SXSW Review: ‘Dance of the Dead’ Scores Once Again!

Get the eff out… I refuse to believe it until I see it for myself… David Harley has submitted his review for Gregg Bishop’s Dance of the Dead and just like Tex (review here), he is raving about it. the film takes place on the night of the big High-School Prom, where the dead rise to eat the living, and the only people who can stop them are the losers who couldn’t get dates to the dance. Read on for the review or click here for all SXSW coverage.

Good horror comedies are hard to come by. During the last few years, we’ve been blessed to have Hatchet, Slither and Shaun of the Dead hack and slash their way into our hearts. The problem with making a horror comedy, though, is that its very hard to balance the humor and gore. The film needs to be able to embrace its absurdity and still be able to satisfy our craving for scares. Gregg Bishop (The Other Side) and his talented crew completely and totally get this because they have created, by far, one of the best horror comedies of all time with DANCE OF THE DEAD.

The prom at Cosa High School is only hours away. Jimmy Dunn (Jared Kusnitz) has just been told he’s going stag by his girlfriend Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick) since he doesn’t take anything seriously and isn’t going anywhere in life.

Unfortunately, none of that really matters because the prom isn’t going to go on as planned. You see, the nuclear power plants in town have caused the dead to rise from their graves and overrun the town. Oh, it’ll still be a night Jimmy, Lindsey and their group of dateless friends will remember for the rest of their lives. It just won’t be exactly what they had in mind.

Joe Ballarini’s script is filled with well placed homages to other classic films, both horror and otherwise, more similar to the way Edgar Wright works with them rather than Tarantino. Ballarini has everything from Back to the Future to Kill Bill (ironic, isn’t it) to Return of the Living Dead thrown into the mix. And, instead of feeling bogged down by references, it actually is used to the advantage of the film because they serve as a basis for the absurdity of the situation. Ballarini also does a great job writing his characters. The characters are familiar enough that I can instantly reference people from my own high school experiences but they never feel cliche. Imagine that, teen actors playing teen roles that actually act like teens. You’d think it would be common sense but a lot of films sadly don’t get this. All of the characters feel very organic, yet in true horror comedy fashion, they all have that certain over-the-top quality that gives the film that certain je ne sais quoi.

Speaking of the characters, all of the actors in the film are perfectly cast. We’ve all seen all-teen cast horror films nosedive in quality because of the inexperience of the actors. But, that’s not the case here. There isn’t one weak link in the whole cast. Most notable are Mark Oliver, as Coach Keel, the only centrally cast adult in the film, and Justin Welborn, as the too old to actually be in high school rebel, Kyle. We all know that Kyle is too old to be in high school (a clear homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and we know that the coach being literally militant is completely and totally absurd but it’s stuff like that that makes the film work.

The gore gags and special effects in the film are absolutely brilliant. I haven’t seen slapstick gore of such high caliber in a film since Brain Dead. There are quite a few scenes, which I won’t mention for spoiler purposes, that just totally blew my mind in terms of quality and sheer ingenuity. The blood flows like water in the film and, quite honestly, I can’t see anyone complaining about it.

Out of all the films I’ve seen at SXSW this year, regardless of genre, DANCE OF THE DEAD stands out as the most impressive and entertaining. Its feverishly fast paced, gory as hell and full of hilarious dialogue. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen in quite a while that I have absolutely no complaints about and, I’m sure, will easily be sitting very highly on my list of favorite films for 2008. It’s a film that demands to be seen with a crowd and a few beers, a total party film very much in the same vein as Return of the Living Dead. There is no doubt in my mind that DANCE OF THE DEAD is destined to become a cult classic that will be talked about for years to come.

Score: 4.5/5

Check out David’s SXSW blog here

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