Falling into the Idle Hands category of teen horror comedy, Dance of the Dead is the product of low budget filmmaking.
It’s one thing to envision this sort of project under lesser funding, it’s quite another to actually pull it off. A certain plastic fantastic veneer is required emulate the kind of MTV movies this film is so obviously sourcing – think Loser if Jason Biggs was eviscerated by zombies at the end.
However, despite the odds, director Greg Bishop and screenwriter Joe Ballarini have produced a wonderfully enjoyable movie that succeeds in creating a genuinely entertaining experience, even if it is one riddled with inconsistencies.
The first 20 minutes or so are exhilarating, introducing us to the characters and setting through a series of amusing vignettes in which students are ostracized by their teachers and zombies are forced back into the ground by a mysterious, Scooby Doo-esque grave-keeper. Everything is kept brief, broad and favourably shallow.
Soon enough, however, the plot begins to beckon ghoulishly from its ancient mausoleum. The usual roster of freaks, geeks, losers, jocks and cheerleaders prepare for the prom, the most important night in an American teenagers life , if we are to believe the propaganda.
Meanwhile the toxic emissions from a nearby power plant are causing the recently deceased to rise from their graves, born anew with a feverish hunger for flesh, brains…and partying.
Caught in the middle of all this is sardonic class clown Jimmy – played with adequate confidence by Jason Kusnitz. Dumped by his all too serious girlfriend, Lindsey – Anna Kendrick clone, Greyson Chadwick- he is forced to go to the ‘event of a lifetime’ alone. Along the way, however, he is intercepted by the undead hoard.
In order to stay alive he is forced to team up with gawky sci-fi nerds, wannabe punk rockers and one particularly marvellous redneck sociopath.
These characters are obvious, recognisable but likeable archetypes, their relationships and character arcs equally predictable but lovingly portrayed. In particular, the conclusion to the awkward romance between ‘the geek’ and ‘the cheerleader’ is both hysterically mean and grotesquely touching. Unfortunately the film also shoots itself in the foot here, killing off the most engaging secondary characters far too early and doing so with such flippancy that it leaves the rest of the cast looking rather meek in their absence.
Bitter and defeated school principal Castlemoody is a delight to watch. Staring into the lens he grimly suckles from a leather hip flask and snarls but a single word (‘Prom’) before skulking out of frame.
This instance is one of only two or three direct encounters that feature the character before he is rubbed off prematurely. The trailer trash psycho is given much more screen time but is done-in, criminally, before the final set piece.
The camera work isn’t perfect either. There is visual competence on display here but little in the way of flare.
One glaring issue is that Bishop either doesn’t know how or wasn’t given the proper time to shoot the action sequences correctly. They certainly work; there is clarity in these scenes but largely due to the damaging overuse of long shots.
Little in the way of coverage is evident as the editing cuts away to seemingly unrelated shots, then cutting back to a master which captures the action broadly but does so in a particularly sluggish and un-engaging manner.
As obvious as the flaws are this is still a strong, confidently made movie.
Dance of the Dead certainly isn’t perfect, but it is a very promising vehicle that will hopefully spur on the careers of everyone involved. And who knows, if the ending is anything to go by, we may just see them again in Dance of the Dead 2…
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