A mashup between classic cult horror movie Evil Dead 2 and the music of Elvis Presley is not something I ever thought I would experience. But I am very glad I did.
Rob Kemp’s award-winning show is playing at the SoHo Theatre in Central London over the winter, having had a solid run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. The one man performance tells the story of Evil Dead 2 through songs set to the tune of Elvis’s biggest hits.
It’s not necessarily the soundtrack you’d expect for this film, but it worked so well. The mix of the two highlighted the inherent silliness in the movie and gave it extra splash of campy fun. Some of the songs even fit into the plot surprisingly well. Caught In A Trap actually wasn’t that surprising, but I was very impressed by how relevant he managed to make Return to Sender.
Kemp’s stage presence really made the show. He is wonderfully expressive and does an unexpectedly good Elvis Presley impersonation. After his brief intro in his native northern accent, I didn’t quite expect the strength of his singing voice. He completes the picture with tight sparkly trousers and all the head bobbing and hip swinging that is essential for any Elvis show.
The horror element is evoked predominantly through the screen at the back of the stage, onto which is projected clips from the film. This really helped to keep track of the story, so you knew exactly what you were supposed to be seeing. It also acted as a handy reminder for people, like myself, who haven’t watched the film in a long time. Or people, who were surprisingly common, who had never seen it at all.
At times, what Kemp’s rock ‘n’ roll energy on stage is gloriously disjunct from the clips playing behind him. He transitions effortlessly into embodying the horror himself during key scenes, mirroring the action on screen sometimes in the form of simple key phrases and other times through great, graphic horror scenes.
These come to life through Kemp’s creative use of props. He brandishes a big fake chainsaw, re-enacting the crucial moments between him and his possessed hand, complete with plates smashed over his head and violent thrashing all over the stage. When the film gets particularly gory, Kemp manages to bring fake blood into his performance in a way that is both funny and effective.
The fake blood even had the added effect of giving Kemp the grizzled look of a genuine, demon-ravaged hero by the end of the show, when the blood was streaked with sweat and beginning to fade.
I really hope that The Elvis Dead seals Kemp’s name. He is clearly a talented and creative – if a little bizarre – comedian, who puts a lot of effort into crafting a show. I want him to release and album so I can listen again and learn all the words, because they are at least as enjoyable as the original songs.
I can’t wait to see what Kemp brings to next year’s Edinburgh festival, even if it isn’t the incredible sounding show he teased as he closed: Beatles Juice.
The Elvis Dead is running at the SoHo Theatre in London, UK, on multiple dates in December and January – don’t miss it!