It’s a familiar story: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl to demonic possession. Boy wields chainsaw against girl and zombiefied friends.
Perhaps the most iconic of cult films, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead provides the inspiration for Evil Dead: The Musical, a special effects-laden summer spectacular opening this Friday at Trustus Theatre.
Five college students’ misadventures in a spooky cabin in the woods mirror the journey of director Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and star Bruce Campbell, who dropped out of college in 1979 to shoot an indie horror movie in a spooky cabin in the woods, armed with a shoestring budget and unbridled ambition. Genuinely frightening in spite of its flaws and limited resources, The Evil Dead became an instant genre classic thanks to Raimi’s hyperkinetic visual style, which inspired a host of imitators, and to Campbell’s gritty wisecracks and one-liners, now memorized obsessively by legions of fans.
The inexperience of the rookie director and cast never got in the way of their youthful exuberance, leading to plenty of unintended laughter at the sometimes hokey special effects and amateurish acting; a pair of sequels followed, adding intentionally campy humor and slapstick to the mix. Raimi went on to direct blockbusters (the Spider-Man trilogy) and produce hit TV shows with Tapert (Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules, Spartacus), while Campbell became unofficial king of B-movies, finally achieving mainstream success on cable series Burn Notice.
Thirty years after its premiere, George Reinblatt (and three musical collaborators) adapted The Evil Dead into a musical spoof in the vein of Little Shop of Horrors and Rocky Horror Show.
Combining the plots — and bloodshed — of the first two films, the New York stage production was an Outer Critics’ Circle Award nominee for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical.
Director Chad Henderson is keenly aware of the show’s rich history and fan expectations, and he feels there’s something for everyone. Horror buffs will enjoy the nod to the comedy inherent in the original film, while Trustus regulars will appreciate experiencing something done just for fun, yet with professional attention to detail — i.e. “the ridiculous circumstances and amounts of gore,” he says.
He hopes audiences will embrace “the spectacle of it all,” adding that the cast tries to “incorporate bad community theater habits in a purposeful manner” to replicate some of the unintentionally campy aspects of the original film. Nevertheless, his goal is to make the show’s visual effects as scary and gripping as a traditional thriller.
A visit to rehearsal 10 days before opening is like stepping into a military operations center — with several dozen actors and technicians hard at work. Sound cues of gunshots and chainsaws resonate through the theater, and Henderson proudly shows off a bucket of stage blood. A steeply sloping stage has been constructed, adding a visual echo of Raimi’s eerie Dutch angles — i.e., obliquely slanted points-of-view.
Michael Hazin, who plays hero Ash, acknowledges having been a longtime “superfan.” He casually twirls a sawed-off shotgun prop while expressing his dismay that he only has two more months of playing a character he was already in love with long before auditions. Stage manager Jillian Peltzman doubles as props and special effects whiz, and has created her own secret recipe for the blood, which flows liberally. Eight seats in the audience comprise a “Splatter Zone,” where attendees may want to wear protective raingear, but are encouraged to sport souvenir white (and easily bloodied) T-shirts, proclaiming “I Survived the Splatter Zone.”
All Peltzman will reveal is that the blood is non-toxic and water-soluble. Actors will trigger most of the effects themselves; everything from condoms and nasal spray containers to pond fountains and mist dispensers are utilized to ensure maximum carnage.
“I’m really trying to honor the original film,” Peltzman says.
Evil Dead: The Musical opens Friday and runs through Saturday, July 26. For tickets or more information, visit trustus.org or call 254-9732.
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