When I read that the trio from Flight of the Conchords had made a horror film I was nearly as excited as when I found out that the team from Spaced had made Shaun of the Dead.
The New Zealand comedians Brett McKenzie, Rhys Darby and Jemaine Clement had already made two series of there hilarious sitcom. And the idea of them branching into movies via the genre I loved was nearly as exciting as finding out Halloween had come early.
After watching Diagnosis: Death however I was slightly disappointed, not in the film, but in the slightly misleading marketing.
Let’s get this straight. This is not Flight of the Conchords do horror, in fact describing it like that would be like describing Mission Impossible 3 or Star Trek as Spaced spin off’s.
None of the trio have leading roles, in fact Jemaine is only in one scene at the start, Darby is in two and although Brett is in it more he is still not the star.
That said, this is a good film which deserves an audience and some credit for succeeding to make you laugh and jump at the same time.
Set in an old mental hospital, the movie follows teacher Andre (Raybon Kan) and schoolgirl Juliet (Jessica Grace Smith) who are both guinea pigs in a weekend cancer drug trail. Both start experiencing terrifying visions, and unsure whether they are hallucinating or being contacted by spirits from beyond the grave, they team up to solve a mystery.
The cast is solid, the direction competent and the story reasonably well realised. The effects are well done and the tension and fear factor well handled.
Comedic moments come mainly from the host of quirky characters especially Darby and Brett. There is also some dark comedy, mainly in Andrea’s philosophical musings on life and death, ‘what music to have at his funeral’, and the real life horror of suppositories.
Diagnosis: Death comes from New Zealand, a place now well associated with horror comedy all because of one particular director. And like the films before it, such as Black Sheep and Undead, it follows in the well trodden blood soaked footsteps of that man, Peter Jackson.
Jackson’s early films Bad Taste and Braindead are superb pieces of cinema. As sick and disgusting as they are funny and original.
Made in his native land with small budgets and big ideas, they are an inspiration to any up and coming director. They propelled him to fame and fortune, as well as giving him the opportunity to direct some trilogy about some hairy midgets, a magician and a important piece of jewellery.
Spoof horror is a popular genre these days, but a hard one to get right. And there are many abortive attempts littering bargain bins in supermarkets as we speak.
Often times the horror is there to get a cheap easy laugh (such as the Scary Movie series). Some films are only made to cash in on the success of other movies (would Lesbian Vampire Killers have ever been made before Shaun of the Dead?). Other times the film is billed as a comedy because its simply not scary or well made enough to be anything but laughable (Zombie Strippers. I’ve seen it. Trust me, don’t bother).
Horror comedy works best as in Jackson’s early films, when both the comedy and the horror are fully committed to and balance each other out – like two fat kids on a seesaw. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead II and Slither all push the boundaries with the laughs, as much as they do with the shocks and the scares. This is why they are true classics.
Although not the film I originally thought it would be, Diagnosis: Death is a reasonably good film. And the potential for the team who made it to go onto bigger, better, funnier and scarier things is definitely there.
Fingers crossed that the next project they have lined up is Flight of the Conchords meet Frankenstein, now that would be great.
Additional film information: Diagnosis: Death (2009)