Ash, the square-jawed, slightly clueless stock clerk made infamous by the combined genius of actor Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi, stands in a jet stream of fake blood, removes his girlfriend’s head with a chainsaw, and sings a plaintive refrain from the soon-to-be hit show tune “I’m Not a Killer.”
And so concludes the riotous first act of Evil Dead: The Musical.
The audience is giddy.
“Listen up, you primitive screw-heads,” says a young man in the crowd, quoting Ash as he squeezes past his friends seated in the “Splatter Zone” of the New World Stages. “Nobody panic! I’m going for alcohol!”
“First you wanna kill me, then you wanna kiss me!” replies his girlfriend with another recognizable line from Raimi’s cult movie trilogy.
During intermission, the din of early-’80s cock rock is punctuated by a string of preferred Evil Dead quotes shouted by the audience: “Well, helloooo, Mr. Fancypants!” or “Give me back my hand . . . Give me back my hand!” One fan delivers Ash’s entire “Boom Stick” soliloquy while standing under the boughs of a demon- possessed tree, and a few rows away, a woman wearing a “This is my boom stick” T-shirt waves her giant black Evil Dead: The Musical souvenir foam hand. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is not your average crowd of theatergoers but a throng of dyed-in-the-wool devotees—the type of fans who return again and again to shout lines back at the cast during the performance. And they do.
“It’s like the new Rocky Horror Picture Show,” says a 24-year-old man named Random, whose grandparents are in attendance celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary. (Surprisingly, they are not the only septuagenarians in the house.) Granddad has a sick sense of humor, assures Random, and Grandma loves musicals, so “it’s the perfect gift.”
In preparation for Act II, Random tells his grandparents to don the disposable raincoats that the house has considerately supplied to the first three rows. However, most ticket holders in the Splatter Zone purposely wear pristine white T-shirts, which will resemble gruesome Rorschach tests by curtain call. Among them is 40-year-old Jimmy Psycho, singer for Psycho Charger, a horror- billy rock band that is no stranger to bloodshed. (During a show at Brooklyn’s Galapagos, the band found itself sloshing across the stage in nearly two gallons of horror-show claret.) Next time Psycho comes to see Evil Dead: The Musical, it will be with his mother. “She’ll really appreciate the action onstage,” he says.
The action includes a dismembered hand, a singing moosehead, a small army of demons, a chainsaw armature, a comically possessed forest, a pun-spewing hell spawn, a decapitated zombie, several gallons of blood, and brilliantly delivered ditties such as “Look Who’s Evil Now,” “What the (Fuck Was That)?” “Bit Part Demon,” and “Do the Necronomicon”— all of which are executed in a pitch-perfect combination of horror and humor that is wholly infectious.
“I would have liked more gore,” admits 25-year-old Christopher Freas, who brought his new bride from Pennsylvania for their honeymoon. “[But] we plan on seeing it again Thanksgiving weekend.”
Outside Les Freres Corbusier’s Hell House, 27-year-old Tania Lamb is also thinking about blood and guts. “The abortion scene was really, really gory. The whole experience was pretty disturbing.”
Created by Reverend Jerry Falwell and popularized by Pastor Keenan Roberts of the New Destiny Christian Center in Colorado, the hell house is a fundamentalist- Christian holiday attraction that depicts the horrors of sin and torments of the damned in a Halloween-haunted-house format. Since 1995, more than 50,000 people have walked through Roberts’s Halloween houses of judgment in the metropolitan Denver area, and approximately 3,000 other hell houses have been staged across the country over the last 10 years. While the script might lend itself to lazy dramatic irony, Les Freres Corbusier has decided to play it straight. “I’ve been expecting you,” snarls our demon tour guide, pulling back the thick black curtains that have transformed St. Ann’s Warehouse into a macabre maze.
Eerie music, laughter, and distant screams spread through the gloom as we follow our hellish conductor into the first scene—a late-night rave where teens wiggle and writhe under a strobe light to bad electronica. Within a few minutes, Jessica, a newbie to the party, is slipped a roofie and gang-raped on the dancefloor. Curtains rise and we find ourselves in Jessica’s room, surrounded by Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears posters. While a desperate and hopeless Jessica rails against God for letting such a thing happen, our demon host enters the room, offering an easy solution to her pain and shame. The girl blows her brains out, a sin for which she is now damned.
“Things are really heating up in hell,” cackles the fiend as he leads us to an operating room that more closely resembles a slaughterhouse—the product of young love in the backseat of a ’94 Camaro, we are told. The patient is a cheerleader named Chrissy, who lies on the gurney, still in her uniform, with bloody thighs, smeared lipstick, and disarrayed pigtails. Gore covers the walls and clings to the attending nurses’ uniforms. As Chrissy screams out in pain, a cigarette-smoking doctor reaches between the girl’s thighs with a wet/dry Shop-Vac. A sickening sound fills the air.
With all its exaggeration and insensibility, this scene might easily supply the opening for a brilliant drag routine. Chrissy could sit up and launch into Ray Price’s “I’ve Gotta Have My Baby Back” while the nurses do the Necronomicon, but no such comic relief is afforded Hell House patrons. The vignette stretches well beyond comfort. The blood flows. Chrissy screams for her lost child as our demon host pulls a tiny bloody foot out of a stainless-steel bowl. Involuntary gasps and shudders run through my group. Our guide draws us on to other scenes: a classroom, where D&D and MTG-playing loners open fire; a gay marriage, officiated by devils; a hospital bed where AIDS patients are literally swallowed up by hell; an Internet café where readers of The Onion mock evangelicals and parody Jesus for the sake of their blogs; and finally, a dark, narrow passage filled with shrieking and mutilated hell dwellers. Some of them cling to shriveled babies, bottles of booze, and water bongs while their wounds ooze; others sing show tunes or pray to Allah. All of them reach desperately for the faces of the passersby.
At last we are offered salvation.
Instead of a prayer room, as suggested in Pastor Roberts’s hell house kits, Les Freres Corbusier invites us to sing along with a Christian-rock band while the smiling faithful offer us Kool-Aid and cookies under a neon crucifix. The room is cool, white, and airy, a relief from the claustrophobia of the hell house. But somehow this proves to be the creepiest room of all.
“It would be OK if it wasn’t real,” says Tania Lamb. “But people believe in that. It’s scary shit. Not like a haunted house. But really scary. I wouldn’t bring my mother, you know, even for Halloween.”