Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Dead Next Door (1989)

If there's anything I hate, it's revisiting a movie I loved when I was a kid, then returning to it and realizing that it's not a very good movie. Case in point: "The Dead Next Door." The debut feature from micro-budget mainstay J.R. Bookwalter, it was made in the span of five years, shot on 8 mm camera, and financed and produced by Sam Raimi. The film was a revelation to me when I saw it as a teen. A made for next to nothing zombie movie that actually delivered and had some neat ideas! Well, I then learned there were tons of zombie movies like this, and though this is essentially the most well loved of the micro-budget zombie movies, revisiting it years later as a 27 year old man, I realize that it's just not a good movie.

The premise deals with the inevitable rise of the zombie apocalypse, and a government group called The Zombie Squad that must exterminate the scourge of the dead. Our heroes Raimi (ugh) (Pete Ferry), Mercer (Michael Grossi) and others soon head to Ohio, only to run afoul of a religious cult lead by Rev. Jones (really???) (Robert Kokai) who believe it is God's will to let the dead wipe out humanity. Well, Mercer get's infected, and a cure is provided by Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic), which has some pretty bad side effects. Also, you know Jones is evil because he wears sunglasses at night (DON'T MESS WITH A MAN IN SHADES!!!)

I really don't want to rip on "The Dead Next Door." The whole thing took years to complete, was clearly a labor of love for those involved, and it's easy to see why it's such a cult favorite among horror fans. It's all done with loads of energy and enthusiasm, and not only did Sam Raimi help fund it, but Bruce Campbell serves as one of the dubbed voices! Plus, the gore effects are incredible considering the budget (about $75,000) and a decent D.I.Y. cheap synthesizers and drum machine score by Bookwalter himself. Ripping on the movie almost makes me feel bad.

Alas, it's still not a good movie. The acting is all around terrible, and the script is poorly written, giving us uninteresting, unsympathetic and all around drab characters who make increasingly stupid decisions. Hell, Dr. Moulsson is a a really bland villain of sorts, basically playing the arrogant scientist cliche poorly. And what kind of scientist wears a trucker hat anyways? (there's a lot of bad "only in Ohio" fashions from the 80's here.) Jones by the way, is just another insane cult leader, and it really doesn't help that the cult themselves feel more like a mild inconvenience than a serious threat.

And speaking of the cult, this brings up another problem-the whole movie is inconsistent. At one moment, the cult is going on and on about what they believe to be God's wrath, and the next they're sacrificing women while wearing black robes. Seriously, what kind of cult is this? Then there's the zombies. At one moment they are shambling, then they are sprinting. And why is it that some can be killed via a bullet to the head or decapitation, and some can't? Finally, low-budget directors: please refrain from naming characters after well known directors and figures in horror. We get it, you love horror movies.

Again, I really don't want to be hard on "The Dead Next Door." It's obviously made for beer and cigarettes money, and everyone involved clearly gave it their all for years. Sadly, it didn't do it for me in the end. All the enthusiasm and love for the horror genre in the world doesn't mean you can do a good horror movie.

Rating: 4.5/10

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