character into one with many layers, including her devotion to Pablo and her loyalty to Ash, even when he clearly doesn’t deserve it. She’s had a weird mother/daughter dynamic with the past version of Ruby, but with the current version, her hatred has been palpable, and her going alone to confront Ruby shows how much stronger Kelly’s grown since we first met her. Plus, DeLorenzo has chemistry with everyone, so having her get some alone time with each character is always a delight.
As Kaya, DeLorenzo has to tone down her Kelly tendencies towards loud, bold moves, which Ash of course doesn’t even notice because he’s too far into his own destiny at this point. DeLorenzo modulates her delivery into a quieter style that is both disconcerting and terrifying; we know Kelly’s possessed, but no one else does (unlike when she was Keligos and it was obvious), and that knowledge ratchets up the tension in her brief scene with Ash and Brandy at the end of the episode. It also makes me excited to see how long it will take for Ash and Pablo to figure out there’s something wrong about Kelly, although given this show’s breakneck pace, it will probably be in the first five minutes of next week’s episode. Sigh.
The comedy, of course, isn’t totally drained out of the show like so much Deadite blood; Ash is, after all, our lead, and he can be as dunderheaded as he is brave. His interaction with the newly introduced group of Knights of Sumeria is peak Ash, for instance. He’s a quip machine, which provides the comic relief necessary as things get grimmer (much like they were when Ash was in the asylum and looking like he’d turned completely dark). I wouldn’t want it any other way, really, but I do like that it’s not all “Three Stooges and a Little Ash” all the time.
Kudos goes to the whole cast, especially DeLorenzo, and to director Regan Hall and writer Aaron Lam, who bring the tension and unease back into the realm of dread and fear instead of revulsion and farce. Not to say that what happens to Marcus (Colin Moy) isn’t revolting, but it’s also scary in a way the Natalie puppet was decidedly not.
“Tales from the Rift” takes the farce, tones it down to the comic relief of ED2, and puts the horror back up front. I am more excited than ever to see just how dark the rest of this season gets, though I will continue to hold out hope that something we still don’t know about is wrong with this timeline, and that Ash will figure it out and fix it. Of course, that just means something else will go wrong, but at least Kelly will be alive!
Previously on Ash Vs. Evil Dead: Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Natalie (Samantha Young) are stalked by Ash’s demonic progeny, who’s a toddler now. She wants to kill it, but Ash wants to capture it as proof of Ruby’s (Lucy Lawless) evil intent. The spawn beheads Natalie and uses her corpse as a puppet to battle Ash. Ash traps the little fiend inside Natalie’s body, pops it in the trunk, and heads off to see Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill). Deadite Pablo (Ray Santiago) is still trying to kill Brandy and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). After Kelly stabs Pablo with the Kandarian dagger, he enters another realm where Brujo (Hemky Madera), accompanied by the Masked Woman Maritza (Hannah Tasker-Poland), beseeches him to choose the right bowl of blood to mingle with his own and become El Brujo Especial. Pablo chooses wisely, comes to, and is immediately kissed by Kelly. He just as immediately wants to find Ash. Way to go, Pablito! Ash winds up at the hardware store right after Brandy. The sheriff and Ruby also show up. Ash opens the trunk, but Natalie’s body has been consumed and the child looks normal; it claims Ash hurt it. Brandy decides to side with her father, jumping in the Delta ’88 and telling him to get in. They haul ass out of there.
Ruby is watching her child in its fleshy cocoon ravenously eating something—or someone. She tells her child, “Once that idiot Ash Williams is dead, you and I will go on to immortal glory.” Kelly shows up with her own boomstick and starts blasting away at Ruby for Pablo’s possession, Brandy’s mom, and for herself. She aims at Ruby’s head and shoots. Bloody opening credits!
Ruby, now properly aerated (including the giant hole in her head), starts healing quickly, reminding Kelly that she’s immortal. Kelly has the Kandarian dagger, though, and tries to stab Ruby. She touches it to Ruby’s neck and Ruby burns. They prepare for all-out war.
Brandy and Ash are back at Ash’s house. Someone is watching them through binoculars, but we don’t see who. Ash is impressed with Brandy’s driving. “Like daughter, like dad,” he tells her, bringing her up to speed about the killer brat while Brandy toasts some pop-tarts for them. She’s still conflicted because Prevett was always so kind to her. Brandy goes to clean up because she’s covered in guts and such. “Demon spunk—it’s so gross!” she says. Teenagers, amirite?
A group of Dalton’s KOS buds show up, a woman (Emilia Burns) and three men. They bow down to Ash. “You guys get discounts on knee pads?” he quips. The woman says Dalton called for them. Ash tells them Dalton is dead and gone as gently as he can: “Yeah, don’t kill the messenger, but I heard your buddy bought a one-way ticket to Demonville.” They mention another KOS came before Dalton, Gary; Ash says he’s dead, too, but left the lost pages and “ancient scribbles in my cellar wall.” They say if Ash shows them the cellar drawing, they can end evil for good. It seems a little sketchy, but Ash polishes off his beer, crushes the can, and says, “Let’s roll.”
Kelly, meanwhile, can’t stab Ruby, but keeps trying, only for Ruby to start brutally whaling on her. Ruby breaks Kelly’s ankle, then hits her so hard that the dagger goes flying. Ruby grabs the dagger and Kelly flips her off because she’s Kelly. Ruby says Dalton is dead as Kelly throws a live grenade at her. KABOOM!
Ash tells the KOS the demon woman is called Ruby. They say The Prophesized One has the Necronomicon, and together, they will all defeat evil. Ash chokes on his cigarette, then casually says Ruby has the Book of the Dead. He brings out a six-pack of beer and says they should get wasted instead.
