Sam Raimi’s 1981 splatter classic “The Evil Dead” doesn’t seem like the ideal source material for a stage musical. But “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which premiered Friday at Spokane Civic Theatre, turns out to be a lot of debauched fun, unapologetically raunchy, bloody, tasteless and often very funny.
Energetically directed by Troy Nickerson and Heather McHenry-Kroetch, the musical adaptation follows the basics of the original film pretty closely. As it opens, a group of college students is heading out for a weekend getaway in an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. There’s Ash (Martin Sanks), the fearless leader, and his girlfriend Linda (Talena Kelln). Also in tow are Ash’s prudish sister Cheryl (Whitney Huskey), his pig-headed buddy Scott (Alexander Edmonds) and Shelly (Tanya Barton), the girl Scott picked up in a bar a few nights prior.
In the cabin’s basement, the kids stumble across a creepy-looking book, supposedly bound in human flesh and inked in blood, and an audio recording of incantations that awaken the evil spirits in the woods outside. Pretty soon, Cheryl is possessed and chained up in the cellar, and that strange book, known as the Necronomicon, unleashes a whole lot of hellish pandemonium. Even the taxidermy moose head on the wall has a mind of its own.
By the second act, everyone but Ash, now sporting a chainsaw where his right hand once was, has been transformed into a demon. So the show introduces a few supporting characters who first showed up in “Evil Dead 2”: Annie (Barton again), the daughter of the archaeologist who owns the cabin, her henpecked boyfriend Ed (Mitch Heid) and a local hayseed named Jake (Chris Taylor). They’re basically send-ups of genre stereotypes, especially Annie, whose wardrobe grows skimpier as the violence intensifies.
The whole thing is a big, bloody cartoon, and it possesses the same gonzo spirit and anarchic energy as the original film series. A lot of the show’s best jokes are unfortunately unprintable – in case you hadn’t guessed, this is an R-rated production – and it has a number of gags that are as hilarious as they are shocking in their unexpectedness.
But this isn’t just a throwaway lark: The Civic’s production is handsomely mounted – the cabin set brilliantly captures the look and feel of the location in Raimi’s film – and expertly cast. Sanks is appealing and commanding in the role made iconic by Bruce Campbell, Barton throws herself into the part of the airheaded nymphet and Huskey gets some of the show’s best laugh lines as a demon with all the groan-worthy jokes of a Catskills comedian. (Example: “Like Dom DeLuise at a seafood buffet, I’ll swallow your sole.”)
Raimi’s film was controversial upon its release, slapped with an X rating and inspiring censorship battles in the U.K. Nearly 35 years later, its over-the-top gore, achieved through cheap, practical special effects, has something of a handmade quaintness about it: It’s hard not to admire its violent excess when blood is literally dripping down the camera lens.
“Evil Dead: The Musical” is similarly bloody, with geysers of the red stuff spraying all over the stage and sometimes out into the audience. The Civic’s studio theater has designated “splash zones” where you’re more likely to get showered, and even though they provide free ponchos, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll leave the theater unstained: I was not in the splash zone and still got splattered, though I’m assured it’ll come out in the wash. It’s like the world’s grisliest Gallagher show.
The play is clearly aiming for the same cult following that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has – “The Time Warp” is even referenced in the lyrics of the similarly dance move-centric “Do the Necronomicon.” I don’t think it will ever have the mammoth success of “Rocky Horror,” mainly because the songs here aren’t as technically accomplished as in that revered musical, but it’s still a blast.
I don’t know how “Evil Dead: The Musical” will play to viewers who aren’t familiar with the film series – its passing references to Raimi’s post-“Evil Dead” career and its utilization of “fake Shemps” might sail over their heads – but its nonetheless a terrifically entertaining wallow through blood and bad taste. Leave your decorum at the door and you’ll have a great time.
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