Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett
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Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead

Note: This review is from 2017

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

It’s a blood-splattered story that features decapitations, demonic possessions and a man sawing off his own hand… and it could be the feelgood hit of the summer.

The premise of The Elvis Dead is as simple as it is ridiculous – a one-man retelling of Sam Raimi's 1987 horror film The Evil Dead II, set to the back catalogue of Elvis Presley. 

There is absolutely no reason why this should work, and for the first couple of numbers, with rewritten lyrics explaining how reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis summons up an evil force, the entire premise seems like a silly gimmick, nothing more.

But when we see a possessed zombie rise from the dead, and Rob Kemp kicks in with, ‘You’re The Devil In Disguise,’ the whole venture springs into life (ironically) and suddenly all seems so obvious.

The juxtaposition of jaunty melodies to the over-the-top horror of the film is key to the huge cult appeal, while the film’s plot gives purpose to the much-derided genre of song parody. Kemp’s song choices are very savvy, and often just a small tweak to the original lyrics is enough to give them relevance.

He’s also got s great Elvis singing voice, and as he plays the movie’s hero, Ash, he throws himself into the physicality of the good-versus-evil battle until he emerges as bloodied and battered as the character on screen.

From time to time he’ll throw a knowing glance or an as-himself comment out to the audience, an acknowledgement of how preposterous this all is, showing great self-aware charm. The occasional prop malfunction helps give a little looseness to the performance, too.

You don’t need knowledge of the Evil Dead II to enjoy this (though it will help), as the clips will fill you in. Although the squeamish should know that all the gore in the movie was always tongue-in-cheek, and in this context hardly seems gruesome.

At the start, Kemp tells the audience to treat The Elvis Dead like a concert… but they were more reverent at this Sunday-night gig, seemingly reluctant to throw themselves into anything more than harmonising ‘in the basement’ to the tune of In The Ghetto, perhaps for fear of missing any of the jokes concealed in the lyrics.

But this show’s buzz is certain to snowball once word gets around and it surely won’t be long until every gig rocks as hard as The King in Vegas. Certainly, the tunes will rattle around your skull for days afterwards.

Permanently in the wall of the Monkey Barrel basement where the show is being staged is a poster for the old sci-fi film Forbidden Planet. It’s , nothing to do with The Elvis Dead, but could be a portent, for it would come as little surprise if  this show went on to do the same sort of business as the rock-and-roll spin-off from that 1956 classic, Return To The Forbidden Planet

There are some issues with staging The Elvis in a such a lo-fi Fringey venue. You can’t always see the footage on the screen, or even Kemp himself, and the sound mix needs a better balance. 

However, it seems certain that before too long it’ll be in a bigger, slicker venue where such technicalities can be addressed. But this is where you come to see it before it gets huge. 

Review date: 9 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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