MAY 30, 2010
Despite its somewhat admirable position of being voted the #1 worst horror movie of all time on the IMDb, I had hoped I would enjoy Dead At The Box Office, either as a misunderstood gem or as a “so bad it’s good” type romp. Sadly it’s neither - it’s not the worst horror movie ever made (I’ve seen way worse - technically AND creatively - in films with more resources and money), but it’s wildly (and ultimately cripplingly) uneven, and it takes our characters the entire movie to put two and two together and solve the problem with the most obvious solution.
See, they’re not really zombies in the traditional sense - they’re merely hypnotized into thinking they are, thanks to a film of a Nazi experiment that played before a midnight screening of, natch, Night of the Living Dead, which “turned” the viewers into whatever was on-screen. Right off the bat, I said to myself “Just show it again with a romantic comedy or something”, but they don’t get that idea until the movie is almost over, and here the movie loses all steam, going for a witless Rocky Horror parody sequence (as a RHPS-esque film is the only other one they had at the theater) before a mean-spirited coda that doesn’t gel with the light-hearted tone of the climax.
Until that point, it’s just yet another generic indie zombie movie, albeit one that sort of annoyed me more than usual as it took place in an independent movie theater at midnight, somewhere and something I obviously know a bit about (even more so as of this past week, as the New Bev just had a midnight screening of Night of the Living Dead). For starters, why are so many people working at a midnight screening? There are three concession stand clerks, two ushers, three managers, a handyman (?), and a projectionist - all being paid as well. Come on! I’ve been to regular multiplexes in the daytime that didn’t have that many people on staff. Obviously it’s just to allow for some more victims, but why not be a little more creative? Two moviegoers could have been fooling around in the bathroom, a couple guys could have come to the movie late and thus missed the hypnotic reel, and/or maybe there was a BC-esque narcoleptic who simply slept through it (I have indeed dozed off during the trailers on more than one occasion)... if you had them, and cut the number of theater employees in half (which would STILL be more than the Bev would have for a midnight screening), you’d end up with a more believable core group.
You’d also have a more NOTLD-esque setup, as you’d have folks of different backgrounds and motives coming together, instead of the staff of a theater, where they are all dressed alike and know each other. There is precious little conflict within the group (basically just the same sort of bickering they’d be carrying out under normal circumstances), an element that feels even more missing when you’re constantly being treated to footage from Night, which earned most of its suspense not from the zombies but from whether or not Harry and Ben would kill each other first.
Another, more crippling comparison that the filmmakers invite is having an African American hero. As anyone who knows his NOTLD history can tell you, Ben was not written as black (or white) in the script - Duane Jones just happened to be the best actor who tried out for the role. Subsequent “analysis” of the film’s supposed racial metaphors is not necessarily wrong, but it’s certainly not an intended part of the story Romero wanted to tell. Even Harry Cooper, one of the most hateful men in horror history, doesn’t stoop to bringing Ben’s race up. Yet, the hero here is the most painfully annoying of stereotypes in horror movies, the black guy who is constantly mentioning his race and seeing every single thing as a racially motivated action against him. It would be annoying enough in ANY movie, but when the filmmakers are drawing parallels with Night, which was a milestone in using African Americans actors in heroic roles, it’s even more annoying.
Speaking of painful stereotypes, the movie did one surprising thing that I was happy about. Since this is a movie theater, there is of course a film geek who never stops talking about movies and chastises others for not knowing every detail about the ones they’ve seen (you know, because that’s what we do). And I was prepared for a full 90 minutes of this asshole making cutesy references and being treated like an “expert” of some sort as he would have seen every zombie movie under the sun, but no! He actually gets hypnotized along with all of the patrons, so he’s out of it after like 20 minutes or so.
In fact, other than the annoying stereotypes, I actually kind of liked the movie for a while. It’s sub-professional, sure, but still better than the average Decrepit Crypt offering, and they were keeping the pace fairly brisk for a while. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of gore, but there were a few nice gags here and there all the same, plus a surprising death of one of the theater managers early on that I didn’t see coming. It’s not until the 2nd half that it really all falls apart, as the surviving characters basically sit in a room yammering for what seems like a half hour, before putting together their “genius” plan, which we see them execute in the most painfully slow montage in cinematic history (and why would they need to make a theater model out of Starburst when they all work there? Can’t the plan-maker just tell them all to run down the aisle? Not like it’s a maze in there). I kind of like the idea of using giant film spools as shields, but otherwise they never really make good use of their setting - why not tie up a zombie with film strips, or use the compressed soda tanks as some sort of explosive? Or at least have more scenes in the theater(s), instead of in some generic back room. As we learn on the commentary, the filmmakers actually owned the theater, so they should have been a little more carefree with it.
The commentary also reveals other somewhat interesting tidbits, like that they edited the film on Sony Vegas (which is by far the most cumbersome and convoluted non-linear editing programs I’ve ever worked on, and that includes Media 100), and that the theater was in fact still in operation (they would cancel the final screening during weekdays and film all night). They also inform us of the untimely and tragic passing of one of the actors, who drowned while on vacation. But unfortunately, most of the track is just the group of them mocking themselves, which gets old after a while. They also spend a few minutes discussing various sexual acts such as the Hot Carl. Like the film itself, it’s a very mixed bag, but closer to pointless than worth your while. A painfully unfunny gag reel is also included, but it seems to be geared toward the people who made the movie than the ones watching it, as at least 75% of the collection is just various cast and crew goofing off with one another, as if every clip should have been ended with the on-screen text “Guess you had to be there”. What makes bloopers funny is the context of knowing what was screwed up (a blown line, for example) when compared to what was in the film you just saw - all of the background information we need is there. Two guys we don’t know poorly playing “The Dozens” and laughing at things we can barely hear - not funny. But hey, it adds “value” to the disc, so who cares?
There’s also a Lloyd Kaufman intro (though this is not a Troma release), where he colorfully trashes the Regal cinema chain and makes fun of his own films. I only wish Uncle Lloyd HAD been involved with the movie - he would have demanded more action (or a porno ending - they even point out that movies should have sex instead of violence, which I thought was foreshadowing that they’d put on some porno to “save” the zombies).
On the film’s very under-populated IMDb board, one of the filmmakers said that they were working on remaking the film “right”. I’m all for it - I think the concept should lend itself to a good film*. I just hope, if they do get their remake off the ground, that they keep the tone more consistent, eschew the stereotypes, and build the film up to an exciting finale instead of front-loading the better action and ending the movie on a stupid Rocky Horror joke. Or at least get the rights to use Rocky instead of a half-assed knockoff (“Time Warp” becomes “Black Hole” - the dance remains identical, however).
What say you?
*I say this because one of the episodes for my proposed animated show had a very similar plot, except the movie was Demons and the mastermind was not a Nazi but a crazed movie exec. Great minds think alike and all that (glad I registered it with the WGA (in 2007) though).