The Horror Blog’s New York correspondent, JA of My New Plaid Pants, has braved The Splatter Zone and returned to take apart the off-broadway production of Evil Dead - The Musical. I rip off more links from My New Plaid Pants than you can imagine, so if you get a chance I encourage you to take a peek.
Evil Dead - The Musical
I’ve been to Universal Studios three or four times in my life - what can I say, I’m a big Jurassic Park fan - but I’ve never gone to see Beetlejuice’s Rockin’ Graveyard Revue, a live show in which the “ghost with the most” rounds up all the classic Universal Monsters (a la this very site’s Monster Rally - only instead of of a brutal fight to the death, it involves song-and-dance routines set to what I expect to be some approximation of “rockin’” tunes) where they, I assume, entertain the kiddies in a spectacularly cheesy fashion, fangs not included.
But now, yes, the characters may’ve changed, the curse-quotient amplified up to 11, the sexual innuendo distinctly somewhere between a PG and a mild PG-13 (no boobies!), and something tells me the front rows at the Beetlejuice show, filled with toddlers and their weary parents, are never spritzed with red-dye-infused corn syrup, but all these distractions aside, I’m guessing that witnessing Evil Dead: The Musical is somewhere on par with what happenin’ at that Rockin’ Graveyard scene.
Now, I know the Evil Dead films are hardly Tennessee Williams we’re talking about here. The source material - the first and second films thrown into a blender, a light dusting of Army of Darkness sprinkled over the top – is a cult classic because of the deep, deep silliness with which director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell approach the ridiculous story. But Raimi’s exaggerated tracking shots, Campbell’s Stooge-mimicry and genius at delivering a line, thrown together with an, at times, genuine creepiness, not to mention gallons upon galloons of every-color-of-the-rainbow gore, somehow added up to the perfect concoction – a sort of post-modern splatter comedy, where everything is making fun of itself while at the same time going straight for, yes, the jugular. They wanted to pick their teeth with your funny bone, if you will.
That sense of irreverence is taken to the Nth degree with the stage show, but sadly, because of the limitations of having to, you know, stand in front of a live audience and not actually be chopping the actors to bits but rather rely on rather shoddy improvisations of the violence – a beheading in shadow behind a screen, for instance – the gore, which nicely leveled out the silliness in the films, and made them something you knew you couldn’t watch with dear old Mum (Mum was an intestine-spewing demon in the basement, actually), is overtaken by the campiness and what’s left is, well, a demon in a sequined jacket doing dance moves ripped off from “Thriller”.
There was one genuinely creepy moment on stage – the infamous rape-by-tree-branches scene, of course – that I thought worked, but this show exists primarily for laughs, and it does get them, but it somewhat swallows the soul of the material in the process. Again, yes, not the Bible they’re reenacting here, but with the balance slipping way into camp-territory, the film’s charms dissipated into endless clouds of dry-ice smoke and bad puns. You got the feeling, with the films, that Raimi wanted distinctly to accost you, to make you want to barf mid-laugh; the only thing that felt accosted after the stage show were my eardrums.
But with all that said, there were laughs to be had. At first, actor Ryan Ward as Ash seemed too slight in frame to be playing our Bruce Campbell stand-in, but as the show went on and he began spouting the familiar lines (”Gimme some sugar, baby” gleefully included) and coating himself in fake blood he became far more convincing. By the time he’d slipped the chainsaw on his stump and spoke of his “boom stick” he’d won me over.
The women were, perhaps appropriately, completely indistinguishable from each other, except for actress Jenna Coker as Ash’s sister, Cheryl, who was the chief bearer of the bad puns and cheerleader-happy dance moves, which she did with an unfortunate relish that led to much of the ratcheting up of the camp-factor to a level somewhere in the vicinity of beyond bearable. Yes, the badness of the puns was commented upon and done on purpose, but she delivered them with such lick-her-lips glee that it slid rght back from aren’t-we-clever? into just plain badness again. And Brandon Wardell as Ash’s friend Scott did his best Stifler impersonation.
The music was fun - with such titles as “Do the Necronomicon” and “You Blew That B**** Away”, how could it not be? – but the surprising stand-out was Daryl Winslow as Jake (the hillbilly character from Evil Dead 2) singing “Good Old Reliable Jake” as some sort of Meatloaf-inspired power ballad. By the time he’d gotten to his next number, “Ode to an Accidental Stabbing”, he’d become my favorite person on stage.
So in the end what you get is a show that is trying too hard. It takes the already exaggerated tone of the films so far in one direction for laughs that the screams are pretty much snuffed out. The much-hyped “Splatter Zone” – the first few rows of the audience where you’re supposedly hosed down with so much gore they provide raincoats – appeared to, by the end, be more of a Trickle Zone. Somewhere between remembering their Michael Jackson dance-moves and, you know, not actually being decapitated, the actors had other concerns and I, well I just wished for a good eyeball down the throat.
For more information on the show, visit the Evil Dead - The Musical fansite.