Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Dead and Deader - review

2006 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Shh, don't tell anyone, but I quite liked debut director Patrick Dinhut's direct to TV (Sci Fi Channel) schmaltzy little zombie shenanigans. Light, funny and throwaway; it's pleasant hour and a half of albeit formulaic zombie frivolities, comradeship and bloody scrapes. Directorial confidence provides an abundance of rather satisfying old school non-CGI blood, gore and action to compliment the whimsical buddy story, and it's a film I find it rather hard to be too critical of. 

For this zombie story we're talking Cambodia, a sceptical military, an evil scientist and parasitical scorpions that render a person dead but reanimated and hungry for flesh and it's all as implausible and absurd as a) you'd expect and b) you'd want.  Later in the film there's mention of a virus, radiation isotopes, and nonsensical unnecessary exposition, but it's got all the hallmarks of a daft seventies or eighties zombie horror where sense is always secondary to set piece action or gag.

Lt. Bobby Quinn (Dean Cain), hero, action-man wakes to a scalpel and buzz-saw, moments away from his own autopsy at the hands of, amongst others the inimitable John Billingsley playing Doctor Langdon. Without too much fan-fair they all conclude that while no mistake has been made, and Quinn is actually physically dead, with no pulse, pupil dilation, vital signs, he does still possess higher brain and cognitive function and perhaps he should spend some time in quarantine. He appears reasonably rational, ethical and concerned with not only finding some answers but the marines he died alongside, not just out of brotherly concern but because his new spidie- aka zombie-sense is tingling as to their whereabouts. Alas though, it would seem fate has not been as generous, as finding the first of his contingent in a room nearby engaged in an orgy of blood and violence it becomes apparent that he's alone in not wanting the never-ending feast of human flesh, and his rescue mission may have turned into one of seek and destroy.

Dead and Deader is more action and comedy than horror. While there are some quite tense scenes, especially later in the film, the narrative in general spins from one stylish set location blood bath to the next with the between time given to churlish humour, excessive pop-culture dialogue and dissemination, and a smattering of romance between Quinn and bartender cum film-geek cum kick-ass Holly (Susan Ward). Private Judson (Guy Torry) is provided to bring some innocent and naïve humour and distraction, in a manner reminiscent of the token black guys of 1940s horror, like Mantan Moreland; and though I'm not going to go as far as talk about racial stereotyping, the fact I'm able to make this comparison speaks. And while it's all rather predictable and unoriginal, the pacing is good, the performances from the main three are warming and engaging and each actual moment of conflict is gritty and satisfying, as said partly because of Dinhut's decision to use prosthetics and models rather than sending it all to a budget animation studio to smother things with artificiality.

We do eventually have it explained (at length) why Quinn alone possesses the cognitive reasoning to not eat his companions. The scorpions you see, are really 'jindu' scorpion likes creatures and legend has it they possess the ability to grant everlasting life but only if they don't manage to get straight to the victims heart. It seems it's blind luck really that Quinn was saved yet it's not all peaches and roses, or super strength and instant healing. He still gets a hunger which must be satiated quite quickly, with raw meat, else he'll turn homicidal killer, and should he bite anyone, they'll automatically, and in seconds, be enrolled in the brain eating gut muncher brigade too, so he'll always be that ticking apocalypse time-bomb. It's all quite the over-elaborate set-up and I'm not sure full exposition at any point was really necessary. He did give me that Deathdream (Dead of Night) vibe of a hidden depth that was empty and unnatural but Dead and Deader is a shallow popcorn flick and I don't think one was supposed to think that hard.

A naughties action popcorn zombie flick that feels like an old-school eighties one, even with full screen black one second transition breaks, Dead and Deader provides lots of bang for your buck, for an evening's fun. Torry and Cain have great on screen chemistry and their banter is the perfect refreshment while the narrative manoeuvres everyone and everything towards the next big and bloody conflict. Some of the peripheral performances are disappointing and laboured, but over-all there's very little to actually complain about with the film gliding by amusing and enthralling in equal measure. As stated though, whether there will be much you'll recall, or care to recall once the credits have rolled may be a different matter - 6/10.


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