Making a comeback or trying to do a return to form can always be hard. When Ministry tried, they essentially became a rather boring thrash metal band. Lucio Fulci tried with "Zombi 3", and that didn't work out the way anyone wanted it to, instead becoming a laughable mess. Metallica tried with "St. Anger", and ended up making the worst album of their careers. I think you get the point.
So, what if you're Kevin S. Tenney? You know, the man who gave the world "Witchboard" and "Night of the Demons." After those movies, we got such "classic" films such as "Pinocchio's Revenge", "The Second Arrival" and "Endangered Species", which didn't exactly win people over.* Plus, while it's a fun movie, I can't exactly classify "Night of the Demons" as a stone cold classic, as it's also a very, very dumb movie. Well, with "Brain Dead", he sets out to do the kind of B-Movie with tits and blood that were once his bread and butter.
The plot is so basic, it could have come from the 80's, which is exactly the point. Basically, a meteorite lands on a fisherman in a small backwoods creek, infecting him and turning him into a brain hungry zombie that spews forth black gunk and infects others. Now, soon to be arrested Clarence Singer (Joshua Benton), psycho convict Bob Jules (David Crane), med students Sherry Morgan (Sarah Grant Brendecke) and Claudia Bush (Michelle Tomlinson), the righteous but hypocritical and cowardly Reverend Farsnworth (Andy Forrest) and his lovely assistant Amy Smoots (Cristina Tiberia) must fight to survive. Oh, and Jim Wynorski has a cameo as Sheriff Bodine.
I will give "Brain Dead" this much: it was clearly the movie Tenney wanted to make, without studio interference (this is indeed an independent effort) for his fans, and for that, I salute him. There's plenty of female nudity, the gore and zombie make-up effects look great for such a low-budget effort, and what do ya know, some of the humor was actually pretty funny (the bit with the police woman's body stumbling around after a zombie rips her brain out of her head made me laugh hard.) Oh, and Dennis Michael Tenney’s score is nostalgic, but in all the right ways, and would have fit perfectly in one of those campy 80's horror films.
At the same time, this feels like a movie that should have been better than it actually is. For one thing, this is a movie that clearly wants to be a return to form for Tenneny, but it tries too hard to be a campy, bloody exercise that it at times forgets that sometimes it takes a little more than blood and boobs to make a movie work. The acting is all around terrible. Granted, it was bad in "Night of the Demons", but here it's even worse, with Brendrake and Tomlinson offering terrible one liners at every given opportunity, and Forrest being really grating and at times forced at Reverend Farnsworth. Also, while I'm all for jabs at fundamentalism and hypocrisy, here they feel out of place. This is a movie where we want boobs and gore, not conversations about faith and the flaws of righteousness.
Finally, while there are some funny moments, there's also a lot of moments that just fall flat (what was with that ending joke?) One of the things about "Night of the Demons" that made it entertaining was the sheer energy and enthusiasm that went into the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film, even when the jokes fell flat. Here, it kind of feels like the movie is going through the motions, trying to make something stick, whilst forgetting what made his past movies so successful. It ultimately wants to be a movie for fans of 80's style dumb-but-fun horror movies, but it forgets the primary ingredient: make sure it feels inspired.
Look, one might say "Of course the acting is bad and some of the jokes are bad. That's the point!" Well, if that's the point, then I can't bring myself to enjoy it that much. It's not a terrible movie-it's actually quite watchable in fact. But for something that so clearly wants to be a return to the glory days of 80's gore and nudity filled B-Movies, "Brain Dead" ultimately comes up short. A disappointment to say the least, though it could have been worse.
*Okay, "Peacemaker" is kinda fun.