It's Bruce Campbell week at 1d4, where we will count down our favorite roles of the iconic Royal Oak actor, producer, writer, director and comedian as we approach his birthday on Friday. He will turn 60-years-old. Check out the lead up in PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, and PART 4.
Today, we will cover his largest and most well known role: Ashley Joanna Williams.
The "Evil Dead" franchise
What can you say about the Evil Dead? It’s a love it or 'I’ve never heard of it' kind of thing.
I was actually introduced to the franchise backwards. I spotted "Army of Darkness" on the rack at Family Video and based on the VHS cover alone, I thought this was right up my alley. Then jumping back to the first film and seeing the actual moments of real terror they were able to create with a rag-tag crew and almost no budget -- it’s the kind of thing that makes you want to grab your friends and go take a crack at it yourself. The evolution of the character of Ash, from a semi-serious hero with a bit of a Three Stooges bent, to someone who has delightfully fallen off his rocker by the end of the 2nd film is a master class in B-movie acting and no matter how many times I watch the series through, I find something new to make me laugh.
I actually saw "Army of Darkness" first and was completely enthralled by the opening scene -- why did this guy have a chainsaw for a hand? What is going on? I felt like I was definitely missing something.
The movie itself was incredibly silly, which was not what I was expecting. I wanted knights and zombies, man! But it got me to track down a copy of "Evil Dead 2" and not only is it my favorite in the franchise, I fell in love with the independent nature of it all. The comedy reminded me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with some of the best slapstick since The Three Stooges.
The insane events, one after another, that befell our protagonist. The ingenious camera trickery for the POV shots, the “Vas-O-Cam”, all DIY tricks that still inspire me to this day. It was all unlike anything I’d ever seen. As I grew older the whole franchise quickly became one of my favorite go-tos around Halloween. I was even suckered into buying every new iteration they released on DVD because I just had to have the cool cases and more special features. I also grew to appreciate "Army of Darkness" a whole lot more!
Dane Sager Kelly:
The cancelation of "Ash vs. Evil Dead" in April hit me hard. For years, we pined for an "Evil Dead 4" and instead we were given three seasons of some of the best horror-comedy ever made. It was exactly what we wanted and more. Often, when franchises cave to the whims of fans, the results aren't great -- but not this time.
Reuniting with Michigan natives Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi, we were given 15+ hours Bruce Campbell doing what he does best. Playing off the guilt he feels for surviving the three "Evil Dead" movies prior, Ash falls further into depravity when his home town believes he's the one who killed his friends.
With the help of a few friends, "Ashy Slashy" is able to earn the trust and love of his hometown.
While Bruce Campbell has retired from the role of Ash for good, he's provided fans with more than enough content to tide fans over.
"Evil Dead" taught me that endurance could be a virtue. Imagine if you will; a husky young lad with an athletic older brother and a competitive streak. For a long time I saw movie heroes -- Bruce Lee, James Bond, Indiana Jones -- who were just better at everything than the villains they beat. That’s good for motivating kids who are natural athletes to get better, but it’s pretty rough for those of us who were born slow and uncoordinated.
Then I saw Ashley Williams.
Was Ash super strong? No. Was he a martial arts master? No, sir. Was he ten steps ahead of his enemies like Sherlock Holmes? No, he was not -- but every time Ash gets knocked down by the forces of evil, he gets back up. They kill his friends, his girlfriend, his sister, lop off his hand and briefly turn him into one of the undead, and the man’s response is to growl “Come get some!” and keep swinging.
There comes a point in the first Evil Dead movies (I’m combining "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" here because the sequel was both a sequel and a reboot, if you can believe it) where you stop wincing at Ash’s pain and start laughing. You aren’t grossed out when he cuts off his possessed-with-evil hand, you’re laughing that the book he traps it under is "A Farewell to Arms."
You start to have this reaction because you know that no matter what Ash goes through he will be okay. His suffering will only make him better; a lost arm will become a chainsaw hand. Being struck with pure evil energy will only give him a cool looking gray streak in his hair. Ash can’t be broken by suffering, only honed.
Bruce Campbell’s performance as Ash is why husky young me was at all valuable on my Lithuanian children’s league basketball team; I couldn’t run as fast or jump as high as any of the other kids, but I was willing to take a hit so I lead the league in penalty shots. Having a hero like that on screen is what made young me feel that I could take on big challenges even if I didn’t look like other movie heroes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Ashley Williams had a hand in shaping my life for the better. A chainsaw hand.