Dance of the Dead (2008)

Dance of the Dead (2008)

It’s their night to come alive.

On the night of the big high school prom, the dead rise from their graves to feast on the flesh of the living. The only people that can stop them are the losers and outcasts who couldn’t get a dance for the prom. Arming themselves with whatever they can find, this is going to be one prom night this rag-tag group will never forget.

 

Zombie films are mainly a miss-and-miss genre. For every decent zombie film there is about thirty terrible efforts. Rehashing the same old story of people being trapped somewhere. Remaking older zombie films. Adding comedy to the mix. It’s all been done time and time again. Anyone with a camera and some make-up can make a zombie film and if you’ve ploughed through the low budget genre, you’ll know this to be true. It’s an easy start for people to break into the horror genre but since there’s so damned many nowadays, it kind of defeats the object. I like my zombie films with a polished look and decent production values. I watch zombie films with zero expectations so if they are rubbish, at least I braced myself for impact. If they’re decent, then I’m pleasantly surprised. Not only that but it’s a difficult juggling act to balance just how much horror and how much comedy you mix into your film. It’s common practice for one element to outweigh the other. Dance of the Dead gets this mix spot on and is a real crowd-pleasing gem of a zombie flick.

Dance of the Dead is at best a hybrid of Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Creeps, offering up a nice mix of gore and laughs and balancing it with a not-too-serious tone akin to the splatter horror-comedies of the 80s. In fact, so clear is the influence of these two films that I spent more time actually counting the nods to them, in particular Return of the Living Dead. The dissected frogs coming back to life in zombie form is a great nod to the dog from Return of the Living Dead. There’s even a cadaver that runs around with a plastic sheet still stuck over its head.

Director Gregg Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini have an obvious affection and fondness for this older style of filmmaking and instead of taking a gamble on the material, they’ve stuck with what they love and tried to their best to recreate the 80s horror-comedy. They do a great job of replicating the ‘feel good’ atmospheres of the past films. Certainly Dance of the Dead is not a film to watch if you want to be scared as the focus is on being over-the-top, silly and goofy and getting your kicks through that as opposed to getting any sinister atmosphere or tension built. The zombies themselves aren’t very frightening and are stuck between being the slow, shuffling zombies of the Romero films and the lightning fast, sprinter zombies of more recent time depending on whether they’ve been in the ground for a while or were recently deceased. It’s a decent spin on the usual zombie lore and makes sense really.

Fortunately the film is pretty messy and it’s amazing what can pass as a 15 these days in the UK. It’s nothing you won’t have seen before in other zombie films with the usual array of head-shots, severed limbs and decapitated heads but it still seems like too much for a low rating. There is some CGI sprinkled around but it’s not that noticeable amidst the mass of old school make-up effects. Check out the undead love scene in which two zombies, previously smitten with each other as humans, continue their passionate romance beyond the grave. It gives ‘love bite’ a whole new meaning.

The horror and splatter elements are in place but Dance of the Dead has a funny bone and it’s not afraid to show it off. The situations that this oddball group are faced with border on the ridiculous at times and their reactions and plans of action are daft enough to be believable. The cast and characters are what make Dance of the Dead work. These are teenagers playing teenagers for a change, not twenty or thirty somethings pretending to be back in school. The characters are all taken out of the school stereotype playbook – nerds, jocks, rebellious rockers, cheerleaders, crazy gym teachers, etc. but they’re well-written characters that you’ll grow to like over the course of the film. Everything they say and do is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning but beneath the clichéd exterior lies a lot of warmth, love and depth to the characters. The geeks aren’t just geeks who are there to provide scientific answers and knowledge as they prove when they turn into the unlikely heroes.

The cast, in particular the lead Jared Kusnitz, all display charisma beyond their years and, coupled with the funny script, manage to inject some excellent coming timing into the proceedings. It looks like they’re having a blast filming it and it shows in the final product.

 

It’s not going to break new ground but Dance of the Dead is the sort of film that could become a cult classic in years to come, much in the way that Night of the Creeps has. Definitely one prom night that you’ll not want to miss for the world.

 

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