with Dead Things
his shameless, low budget rip-off of Night
of the Living Dead, director "Benjamin Clark"
(alias Bob Clark, helmer of Porky's
and A Christmas Story) nevertheless
generates a few goosebumps
despite a highly derivative story and generally poor acting
from the no-name cast. Chances are most American monster fans
who grew up watching TV in the 1970s and early '80s will have
vivid recollections of seeing the film on late night Creature
Feature broadcasts. And probably even being scared by it.
Co-screenwriter and makeup designer Alan Ormsby stars as
Alan, the owner/director of an avant garde theater company.
He's an insufferable, obnoxious dickhead, delighting in threatening
his actors with unemployment unless they constantly kiss his
ass. He's also a rather macabre fellow, fascinated with and
dabbling in the occult. One night he drags his actors out to
a secluded island off the Florida coast. For fun he plans to
hold a satanic ceremony in an isolated, run-down graveyard located
there. An elaborate practical joke has been set up in advance
involving "zombies" —
really two other actors sent out to the island ahead of time
— coming alive and "attacking"
the party. Alan's dark, twisted sense of humor leaves something
to be desired. To set up the joke a real corpse was dug up and
disinterred from its grave; the island's only inhabitant, the
caretaker, has been gagged and tied up to a tree. (Nobody seems
much bothered by this last bit, though.) In turn creeped out
and infuriated by Alan's ghoulish behavior, the members of the
theater troupe swallow their protests when threatened with being
fired. "You are the serfs," Alan reminds them.
After getting his jollies at the expense of the frightened
actors, Alan attempts a bit of serious sorcery. Reading from
a grimoire of demonic lore, he casts a spell over the corpses
in the graveyard in an attempt to raise the dead. The black
candles and drawn pentagram don't help —
nothing happens. The
others are incredulous that Alan seems to believe in this mumbo
jumbo. One of the troupe, the stonger-willed Val (Valerie Mamches),
makes fun of his occult pretentions. In a game of one-upmanship
Alan takes things even farther. Delighting in his blasphemous
mocking of the dead, he orders the dug-up corpse brought to
the island's only cottage. While the actors who were in on the
practical joke — two gay characters,
both stereotyped swishing 'nellies' —
stay behind to fill in the grave (why?), the tall, gaunt
corpse of Orville Durwood (Seth Sklarey) is carried to the cottage
for what Alan calls his "coming out party."
The spell, of course, has actually worked... only the effect
isn't immediate. While Alan is holding a mock marriage ceremony
between he and Orville (!) at the cottage, the dead begin to
claw their way from the moldy earth. The gay actors are attacked
by the flesh-hungry zombies; so is the poor caretaker, who,
tied as he is to a tree, cannot escape. (This scene scared the
crap out of me as a 10 year old kid.) Very quickly Alan and
the others find themselves trapped within the cottage. Beseiged
by a horde of the living dead, there's seemingly no hope of
Rip-off though they are, the zombie attack scenes actually
work. (Clark makes excellent use of slo-mo a number of times,
most tellingly in the climax.) In fact, the "dead rising" graveyard
sequence — a motif not cribbed from Night
Of The Living Dead — has
been aped a number of times since. (Return
of the Living Dead comes to mind, and there's a direct
homage in The Dead Hate the Living!.)
Too bad one has to sit through an hour of snotty, obnoxious
Alan and his whining sycophants to get to them. Ormsby's actually
decent in the part, as the viewer really gets to loathing this
(There's an allusion to necrophilia thrown in for good measure
— yuck!) Mamches, as Val,
and Jeff Gillen, as the fat guy comic relief character ("I
peed my pants!"), appear to have had some acting experience
but the rest of the cast is downright inept or just plain annoying.
(The latter case best represented by Ormsby's sister Anya, who
plays a wide-eyed space cadet certain to get on your nerves.)
Your patience may be severely tested before the monster
action finally kicks in during the final half hour.
Fortunately that monster action is actually pretty good, all
things considered. This movie genuinely frightened me as a child
and I gotta give it some props for that.
for the moment near the very end when Alan purposefully sacrifices
one of the characters to the zombies in order to (temporarily)
save his own skin. Even the zombies look disgusted!
bargain basement cheapie from VCI, the disc was originally released
in '99. Picture quality
is uneven — it's very dark at times — with the occasional blemish
and rather omnipresent grain. Sound quality varies; now and then
a line of dialog is too muffled to hear clearly. In any event
the movie looks and sounds a wee bit better than any TV broadcast
or VHS incarnation of it I've previously seen, though not by much.
(I'm talking UHF and basic cable broadcasts at least 20 years
ago.) At least it's presented in letterbox format.
This is basically a bare-bones disc, featuring only the trailer
(in surprisingly good shape), a short slideshow gallery of lobby
cards, and very brief text biographies of director Clark
and star/writer Ormsby as extras.
In 2007 VCI was supposed to release a new edition, made with the
participation of Bob Clark and mastered from the best available
materials. The disc was released but quickly pulled from the market
because it was thoroughly botched.