Why the Evil Dead Musical Is a Great and Bizarre Installment in the Franchise

Last week, it was announced that the Deadites are back in swing, as a new Evil Dead film is officially on the way. HBO Max will be the home to Evil Dead 4 (officially titled Evil Dead Rise), which comes from The Hole in the Ground filmmaker Lee Cronin. The new sequel is set to bring the franchise to a more urban setting, a stark contrast to the cabin-bound location of the original film.

Cronin joins the franchise with a high profile endorsement; the Irish filmmaker was handpicked by Sam Raimi to helm the new Evil Dead movie. Raimi and Bruce Campbell will executive produce the new project, which is set to directly follow the events of the original trilogy and not the 2013 remake from Fede Alvarez. As Ash is now retired, the protagonist role will be filled by Alyssa Sutherland (The Mist, Vikings) and Lily Sullivan (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Jungle) as a pair of sisters attempting to salvage their relationship in the wake of a demon uprising.

Evil Dead is the rare horror franchise that has yet to overstay its welcome. Each of the original trilogy films are great in their own way, as each takes a slightly different approach to the mythology of Ash and the Sumerian demons. The Evil Dead was incredibly influential, showing just how inventive and original a low-budget bloodbath could be, with Evil Dead II upping both the scares and the comedy. Army of Darkness wasn’t only a great conclusion to Ash’s emotional arc, but it fulfilled the promise of a medieval bound comedic romp promised at the end of the second film.

While other horror series grew stale with age, Evil Dead continued to innovate. Alvarez’s film was the rare horror remake that took an even more brutal (if less humorous) approach to the material that complicated the existing mythology without being bound by it. The continuation of the original timeline in the Starz TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead was able to provide fans with more of the characters they loved, but instead of relying only on nostalgia as a selling point, the three seasons introduced new voices and perspectives into the universe.

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Perhaps the loose structure and endlessly inventive deaths make the series so endearing, but 40 years after the original, Evil Dead is still an exciting franchise. The announcement of a new film is met with enthusiasm and not groans. Anticipation is high for what Cronin has in store, but in the meantime fans should dig deeper into the Evil Dead mythos by exploring one of its most bizzare and oddly entertaining chapters: the Off-Broadway Musical.

Yes, Ash can sing! Initially performed at a small stage in Toronto back in 2003, Evil Dead: The Musical retells key moments from the first three films in a rock opera format. Ash, Linda, Cheryl, Scott, and Shelly are all reintroduced as the same horny teenagers who celebrate their spring break with a venture into a cabin in the woods, with singing demons popping up to wreak havoc on their proposed vacation. The show would later play in New York and Korea, launch three North American tours, and premiere as more than 500 worldwide productions.

Gradually building a cult fan base as it permeated the musical landscape, Evil Dead: The Musical received the same sort of word of mouth success that the films did. With endorsements from Raimi and Campbell, the stage production filled the horror comedy void that fans of shows like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors were looking for.

The musical has the same sort of winking humor and aptitude for violence that the films do, with innovative gore effects and descriptive lyrics describing the various demonic encounters. Part of the Evil Dead appeal is the appreciation of the constraints: how is a movie this fun and original on a shoe-string budget? The musical works for the same reason: how is the Raimi magic so perfectly recreated as a live musical experience?

The musical perfectly selects moments from the films to repurpose as numbers. With a winking nod to the opening of The Evil Dead (“Cabin in the Woods''), the first act essentially recreates the first film with moments like Chery’s demonic transformation (“Look Who's Evil Now”) and the temptation of the creatures lifted from the Book of the Dead (“Join Us”). Incorporating moments from Evil Dead II within the second act, we get characters like Ed (“Bit-Part Demon”) and Jake (“Good Old Reliable Jake”) popping up too. The S-Mart scenes that close Army of Darkness provide the perfect way to introduce Ash (“Housewhere Employee '') and his romance with Linda gives the musical a recurring tune that’s reprised.

The music is also just genuinely clever; the romance is touching but cheeky, the characters are quippy but not obnoxious, and the lyrics are just groan-worthy enough to justify the entire runtime. The zippy pace doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to cram all the film events into a recap, and the references aren’t distracting enough that anyone not familiar with the series would notice. In fact, the musical is a pretty great gateway for new fans; the broad satire of stupid teenagers up against comedically eccentic demons is surpisingly accessible.

If the music itself can be enjoyed on its own, the live show boasts the same sort of “midnight madness” appeal that seeing the movies with a packed crowd has. With a dedicated “Splatter Zone” showered in blood effects, it’s an interactive experience. The standout track “Do the Necronomicon” is the type of rousing, catchy showstopper that The Rocky Horror Picture Show has with “Time Warp.”

While it mostly focuses on the comedic elements, Evil Dead: The Musical is a great example of how welcoming the fanbase is. This is a series that accepts bold swings and celebrates scrappy underdogs like Ash who find their inner hero, and the constraints of canon are secondary to the experience that the stories provide. Evil Dead: The Musical would probably have been accepted by die-hard Raimi supporters if it was only a hastily slapped together collection of parody songs, but the fact that it’s a genuine phenomenon of a show opens up the possibilities even further.

With more Evil Dead coming soon, now is a better time than ever to celebrate the wonderfully weird and spotlight this fun and innovative production. It’s worth a listen even for the musical-adverse, and the cast album is an absolute banger from start to finish. Just don’t be surprised if the lyrics “In hell we dance our own special way/ Let's show him how we dance while our bodies decay” remain ingrained in your mind during your next binge of the films.

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Liam Gaughan (126 Articles Published)

Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.

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