For a series that was originally started as an attempt to make something fun, commercial, and creative, it’s shocking that that sentiment has held true over the last 30+ years. Evil Dead is a franchise dedicated to those three aspects of filmmaking while providing schlocky, gory and comedic thrills all the way through every entry in its series of films. This is exemplified by the rapid evolution of its main character: Ash Williams.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a Bruce Campbell fan, and if for some bizarre reason you’re not, I presume it’s because you decided to read this article before ever watching any of these movies, and you’ve never seen them before. There’s no other way to exist really, as seeing Bruce Campbell is to love him. Ash Williams on the other hand, can occasionally leave some things to be desired. Pointedly, the Evil Dead franchise has shown that with each new incarnation of Evil Dead, Ash Williams changes along with the setting and characters. There’s no doubting that Ash is a very different man at the end of Army Of Darkness than when he is when first introduced in The Evil Dead. The fun part is seeing him really change, and along with that, noting how each of these characterizations is quite dissimilar, some more literally than others. Part of what makes the Evil Dead franchise unique is that every entry in it stands alone, in addition to being a sequel. Each film taking a new shot at Ash, and while he is cohesively maintained through the glorious avatar of Bruce Campbell, they are in form and function, totally different characters.
That all being said, let’s get to ranking the top versions of Ash Williams because if they were to ever have an insane timeline/multiverse crossover event, you know every version of Ash would fight to the death, and frankly, don’t you wanna know who’d win?
5.) Original Ash (Evil Dead, 1981)
The original! The starting plate of Ash-ness. This is the basic fodder character, back when Ash was mostly just a dope who chose the wrong group of friends to spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods with. He’s your average, white bread, milquetoast, middle of the road kind of guy who mostly just reacts in puzzling ways to horrific things happening around him. It’s not until the proactive, axe-wielding Scotty is viciously murdered by the woods themselves, and ends up reanimating on the couch that Ash even takes a stand for himself.
Even while he’s spending an inordinate amount of time stabbing a deadite in the back and watching it howl, or struggling to get up after a tiny plank of bookshelf falls on him, little bits and pieces of the Ash most fans know and love are visible there. He does rise up against the deadites, and even pulls out the chainsaw to dismember the body of his now evil, dead, possessed girlfriend, but can’t commit to desecrating her corpse. At least not as flippantly as later versions of Ash would. This is the Ash that’s most likely to exist, just a nerdy, kinda wimpy guy who gets pushed to an excruciating limit and finds out he’s more endurable than previously expected. Of course, technically this Ash dies at the end of his movie, only to be brought back to life/un-possessed in Evil Dead II, upon the rays of sunlight from dawn. Whether or not you consider the ending of The Evil Dead as connected directly to Evil Dead II is irrelevant, however, we can all agree that The Evil Dead‘s version of Ash, is by far the weakest.
He learns how to overcome the attack of his own possessed friends, but there’s no way he could handle the stronger supernatural threats that other Ash’s do. He deserves credit for surviving at the very least, but as previously mentioned, that’s dubious on its own.
4. Mia (Evil Dead, 2013)
While it’s true there is no actual character named “Ash” in 2013’s Evil Dead, I’d point out that there are two clear and obvious analogs for his character, both in form and function. Firstly, they changed the actual character’s name to David and made him more of a side character, similar to Bruce Campbell’s original role in The Evil Dead. He’s there for the ride and spends most of the movie watching horrible things happen to everyone he cares about, and only manages to do slightly better than becoming trapped under a tiny bookshelf. Concordantly, the character of Ash’s sister Cheryl becomes our main character of Mia.
Mia, in essence, plays a sort of alternate universe version of Ash, where his function in the story as the lone survivor amongst a group of friends is performed by a young, female drug addict. The same manner of resilience and personal drive is discovered, and I feel it’s pretty conclusive that this “version” of Ash can hack it quite a bit better than The Evil Dead‘s Ash, who would never have the willpower to literally rip his arm off, like an injured, trapped coyote, in order to survive. She survived an ordeal arguably far worse than any other Ash has since the personal loss in Evil Dead is far more palpable. Jane Levy herself once said in an interview panel, that if you make an anagram of her character’s name, and Ash’s name, you get the answer for who her character really is. It’s an easter egg I’ll let you solve yourself and a solid reminder of how badass Mia is compared to The Evil Dead‘s Ash.
3. Medieval Ash (Army Of Darkness, 1992)
A mid-’90s style mix of braggadocio, over the top candor and witty one liners, this Ash is probably the most widely known and popular version of Ash out there. He’s initially reluctant to fulfill any purpose for the medieval world he’s trapped in, and only after being convinced of the importance of his support, does he find a cause worthy to pledge himself.
He’s the most selfish, loud-mouthed, and foolhardy of the Ash’s in the original trilogy, but is also the most competent in combat. Somehow the events of Evil Dead II, and his travel through time made him borderline super-powered against the deadites. Personally, I think the final missing pages from the Necronomicon that “banished” the evil in the forest to another time, actually fulfilled a kind of prophetic spell, enabling Ash to become far more efficient and able to defeat forces of evil throughout the world. That’s my explanation for how his power levels seem to increase over time, especially with age, as seen in the AvED series. This Ash also has a finer grasp on basic kinds of warfare, chemistry, and mechanics that are far beyond anything shown by previous versions of his character.
