Audiences with strong stomachs will walk away from Trustus Theatre’s upcoming production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” with a horrible yet joyful sensation in their twisted little hearts and a generous portion of fake gore in their hair.
The ’80s cult-horror movie series, “Evil Dead,” comes to the Columbia stage Friday for a three-week run.
The show combines the gory thrills of Sam Raimi’s B-list film, “Evil Dead,” with the upbeat show tunes of a Broadway musical and a deadly share of audience participation (patrons sitting in a “Splatter Zone” will be splashed with faux blood pumped through tubes lining the stage).
“The show was designed to please fans of the movie, of which there are many,” said director Chad Henderson. “It’s written and performed in a way that’s asking for laughs – it’s for people who want fun.”
Like the silver-screen original, the show follows protagonist Ash (Michael Hazin), his sister Cheryl (Jodie Cain Smith), his friend Scotty (Patrick Dodds), and his girlfriend Shelly (Elisabeth Baker) as they venture to an abandoned cabin deep in the woods for vacation.
“You mean, we’re breaking into an empty cabin in the woods?” Shelly worries in one scene.
“What can possibly go wrong with five college students breaking into an abandoned, secluded cabin in the woods where no one knows where we are?” Scotty replies.
“Well, when you put it that way!” Shelly responds.
But, of course, it’s only a matter of time before the band of optimistic airheads stumbles across a trap door stowing away an ancient book that unleashes a plague of demons when uncovered.
And that pretty much sums up the goal “Evil Dead: The Musical” – a hilarious jab at predictable horror movie tropes and personalities dealt in a tone so over-the-top, so lacking in self-awareness, that simply calling this show “campy” is a gross understatement.
When the evil is awoken and his friends become possessed, it’s up to Ash, his chainsaw and his sawed-off shotgun to slay the demons and deliver powerful one-liners in a booming, heroic voice with one eyebrow raised (“Good … bad … I’m the guy with the gun”) – all while maintaining hair that stays perfectly styled throughout the carnage.
For Hazin, who says he’s seen the “Evil Dead” films more than 50 times, the chance to channel the corny, courageous Ash was a dream come true.
“It’s definitely a lot of eyebrow practice,” Hazin said. “It’s a lot of the hair and the ‘I know I have blood on me, but I still look good, right?’”
Like the protagonist, the folks over at Trustus aren’t afraid of zombies or violence or foul language, three things that “Evil Dead: The Musical” will have plenty of.
“No one in town would produce this – except for us,” Henderson said. “Our audiences can handle this sort of material. We don’t shy away from things that could be considered offensive … we just want to tell a good story.”
To tell that story, Henderson wanted to put the audience in the middle of the action. He built the stage on a slant, so the performance can be viewed from a more top-down perspective.
“The whole show feels like it’s about to fall on top of you the entire time … that’s why we’re using the tubing to spray the audience with blood – it’s kind of like one of those 4D experiences you go and see at Ripley’s or Disney,” he said. “The disorientation you feel when you look at something like that captures the mood of the play, which is basically an hour-and-a-half-long panic attack. You feel what the characters might be feeling.”
Chief bloodsmith and stage manager Jillian Peltzman says she uses all kinds of techniques to throw an estimated five gallons of blood per show on the actors and audience members, including pond fountains that launch a geyser of gore during the on-stage be-headings. Audience members who decide to brave the “Splatter Zone” will be given white Trustus Theatre T-shirts before the show, which should be more red than white by the final curtain.
“We are going to have blood … a lot of blood,” she said.
Henderson noted that to truly embrace the performance, attendees should mimic the zombies dancing “the sprinkler” onstage and turn their brains off.
“It’s very different from a show that you’re trying to have sort of an emotional impact that can resonate with an audience in their personal lives,” he said. “You’re just seeing the craziest things on stage and that’s what’s fun about it.”
“Evil Dead: The Musical” runs through July 26.
Reach Buscemi at (803) 771 - 8442