Never let it be said that Hollywood and Halloween don’t mix, as Tuesday night’s presentation of Evil Dead in Concert endeavored to prove.
I have a couple of full disclosure statements to make before we get on to the review. One, I’ve known co-director Richard Kraft for 18 years or so. Richard and his Kraft-Engel company has been an agent to film composers like Danny Elfman and many others for decades. He is a restless devourer of popular culture, and is intent on expanding what used to be staid Hollywood music concerts into vibrant, multi-media experiences (earlier this year he mounted a musical stage production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl). However, I have never met co-director Jaime Robledo to my knowledge, so I’m only going to review the parts of Evil Dead in Concert directed by him. See what I did there?
Second full disclosure: while I have seen Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn about 20 times, and consider it to be one of my all-time favorite movies, I’ve really only seen the original Evil Dead once on home video. And by home video I mean a beat-up, pan-and-scan videotape, which I watched at home once or twice 15 or 20 years ago. Evil Dead II to me is one of the greatest comedies of all time, and I dimly remember being disappointed in the original movie as being “not funny enough.”
There; my conscience is clear! Evil Dead in Concert took a current trend of live orchestras performing film scores on stage while the film is being projected behind them and turned it on its ear—or turned it inside out—in a way completely apropos to the fevered nuttiness of Sam Raimi’s original low-budget horror movie. As a Halloween event (attended by a large, dressed up crowd of fans), it fell somewhere between The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a horror movie convention appearance by star Bruce Campbell, who made a grand entrance as host of the festivities in a white tuxedo, brandishing a chain saw. As Campbell repeatedly insisted (in a hilariously tongue-in-cheek, grudging sort of way), the evening was all about composer Joe LoDuca, who Raimi and producer Rob Tapert had located while in the middle of what passed for pre-production on the original Evil Dead in Detroit. LoDuca adapted his score with some postmodern embellishments for the concert event, and performed on guitar, keyboard and percussion along with a heavily miked 7-piece orchestra on stage, while Christopher Roundtree conducted. The orchestra performed BEHIND the screen on which the film was projected, lingering like a ghostly ensemble just barely visible behind the onscreen mayhem.
Campbell, seemingly ad-libbing and riffing off audience members and onstage performers, made for a terrifically funny and entertaining host who guided his introduction effortlessly after a staged performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” by Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch. No disrespect to Lynch, but even Campbell seemed to poke fun at the efficacy of this prelude as a tone-setting exercise for what followed. But once Campbell entered, the rest of the show turned into a high-energy, effortless romp that kept the audience well-entertained for what turned out to be a fairly lengthy run time.
Kraft and Robledo provided a framing device that had a creepy, zombie-like usher (Joe Fria) regale the audience with the tale of horrific events that occurred during a 1920s appearance of “Ace Hollywood & His Angel City Shufflers” at the Theatre (an appropriately creepy, ancient edifice that suggests something between Notre Dame Cathedral and Hell). So as the film eventually unspooled, it would periodically melt down as the ghostly band and various singers and dancers (including Jenny Ashman, Alexis Carra, Tim J. Hearl, Joe Romara, Jessica Lea Patty, Melvin Ramsey and Holly Sedillos) sang modern pop hits showbiz musical style, with appropriate tie-ins to the movie. The performers were all pros who threw themselves into Mark Swanhart’s energetic and funny choreography, generating plenty of laughs and applause despite the fact that they were interrupting the movie the audience had come to see.
The movie itself was a lot more fun than I remembered, especially with a clued-in audience of fans yelling stuff at the screen and roaring with laughter at every clueless expression from the very young Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead II is essentially a more technically polished and more intentionally funny remake of the original movie, and while the first film starts off seeming stunningly cheap and primitive compared to the sequel, by about the halfway point the brutalization of Campbell and Raimi’s crazed, kinetic shooting style starts to match up quite well with the later picture. The climactic, gross-out effects montage of decomposing zombie bodies is some kind of pop art masterpiece even 35 years later.
LoDuca’s spiky, dissonant music got the kind of presentation any film composer would kill for today—there’s very little dialogue in Raimi’s movie, and LoDuca got free reign to provide the lion’s share of suspense and fear with the amplified ensemble scratching and pounding away almost nonstop throughout the movie. It was enough to get the crowd on its feet for a standing ovation by the end and enough to make me hope that they’ll do this for Evil Dead II next year.
Images: Jeff Bond, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel,
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group