Points of Articulation
Hail to the King, Baby?
The first of the Evil Dead films I saw was - I'm fairly certain - Army of Darkness. At the time, I thought it was one of the greatest things I'd ever seen. Then I saw Evil Dead 2, deservedly called the best of the trilogy. Finally I saw the first film, which is good but hard to take, in my opinion. Now, having seen Army of Darkness about 10 million times, I can't stand to watch it anymore; and The Evil Dead I could only stand to watch once or twice anyway. But Evil Dead 2...now that's a classic film. I can watch that over and over.
What does this have to do with toys, you ask? Well, as any Evil Dead fan could tell you, those movies begged for toys once the action figure boom of the mid-'90s made it clear that just about anything could be turned into a toy line. And when McFarlane Toys' Movie Maniacs line rolled around, it was clear that this was a match made in heaven. The trouble was, McToys couldn't get the license...at least, not for a little while. Back in 1999, McFarlane Toys' online representative, Chet Jacques, had this to say about the odds of McFarlane ever producing Ash action figure:
I'll verify that it's just a rumor. We ain't doing it/them, and we've been saying that for a LONG time.
Chet, McF Toys
Zombies, chainsaws, evil monsters... been there, done that, moved on.
Chet was forced to eat his words when McFarlane's first Army of Darkness figure was released in August 2000. Since then, McFarlane has produced no less than four action figures based on the Army of Darkness property, and Ash was the only figure in Movie Maniacs 3 to consistently sell out across the country. There's mud in your eye, Chet! (On a side note, Chet has mysteriously disappeared from the public eye in the last year or so; perhaps Todd had him killed and resurrected as a zombie slave.)
I joined the McFarlane Toys message board shortly after the Ash figure was announced. It was there that I first created the handle "Poe Ghostal," and in fact I owe much of my current involvement in the online action figure community to that Ash figure. Without that Ash figure, OAFEnet might be a vastly different enterprise than it is now, if it existed at all. So now you know who to blame.
As I became a regular member of the McFarlane Toys board, it became clear that Ash's figurehood was largely the product of a concerted, tireless effort by a virtual legion of Evil Dead fans (in particular, one Hail2daKing - now, sadly, no longer a regular). For weeks, we harassed McFarlane employees with specific questions about what the Ash figure would look like. Since they had the license only to Army of Darkness and not ED2, there was a great deal of concern that Ash would not be wearing his torn blue shirt (which could be either from AOD or ED2), but his blue sweater and cape from AOD - which would have been rather lame. There was actually quite an argument over which would be better, in the usual manner of message boards.
Ultimately, it turned out he had the torn blue shirt, and a bevy of awesome accessories: chainsaw hand, metal hand, shotgun, mini-Ash (with a tiny fork), and, of course, the Necronomicon. Life, it seemed, was complete. Many, many people could now die happy.
The sculpt. Oh, the sculpt. I like McFarlane's work (I admit, I liked it more until about 2001, when they stopped articulating their figures), but they messed up somewhere along the way with Bruce Campbell's likeness. Everything else was perfect (aside from the statuesque stance and limited articulation, both understood trade-offs - until recently - for McFarlane Toys fans), but that facial sculpt...if you looked at it from the right angle, in dim light, with your glasses off and squinting, it kind of looked like Bruce. But mostly, it looked like some sort of zombie-like travesty of Bruce. Add to that an iffy paint job that on some figures was perfect and on others splotchy, and even a diehard fan like myself has to admit that the Ash figure was at least a mild disappointment.
But the figure sold well, and McFarlane quickly realized they were on to something. In 2001 we got an Evil Ash in Movie Maniacs 4, as well as an exclusive Movie Maniacs set with the original Ash figure and another monster, the Pit Deadite (a.k.a. "Pit Witch"). There was also monster 18" Ash figure, with a better likeness (though still not as good as the Crow or Leatherface figures). This year, Sideshow Toys brought out two 12" figures of Ash and Evil Ash, based on AOD.
I caught on to the Evil Dead cult movement just as it was gathering momentum in the mid-to-late '90s. It's surreal how popular these films have become, especially since Army of Darkness failed so miserably at the box office (and yet, it has the most mainstream appeal of the three films). The original Star Wars trilogy isn't available on DVD, but we've already got super-mega-deluxe THX-approved versions of all three ED films. There's a cross-platform Evil Dead video game. Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, was in the top 20 of the :New York Times bestseller list for several weeks last year. Perhaps most salient of all, Spider-Man director Sam Raimi has recently said he wouldn't be averse to making the long-rumored Evil Dead 4.
Clearly, the Evil Dead franchise and its purveyors have embarked on a full-scale campaign of world domination. Next thing you know there'll be a bronze statue of Ash in Central Park, and fanboys will make yearly pilgrimages to Michigan to worship a few fireplace bricks, all that remains of the original Cabin.
Is the popularity of the Evil Dead still on the rise, or has this cult series reached its peak? Were you as disappointed as I was that the DVD release of The Evil Dead did not include the short film Within the Woods? Sound off at The Loafing Lounge.