Writer: Rob Kemp
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Bruce Campbell, who starred in the Evil Dead movie franchise, also played Elvis Presley in a film where The King faked his own death and lived in a retirement home fighting the undead. Now, in The Elvis Dead, Rob Kemp re-tells the second instalment of the movie franchise using songs made famous by Elvis Presley; funny how things turn out.
By now The Elvis Dead has received critical plaudits and gets a rapturous reception at The Lowry but Kemp does not take acclaim for granted. He opens and closes the show humbly apologising to anyone who was expecting a tribute to Elvis Costello (‘It’s not Oliver’s Army of Darkness’) and explaining that the dodgy state of his website is due to his inability to write code. Kemp does an excellent job of getting the audience to take part explaining that this is not a show that benefits from audience apathy.
This same advice could be given to viewers of The Evil Dead 2, a movie with a plot that borders on the surreal and in which violence is so over the top as to become pantomime. It is a film that attracts wild devotion from punters grown jaded with the horror movie genre and is best viewed in the company of friends who can delight in sharing the more ridiculous aspects.
For the benefit of patrons who have not seen the move in question excerpts from The Evil Dead 2 are projected onto a screen throughout the show. These are supplemented by Kemp cheerfully re-enacting key scenes live on stage using props that could politely be described as ‘basic’. Like the movies from which it draws inspiration The Elvis Dead has no pretentions towards being slick or sophisticated entertainment. The chainsaw that becomes the hero’s weapon of choice looks like it was knocked together very quickly and Kemp acknowledges that the budget did not extend to reproducing the giant hand from the movie.
Much of the success of the play comes, therefore, from Kemp’s highly energetic and hugely appealing performance. Kemp resembles the swivel-hipped young Elvis but his performance is largely based on moves from Presley’s Vegas period. Dramatic sweeping arm gestures, legs spread wide and the occasional drop to the stage are all present. When Kemp re-enacts the scenes from the film he does so with the gleeful enthusiasm of a child at play; spraying himself with fake blood and rushing into the audience waving around the chainsaw. The Evil Dead 2 is very much a cult movie with an obsessive fan base and Kemp’s approach shows a deep understanding of the goofy appeal of the film.
Although Kemp opens and closes The Elvis Dead performing as a stand-up comedian the show is essentially a concert with very little dialogue and the story told mainly through songs. Kemp does an impressive vocal impression of The King but his main skill is adapting the songs to serve as a narration to the movie. The songs are full of groaningly awful puns as the lyrics are twisted to suit the storyline. You Were Always on my Mind becomes a tribute to the possessed hand that has to be severed: You were always on my arm. True to Elvis’s Vegas stage show Kemp even includes a ‘sincere’ spoken interlude and brings the show to a rousing conclusion with an adaptation of The American Trilogy.
The Elvis Dead is the best horror/ comedy/ music tribute since The Rocky Horror Show; although it is doubtful whether it will be able to achieve the same level of success while retaining its ramshackle charm. It is certainly of a quality to make you hope that Kemp is not joking when he says his next project will be Beatle Juice.
Reviewed 13th October 2018 | Image: Contributed