2. “Jefe” Ash (Ash Vs Evil Dead, 2015-Present)
This is probably my most contentious choice, as this is probably going to be the most popular version of Ash in the Evil Dead fandom, simply because he’s the star of Ash VS Evil Dead. He’s only #2 by a hair, however. Years of being accustomed to one to two-hour doses of Ash have given way to a full on TV show, giving us hours more Ash and Evil Dead goodness than even multiple movies would provide. This is the Ash that’s the most fleshed out, and the closest to being a direct extension of a previous version of his character. There’s no denying that this version of Ash is quite similar to the S-Mart, shotgun wielding Ash from the end of Army Of Darkness.
There are a few details that make him stand out, however, mainly being his approach to working with others. Also, his latent jokey racism. It’s a development to his character I don’t particularly care for, but I do find it highly realistic that a shotgun-toting, chainsaw handed resident from Elk Grove, Michigan isn’t exactly the most racially sensitive to his Latino compatriot. That aside, he’s also the most steadfastly dedicated, loyal, and emotional out of all the Ash’s. He visibly tries to maintain emotional composure whenever approached with a hostile situation and can find himself emotionally vulnerable at times, which is often exploited by the many deadites he encounters. This Ash is also much older than all the others, and it’s not unnoticeable or uncommented upon by his peers. This Ash is a culmination of all the other Ash’s, aged up and with a chip on his shoulder. His stakes are more personal, and his life more invested into directly dealing with evil, as opposed to just reacting to it.
For better or for worse, this Ash IS “The Jefe”, as nicknamed by his sidekick Pablo. He’s the supernatural ass-kicker that’s been prophesized since presumably medieval times, although debatable, he’s always been fumbling throughout the ages this entire time, and he’s a literal walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless, he’s the current version of Ash that has the most combat experience and knowledge of the supernatural, making him a formidable opponent to anyone and anything, no matter how evil and super powered.
1. Groovy Ash (Evil Dead II, 1987)
Fan speculation over how long or how much of the “recap” scene in Evil Dead II applies here, and it’s a bit muddy concerning the direct story flow from original to sequel, suffice to say that Evil Dead II Ash is very, very different from The Evil Dead‘s Ash. A few years ago I wrote a character summary of Ash:
Ash represents the everyman, schlub who tags along with his friends, overcomes incredible odds and becomes a fully fledged badass. I truly think a lot of fans forget just how much a useless dork he was in the original film, only to mature and develop into what we all secretly wish to be if undead horror were to ever arise around us all. We’ve all had our fantasies of surviving in a zombie apocalypse, and seeing Ash turn from zero to hero is wish-fulfillment to the 9th degree. Throughout Evil Dead II, Ash is a guy who is put through possibly the worst imaginable day ever, including not only losing his girlfriend but also his own hand. That really seemed to be the catalyst for change that he needed, and his change in attitude and demeanor is perfectly verbalized the moment he slaps on that chainsaw to his wrist and says possibly the most famous one-word line in cinematic history: “Groovy”.
I’d be hard pressed to try to nail what makes this Ash a standout from all the others, better than I already did in the paragraph above. Evil Dead II Ash is one of the most relatable and endearing hero figures in all of movie history, let alone Evil Dead franchise history. There’s no doubt in my mind that this version of Ash, who through willpower and love alone, overcame direct deadite possession, would be the most formidable, fit, and functional as a savior figure. In the VS series, he’s a bit past his prime, but in Evil Dead II, we’re watching as he just enters it. This Ash is one who realizes he is far more capable than he ever previously thought. Sometimes that means being able to dismember your girlfriend’s body, and other times it means fighting an evil cellar witch to the death. Evil Dead II‘s Ash is Ash at his top condition, peak efficiency, and survivability. He’s focused, less mouthy, and far more intense than any other portrayals in the series. If he had to go up against any other versions of himself, I don’t think he’d joke and play around the way other Ash’s have, he’d get right to the killing. He’s just too groovy for all that flash. Evil Dead 2 Ash is all about results, and operating at peak performance. In my mind, that beats aged experience, and that’s why he’s at the top of this list.
While some may disagree with my number placement, I think most fans of the Evil Dead franchise will recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each Ash, and perhaps they’ll see the unique variations of his character as a positive to the series as a whole. On one hand, you can ignore certain linking scenes from movie to movie, and watch them all as one extended film that connects directly, telling the tale of a man whose journey starts in a cabin in the woods, lands in medieval times and ends up in a fortuitous S-Mart. He’s an enduring icon in the horror genre, and a multifaceted, wisecracking, endearingly charismatic hero. There’s really not too many other characters like him, and all of his imitators are lackluster peons not fit to shine Ash’s boots. He’s the King, The Jefe, The Chosen One, and you better hail to him, baby.
Images: De Laurentis Entertainment Group,
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