Evil Dead: The Musical

By Straight Edge Theatre, Edmonton, Venue 36 (La Cite Francophone)

You know fandom has gotten completely out of hand when the fan fiction is as good if not better than the original work it’s supposed to be inspired by.

For those who don’t know, Evil Dead is a campy low-budget 1981 demons-in-the-woods flick that has since become The Sound of Music of the horror genre. Cults and parties and bad sequels have formed around it. Indeed, when key lines in the film were uttered in the bloody hilarious Evil Dead: The Musical at the Fringe – “You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this? Why?!” – people cheered.

The original film had just a hint of comedy, some of it unintentional. This off-Broadway production, written by George Reinblatt and performed professionally at the Fringe by Edmonton’s Straight Edge Theatre, takes that campy original sensibility and amps it up into a full-blown, laugh-a-minute farce that never lets up. Hellishly hilarious.

As the lead character Ash, Matthew Lindholm is terrific. His eyebrows alone should have their own agent. His comic timing and vivid facial contortions are put to good use in several gruesome scenes played for pure comedy, like the one where his own hand becomes possessed by a demon and attacks him – whereupon he cuts off his hand and later replaces it with a chainsaw. But there’s no need to recount the plot, is there? Zombie demons were accidentally summoned by an evil book made from human skin, and all hell breaks loose. You know, that old story. “Join us!” all the demons sing. Even the furniture gets involved.

The rest of the large cast is equally strong in the arts of singing, dancing, and acting – sometimes all at the same time. Consider the skills needed to pull off any musical, let alone one where you’re about to get possessed by a demon. Of course, much of the acting here consists of freaking out, screaming and rending one’s victims, but it is convincing. Most of the Evil Dead plot points faithfully rendered come with a song. Ash at one point does a duet and a dance with Scott (Stephen Allred) on a tango number called What the Fuck Was That? Other musical highlights include Look Who’s Evil Now and a touching solo ballad from Annie (Amanda Neufeld) simply called All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons. Hate it when that happens.

So over-the-top ridiculous that you won’t have time to ponder how ridiculous it is, this whole thing is a scream. Literally and figuratively. Remember the old formula: Horror + musical = comedy.

5 out of 5

Timmy, Tommy and the Haunted Hotel

By Pape & Taper Productions, Calgary, Venue (King Edward Elementary School)

This charming horror doesn’t neatly fall into the classic zombie musical genre. There is no “zombie virus” that infects its victims, and there is no chance the spectral residents of the titular haunted hotel are going to take over the world. But these ghosts can manifest form and action in the physical world – as puppets, in this case – and they are technically undead. And they do sing. So there you go.

The action here revolves around two young girls, Timmy and Tommy, who spend their days playing catch until one of them throws the ball through the window of an abandoned hotel. The braver of the two goes in to retrieve it and is immediately turned into a puppet (obviously a puppet pathogen at work here), but is otherwise unchanged. Her friend comes in to help. Now trapped in the hotel, the two work together to unravel the mystery of what fate befell the people who used to work in the hotel (also puppets), and morbid melodrama ensues.

The presence of puppets, the lighthearted, sometimes silly tone of the piece, along with whimsical songs, hide a dark core. There’s an edgy scene involving suicidal ghost – which is weird since she’s already dead – and an ending that may leave some people scratching their heads. But it’s a compelling, well-acted and well-sung (and well-puppeteered) production that deserves a place of honour in the growing “zombie musical” canon of modern theatre.

4 out of 5

Prom Night of the Living Dead: A Zombie High School Musical!

From Theatrex, Edmonton, Venue 30 (Varscona Hotel)

When you turn a horrifying story into a musical, comedy is inevitable. It’s the nature of the beast.

In this lively show from a large cast of hard-working, enthusiastic actors, two tropes have been mashed together. Fresh hilarity with a tinge of true terror results. We have the usual zombie-bites-guy, guy-turns-into-a-zombie, guy-bites-girl, zombies-take-over-the-world sort of story. The other cliché is the typical high school drama pitting the cool kids against the nerds. Of course they have to work together to fight the growing zombie horde – and they all learn something. For a short time, anyway.

The music consists of modern pop songs mutilated with Weird Al-type lyrics. You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful becomes You Don’t Know You’re Evil; They turn “here’s my number, so call me maybe” into “you’re a zombie, so brains are tasty,” and you get the idea. Killer choreography for such a small stage.

Little touches round out this clever and self-aware show: Like the drug dealer dude (Dylan Caddy) who insists that Green Eggs and Ham is an allegory for acceptance of homosexuality. Liam McKinnon as the drama class geek is another comic standout. He gives the Fun song Carry On new life (death) with the line, “I’ll bury your corpse tonight.” Maya Molly (who can sing) plays the stereotypical stuck-up cheerleader with perfect drama, dealing with not only the Zombie Apocalypse, but social standing in high school where you’d literally rather die than hang out with uncool kids.

When seeing an amateur theatre production like this at the Fringe, you tend to forgive flaws, but it’s really not necessary here. These young actors are all pretty convincing. The script is terrific, only a little corny. And sure, some of them can sing, some flat out can’t – but they don’t care! Besides, they’re all going to end up as zombies anyway (spoiler alert), so it works out.

4 out of 5