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STUDIO: Lions Gate
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
•  Commentary (Director & Writer)
•  “Making of” featurette
•  Stunts & FX featurette
•  Short Film (“Voodoo”)
•  Deleted/Extended Scenes

The Pitch

Shaun of the Dead through the eyes of John Hughes. Or Dan O’ Bannon’s Freaks & Geeks.


The Humans

Cast: Jared Kusnitz, Chandler Darby, Greyson Chadwick, Justin Welborn, Carissa Capobianco
Director: Gregg Bishop


Even from beyond the grave, this particular rotting corpse lives up to his family’s namesake.

The Nutshell

A motley crew of slackers and dweebs miss the prom during the dawn of a zombie uprising. Some unlikely alliances form, some weapons are brandished, some undead are dismembered, and some other superior movies are referenced. Can our horny teen misfits get to the dance on time, before their electric-sliding (showing my age) classmates become refreshments themselves? During the direct-to-video zombie flix glut, will this movie rise above the others or take a bullet to the brainpan?



No amount of formaldehyde could preserve the Muppet Magic after Jim passed.


The Lowdown

I had a real good time with this one. If the film-makers had the opportunity to make this when they conceptualized it 10 years ago (while attending school together), it may have its own fan-cult by now, but without the recent zombie zeitgeist, it may never have been financed at all. Finally made for under a $mill on HD in Georgia, Ghost House Underground’s presentation here manages to show how genre-blendable zombies are in an already saturated market. Their long-gestating script also used that decade to adjust to society’s climate (more creative weapons for the kids instead of guns in a post-Columbine world) and to streamline a semi-bloated tale (the wraparound story and main goth-girl character was excised after an actress dropped out).


Well, he got the STOP and DROP parts down pat, but this is clearly not an appropriate moment for “2 outta 3 ain’t bad”.


Amazingly, the actors all seem to be the correct ages more or less for their characters (even the older bully who has probably flunked his fair share) and they all do a fine job with their respective performances. Even certain members of the crew (in low-budget tradition) steal the scenes in which they’re showcased (alcoholic Principal, Dexter’s-Lab-ish science teach, Cemetery Man-ly gravedigger, etc). A perpetually-stoned punk band, who was most likely “just too darn loud” to play the prom, adds a Rock & Roll punch to the proceedings, aptly covering such tunes as Pat Benetar’s “Shadows of the Night” and The Rezillo’s “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight”.


Ashley J. Williams was not pleased to discover that his delinquent teen neighbor had traded the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis for a single hit off of… DEVIL BONG!, no matter how much fun it was to say “DEVIL BONG!”


Some of the body part FX look a tad prop-rubbery, but the gore overall still has a fun charm. Thankfully, CGI is utilized sparingly but rather effectively, considering the budget.
Not to mention that Dance of the Dead is edited, lighted, and staged really well for a DTV effort. The film’s comedy is often over-the-top and goofy (the scenery-chewing coach nearly feels like he’s in a different movie), but it appealed to my “throw it all against the wall” sense of humor nonetheless. I got a kick out of a few of the running gags (football helmet especially) and the more outlandish attempts at laugh-harvesting. There are some paint-by-number hero’s journeys, lessons, and redemptions throughout the running time, but I was still surprised by a few of the survivor/casualty curveballs the film tossed my way.


“I saw that you promiscuous teens were parked here and I overheard the request for “head”. I know the pun’s a little played out, but… am I doing it right?”


My biggest complaint is aimed towards the inconsistencies of the zombie speed and dexterity on display. In an early scene, the undead appear to be flying out their graves as if shot from an underground canon (or leaping down from ceilings later), only to be shambling about, waiting their turn to attack in the climax (were they just mellow from the music in the prior scene?). I also couldn’t figure out why the cheerleader (the most proven athletic zombie-avoider of the group) isn’t asked to complete the final mission, besides the script’s need to give our main slacker a chance to prove his mettle. Oh well… if you can roll with the kitchen-sinky nature of Dance of the Dead, you can probably overlook its minor logic flaws.


“Knock. Knock… Sorry to interrupt your meal, Ma’am, but I’d like to give you this pamphlet and talk to you about your relationship with the 1st Zombie, our Lord & Saviour.”


The feature doesn’t break the zombie mold really (actually it’s sort of a mulligan stew of genre entries that came before), but there’s enough humor, craft, and enthusiasm on display to entertain. If the presence of walking dead who can steal cars, rocket out of graves, and enjoy slow dancing annoys, this flick may not be for you, but as a more conventional missing link between Night of the Comet and Wild Zero (never reaching the weirdness of either), it works in its own established horror-comedy universe. As the audio commentary confirms, Dance of the Dead wears its Evil Dead/Monster Squad/NOTLD influences on its dirty blood-soaked sleeves, but I also got a major John Hughes and/or Paul Feig vibe (setup, not quality) from this as well. I could easily imagine Anthony Michael Hall’s “Farmer Ted” and his fellow panty-sniffing cronies in these archetypal roles.



This must be that “Adult Diabeetus” Wilford Brimley warned us about.


Package

The picture may not hold up on professional screens, but still manages to show off the colors and contrasts nicely. The music, dialog, and sound FX were all balanced adequately. The DVD cover does the job sorta, but I prefer the “formal prom photo-shoot surrounded by groping zombies” poster I saw in the background during one of the featurettes. It added some humor to the advertising, which is lacking in the image they chose. Speaking of featurettes, the disc is healthy on the extras front. Deleted scenes and Making Of bonuses are standard on big releases, but often absent on DTV flicks. The commentary is upbeat and light, revealing about the behind-the-scenes processes and therapeutic exorcism of high school emotional baggage, and informative to the wannabe film-maker. Tip: Don’t wait till you raise a bunch of money to make your 1st film.  Be daring, creative (show ‘em something they can’t see in a mainstream movie), and cheap. Their philosophy seems to have paid off here.



“I know it is prom night after all… and I did want my *giggle* first time to be “special”, but just look at my dress… “A little sting” is a gross understatement.”



7.5 OUT OF 10