With the proliferation of undead satires hitting the marketplace in the wake of the success of SHAWN OF THE DEAD, it seems that this new subgenre, which has already coined its own surname—the Zomedy—is already getting stale. Not just for yuck and yucks anymore, the Zomedy has almost become a marketing tool for studio execs looking to cash in on a little lighthearted gut munching. Take this weeks release from genre-geek Producer extraordinaire Mark A. Altman (FREE ENTERPRISE). The film’s got a catchy title and the box art promises—via a Fangoria quote—“A zom-edy. Sort of a 48 HOURS meets DAWN OF THE DEAD”—big shoes to fill eh? While DEAD AND DEADER hardly delivers on that lofty assertion, it does offer a lot more than the usual half-hearted attempts at gore-wit and often comes off—as good satire should—knowingly paying tribute while still managing to entertain.
Ex-Superman Dean Cain stars as Lt. Bobby Quinn, a Special Forces Op who is tragically killed during a mission into the Cambodian jungles to ascertain the whereabouts of a group of military scientists working with a rare species of scorpions. Cain arrives back on the base in a body bag; about to be subject to an autopsy when he conveniently wakes up on the medical examiners table—without a pulse, or heartbeat, some added super strength and a nasty craving for raw flesh. But, Quinn’s not all bad; he’s just here to help. And with a ragtag group of would be zombie slayers, Quinn is set to do battle with not only the forces of the undead but an entire base that’s searching for him.
Frankly, I don’t like cutesy little terms like Zomedy. The very moniker predisposes the film to certain expectations. To saddle this film with that title—even if blurb happy marketing departments like it cause it makes their jobs easier—does little to address the film’s true intentions. Is DEAD AND DEADER funny? Sure…but the humor is incidental and self-referential and it’s hardly laugh-out-loud funny. It’s more situational comedy, meaning it’s easy to make jokes to relieve the tension when your life is on the line and your trapped in some second rate horror film scenario. Let’s face it, the dialogue is obscenely Tarantino-esque and chock full-o pop culture quips about other Zombie films and random useless information. It’s all in jest and it doesn’t really deter from the film itself—in actuality it lends a nice touch to the decidedly b-movieness on display in the feature.
But pages of discourse aside, the real draw here is the cast. Altman and first time feature filmmaker Patrick Dinhut populate their film with a barrel of industry vets including Susan Ward (WILD THINGS 2) as a feisty bartender and film school student who is responsible for much of the genre delineation that occurs. Guy Torry (AMERICAN HISTORY X) is Quinn’s sidekick and an army base cook who spouts off one-liners with the best of them. Ellie Cornell (HALLOWEEN IV) who cameos in all of Altman’s productions gets a meatier role as a scientist searching for everlasting life. Peter Greene (PULP FICTION) is a cancer-riddled madman looking to prolong his own life with the help of the scorpion’s sting. Cameos from Armin Shimerman (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) as the coroner, and Dean Haglund (THE X-FILES) as an undertaker with a silver sphere on his desk, pop up to add some cult television credibility to the mix. Even comedienne Colleen Camp (CLUE) gets in on the action as a desperate housewife named Ms. Wisteria (Yeah…it’s that kind of humor) who tags along to make suggestive advances toward Torry’s character. All-in-all it’s a blast watching the cast have fun with what is so obviously a very tongue-in-cheek production.
I guess it all comes down to the real question. Do the zombies deliver? Truth be told for a low budget feature that made its debut on the Sci-Fi Channel it definitely has its moments. The effect work provided by undead FX masters Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is heads, tales and other assorted severed limbs above the usual cheap zombie braineaters seen in the under-a-million-dollar-budget-set. Still, this is hardly DAWN OF THE DEAD 2007 here, and the set pieces give away the film’s shortcomings—specifically the huge explosion that is supposed to take out an army base that looks an awful lot like an abandoned airport hanger.
It’s all forgivable in the end, because the film is just so damn fun. And, even for a Sci-Fi channel flick (usually the kiss of death), DEAD AND DEADER is well worth an evening of your time.