Friday, April 17, 2009

Dead/Undead (USA, 2002)

Four troubled rich kids, their eternally smiling new age councilor, a dizzy blonde student assistant and a much-too-young hard-nosed cop overseer drive out to the country for a weekend of group therapy. Once there, they are confronted by a creature called "The Sorcalak", a demon that takes on the powers and characteristics of those it kills and which bestows those who kill it with an unnaturally long life before they themselves turn into the creature. Oh, yeah, it also turns the males it kills into zombies and the females it kills into vampires. How can the creature be stopped? Does any of the "victims" have ulterior motives? Will there be any survivors? And just how much guck can a monster puke, anyway?
Dead/Undead is an oddly interesting if not somewhat dilettantish independently produced horror film from 2002 that works much better than it probably should. The extended DVD version is fattened to 90-odd minutes from the film's original 78-minute running time by the addition of a totally unnecessary and out-of-place "Two Years Later" epilogue that might be good for an additional laugh (and for setting up a future sequel) but is in no way essential to the flick itself. According to legend (and Erin Podolsky of the Detroit Metro Times), Dead/Undead was shot in four days for approximately 2,000 bucks; less legendary but also true, is that four different directors helmed the script supplied by Matt Valade, a minor local Michigan celebrity, and Bruce Campbell, a much bigger celebrity and native Michigander, did indeed say that "It didn’t suck as much as I thought it was going to".
And, indeed, it really doesn’t suck as much as it could have… in fact, for all its flaws, Dead/Undead supplies some nice gore scenes and more than occasional solid laughs. But for all the comparisons the DVD cover makes with Evil Dead (1981/trailer), the great masterpiece of Michigan low-budget independent horror films, Dead/Undead lacks its granddad’s kinetic directorial eye; considering that four people directed it, the film is remarkable staid and stylistically unadventurous, almost as if four minds hampered anyone from going wild. The day-for-night shots (most of the film, actually) also are a bit annoying at first, but the humor and fun that infuses the project as a whole does wonders to make it easy to overlook such flaws. Anyway, what heterosexual male (or lesbian female) horror fan doesn't like a film that features that great stereotype of a ditzy blonde in underwear running through a forest? And what gore fan can't appreciate a scene in which a stereotypical drug-addled victim attempts to stuff his guts back in after having had them ripped out by a demon? (Rest assured, the film works only with stereotypes – and to its advantage, obviously so.)
As a film that cost what it did, without a doubt Dead/Undead offers a good return on its original investment on an entertainment level. (And for Jana Kramer, pictured left, the film has even helped make a career on TV. In this flick, as "Alice St. James" she doesn't show her underwear but she does kick demon butt.) It might not be a shot-in-the-arm genre breaking masterpiece like Sam Rami's debut, but Dead/Undead still really deserves a greater viewer base than it has.
Hey, Mikey, try it, you might like it.

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