Horror as a genre has long relied on singular, lead characters to tell stories. From the moment F.W. Murnau filmed a pointy-eared, fanged Max Schreck as Count Orlock in 1922’s Nosferatu, horror’s focal characters have almost exclusively been the very monsters audiences are meant to fear.
Dracula. Wolf-Man. Michael Myers. Jason Voorhees. Freddy Krueger. Their stories may have unfolded from the perspective of other characters, most of which were interchangeable. The villains were the true draw of these films.
Evil Dead defied a multitude of genre conventions, emphasizing laughs as heavily as frights; telling a supernatural tale at a time when theaters were flooded with slashers; and making an icon not of a monster, but from a relatable protagonist in Ash Williams.
The low-budget, independent project grew into a cultural phenomenon that remains popular with horror fans almost four decades after its release — popular enough to spawn two movie sequels, a reboot with 43 times the budget of the original, and a three-season television series that just concluded a wildly entertaining and equally convention-defying run.
The Evil Dead trilogy resonated with fans largely through the evolution of Ash. Timid and reluctant in the first film, his descent into madness in the hilarious sequel sets the scene for Ash to become a full-fledged comic-book hero and horror-movie legend in Army of Darkness.
And fan response begot another phase in the Ash Williams character arc through the STARZ original series, Ash vs. Evil Dead.
The show’s title alone speaks to the iconic status the Ash Williams character carries with fans of the genre. Michael Myers’ name only appeared as a sub-title in the Halloween franchise, while Freddy had to wait for a crossover and Jason had to go to outer space before either got complete title billing. …At least, not counting the Freddy’s Nightmares TV series, but let’s all agree to never mention Freddy’s Nightmares, shall we?
Indeed, the Sam Raimi-created character, which Bruce Campbell so adeptly gave life, served as the attraction for Ash vs. Evil Dead. But what resonated with me through three seasons and made the series a personal favorite were the supporting players around Ash Williams.
Dana DeLorenzo’s Kelly Maxwell and Ray Santiago’s Pablo Simon Bolivar were both as vital to Ash vs. Evil Dead as Ash himself. In much the same way Ash Williams transformed through an arc spanning three films, Kelly and Pablo evolved in three seasons.
An annoyed and skeptical big-box store clerk in Ep. 1, Kelly concludes the series as a middle finger-raising bad ass. Dana DeLorenzo gave Kelly Maxwell a confident swagger similar to Bruce Campbell’s portrayal of Ash in Army of Darkness, yet without Ash’s foolhardiness. DeLorenzo’s Kelly exited the series a superheroine on par with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow — albeit with a much more R-rated vocabulary.
Santiago’s portrayal of Pablo begins comparably to Ash in the first Evil Dead: timid and outwardly insecure. His metamorphosis into El Brujo Especial ranks among the most well-told Hero’s Journeys told in pop culture this decade.
The kiss Pablo and Kelly share leading into the climax of Ash vs. Evil Dead‘s climax is a perfect symbol of the evolution of Pablo from insecure sidekick into confident hero.
As Ash prepares to battle the demonic kaiju Kandar — itself a visual representation of just how far Evil Dead came from its humble, low-budget beginnings in 1981 — he bids farewell to Kelly, Pablo and daughter Brandy in a scene also functioning as Campbell’s farewell to Ash’s devoted fan base. Campbell announced he is retiring Ash Williams with the conclusion of Ash vs. Evil Dead (though the series’ final scene works as a meta commentary on the actor’s inexorable connection to the role).
Ash’s arc may be complete, but Ash vs. Evil Dead succeeded in creating new and equally memorable figures of the horror genre. Here’s to holding out hope the same fan demand that gave us a finale for Ash Williams gives us more Ghostbeaters’ adventures to expand on the excellent Kelly and Pablo characters.