At Ash’s trailer, Pablo opens a box of his Brujo’s things and finds the “Naked Lady”’s mask. Brandy comes into the trailer and tells Pablo she’s worried because she can’t find Ash. Pablo is drawn to a flyer for the hardware store and through his new powers, he sees Ash in trouble. He tells Brandy to lock the door and stay safe, and to let Kelly know where he is.
Ash takes the KOS into the hardware store’s cellar and sees Gary’s bones. “Watch your steps—because your compadre sure didn’t,” he quips. The woman thinks Gary at least died fighting evil, but Ash tells her he picked a fight with “my 75-year-old dad.” She says Gary may have found a way to open The Rift, “a mystic passage between the human sphere and the deadlands.” Ash says he’s been through a rift before; we get an ED2 flashback. (Hey, it leads directly to AOD, so I’m taking it as an AOD reference, rights issues be damned!) The KOS can fight the eternal battle against evil, but Ash mumbles he’s “50-something” and um, no, he’s out. Pablo shows up and Ash tells him he thinks the KOS “flunked Sumerian 101.”
Back at Ruby’s, Kelly is laughing as Ruby comes to after the explosion. Ruby’s legs and one arm were blown off, and her hand starts to crawl back to her. Kelly laughs sardonically when she sees it moving, then says, “What the fuck?” Ruby starts literally putting herself together. “You know what evil is, Kelly?” she begins. “It’s power without fear, without guilt, without pain.” “Don’t you ever shut the fuck up?” Kelly responds. Ruby is back in one piece and has the dagger while poor Kelly is limping around on a piece of wood she uses as a cane. Ruby offers Kelly the chance to leave, but Kelly refuses because evil killed her parents; she wants revenge and won’t leave until she gets it. “It’s gladiator time, bitch!” she spits at Ruby, who calmly responds, “Works for me.”
In the cellar, Pablo feels the wall and the writing seems to lead his hands. He starts reading the incantation in Sumerian. We also finally learn the KOS woman is named Zoe. Zoe sees The Rift opening, and Ash tells Pablo to get away from it. The KOS note that they have to go in The Rift to fight the ultimate battle. Pablo Solo has “a bad feeling about this.” Ash also doesn’t want to go in. Marcus (Colin Moy) says Ash is right; Marcus will go in first to do recon before they all go in and do battle. Pablo obliges and opens The Rift for him. Marcus gets sucked in, then thrown out almost immediately. “Marcus?” Zoe hesitantly says.
Meanwhile, Ruby is kicking Kelly’s ass, but Kelly won’t give up. As Ruby holds her up off the ground by the neck, Kelly reaches for any implement and winds up stabbing Ruby in the neck with a pencil. Kelly throws herself at Ruby, who stabs her all the way through with the dagger. NOOOO! Kelly starts bleeding out on the floor. Ruby sounds a little sad when she says, “I hate you least of all, Kelly.” Kelly dies. NOOOOOO!!! Damn, it’s misty in here. Are your eyes watering, too? Must be dusty.
Across town, Pablo senses something is not right; Ash gets a demon vibe from Marcus, so he readies his boomstick. Peter (actor uncredited) goes to help Marcus; Marcus demons out and starts to absorb him. Marcus and Peter merge together and it’s appropriately gross. Marcus spits black blood onto Zoe, which burns her, then rips the head off the other unnamed KOS and merges his head and spine into his arm. Ash calls Marcus a circus freak, which is an understatement for once.
Ruby grabs the Necronomicon and again sees Kaya, who tells Ruby The Rift has been opened. She tells Kaya she has a vessel for her: Kelly. NOOO!!! Ruby pulls the dagger out of Kelly and recites the incantation to let Kaya possess Kelly’s body. Kelly/Kaya says that the Dark Ones know about The Rift; Ruby says if they can drive Brandy over the edge, they won’t have to worry about it.
Pablo grabs Ash’s chainsaw and starts hitting Marcus with it; Marcus sends it flying. Ash removes his metal hand and replaces it with the chainsaw in a heroic action move. They fight while Pablo gets a machine gun. He and Zoe shoot at the Marcus monster at Ash’s behest. “Go back to hell, you Siamese sonofabitch!” Ash says as he cuts Marcus’ head in half. “And that is how you kill a demon!” he says triumphantly as Zoe cries that her friends are dead. Ash is all heart: “Welcome to my world, lady,” he says pragmatically. He tells Pablo they have to find a way to shut down that “demonic poop-chute” once and for all because Pablo thinks more demons want to come out.
Ash heads back home. Kelly/Kaya shows up and Brandy goes to make them all pop-tarts. I like Brandy’s taste in snack foods. Kelly/Kaya hands the Kandarian dagger to Ash. Ash has no clue she’s not Kelly despite how damn calm and collected she is. “This changes everything,” he tells her. “Yes, it does,” she says quietly. End credits!
This week in Ash (and other) one-liners (plus other stuff I liked):
“Oh, my God, this is so much better toasted!” Ash eats his pop-tarts raw like I do! Gulp!
“Oh, power ranger, tone it down, no one’s even watching.”
“Time to suck a little saw!”
Linda B. Watch: Linda B. does not appear or get mentioned. What is wrong in this timeline? EVERYTHING.
This week in AvED music: “Evil Woman” by Larry Weiss, as covered by Lou Rawls, plays over the end credits. Given the context, it’s even more sinister (sample lyric: “Woman, I offered to you my soul/You ran it over hot coals”).
All photos courtesy of Starz.
Désirée I. Guzzetta is a freelance writer and poet who loves movies, books, music, and nerdy things, not necessarily in that order.