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Blood and Boomsticks: Why The Evil Dead Musical is Kind of Like Ulysses

In Books, Horror, Theater on January 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

This past weekend I saw Evil Dead: the Musical. The title alone is something of a ridiculous novelty item, and I enjoyed the mere fact of saying to people “I’m going to go see Evil Dead: the Musical this weekend.” “What a delightful sounding quirky event!” people said in astounded reply, “you certainly are always doing something enjoyable and wacky!” Yes. Yes I am. So, how was it?

Uneven. High school musical-esque. Borderline terrible. Hugely enjoyable. I hated and loved it.

ED: tM (at least the production I saw) is by no means “good” or any approximation thereof. As a play and a stage show, it’s not even passably okay. Despite that, though, I enjoyed myself immensely. Walking out of it, I was torn between how bad I knew the production was, versus how much fun I had watching it.

First, the bad stuff: the acting was stilted, the singing was average-to-bad, the sound went in and out, and the pacing was terrible. Scenes bled into and out of each other with no kind of logic or cohesion, and there was no attempt whatsoever at horror or anything even approaching mild scares. More than anything else, it looked like someone’s Evil Dead fan fiction was being acted out on stage. As a musical production in and of itself, I knew in the relentlessly logical and taste-having section of my brain that ED:tM was bad, low-grade, terrible, putrid, and other flavors of general non-quality.

Despite that, during the performance my state of being could have been best described as “having fun.”

Even though I knew that ED: tM was kind of bad, I left very happy with my theater-going experience. I had fun. Not just a little fun. Lots of fun. I really, really enjoyed seeing a dude dressed up as Ash say “boomstick” and “groovy.” I liked watching dancing zombies and evil trees, and I utterly loved sitting in the splatter zone, getting a bucket of fake blood dumped over my head, and being subsequently assaulted by a zombie during the final musical number.

There was also a zombie (excuse me- “deadite”) who kept making bad puns throughout the whole show. As stupidly vaudvillian as it all was, I kind of loved the constant stream of groan-worthy bad jokes. But again- I knew that what I was watching was objectively terrible.

So, why the hell did I like this? Why on Earth did I thoroughly enjoy something that I knew was bad? This is something that bothered me about ED: tM, and a good deal of other media as well.

ED: tM works (if it does work) only insofar as the viewer is a fan of the Evil Dead movies. In fact, the whole thing kind of is fan fiction, in that it’s a kind of media where most of the enjoyment comes from recognizing things. The audience didn’t have fun so much because the Ash on stage said “groovy.” Instead, we all collectively remembered how awesome it was when Bruce Campbell said “groovy” and enjoyed that bit of fan-memory in a sudden collective burst.

Also: fake blood. I got doused with the stuff, and getting coated in a layer of ersatz gore is almost always fun.

It’s very tempting to write off nostalgia, the fun of recognition, and fan service as bad reasons to enjoy something. While those are not the best reasons for a given thing being “good,” I don’t believe that nostalgia or the fun of recognizing fan-favorite lines like “gimmie some sugar, baby” are illegitimate reasons for liking something. Ulysses, a hoity-toity book that is supposedly the best bit of English word-art ever put to the page, is almost 67.5% Homeric fan fiction. When I read Ulysses most of the fun I had was picking out the references to literature and mythology, and finding parallels with the Odyssey. I actually alternated back and forth between reading Joyce and Homer so I could pick out the various parallel bits. While Ulysses is enjoyable as a rather nicely written book in and of itself, the added dimension of reading it as a classical literature fanboy made my experience of consuming it a lot more fun. I felt like I “got” when Joyce was winkng at me- that is, if someone who had only one eye can be said to “wink” in any real sense.

That feeling was magnified severalfold in a theater. Sitting in a room with a collection of like-minded fan-nerds amplified my own enjoyment of the theatrical goings-on. Their laughs, groans, and applause amplified my own. We were all sitting in a theater getting fan-serviced together, and it felt damn good.

I hesitate to call ED: tM a guilty pleasure, as I don’t feel at all guilty for having fun while watching it. However, I do acknowledge that a great amount of the fun I had came from external stuff already lodged in my brain prior to the performance. Would I recommend it to others? No, probably not. Did I have gobs of stupidly blood-splattered fun this weekend? Yes, absolutely, and I’d do it again.

  1. When I saw it in NY, it was one or two people from the original cast (Ash being one) who coincidentally also wrote it for its original Canadian production (IIRC). The rest of the cast were all off-broadway actors of the same moderate fame many broadway and off broadway bit actors seem to possess.

    I liked the music enough to actually buy the CD.

    Maybe it was largely poor casting that soured your experience?

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