Finally! A clear demarcation line has been set.
In 1985, a wild and balls to the wall movie came out called RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. These weren't your stumbling zombies, these undead. As envisioned by writers John A. Russo (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, MIDNIGHT, HEARTSTOPPER), Rudy Ricci, and Russell Striener, and written for the screen and directed by Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN, DEAD AND BURIED, HEAVY METAL, LIFEFORCE, TOTAL RECALL, BLEEDERS), these dead could talk, plan, and strategize. What's more, they were fast. When one of these zombies went after you, they didn't fool around. This movie was popular both in theaters and video thanks in no small part to a truly rocking soundtrack and a sense of humor. Subsequent sequels were okay up to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3. After that the rest were excrement. It looked like that kind of fun zombie movie - not just comedic and gory, but actually fun - would never return.
So glad I was wrong about that!
For DANCE OF THE DEAD many comparisons have been made to an old John Hughes teen movie gone haywire. There are plenty of reasons for that and not just a few covers of old Pat Benatar tunes (though that doesn't hurt).
A gravedigger (James Jarrett: THE OTHER SIDE. James was also Property Master and Production Designer on this project) goes about his business, taking care of a cemetery. Then he spies a flowerpot next to a tombstone. The flowerpot won't stay put. He forces it upright and it falls back down again. Merry Mishaps occur.
Now we focus on Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz: DOLL GRAVEYARD, OTIS). Jimmy has a partner in science class and is making fun of dissecting his frog. His teacher, Mr. Hammond (Jonathon Spencer: CHOSEN. John is also the Casting Director for this movie) upbraids him in class and sends him off to detention. In detention we meet some of the other folks in this flick like school troublemaker, Kyle Grubbin (Justin Wellborn: THE OTHER SIDE, THE SIGNAL), who looks like he's failed a few grades too many.
The rest of the school is getting ready for Prom Night!
Meanwhile, Steven (Chandler Darby) is trying to extricate himself from his irritably geeky friends long enough to ask one of the school cheerleaders, Gwen (Carissa Capobianco) to the Prom. Sure, she's out of his league, but Steven is brave enough to risk both her indifference and his friends insults to at least give it a shot. But love stinks, because while Steven is smitten with Gwen, Gwen is smitten with Nash Rambler (Blair Redford: VOODOO MOON, THE SIGNAL), the highschool troubled boy and rock musician guitarist. Nash tells Gwen exactly what he wants from her and it hurts her little pride.
Ooh that Prom Night!
Jimmy doesn't want to go and doesn't care if its important to his girlfriend, Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick). And it's obviously important to Lindsey, she's in charge of putting the whole Prom together. So it's too bad that Jimmy can't see beyond his own nose because Lindsey has finally had it with her now ex-boyfriend's self-absorbed, blue-collar snobbery. If she's going to have a snob in her life, then why not a wealthy white-collar snob like Mitch (Jeff Adelman: THE SIGNAL), who at least pays attention to her?
And the Prom draws near.
Night falls and the kids go to the Prom. Lindsey, riding with Mitch, finds herself on an unexpected side-trip as Mitch drives through the hills of the local cemetery. Seems Mitch wants to get some nookie now, not after the prom.
So it's just too damn bad that, on Prom Night of all times, the dead come to life. And I'm not talking stumbling and shambling. I'm not even talking RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD running. I mean they shoot like rockets from the crypt, high into the air, and hit the ground running! And its just an amazing thing to see on the screen. There is no tell-tale cgi at work here. Director Greg Bishop, as he demonstrated in THE OTHER SIDE, believes in stunts, not cgi, so there is nothing on the screen that the eye perceives as a trick. It all looks real and stunning.
Why the hell are the dead coming back to life? Ahh... it probably has something to do with the local Nuclear Power plant or something.
That's not the point.
The point is -
We've got a zombie problem! They're fast! They don't seem to be as smart as those RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD varmints, but they do chant "Brains! Brains!"
Based on a script by Joe Ballarini, Gregg Bishop (THE OTHER SIDE) and crew make sure that DANCE OF THE DEAD is fun, fast, and furious. And yet the characters are never caricatures. They have depth, problems, dreams, and desires.
A few characters, most notably the teachers like Mr. Hammond and Coach Keel (Mark Oliver: SCREAM 2), were drawn a little broad (i.e. cliched), although even that was kind of saved in Coach Keel case when his character goes totally Burt Gummer.
But why nitpick? Bishop shows a sure hand in blending action, comedy and Horror and has delivered a winner for the second time in a row (really, you need to check out THE OTHER SIDE! So cool!). With two fun, cool movies in a row, I'm ready to trust anything this guy does next, and trust me: you're going to have fun with this one!
4 Shriek Girls.
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