Movie Review: Dance of the Dead

Meh.

The 2008 zombie action/comedy Dance of the Dead could have been a great film.  It had a capable technical crew, good special effects, and a few good actors.  Also, like a great zombie movie I reviewed earlier this week (Night of the Living Dorks), it had a funny frog dissecting scene, good looking actresses, and a hillarious Gym-teacher character.   

So what did it lack?  Any character development at all.

I know that’s not a sexy or fun diagnosis, but unfortunately it’s true. 

Dance of the Dead is the tale of what happens in a small Georgia town on prom night when pollution from a nearby power plant causes the dead to rise from their graves and feed on the flesh of the living.  Unfortunately for the audience, the flesh they select belongs to the main characters of this film, who are boring and wooden. 

DOTD’s protagonists are a group of nerds–one of whom dreams of dating a beautiful, popular girl (again, come to think of it, like in Night of the Living Dorks).  However, these kids just aren’t very good actors, and they’re given a script that’s not witty or clever at all.  There are no surprises, no interesting plot twists, and nothing very funny ever happens.  Also, the characters’ motivations are mostly unclear.  It’s hard to say what the characters want.  (Not to be eaten by zombies, yes, but to establish who they are as people, you need something more.)

The actors all look like they’re actually the ages they play (17 or so), but gee, maybe there’s a reason so many movies cast 20-somethings to play high school students.  Maybe it has to do with acting ability.

The zombies in DOTD show up in the very first scene, and are fast moving and violent.  As zombies go, I liked them a lot.  (One exception: This is the first zombie-movie I’ve ever seen where zombies explode up out of their graves.  It looked weird and unnatural [and not the good kind of zombie-unnatural].  My guess is that the special effects crew was so excited that they could do this effect that they didn’t stop to think about whether or not they SHOULD do it… or if it made any damn sense at all.) 

The standout performance that almost redeems the film (but, you know, doesn’t) is Mark Oliver as Coach Keel.  His over-the-top gun-toting gym teacher character is both human and funny–two things that the rest of the cast, alas, is not.

If anything, DOTD reminded me of Killer Clowns from Outer Space, a film that was literally written by a special effects team.  DOTD does a great job with the gore, and the zombie-fighting sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in recent years, but when the ninety seconds of exciting action are over, you’re once again stuck watching characters you don’t care about.   In my opinion, this film was created by skillful technicians, but sub-par writers and actors.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Dance of the Dead”

  1. I totally disgree with this reviewer. I thought what worked the best in this movie was the character development and the lovability of the cast. These characters are anything BUT boring and wooden.

    What really made this movie stand out was the performances of all of the actors.

    I find this review from bloody-disgusting.com way more accurate:

    Fast Zombies? Slow Zombies? How about zombies that burst out of their graves in a cloud of torn earth and hit the ground running in a frenzy of fury? That’s how it happens here and it’s also how I would describe Director Gregg Bishop’s horror hybrid DANCE OF THE DEAD. It explodes like a shotgun blast of pure teen comedy and devastates everything in its path with a battery of torn off limbs, bashed in brains, severed spinal cords and a night at the prom that makes CARRIE look like PRETTY IN PINK.

    Cosa High School is pretty much like every other High School in America. The teens that attend Cosa are all preoccupied with the usuals—getting laid and getting ready for the big dance…The Prom. Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz, OTIS) and Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick) aren’t your typical high school couple. He’s jaded and chill about the whole affair; she’s indulging in the entire archetypal hullabaloo surrounding the annual rituals of teendom. The rest of the school is occupied by an assorted cast of stereotypes, ripped right out of the John Hughes universe—The Science Club, The Cheerleaders, The Prom Queen, The Rock Star and the Charlie Sheen delinquent that looks like he should have graduated about a decade earlier. Together these polar opposites must unite to save their special night from an all out undead assault of the most outrageous, most sanguine and most irrepressibly hilarious horror comedy since SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

    I’ve said it before, it’s difficult if not damn near impossible to really pull off homage. You have to forgo the obvious and create a living breathing entity that can stand wholly on its own. If you don’t do that, you’ve cut off half of your audience before they ever see the first five minutes of your magnum opus. What writer Joe Ballarini and Director Gregg Bishop (THE OTHER SIDE) accomplish is the very nearly impossible—a fully functional film that delivers the laugh-a-minute but heartfelt humor of AMERICAN PIE with the furious gore of 28 DAYS LATER. The film never gives up it’s horror to service its comedy and in the same respect it waters down the laughs in order to up the tension. I struggle to remember the last time I was instantly blown away by a film—especially a horror comedy.

    The script is tight as a noose. All of the characters are enjoyable and well acted, lead by Jared Kusnitz who delivers a hilariously matter of fact character—totally annoyed at the situation but forced to take a stand and save his friends—there’s no great dramatic arc for Kusnitz to play, but his teenage-Rambo one-liners and genuinely organic screen presence make it impossible not to like the dude. Greyson Chadwick lends a heightened level of sing-song-reality to her performance—her Lindsey never utters filmdom’s favorite four letter word. Instead she simple wonders what the “F” is going on! It’s endearing and once again, it differentiates her character from the rest of the pack. Joe Ballarini’s script carefully fleshes out each of these kids not by providing excesses of discourse or long-winded pages of backstory. The film flies too fast for any of that. No, instead these kids are defined and differentiated by what they accomplish in the film and with each other. If any actor steals the show it’s Justin Welborn (THE SIGNAL) who plays the student delinquent Kyle. As I mentioned before Welborn look a decade—at minimum—too old to be playing a high school student but that matters little because as insane as he is, his performance is so well executed that it virtually explodes off the screen—you buy every second.

    Speaking of buying every second, that incredibly difficult tenet is where most horror films and most comedies fail. When you blend the pair together you can throw all logic right out the window—unless you can make that world exist in celluloid as an absolute reality. Gregg Bishop, his cast and his crew deliver that promise as swiftly and with as much deadly precision as a machete to the neck—severing DANCE OF THE DEAD from the legions of “zomedy’s” that have shuffled DOA on to DVD and into theaters over the past several years.

    Slow Zombies vs. Fast Zombies? Straight Horror? Satirical Horror? When it’s this much fun who gives a fuck! DANCE OF THE DEAD is the best horror comedy of this or any other year. Now bring it on…

    Score: 10 / 10

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