If there is one thing I love about Full Moon, it’s that they don’t bullshit their audience with their movie posters. While VHS and DVD art from the 70s through the 90s is notorious for deceiving and outright lying to potential viewers, Full Moon has always been pretty straightforward. If there’s a cool looking monster on the cover of a Full Moon movie, it will be in the movie. It might not be as prominent or well-lit as it would seem on that cover, but it’s in there. But there is one movie in particular that has been at the back of my mind for years due to one particularly creepy piece of cover art.
Look at that thing! It’s gross and disturbing, practically Lovecraftian in design. That peeled-flesh monstrosity has been an obsession of mine since sixth grade but up until now I had never actually seen this movie. First it was due to availability: I was limited to what movies I could find at Wal-Mart or special boutique stores at the mall on the maybe one time a year (at best) I could get there, second it was due to fear: this looked like something too dark and subversive for my 12-year-old mind which is absurd because I owned Evil Dead. But as I got older and moved to the city I didn’t see it for far more practical reasons. I want to own, more or less, all the movies and I’ve learned from a lot of bad experiences that a cool cover does not a good movie make.
So I sat on my hands until now, nearly 16 years after this movie was released I have finally caught my white whale. So is The Dead Hate the Living! everything that slimy terror beast makes it out to be or the bargain-bin turd I assumed it to be? Why, it’s both!
The film concerns a film crew shooting a zombie movie illegally in an abandoned hospital. They find a weird machine with a corpse in it, and rather than go to the police they decide to use it for the movie. They put the corpse in the machine and turn it on, which opens up a portal to the world of the dead out of which spill zombies who, well, hate the living. They kill, whatever they kill gets up and kills, blah blah blah.
What became immediately apparent upon watching this movie is that it was made by people who have seen and loved a lot of zombie movies. It’s almost a remake of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things that borrows heavily from Return of the Living Dead and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, and that’s definitely my jam. And despite that overly-cheap film quality endemic of 00’s direct-to-DVD fare, this movie is very well-directed by Dave Parker who would go on to make the surprisingly good meta slasher-cum-torture-porn movie The Hills Run Red. But while Parker was talented even then, he was obviously inexperienced and his writing skills left a lot to be desired.
Often times Dead Hate the Living captures the atmosphere or feel of the movies it’s trying to imitate, but it’s frequently hamstrung by bad acting, bad characters, and some truly awful dialogue. The movie putters around for what feels like forever setting up the horror, or at least it would seem that way, but all the plot it sets up has fuck-all to do with anything later.
After finding a video seeming to indicate that there are zombies loose in the building (there aren’t) and setting up a dynamic with the director David (Eric Clawson) and his two sisters that seems like it will come into play later (it won’t) they just find the machine with the corpse, David decides that they should turn it on because it looks cool and 40 minutes of exposition disappears into the ether. Basically all that matters is that David is interested in saving Topaz (Jamie Donahue), his PA who has the hots for him, and his special effects guy/friend and that they both stop caring about his sister even though they spend the front half of the movie talking about how much they care about her.
The make-up is the film’s real star, there’s even a pivotal scene where David and effects guy sneak past the zombies by donning zombie make-up to fool their pursuers, it’s a cool idea and I’m surprised it hasn’t been done already. The zombie make-up is fantastic, and what’s great is that it looks remarkably better than the fake zombie make-up for the movie-within-a-movie which itself looks pretty good. The cover-zombie, apparently named Maggot is definitely the show-piece but the tall creepy giant Gaunt (played by Matthew McGrory of House of 1000 Corpses and Big Fish fame) is a more understated level of disturbing. Once the film crew starts getting dispatched, there’s some memorable looks in there too.
I was shocked when I went to the IMDb page for this movie and found the genres listed as “Horror” and “Comedy”, there are some comedic bits early on in the movie but they are so flatly inept that I assumed it was the typical slasher movie tactic of making the audience so annoyed at most of the cast that they’re just waiting for them to die. This movie is not funny, it doesn’t even seem to be trying to be funny.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy? The Dead Hate The Living! works occasionally but it’s an unwiedly mess, it’s a horror comedy that’s so incompetent at being funny that I wasn’t even aware it was trying, and is just mediocre. If you’re a diehard zombie fan then you could do worse than this, but in general I’ve gotta say toss it.
If You Liked This, Watch: Return of the Living Dead (1985), Return of the Living Dead II (1988), Flesheater (1988), Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972), C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the C.H.U.D. (1989), The Beyond (1981)