MAY 21, 2012
Rather than review The Dead Undead in a traditional manner, I thought I’d once again just offer up some tips for these filmmakers and others who may find themselves in their situation. Said situation, per the commentary by co-directors Eddie Conna and Matt Anderson (which wasn’t advertised on the back of the DVD) and some of the bonus features, can be summed up by “not enough money to do anything correctly”, though I’m sure some questionable filmmaking skill was also a factor.
Tip #1 – If you can barely afford the parts of the movie that matter, get rid of the ones that don’t. Midway through the film, we’re suddenly treated to a scene of a character (who just died) fighting in a sun-drenched forest, wearing chainmail and wielding a sword. At first I thought this was just the guy’s version of heaven, which would be kind of hilarious (I’m a firm believer in the “Heaven is what you want it to be” concept), but as it went on I started wondering if the DVD had glitched and perhaps we were just seeing an unrelated short film about two of the actors going on a LARPing session, since everything was so phony. But then I finally realized, this was his “origin” as a vampire, and we were supposed to be flashing back to the Middle Ages and seeing how this guy – who, again, is now dead – was turned into a vampire and joined the other hunters. There are others, too – one in Vietnam and another in the Old West. Both have about as much authenticity as a bunch of kids grabbing their dad’s camera and trying to remake Predator or something in their backyard, and none of it is essential. Who cares how they were turned? Can’t they just say so in a few lines of dialogue? Why spend time and money filming this stuff when it’s just going to be laughed at?
Tip #2 – Don’t hire yourself to play badass vampire hunters. Both Conna and Anderson appear as part of the team of vampires who now hunt the “ZVs” (zombie vampires) that serve as the film’s villains, and neither of them can act. Granted, almost NO ONE in the film can act, but perhaps if they weren’t distracted by their performances, they could have done a better job directing or rewriting the script to accommodate their lack of a proper budget. It’s not like they were any good in the roles, so literally ANY other two people in the world would have been just as good, with a chance of being better.
Tip #3 – When it comes to “cool” action, quantity is not better than quality. There are three major shootout/fight scenes in the movie, with some other little ones sprinkled in between, and they’re all pretty much the same. Lots of shots of our hunters firing their guns over and over or swinging a melee weapon, mixed with shots of ZVs getting riddled with bullets and/or being hurled back from the force of whatever they were hit with. The first time or two we see a zombie go flying through the air, it’s kind of awesome. By the 50th, its either laughable or boring, depending on the circumstances. At one point Luke Goss kicks one and it goes flying 30 feet away – this should have been a major highlight, but it’s literally the 5th time we’ve seen one do the same thing from some sort of “hit” (a bullet, a sword, etc) in the past 20 seconds, so there’s no impact whatsoever. Ditto the air mortar that launches zombies into the air – it’s cool at first, but after a while any sane audience member will just start wondering why the damn things keep launching themselves up onto the roof of the same car. At least MOVE your mortar, fellas.
Tip #4 Don’t immolate an old man that we love. At first I was a bit confused as to how they had a cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman, since he died in 2008, but according to the commentary, they lost Luke Goss at a certain point in the production because he had to go overseas to shoot Hellboy II, which was shot in the summer/fall of 2007. Anyway, Uncle Forry shows up out of nowhere as a zombie, which is awesome in theory, but he’s in his wheelchair (at this time his health was already failing), and he’s only on-screen for a few seconds before someone sets him on fire. It would be incredibly disturbing to watch even if he WASN’T no longer with us, so I have no idea what they were thinking here.
Tip #5 The script DOES matter. On one of the 7 featurettes, they explain that their budget forced them to change parts of the script to accommodate their locations and such. And that’s fine, it happens all the time. But they go overboard, explaining that the crew would point out script inconsistencies on the set and they’d say “Don’t worry about it, the script isn’t set in stone, none of it matters.” Um, yes it does. See, if you had any sense, you’d spend a few days revising your script once you realized what you had to work with in terms of money and sets (especially considering the entire movie was shot in one location). You certainly don’t show up on set with a script with elements that are no longer possible to film. Budgetary limitations can certainly compromise the original vision for a movie, but good filmmakers are able to work around them and still make something worthwhile.
Tip #6 Action is only interesting when it changes. The directors stress that this is an “action movie with horror”, but don’t seem to realize that it fails more miserably as an action movie than as a horror. Again, all of the action is repetitive, and there’s no real plot here – the vampire hunters want to kill the ZVs, and that’s about it. There’s no master villain, there’s no cure to seek or anything – it’s just an endless series of poorly edited shootouts; you can take the big shootout from the end of the movie and swap it with the one at the beginning and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Action movies succeed by mixing things up – take The Rock, for example. There’s the theft of the VX gas, the big car chase in San Francisco, the initial takeover of Alcatraz, the big bathroom massacre, the chase for the final rocket, the mine car shootout… there’s a variety! Now take this movie. There’s the shootout in the junkyard, the shootout in front of the hotel, and… another shootout in the junkyard. And the enemies are all the same; anonymous, badly madeup zombies that run en masse from out of nowhere but are often standing still when they cut to them a second before they are dispatched. We also see the same ones die over and over; at one point one of them is taken down and then in the very next shot we see her running toward the group again. Individual gags and stunts are impressive, but the sequences themselves are simply not exciting in any way.
Tip #7 Don’t lie to me on your DVD cover. This is probably not the fault of the filmmakers, but after 5 years they probably could have designed a cover that accurately depicted their film and saved the distributor (Phase 4, in this case) some time and effort making one that was total bullshit. We get a burning city, super impressive skull faced zombies, a collapsed bridge… the movie offers an old motel and a junkyard. Oh and the Old West town! Can’t forget that.
Following even a couple of these tips on your next project will yield a far more successful film, I can almost guarantee it. Sadly, considering it took 5 years for this one to hit shelves, I’ll most likely be done with Horror Movie A Day-ing by the time your next movie is released, so it doesn’t matter. Good luck though.
What say you?