We sit in a barren alley. A policeman appears, grumbling and brandishing his gun. He strolls down to the end of the alley and takes up a guitar and drums. He’s a one-man band, and our introduction to Blood Alley.
Entitled Blood Alley: Christmas, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre (ZJU) presented a show that examines modern avarice –and its consequences. Using ZJU’s famous “blackout” style, Blood Alley presents a series of vignettes ranging from sexual to downright cannibalistic.
Many of the show’s successful moments took the familiar holiday tropes and imagery and transformed them into shocking and graphic scenes. Bored millennials lounged underneath some mistletoe- and used it as an excuse to experiment with their sexuality. In a satire of polite society, strangers in Victorian garb met and exchanged cordial laughs that quickly degraded into violence. Representing a modern femme fatale, a naked woman lured men to her bosom and then proceeded to suffocate them with it. The holiday blues manifested in a fantastic rendition of New Year’s Eve party that ended in a group of new couples, leaving one man alone. The infant Jesus suckled at the Virgin Mary’s breasts- then started eating at her. A pagan ritual complete with circling candles was updated to praise the mystique of the reindeer. These scenes were clever plays on holiday desires and the primal forces lurking underneath its veneer.
Unfortunately, these same moments suffered from being buried in a barrage of graphic imagery. ZJU is known for their shocking imagery and subject matter—and one should enter these shows with the expectation to be pushed and challenged. But at an hour long, Blood Alley struggled to maintain a strong and consistent theme. Sexual content–in all its forms–was often presented in a way that felt both repetitive and exploitative. There were two separate scenes depicting pedophilia, and both were slow and discomforting. Several scenes had same-sex kissing, but only for the purpose of eliciting a laugh or wandering eye. The same mistletoe used earlier scene became a tool in one merciless rape scene of several. Starkest of all was a depiction of suicide without context, met with dead silence from the audience.
Embracing difficult subjects and pushing boundaries is an important part of the identity of many haunt groups, and it’s what makes horror theater a medium like no other. Zombie Joe’s Underground is a group at the forefront, and Blood Alley: Christmas did have moments of thoughtful finesse that brought to mind the successes of October’s Urban Death show. Those moments are the ones that will stick in my mind long after the show’s run has finished.
Blood Alley: Christmas runs Fridays and Saturdays until December 17th. More information on Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater can be found at Zombiejoes.com.