Zombie hate crimes
In The Dead Hate the Living, a group of young filmmakers sneaks into an abandoned medical research facility to make a low budget horror feature about a scientist who raises the dead to be his zombie slaves. Little do they know that the facility was abandoned after a scientist’s experiments to revive the dead through alchemical means went horribly wrong. What are the odds?
When they discover the scientist’s body, they decide to go ahead and use what they’ve found to add to the film’s production value. This proves to be a very bad move, as they accidentally manage to open a rift into the dimension of the dead.
The first shot of the film is a nice bit of edgy foreshadowing. It shows a videotape warning/confession recorded by the doomed scientist Eibon (Matt Stephens, looking like Rob Zombie) in his last living moments, as the living dead ghouls hammer at the door.
This sequence is followed immediately by a mix of false scares, character development and comedy, which introduces us to the ambitious young cast and crew of the unnamed film. There’s the director David Poe (Eric Clawson), trying to get his first feature in the can. David is both helped and hindered by the fact that his sisters, sweet Shelly (Wendy Speake) and bitchy Nina (Kimberly Pullis), are in the cast. Adding to the mix is sexy production assistant Topaz (Jamie Donahue), who has a growing mutual attraction to David.
Handling the gory make-up is his best friend Paul (Brett Beardslee). The two of them are huge horror fans, and their dialogue is peppered with as many horror references as the average issue of Fangoria. This aspect of the script is more than a little autobiographical, as writer/director Dave Parker is obviously a fan too – The Dead Hate the Living is greatly indebted to the horror films of Italian maestro Lucio Fulci, and could almost be taken for a sequel to his City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. The script is a patchwork of influences, and horror fans can play a little game of spot the reference while they watch. I spotted bits from Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead Trap, and just about every other zombie movie ever made.
This is both a strength and a detriment to the film. A strength because Parker intended this to be a horror film for horror fans. A detriment because, if it had been less a tribute, it had the potential to be a truly distinctive horror film. But this is Parker’s first film (having graduated from the Full Moon editing room), and as such it shows an incredible amount of energy and raw talent.
The film takes more distinct personality once the dimensional gate is opened and Eibon and his ghoul stooges are released. There are some really spectacular (and gruesome) zombie monsters, especially those key ghouls played by huge Matt McGrory and muscular “Doc”. The f/x make-up (by Thomas Surprenant’s Subhuman Creations) throughout the film is terrific, even going so far as to make a distinct difference in quality between the “real” gore and the “fake” movie gruel. Unlike the unrated splatter epics he’s emulating, Parker had to walk a thin line to keep Full Moon’s R rating intact, so he managed to push things a bit farther over the line by giving the film more of a fantasy/comedy flavor.
Eibon sets his monsters free on the living. The living try to get away, but find that the building has been pulled into the vortex between dimensions (or something like that), and escape is impossible. The only choice for the survivors is to find a way to defeat Eibon and shut the Gates of Hell. Either that, or else become zombie ghouls themselves.
As is typical for Full Moon pictures, the doorway is (literally) left open for a sequel – which is all right with me. Hopefully, Parker will grow out of the fannish tributes and carve out a place in the genre of his own. Then other folks can pay tribute to him.
At the end of the feature is a really great (on a desktop budget) credit sequence by Jerrod Cornish (marred slightly by the silly title track by Penis Flytrap, who contributed several songs – the other ones are better). The special effects opticals are impressive, but don’t always work. For example, some CGI flames fail to cast any light on the surrounding set. But others, like a zombie electrocution scene, are eye-poppin’. Also excellent is the cinematography by Tom Callaway. The film consistently looks much better than its budget would indicate.
Sturdy work on the technical side is one thing, but it’s often forgotten how important decent acting is to even a cheesy genre movie. The Dead Hate the Living features outstanding performances by its cast. The leads obviously invested more in their roles than the quest for another day’s pay.
Full Moon loads up the DVD with extras, making me wonder yet again why so many big studio “special edition” DVDs are more expensive. The packaging and menus are attractive and easy to navigate. There’s a music video, trailers, and a very good documentary feature. Parker gets involved beyond the commentary track he shares with the lead actors, which gives the disc a surprisingly chummy feel. In the cast section, he writes a short essay about his feelings about each actor and what it was like working with them. This takes the place of the expected filmographies – probably because they’d be so brief. The only performer with an extensive resume is Ariauna Albright (who plays Eibon’s wife), who has acted in over a dozen films and produced three.