Last night I watched the 2004 zombie comedy Dead & Breakfast. It wasn’t too bad. I’m inclined to compare it to a so-so, pedestrian cake that has incredibly delicious icing. The foundation of the movie is forgettable and uninspired, but the supporting elements (that “top it off”) are wonderful and very well done.
Dead & Breakfast is the story of six friends travelling to Galveston, Texas to attend a wedding. Their RV breaks down the day before the wedding in a small town called Lovelock. They are forced to spend the night in the town’s creepy bed and breakfast, and someone is murdered during their stay. The local sheriff forces them to remain in Lovelock as the murder investigation is carried out. Then zombies attack.
The plot is unremarkable, as is much of the acting from the improbably-attractive principal cast. The “local rednecks” mostly feel like Hollywood hipsters dressed up as “local rednecks” for a Halloween party. David Carradine makes an unnecessary cameo (probably, because his daughter plays one of the six stranded friends) and is utterly wasted. The “plot-twists” are hardly twisty at all, and you can see them coming a mile away.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the character-acting layered atop this hackneyed and poorly-executed “foundational plot” is really awesome.
The film is narrated by a psychobilly rock musician who appears periodically to sing ditties about important plot points that have just occurred. Ranging from Country to Hip-Hop, his songs are hilarious and may well be the highlight of the film. (They reminded me of the clever work of GQ and JAQ, whom I’ve seen in live performances in Chicago.) Here’s a good example:
Another highlight of D&B is the snooty, inexplicably-French bed and breakfast attendant played by Diedrich Bader. The character makes no sense as a resident of a small Texas town, but somehow Bader makes it work. (An aside: I once saw D. J. Caruso and Val Kilmer speak at Columbia University about making The Salton Sea. They said that when Vincent D’Onofrio showed up to play the villain, he was like: “I feel like this character should be real fat, so I’m just gonna get real fat. No discussion. End of the matter.” D’Onofrio just asserted that it would be so, and it was. Anyhow, I had the same feeling about Bader’s character in Dead & Breakfast. I felt like he just showed up and said: “Dude, this character should totally be French. I’m playin’ him French. You other actors… just go with it.”)
The zombies in D&B are more comical than scary, and most of the violence is slapstick. The gore is silly and over-the-top. (The scariest part of D&B might be the drawings of mayhem and decapitation that constitute the opening titles sequence.) Some reviews of D&B fawn-over a scene involving a character slipping and falling in a pool of blood for perhaps a full minute. It was definitely memorable, but at the same time felt forced, as if the writer/director was screaming: “Is this not the most you’ve ever seen someone slipping in a pool of blood in a movie? Is this not the most extensive series of comical blood-pratfalls you’ve ever encountered???” And it’s like, yeah dude, it is–but that doesn’t mean it’s awesome. I’ve never seen someone turn cartwheels in a pool of blood in a horror movie, either. Would I remember that if I saw it? Sure. Would it suddenly make a so-so movie awesome? Not necessarily.
But overall, this film wasn’t too bad. If you can make it through the uncreative central plot, I think you may enjoy the zombie balladeer and the charismatic cast of supporting characters.