Sunday, 30 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: The Dead Next Door (1989)


Director: J.R. Bookwalter
Screenplay: J.R. Bookwalter
Cast: Pete Ferry (as Raimi); Bogdan Pecic (as Dr. Moulsson); Michael Grossi (as Mercer); Jolie Jackunas (as Kuller); Robert Kokai (as Rev. Jones)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #54

The Dead Next Door, if anything should be taken from this review, is an achievement in terms of an incredibly low budget production directed by a man in his early twenties, a higher sense of technical quality I have to applaud regardless of my final opinion of the entire film. Even though it was executively produced by Sam Raimi and has Bruce Campbell dubbing voices in the cast, that doesn't detract from the fact of how this incredibly low budget zombie film feels drastically better contrasted and organised than a lot of the future uber low or no budget films that would appear in the recent decades, a high water mark for quality to still follow. The prologue is a feat to have created by itself. An exceptional amount of zombified extras rampage onscreen as the undead in the first scenes, a huge number to coordinate that run after the other non-zombie extras, giving the film an incredible sense of scale. Jokes, as this is a comedy, are fewer than a rapid fire slapstick film but hit the mark in an amusing way, such as a shot of someone brining apes of the likes of The Evil Dead (1981) to the counter of a video rental store only to reveal they're a zombie, making this the perfect way to start the film with.

Throughout there's many things to constantly applaud in the film - about an anti-zombie group, set up after the undead apocalypse has passed five years earlier, going to retrieve a serum for the infection only to encounter a cult of zombie worshippers -  which I admire Bookwalter for pulling off. Dolly shots created through ingenuity (and possibly some duck tape). The rubbery prosthetics reminiscent of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987) with its gore mixed with humour, from a zombie allowed to talk by way of vocal tampering, as interested in singing the American national anthem as he is wanting to eat people, to another zombie with its head split in half and still moving, a nice touch (but not fully used to its advantage) that the zombies can survive even headshots and being chopped into pieces. Bookwalter even goes as far as shooting extras posing as zombies clinging to the outer rails of the White House in Washington DC, footage that's incredible for him to have acquired if anyone had noticed them coordinating the scene. It also has a lot of amusing side characters who stand out away from the main plot thread, from a cult henchman with a blond mullet called Carpenter (Jeff Welch) to Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic), a mad scientist with the anti-zombie group who always has a hat on even if its yellow clashes with his white lab coat.


The Dead Next Door
however, after the initial energy of the prologue , slows down incredibly when it reaches the main plot, a very economic but ultimately uninteresting narrative. As the film follows anti-zombie member Raimi (Pete Ferry, voiced by Bruce Campbell) and those with him to get the serum, it starts to suffer from a lack of whit and invention in spite of its low budget, boiling down to a large portion of listless dialogue scenes. It presents an interesting, and potentially fun and gory, notion that the anti-zombie group are up against worshippers of the undead, lead by the fanatical leader Reverend Jones (Robert Kokai), who has herded countless zombies in the basement of their headquarters and who is willing to let people be sacrificed to fed the zombies, but it's never taken advantage of. Instead its bogged down by plot points which usually lead to more extrenious dialogue, worse when these threads are ultimately discarded, such as the daughter of the scientist who started the zombie outbreak being a brainwashed member of the cult. Only in the side jokes and quirks does the film stand out, from Dr. Moulsson just being a mad scientist, wanting to help humanity but not above injecting an experimental serum into a soldier who's turning into the undead, or any jokes about his completely incompetent assistant Dr. Savini (Joe Wedlake); next to them the soldiers are ultimately bland and the main thread of the plot is disinteresting, a problem which effects any film both high or low budgeted, but sad when something like The Dead Next Door has the ambition it has. I admire it for the technical quality it has against its limitations but it needed more personality as well.


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