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January 6, 2009

Dance of the Dead

2008, Dir. by Gregg Bishop

Remember all those good times you had in high school, and how prom was the culmination of it all and the greatest night of all time? I don't, because I was too busy watching movies with zombies in them. But now, a film entitled Dance of the Dead has come along, and I finally know what prom would have looked like if it were a zombie infested blood bath. Go ahead and tell me that doesn't at least make you a little bit curious.

The Good
Dance of the Dead, as a film, has been explained by members of the cast as a combination of The Breakfast Club and Dawn of the Dead. I think they may be giving their film too much credit, as both of those films would make a list of my very favorites, but Dance does have a lot of things going for it.

Shot mostly on grainy digital cameras, the film has a cool visual style that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. Director Gregg Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini clearly wanted to be able to pull the film off at night, and their ambition lends a traditional, Romero-esque feel to the atmosphere. The film also benefits from a quickly paced introduction of the high school characters and their elders. This attention to character makes the film twice as fun once the z-men rise above ground, as the subplots between characters - for the most part- don't feel forced or awkward.

The cast of the film is believable, and each of the actors and actresses seem to throw themselves into the film with reckless abandon. Jared Kusnitz and Greyson Chadwick are especially likeable as the romantic leads, and are offset well by goofier side characters like Justin Welborn's redneck/skinhead and Mark Oliver's over-the-top Coach. These characters, again, don't seem as forced as some of the players in recent zombie flicks, and are welcome even in their most ridiculous scenes.

The Bad
It's always difficult to defend a feeling that a film wasted some potential, but I couldn't help wanting a little more from Dance of the Dead. But I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the conclusion of the film feels a little rushed and - while I'm sure the filmmakers wanted to keep a sequel possible - could have tied up more loose ends. It's rare that such an abrupt ending comes to a film with this many subplots.

I mentioned that the film does a good job of introducing the characters and their relationships, but when it's time for the reveal, there's only a quick explanation of what's going on. I wouldn't expect every zombie flick to explain the details of the outbreak (after all, it's barely acknowledged in the forefather of them all, Romero's Night of the Living Dead), but there seems to be little method to the zombies when introduced, and the movie seems to change the rules with little or no notice when it assists the plot.

Random Moments
  • A Cemetary employee who is shown to know more about the zombies is used only to bookend the film and give some quick knowledge to the kids during the first wave of attack. I couldn't help feeling this character could have offered more to the film.
  • Apparently, a head cheerleader whose date for the prom cancels at the last minute will decide to forego the entire dance and jog for what must have been hours. Right.
  • There's a reanimated frog. Oh yeah.
  • The highlight of the film comes from the realization that these zombies - for reasons unknown - are sedated by the music of a high-school garage band. I won't spoil their role in the climactic battle for you, but I will say one thing - Long live the 80's!
The Verdict
Dance of the Dead took a while to really warm me up, and others who watched it with me had the same problem. However, a few dynamite scenes, an invested cast, and the laid-back tone make the film easy to digest at a barely 80 minute runtime, and it's already proven to have solid value for replays and movie nights with similarly afflicted friends. While Dance of the Dead never really establishes itself as a relevant zombie film like the ones Romero was making 30-40 years ago, it succeeds in bringing the carnage with a tounge-in-cheek. That's good enough for me.

The Mike's Rating: Prime Choice

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about this one...but I feel like I'll almost certainly be disappointed.

I really didn't like the director's first film, "The Other Side".