In any other dimension, Stan Against Evil, IFC’s horror comedy about a 50-something curmudgeon fated to fight demons, would be a fresh and deliciously gory new treat. In one where it must co-exist alongside the superior Ash Vs Evil Dead, however, it comes off a bit stale in comparison.
That’s not to say Stan Against Evil sucks. Star John C. McGinley—as the titular Stan, a recently-widowed, recently-retired sheriff of a cursed New England village—has enormous appeal, making his jerky, casually sexist/racist, hockey-obsessed blowhard a guy you actually want to root for, rather than simply punch in the face. And the set-up is clever enough. In the first episode, which had a Halloween preview but officially premieres tonight, Stan learns that the only reason he hasn’t yet suffered a terrible death (as every sheriff in Willard’s Mill, NH has since 1693) is because his late wife was a scholar of the supernatural, as well as a collector of the spells and weapons needed to fight off ghoulish adversaries. Without her protection, he soon realizes, he’s fair game—as is the new sheriff of Willard’s Mill, Evie Barret (Janet Varney), who’s appointed after Stan beats up a witch at his wife’s funeral.
Crabby Stan and oft-exasperated Evie become a team out of necessity, with sidekick roles filled by Stan’s ditzy daughter and Evie’s equally ditzy deputy. Each episode (we’ve seen the first six out of eight total, but will keep this preview spoiler-free) flashes back to a demonically-charged moment in Willard’s Mill history, before zipping to the present and introducing a scenario in which said demon must be vanquished.
Though the types of demons vary, they all have a single goal: to eliminate “the constable,” both current and retired. This is made absolutely clear. For some reason, though, the characters refuse to be proactive about their predicament. At one point, knowing full well he has a target on his back (at least until all of the town’s 172 demons are defeated), and having recently wrestled a man-goat in his own front yard, Stan concludes denial is the best strategy. Denial, and a lot of beer.
That’s exactly what Ash did at the end of Ash vs Evil Dead’s first season, deciding he’d rather party hard in Jacksonville than battle Deadites for the rest of his life. And like Ash, Stan has to be reminded again and again why he can’t just blow off the beasties and relax. But if Ash doesn’t fight, the whole world might end. If Stan doesn’t fight, he’ll just end up the latest in a long line of dead sheriffs.
Another example of how the stakes are uneven between the two shows: Stan has a scene where it cuts away from a murder; we hear screams, etc., and then see the victim’s decapitated head carried away by an animal. Meanwhile, earlier this season Ash featured a spectacularly repulsive scene in which Bruce Campbell’s reluctant hero flailed around a morgue for half the episode, wrestling a reanimated colon. There’s tons of blood and guts... and one very aggressive butthole. And the camera is right up in the action the whole time.
Really, it’s almost unfair to compare Stan and Ash, since Stan is starting from scratch and Ash is piggybacking off decades of cult-movie love. But the truth is, even without the Evil Dead mythology forming its backdrop, Ash would have the edge. It’s over-the-top in every way: its humor, its pacing, its acting style, its boundary-pushing, and its signature buckets of gore. Stan is amusing, but it feels like a whisper next to Ash’s heavy-metal monster mash.
Stan Against Evil premieres tonight on IFC.