Living Death (2006)

MAY 31, 2010


I wasn’t expecting much out of Living Death, due to the pedigree (DTV Lionsgate movie starring a has-been and a bunch of Canadians) and “seen-it” premise of a woman and her lover plotting to kill her husband only for things to go wrong, but I must admit it provided 85 minutes of mindless entertainment. With some surprising gore and a few touches of black humor, the tired premise managed to feel fresh again (at least, at times), and since everyone in the movie was a bit of a (put male or female centric expletive here), I wasn’t sure how it would all end up, as there was no obvious character to root for.

I just wish writers Christopher Warre Smets and Erin Barry (the latter also directed) hadn’t telegraphed EVERY SINGLE THING about the husband’s not-death. Early on, the doomed sod instructs his lawyer to make sure that when he dies he doesn’t want an autopsy, doesn’t want his organs to be donated, wants to be buried ASAP... he might as well just say “Look, in the off chance that I get paralyzed and everyone just THINKS I’m dead, I want to be able to put everyone through the motions of a funeral and such, without anything happening to me that would tip off that I was still alive.”

And then of course the guy supplying the poison is sure to explain that this particular poison can paralyze you inside and out, giving the impression to even a trained doctor that you were dead. I mean, they pile up so much foreshadowing, I began to suspect the writers just wanted us to think he was paralyzed and pull a twist that he really WAS dead (the “non-twist” twist). But no, around the 50 minute mark he finally springs back to life, after undergoing the invasive (but not destructive!) part of an autopsy, and then the movie finally becomes the horror movie it promised to be, as he exacts revenge on all those who did him wrong, starting with the trio of well-meaning but fairly dim med students who were “practicing” on him.

As I said, it’s not the most original premise - both the “let’s plot to get rid of my husband” (I think it’s a sort of unspoken rule that whenever a movie character tells his friend that he and his wife are the only people he cares about, that the friend and the wife are in fact having an affair) and the “paralyzed but not dead” plots have been explored several times over in the past (I cannot recall another instance of them being combined, to be fair), but the movie’s got a bit of a quirky personality that kept it feeling fun. I really loved the punchline to the opening sequence, and the supporting characters (particularly the med students) seem like they wandered in from a single-camera sitcom like 30 Rock. And there’s an odd running gag with a goldfish in its depressingly un-furnished bowl (not even a few pebbles!) that amused me every time it appeared, and the “conclusion” of the subplot at the film’s end is delightfully mean-spirited and awesome, though its appeal is somewhat diminished by a pointless post-script that shouldn’t have even been shot, let alone left in the film. I urge you to shut it off when you think the movie’s over and you’re still laughing at the fish moment.

I was also happy to see Kristy Swanson again, and that she is still quite fetching. Ms. Swanson was, I believe, the first actress I had a crush on (circa 1987), thanks to Deadly Friend and brief turns in Not Quite Human and Ferris Bueller. And in perusing her resume, I learned some wonderfully odd facts about the lass, such as the fact that she dated Alan Thicke for a while (when she was 17 and he was 40), and posed for Playboy in 2002. Also, she has played two characters that had to jump out of a window in order to stop someone from running away (in Deadly Friend and in Buffy - a film I still enjoy, especially after the last 2, largely un-fun seasons of its otherwise superior show). What a life. Her range may be a bit limited, but she’s certainly an appealing presence all the same, and it’s fun seeing her play a conniving bitch instead of her usual airheads. I also enjoyed the entertainingly douchey turn by Greg Bryk as the husband, as my only other exposure to him was as the crackhead guy in Saw V. And it’s a testament to both actors that they are playing fairly terrible people but still manage to entertain me - on paper I probably would have been wishing for someone to kill the whole lot of them by the end of the first reel.

I looked at a DVD review of the film to see what I was missing out on in terms of extra features, and learned that the disc apparently had an atrocious audio mix (Bloody Disgusting’s review shared the sentiment), so I guess I lucked out by opting to watch on Netflix, as it sounded fine to me. However, the DVD does have a making of in which the director apparently bemoans how much he hates un-original films, which is odd for a movie that’s essentially combining any number of 1960s thrillers with an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Maybe he figured the goldfish stuff was enough to earn it status as an “original”. Either way, I’m happy that the review pointed out the sex of Mr. Berry, as I assumed that it was a woman. Not enough women making horror movies if you ask me. And no one has.

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