Putting Joe Estevez and Todd Bridges’ name above the title of your latest film is hardly the way to inspire hope amongst genre junkies. Those of us that have seen more than the major new release section on any given Blockbuster store shelf can tell you that the hallmark of a good, cheap, DTV, horror film hardly ever comes attached with the little brother of Martin Sheen and the dude from Diff’rent Strokes.
DAWN OF THE LIVING DEAD was shot in 2004 under the title CURSE OF THE MAYA and it marks the first of three times that Estevez and Bridges have worked together. But, the film by Writer/Director/Actor/Producer David Heavener biggest problem is miles away from the performances of its cast. Actually, Bridges is unrecognizable as a bucktoothed simpleton with a basketball-pot-belly, looking like he just staggered in off the set of one of low-budget-schlock-king Chris Seaver’s latest opuses. The real problem with the film is that it looks so cheap and the set up is so stupid that I couldn’t decide what was worse—that the producers spent the money to shoot this stinker on actual film stock, or that I was still watching it when a zombie baby began attacking Heavener in a scene eerily reminiscent of Martin Landau sloshing around with the rubber octopus arm in ED WOOD.
The premise is an intriguing, if not terribly original, as Jeffrey (Estevez) and girlfriend Renee (Amanda Baumann) move into a deserted desert home that just happened to see a family of Belizean immigrants slaughtered at a few days earlier. Soon after moving in Renee and Jeffrey meet Michael (played by Heavener), a local wind farmer and the dysfunctional pair have him over of a uncomfortable dinner where Renee reveals that she is a former drug addict and mental patient and that Jeffrey was her sponsor. Somewhere in the middle of this Renee stars sleeping with Michael and the zombie family returns from the grave to devour Jeffrey.
Using the crux of Dia De Los Muertos the plot alleges that the bodies of the family are doomed to walk the earth having had no feast and no proper burial to settle them. It’s up to Renee and Michael to stop them and solve their murder to boot—that’s a lot to ask for from a pair just starting out in a new relationship!
Let’s just get it right out there; DAWN OF THE LIVING DEAD is bad. Not bad in a good way, just plain bad. Bad in the way that makes me want to actually return from the dead to munch on the flesh of the filmmakers who made it. It also bugs me that someone changed the title of this film. Look guys…DAWN OF THE LIVING DEAD just tells me right off the bat that no one gives a shit about this film. CURSE OF THE MAYA is intriguing. It makes no difference that it’s the same terrible movie with a different title—CURSE OF THE MAYA makes me want to rent the thing. All the new title does is make me wish someone would give George Romero more cash to make another movie. And that’s just bad marketing. You guys should want me to give you the money…not George!
One good thing that this flick has going for it, is that the guys who made it didn’t skimp on the guts and gore. Sure, it takes 24 minutes before anyone gets their gullet ripped open, but, when they do it’s all the intestine chewing glory that one wants and craves from a zombie flick. Oh yeah, the make-up effects on the undead clan are reasonably well done too which almost makes up for the unnecessary and unexplained CGI that director Heavener employs.
So, on that note, I guess the production budget wasn’t entirely expended on film stock and D-list celebrities. That must say something to someone about the artistic integrity of this production but I don’t know who that person is, and frankly I’d be a little scared to run into ‘em in a dark alley. DAWN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s best attribute is the poster art/DVD cover. And in the world of low-budget zombie films, sometimes the best thing you can ask for is some solid guts and some good key art. In that respect the film exceeds expectations—even as it fails in every other regard.