It’s not uncommon for Hollywood blockbusters to take to the stage in a musical rendition (good example: The Producers; bad example: Carrie). For this Adaptation Analysis, we take a look at the classic horror film series The Evil Dead and its transition to musical theatre.
Few in the past would have thought that a horror film series, notorious for its over-the-top humor and context, would make for an appropriate bit of theatre — that is, until the concept of theatre was put onto its ear and forced to re-evaluate just what it’s capable of, thus opening the door for a hilarious musical with singing demons, dancing killer trees, and a blood splatter zone that would make anyone with a Sledge-o-matic jealous.
Evil Dead: The Musical is, in essence, all three Evil Dead films combined into one story. Sam Raimi did this quite well in the beginning of Evil Dead 2, where he was able to condense the entire story of the first film into a 5 minute intro. The play takes this route by cutting out excess characters (often with a fun throwaway line, such as “we already had a tree death, we don’t need another,” and so forth), and focusing on the key elements of the first two films. The only portion of Army of Darkness to makes it into the play is the “good” film ending., complete with the song “Blew that Bitch Away!”
Both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have sanctioned this play, claiming great enjoyment over how it was produced and staged. It is also fun to see all the inside jabs made towards Raimi and Campbell throughout the show (my personal favorite being a stab at the “terrible” in-flight movie, which is Spiderman). The play is rather self-aware of its roots, and takes every opportunity to make it known. While those who have watched Evil Dead 2 know of all the blood that soaks its cast, so does the front few rows of the audience, who are in the “splatter zone.” Ponchos are offered prior to Act 2, and white t-shirts are encouraged for souvenir blood stains.
The play begins just as the first film, with Ash, his sister, and friends going to a cabin in the woods for some fun. Toss in the Necronomicon, and all hell (literally) breaks loose. To combine the second film into the first, several demons are removed and replaced by the pre-existing demons from the first film. Iconic moments from the films are lengthened and incorporated into song. One short moment in Evil Dead 2 involving a laughing reindeer head is now changed into a large puppet moose head singing the song “Join Us.” Of course, this song leads into the famous sequence of Ash’s hand becoming possessed and the eventual removal via chainsaw.
One of the most fond aspects of the Evil Dead films is their stabs at humor in the face of death. It cannot be denied that the movies are flat out hilarious, even when one should be screaming instead of laughing. The play uses this within its music, with hilarious lyrics that have the audience laughing not only at the content, but the context as well. From the hysterical song “What the F**k Was That?” to the soft ballad “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” the music keeps with the comical nature of the films, but with a touch of seriousness that only makes the songs even more hilarious. This is not a typical Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but more along the lines of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut in the way the music is placed into the story. A personal favorite is “Do the Necronomicon,” which is sung by the Candarian Demons at the finale, and is like a new “Time Warp.”
Lacking in the stage production are the elaborate special effects of the films, as it would be quite impossible to do stop motion animatronics live on stage. To suffice, the makeup and costuming easily portray the transformations of characters into Candarian demons. And, at worst case, they simply coat the characters in enough stage blood to make one forget. One bonus to the stage production’s credit: all the blood remains red. No worries about an X rating here!
The Evil Dead musical definitely ranks as one of the best film to stage adaptations, especially allowing fans who would not usually think to go to a musical change their minds afterwards. Hopefully, other adaptations take a cue from this one, and we will be treated to other enjoyable bits of theatre that have their origins rooted in classic cinema.