Evil Dead at Country Playhouse Transcends Civilized Objections

The setup:

There are actually some shows that are immune to criticism, this Evil Dead being one of them. A send-up of a send-up, this Grade B musical, spawned from Sam Raimi's wildly successful horror flick trilogy, which started with Evil Dead, spewed forth Evil Dead II and finished mercifully with Army of Darkness, is a composite of all three movies. It's as cheesy a musical comedy as you could find.

The execution:

It would be nice to report that this show is as campy and naughty as the British Rocky Horror Show (1973), or even as witty as that delicious mother of all horror spoof musicals, Little Shop of Horrors (1982), but sadly this anemic little musical is fairly dreary. Oh, it has the requisite gore (self-amputation, chainsaw attacks, knives in the back); stupid characters who do stupid things like leave the cabin in the middle of the night to explore strange noises emanating from the woods; zombies in the cellar; a book of the dead that, once incanted, summons forth demons; that sort of thing. But, as it is written and performed at Country Playhouse's Blackbox Theatre, it's all handled so clumsily that criticism can't possibly do it any good, or harm. Like those nasty little zombies, this show can't be killed.

Let's start with the basic material. There are four composers (Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt), and even with their combined eight Canadian hands they can't compose one song that sticks in your head. All right, the dance of the demons, "Do the Necronomicon," is pretty catchy, but making fun of Henry Winkler is much too easy a target. Anyway, who remembers '70s icon The Fonz? The other songs are instantly forgettable, or too short to even make an impression as parody. The lyrics, by Reinblatt, the most accomplished of the creative quartet, are somewhat better, but they're usually forced and not very clever. There's no wit or sassiness, certainly no imagination. Granted, it's probably nigh impossible to expect class in a zombie slasher flick musical, but can't there be thrills among the laughs?

As stupid and cheap as the original movie was, it did generate genuine scares. It was visceral, not psychological. Shock cuts work every time. Is it wrong to hope for some goose bumps in the theater? This is just so much cheese.

Then there's that other annoying problem: The musical is cast with actors who can't carry a tune. Now that's scary! Only Jessica Rohe, double cast as professor's daughter Linda and slut Shelley, acquits the vocals with anything approaching professional tonal sense. At least the others in the ensemble throw themselves into the spirit of the thing with a modicum of "let's put on a show." Jonathan Mooney, as bonehead Ash, is a straight-faced hero, and his possession scene is wacky and quite accomplished. Jake Bevill is appropriately smarmy as randy Scott; Rebeccah Bauerlein quips in bad puns throughout as Ash's kid sister Cheryl; Jamie Betik is demurely frightened as Ash's girlfriend Linda; and Tom Stell goes all Deliverance as woodsman Jake. This ain't Show Boat, folks, but some finesse in defining your character would really help move this ton of bricks.

Some truly good sound effects would help, too. When Ash brandishes his fake chainsaw to dispatch the demons, it would be nice to hear it -- loud and clanky. As it plays now, the sound is whisper-quiet, so the tacky effect loses any comic power.

The verdict:

Obviously, I'm overthinking this grunge piece of theater. The truly funny parts belong to a talking moose head, a hyperactive toy squirrel, and Ash's severed hand that scampers across the counter with its libido intact. I'm not sure these bits are enough to make my evening in the theater complete, but the show, by its monumental amateurism, transcends civilized objections.

And a word of caution about the "Splatter Zone," a.k.a., those seats stage left covered in plastic. They're covered because...oh, hell, don't listen to me...get yourself sprayed in fake blood if you want. Don't wear white!

This Canadian caper horror spoof plays through October 27 at Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Lane. Tickets have been available online at the company Web site or call 713- 467-4497. $12-$28. As of publication date, all tickets are sold out. Guess who has the last laugh?

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover