Review of Evil Dead: the Musical

Did DSR Productions’ tribute to 80’s gore deliver what it promised?

By Joseph Keller
[contributor]

This October, Richmond theatre company DSR Productions reprised their popular production of Evil Dead: The Musical. The production is a musical homage to Sam Raimi’s cult ‘80s horror trilogy, and famously advertises its “splatterzone”—a portion of the audience that is soaked in fake blood by the end of the evening.

“It’s really camp, it’s very funny and a bit silly at times . . .and gory as well,” says the show’s director Mark Carter. Carter’s description proves accurate and for the most part his show provided a lot of fun, despite being unable to do justice to its source material in some ways.

The factor that makes or breaks this show, depending on the viewer’s preferences, is the tone. It’s clear from the very beginning of act one that all pretense of real horror has been thrown out the window. Instead, Evil Dead: The Musical opts for a campy comedic tone (even more so than the second and third films) with a somewhat dark sense of humour. This works very well for the musical format and the limitations of being on stage, and makes for a fun, energetic show for those willing to abandon any semblance of seriousness. Those looking for scares, though, may leave underwhelmed.

The performers of the musical all did a great job. It helped that the campy tone made for exaggerated action and mannerisms without much need for subtlety, and each member of the cast displayed a level of energy that made this approach work. Lead actor Scott Walters was given the tough task of standing in for Bruce Campbell in his iconic role as Ash Williams, and was able to channel the stooge-like, slapstick cartoonishness that made the character so memorable.

The music was made of songs that were fun, catchy and even jaunty. They fit with the humour of the show and the cast performed them flawlessly. Standout songs included “What the F*** was That” and “Look Who’s Evil Now”, the latter of which remained stuck in my head for the duration of the trip home from the theatre.

The show’s humor was hit or miss, but mostly hit. While the Evil Dead films relied almost exclusively on slapstick and over-the-top gore for comedy, the musical adds some more jokes to the dialogue. Occasionally the delivery was somewhat forced and clunky, especially when relying on pop culture references—a strange choice for a show that’s meant to pay homage to ‘80s horror flicks. The jokes really worked when they took clever, self-aware jabs at the source material’s lore, most of which had me laughing more often than groaning.

The set design for this show was a real highlight. DSR Productions did a great job recreating the interior of the films’ cabin. The attention to detail really showed when the set’s background elements came to animated life during the haunting sequences, with notable attention to a Candarian Demon-possessed stuffed moose head.

Unfortunately, the much hyped “splatterzone” turned out to be the evening’s disappointment. The marketing of the show used the idea that the those sitting in the first rows would leave the show drenched in blood as a selling point. This led to the, perhaps unreasonable, expectation that torrents of blood similar to those seen in the Evil Dead movies would make an appearance in the performance to drench the audience. Instead, there was one instance near the end of the show where the cast went out into the audience and sprayed the first row with fake blood from ketchup bottles. This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but the disappointment is worth noting as “splatterzone” seats carried an extra fee.

The gore effects in general were the area where this production fell a little bit short. The over-the-top visceral gore effects were an important element in the movies, and it seemed like budget limitations made recreating them unrealistic for this staging. Luckily, the actors’ performances did make up for this in some ways.

Despite the limitations in the gore department, DSR Productions was able to put on a very entertaining show—they did so with an impressive level of professionalism and showmanship. I would not hesitate to see another show by this production company.

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