In the early 1980s, a low-budget horror flick grossed out the right people to become a cult film worthy of a nod from the genre’s biggies in the biz.
Stephen King once said of “The Evil Dead”: “(It’s) the most ferociously original horror movie I’ve ever seen.”
In recent years, a local theater company has staged semi-annual productions of the musical adaptation with similar results — it’s become a sort of cult favorite for gore-adoring theater-goers.
“We have people come from really far away and in huge groups,” said Nathan Payne, who has been involved since before the first show in 2009 and is directing the musical for the first time this year. “A lot of people make their own shirts and come in huge groups.
“It has a massive cult following.”
But fans beware: This is the last year the show will play, Payne said.
“I’m so happy with how this has gone,” he said. “I want to end it on a high.”
And this year, he insists, is the highest of high notes.
Payne and friend Minden Hultstrom were fans of Sam Raimi’s 1981 movie long before they approached Brian Matuszak about producing the musical version, also by Raimi.
The plotlines of the versions sync with the musical featuring Canadian rock anthems.
The premise: Five college students strike out for a weekend away at a cabin in the woods. They accidentally unleash an evil force, which attempts to pick them off one at a time. One cabin-goer, Ash, attempts to stay alive until daybreak.
The show is hokier than horror and includes musical numbers such as “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons” and “Do the Necronomicon.”
Bonuses include cascading guts, vicious trees, severed limbs and the roar of a chain saw.
Payne said the play succeeds, partly, because it is hilarious.
“I’m a big fan of the horror genre, and I like how the musical pokes fun at all of them across the board,” he said. “It makes fun of all the stereotypes and tropes involved. I wouldn’t call it ‘high art’ by any means.
“It’s ridiculously fun.”
Rubber Chicken Theater was still in its infancy when Matuszak read the script, found it funny and agreed to produce it. The company’s version included a Splatter Zone, where theater-goers were warned, or rather promised, that they would leave the venue covered in a blood-like substance (that easily washes out of clothes and hair).
A News Tribune reviewer said of it at the time: “It’s impossible to imagine how you could have more fun this Halloween than by going to see Rubber Chicken Theater’s ‘Evil Dead: The Musical.’ ”
Matuszak didn’t originally plan to run and re-run the show.
“The first time, (we were) a fledgling theater company, and that was the biggest show we did,” Matuszak said. “You certainly hope for every show you do to have that response.”
The answer was clear:
“Let’s make it our ‘Nutcracker,’” Matuszak said.
This year, the show is at The Underground for the first time and is promising new sets, new choreography and different ways to spray audience members in the Splatter Zone.
A few of the original members of the cast and crew return, including Payne, who in addition to directing, plays Ash, the character popularized by Bruce Campbell.
The fourth time around, the show is starting to develop its own lore. In 2012, one of the actors threw up before the first scene of the first show, and music director Bree Taylor had to jump into the role.
Taylor had to turn her work clothes into a costume. She had been involved with the show since 2009, so some of it was already in her head, she said. But she also had to quickly cram-study lines before each stage entry.
During the second act, then-director Greg Anderson played a zombie version of the character, lip-syncing to the songs, which Taylor performed from backstage.
This quick-fix played perfectly with the style of the show, Taylor said.
“It has such an opportunity to be versatile in the way it’s performed because it’s such a ridiculous story and so over the top,” she said. “The players can play it in ways that you can’t do with normal characters in normal plays. … The actors, in particular, have such a chance to improvise. Sometimes, the funniest moments are those unexpected accidental mistakes that are covered in hysterical ways.”
Go see it
What: Rubber Chicken Theater’s production of “Evil Dead: The Musical”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (Oct. 30-Nov. 1) NOTE: Tonight’s and Saturday night’s performances are SOLD OUT. Tickets still available for Friday night (Halloween).
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
Tickets: $22 or $27 for limited Splatter Zone seating (includes free T-shirt); Call (218) 733-7555 or go to duluthunderground.org. For Splatter Zone seating, you *MUST* call the Playhouse office to reserve.