RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
• Deleted Scenes
• Behind the scenes featurette
• Short Film: Laughter, by Simon Rumley
• Sneak Peeks at other TLA releases
It’s a stuffy, hallucinatory spin on Misery, but with more of a focus on bed defecation and old lady nudity.
I hate having to explain my halloween costumes, but if you must know,
I’m a homeless birthday cake.
Leo Bill, Roger Lloyd Pack, Kate Fahy. Dir. Simon Rumley.
Simon Rumley’s The Living and the Dead, an exploration of disease, madness, and familial mortality, shows the slow deterioration of the Brocklebank family after losing their wealth and status to scandal and bankruptcy. As patriarch and Ex-Lord Donald struggles to care for bedridden wife Nancy and mentally disabled adult son James, life within the increasingly run-down Brocklebank manor becomes a bitter shadow of earlier, happier days. With the looming threat of financial ruin bearing down upon him, Donald leaves his family to negotiate a business deal, leaving his wife and increasingly delusional son in the care of a nurse.
In search of parental acceptance, James decides to “be the man of the house” in his father’s absence and care for his cancer-stricken mother. Locking out the nurse and disconnecting the phones, James attempts to heal his mother on his own; however, he lapses into madness when he forgets to take his medication, leading to a torturous, nightmarish ordeal for both mother and child.
Elouise was renowned for her ability to bullseye a schizophrenic
with a syringe from fifty paces.
Right off the bat, I’d like to point out some of the misleading pull quotes on Simon Rumley’s The Living and the Dead’s packaging, which read:
“Indie horror classic of the future!”
The Living and the Dead isn’t a horror film in even the loosest sense of the term. It’s a well-built story, and it certainly includes horrific moments, but it’s no more a horror film than In the Bedroom was. It’s an unflinching portrayal of a shattered family’s final moments, and will leave you much more depressed than frightened or haunted. We may squirm as bedridden matriarch Nancy suffers physical torture at the hands of her delirious child, but it’s certainly not out of terror; in fact, it’s important to note that Rumley clearly wants us to empathize with both the victim and the assailant here.
As James’ mental condition gradually worsens, he visits a host of horrible treatment upon his Mother. We watch as he force feeds her too many pills- he reasons that if she takes six pills a day instead of two, she’ll get better in a third of the time. He begins to feed her his pills by the fistfull. He accidentally leaves her to nearly freeze to death in a filthy tub. Perhaps most egregiously, he’s not as attentive as he should be when it comes to monitoring Mom’s bathroom breaks. But Rumley underscores all of this by letting us know that James’ behavior isn’t malicious in the least; he’s craving both his Father’s respect and his Mother’s love much in the way a child would. After the authorities intervene and rescue Nancy, James punishes himself by nearly overdosing on his own medication.
In his old age, George would often confuse the television remote with the carving
knife. This led to deadly bedtime stabbings and poorly-carved poultry.
Here, James is less a typical villain than he is a manifestation of a hidden, festering wound. He’s the forgotten, untended gash in the belly of the family, and while his parents are worried about estates, bills, and the tabloids, he becomes infected, and the result is ultimately catastrophic for the whole family. While it would be easy to blame the father for ignoring James and leaving him unattended (if even for a day) with his ailing wife, it’s made clear that he loves his son, although he’s easily the least sympathetic character in the family. In Dead‘s shocking and bloody denouement, we don’t feel any kind of vindication or “paying of debts” for the wrongs done to James or Nancy; what we witness is a tragic and pitiful natural consequence of the infected wound.
Dead was a result of Rumley coping with the loss of his own Mother to cancer, so themes of parental loss and disconnection are prevalent. The story feels very allegorical, as we’re not ever sure what kind of “madness” James suffers from, and the details of the family’s problems and the Mother’s illness are all left unexplained or vague. Interestingly, the film has a fractured, bipolar structure, as when the perspective shifts from the family to James, the film shifts from a standard, subdued melodrama to a jump-cut rich, techno-heavy experiment, and this gap widens when James loses his grasp on reality. Unfortunately, this attempt to estrange the viewer can be irritating more then it is effective, but it gets the point across.
The long awaited adaptation of the late 80’s arcade game NARC was a dark exploration
of thugs, hoes, and badass, syringe-dodging, motorcycle-helmet-wearing cops.
Bill does good work as the psychotic James, although some might find
his lip biting and jerky physical mannerisms too gimmicky. Roger Lloyd Pack gives a much more subtle performance as James’ father, but the real gem here is the tortured Nancy, played by veteran
stage actress Kate Fahy (Trivia: Wife of Jonathan Pryce!). The role
itself is demanding and revealing, and Fahy does a great job of making
it all feel very real.
Leo Bell’s psychotic
James is the clear center of the film, but Dead‘s manor house plays just
as big of a role as any of the leads. Its peeling wallpaper and unkempt rooms go a long way to suggest an undercurrent of steady, long-term decay.
It’s not all great, though. Some of the choices made by the characters here are just so bafflingly awful that they’re nearly impossible to justify. For one, I can’t imagine being a nurse to a patient with an obviously psychotic roommate, and, upon finding out that the doors to the house are locked, not immediately returning with the police. There are several other events that just seem so outlandish (for example: when dealing with knife-swinging children, it’s best to get help. FOR GOD’S SAKE, DO NOT HUG THEM), and they detract from the story.
Francis puts the Colgate Lazarus whitening system’s
“teeth so white they’ll raise the dead!” claim to the test.
What Dead does right, it does well. It’s a baleful epitaph for a dying family, so don’t expect any humor or moments of levity. I’d recommend it to any fan of dark English drama, but if you purchase this expecting a horror film, you’ll be disappointed.
Note: The film was originally entitled The Living in the House of the Dead. I can only hope it was changed to avoid any legal confusion with Romero or Boll’s people.
It’s a surprisingly well populated release, with deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, and even one of Rumley’s shorts, entitled “Laughter.” Don’t expect to do any of that while watching it.
The audio is an especially weak Dolby 3/2.1. The center channel was mixed far too low, so I had to crank my volume and adjust the speakers to hear the dialogue properly. The video is great, although the muted color palette certainly won’t push the limits of your HDTV. The box art shows a lifeless person covered in sheets, and does well to capture the essence of the film. Do NOT look at the rear cover, as it will spoil one of the film’s pivotal death scenes. Dead isn’t a gory film, but its final moments are a bit bloody, so it looks like TLA was trying to capitalize on getting horror fans to purchase this by including it on the packaging. You idiots!