STUDIO: Vicious Circle Films
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
A no budget straight to video zombie movie from the director of Night of the Demons! Hey, why are you backing away like that?
Starring Joshua Benton, Sarah Grant Bendecke, Andy Forrest, Michelle Tomlinson. Written by Dale Gelineau. Directed by Kevin S. Tenney
A meteor drifts through space, enters Earth’s atmosphere, and crashes… right into a hapless fisherman’s skull. A sentient black sludge oozes out and takes over the man’s brain, almost instantly turning him into a zombie-like creature. As the thing wanders around eating people’s brains and multiplying by spitting goop into their mouths, the movie promptly introduces us to its predictably motley ensemble of characters – a pair of escaped convicts, one a homicidal maniac and the other a wise-cracking petty crook, a lascivious TV evangelist and his naïve bombshell assistant, and a pair of lost hikers, one of whom is a lesbian harboring an unrequited crush on her friend. Before you can say Night of the Living Dead they all converge on a deserted house and are forced to band together against the marauding ghouls.
On paper, Brain Dead shouldn’t work at all. It has sub-SyFy production values, an iffy script, some wooden acting, and very few original ideas. Before starting it the only thing it seemed to have going for it was the dubious pedigree of its director Kevin S. Tenney, the man behind the original Night of the Demons. That connection to a tenuous cult classic aside, in theory the movie should be unwatchable dreck. While Brain Dead is far from the next great b horror movie, Tenney and his cast and crew manage to overcome some of those obstacles and turn out a far more entertaining zombie flick than they have any right to.
Insert childish pants-crapping joke here (that’s called having your cake and eat it too. Nobody wins!)
It helps a lot that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. I hesitate to call it outright horror comedy, but the tone is reminiscent of a lot of 80s horror, which makes sense coming from Tenney. There’s liberal humor, both intentional and unintentional, and a goofy charm to everything. That carries over to the unintentional humor as well, with certain jokes that fall flat but are funny because they fall flat, and some shaky filmmaking decisions like a series of laughable match cuts. A lot of contemporary DTV fare is too awful and boring to even laugh at, let alone with, making this film at least a cubic zirconia in the rough.
When it comes to the intentional humor, it really depends on the performances, which are uneven but passable on average. Joshua Benton is likeable and natural enough as the lead to make even some pretty stale one-liners work, though he can’t save all of them. Similarly, recognizable character actor Andy Forrest manages to sell a couple obvious jokes as the sleazy Reverend. Other actors don’t fare quite as well, but a few cringe inducing stabs at southern accents aside everyone is at least tolerable. To the script’s credit, the actors don’t have to do all the lifting – there’s some dialogue here that’s actually clever, another rarity for films of this type.
It was generous of Ann to try that on Kong but she clearly underestimated the intensity of his climax
Of course, Brain Dead also falls squarely into some of the usual low budget horror pitfalls. In classic exploitation film fashion, it regularly lapses into talky stretches that drag as characters get to know each other and argue about what to do. It’s too bad, because the parts that aren’t there to pad things out move at a nice steady pace. While the film never grinds to a complete halt, the infrequency of the set pieces does slow it down noticeably.
When the action does come, it’s usually in short but entertaining bursts of gooey practical effects. Though the film can’t come close to matching it in volume or sheer inventiveness, the effects work reminded me of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. That is to say, cheap but fun and over the top. Heads are split open and ripped off, limbs are sliced from bodies, torsos are cut in two, and so on. Probably deliberately, there’s one shot that evokes the infamous lipstick nipple scene from Night of the Demons in its perverse weirdness, and may even top it in audacity if not execution. Of course I wish the movie was wall-to-wall gore, but what it does have is fairly satisfying.
My insatiable thirst for upskirts may have blinded me to the rashness and impracticality of my decision. Still, I regret nothing
If it seems like I’m damning the movie with faint praise here, that’s because I am. Low expectations definitely helped it tremendously, and you should make no mistake: it’s not a great movie by any standards. The fact that I enjoyed it even this much really points to the sad state of affairs that is the DTV horror world, where a movie that’s simply adequate stands out from the pack. Still, as I said before, there’s a certain b-movie charm present in the film that keeps me from disliking it.
There isn’t much to say here – no extras, and the picture and sound quality are about average for a movie like this. The film is watchable but doesn’t warrant more than a barebones release.