Movies Till Dawn: TV Party Summer Reruns Edition (Part 1)

12 a.m. – “Ash vs. Evil Dead: El Jefe” – Horror/Comedy

91dXaazWEJL._SL1500_(2016, Lionsgate) Once again, it’s that rare combination of stupidity and inflated ego that lands Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) in trouble with the supernatural. After accidentally unleashing monstrous demons that slaughtered his friends not once, but twice, Ash – now middle-aged and stranded in a Michigan trailer part – reads passages in a book of spells known as the Necronomicon (this time, to impress a French dame) and summons another horde of nightmare creatures intent on settling the score, once and for all, with this pompadoured, lantern-jawed knucklehead. Fortunately for the human race – and devotees of Sam Raimi’s gore-soaked, slapstick “Evil Dead” franchise – Ash may be a feckless dope, but he knows how to fight evil: with plenty of wiseguy quips and an array of power tools.

Sam Raimi, who created the “Evil Dead” series, directed this debut episode of the Starz/Anchor Bay series, which picks up three decades after “Evil Dead 2” (the third film in the series, “Army of Darkness,” and the Fede Alvarez reboot from 2013 are left out of the equation) and largely retains the calling cards that made the films enduring cult favorites: torrents of gore, acrobatic camerawork, a smart-alecky sense of humor and a penchant for putting Campbell through rigorous slapstick abuse. Raimi’s direction – which also manages to find room for some genuinely scary moments, most notably a shivery visit to a remote house that introduces a new character, Jill Marie Jones’ intrepid police detective – is nimble and energetic and sets the tone for the episodes that follow, and it’s to the credit of his co-producers (“Dead” vets Campbell, Ivan Raimi and Robert Tapert and showrunner Craig DiGeorgio) that they maintain this gonzo balance of blood and buffoonery for nearly the entire season. Having Campbell aboard to lend his goofball heroics as Ash is a huge bonus, but he’s well supported by Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo as co-workers pulled into his orbit; Lucy Lawless also shows up as a mystery woman with a connection to Ash that calls back to the original films. “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is groovy gross-out fun – and boasts one of the best TV soundtracks in recent memory, filled with tracks by Detroit rock icons like the Stooges, Amboy Dukes and Funkadelic – and a worth-your-time bingewatch for horror devotees and non-genre fans (albeit ones with strong constitutions) alike. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes all ten episodes of the first season, each with amusing commentary by Campbell, Raimi, his castmates and members of the production team; three making-of featurettes round out the set.

1 a.m. -“The Untouchables: The Rusty Heller Story” – Crime Drama

91Cr-bn9QYL._SL1500_(1960, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) Elizabeth Montgomery stars in the second season opener of the wildly popular feds-vs.-gangsters series as chorus/party girl Rusty Heller, who blows into Chicago and immediately sets her sights on Charles “Pops” Felcher (Harold J. Stone), the newly minted boss of Chicago after Al Capone (Neville Brand, seen in flashbacks) is sent to jail on tax evasion charges. When Pops proves resistant to Rusty’s Southern-accented charms, she fixes on his lawyer (David White, later Montgomery’s co-star on “Bewitched) while also stringing along Capone’s accountant (Norman Fell). Felcher eventually comes around again, but he casts Rusty aside when his wife (Allison Hayes from “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman”) gets wind of the affair, prompting Rusty to seek revenge by throwing Felcher to Capone’s mob. Montgomery’s performance, alternately sad and sultry, not only earned the actress her first Emmy nomination but highlights the episode (which also introduced Paul Picerni as Agent Lee Holden), most notably when Rusty turns her attentions to head Untouchable Robert Stack’s Elliott Ness; for a brief moment, he appears to drop his G-man of Steel routine, but as any “Untouchables” fan will tell you, the only woman for which Ness has room in his heart is Lady Justice. “The Rusty Heller Story” is featured on the massive “Untouchables Complete Series” set, which features all 118 episodes of its 1959-1963 run on 31 discs.

2 a.m. – “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Pirate Island” – Animated/Adventure

717HcMW-xaL._SL1000_(1969, Warner Archives Collection) Most TV viewers of a certain age remember this mix of live action and animation from Hanna-Barbera as a segment on “The Banana Splits and Friends” syndication package, but the series, which embedded Mark Twain’s hero in a time-travel storyline, ran briefly as a standalone program on NBC during the 7 p.m. slot on Sundays that lead into “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” The debut episode established the basic premise, with Huck (Michael Shea), Becky Thatcher (LuAnn Haslam) and Tom Sawyer (Kevin Schultz) evading the villainous Injun Joe (Ted Cassidy) via a magic cave which transports them to various time periods or fantasy scenarios, each plagued by an antagonist that bears a resemblance to Joe (and voiced by Cassidy). “Pirate Island” finds the trio battling buccaneer Captain X with the help of some friendly apes. Byron Haskin (“The War of the Worlds”) directs the live-action performances, which were then integrated into the animation. It’s all totally absurd but pleasingly energetic Saturday morning nostalgia that might work for modern younger audiences willing to forgive the primitive visual effects; Warner’s three-disc set includes all 20 episodes in their original hour-long running time.

3 a.m. – “Cop Rock”– Drama/Musical

product_images_modal_CopRockTCSCover72dpi__7B45c3b529-1796-4804-a3e6-afb8479ec481_7D(1990, Shout Factory) With “Cop Rock,” creator Steven Bochco (“Hill Street Blues”) attempted to underscore the drama of the police procedural by having his characters express their feelings through the high emotions of a pop song, and it didn’t work. And as this three-disc set – which compiles all 11 episodes of the ill-fated ABC series – clearly illustrates, time and distance and other small screen experiments haven’t changed that core fact. “Cop Rock” isn’t a total disaster – the handful of tunes penned by Randy Newman aren’t bad (his theme song is an entirely different matter), and a handful of performances, most notably Peter Onorati (trigger-happy detective), Ron McLarty (sad-sack lieutenant married to younger cop) and Kathleen Wilhoite (drug addict mom), would be acceptable in any series format. But there are far too many ‘80s power ballads and faux blues numbers for anyone’s tastes, and when Bochco really swings for the fences with his concept – a dealer in black market babies selling his wares like a monstrous Harold Hill in “The Music Man” or the finale, where the cast breaks the fourth wall to bemoan the end of the show before a gospel singer lets rip – the results are almost too embarrassing to watch. Ultimately, it’s a rare combination of high-quality elements and ambitions and self-deluded/impressed decisions, and as such, can’t quite qualify as camp or badmovie fun. It’s more of a scientific curiosity, and as such, should be handled with care by the “MST3K”-inclined. Shout’s three-disc set includes interviews with Bochco, who concludes that “Cop Rock” failed because audiences weren’t ready for such a show (well…), and cast member Ann Bobby.

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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