Being Film #6 in Hail Horror 2008
DANCE OF THE DEAD is one of a number of low-budget horror films published under Lionsgate Film's Ghost House Underground banner, similar to the 8 Films to Die For series from After Dark Films. What you usually get with these films is a bunch of amateur, less-than-worthwhile DTV movies and maybe, just maybe, a little jewel in the rough.
Maybe it's because it hit all my teenage geek buttons, but DANCE OF THE DEAD is a fast-paced, offbeat and funny take on high school movies and zombie movies. All the beats from both genres are present and accounted for, but what moves them from simple cliche to something more is the amount of fun charm and sincerity the film offers from its (for once) age-appropriate stars, loads of ridiculous gore, and a writer/director team that knows it's all in good fun.
Is there really a need to explain what's going on in the movie? You can probably figure it out just by looking at the poster: the dead start coming back to life just in time to ruin a small town's prom, and it's up to the losers, cheerleaders, and rockers to band together and save everyone. Not a lot is made of the cause of the zombie's arrival - you just assume that it's due to the ominous nuclear power plant that's stationed right next to the town:
It's silly and that's what makes it work. Writer Joe Ballerini wrote the script while in college, and describes it as a "rock-n-roll zombie film" in the vein of things like EVIL DEAD, MONSTER SQUAD and GOONIES rather than the traditional George A. Romero zombie films. So zombies literally launch out of their graves and land at a dead run, most of the adults can't do anything, and rock and roll has the power to save the day. Again, literally. At one point zombies are about to kill a garage band who didn't get picked to play the prom and, as they back up in terror accidentally hit their instruments. The sound causes the zombies to stop, and in order to save their lives they play for 5 hours until the main heroes come to their rescue.
All the actors do a fantastic job of really playing kids. Jared Kusnitz plays Jimmy Dunn, the smart-ass loafer who finds his purpose bashing zombies and proving to his girlfriend who's Student Council VP that he's worth her time. His friend Kevin is part of the sci-fi club, and his awkward attempts to ask cheerleader Gwen to the prom with his geek friends egging him on is so dead-on it's hilarious. But the big surprise to me was that the redneck bully who (of course) turns out to be a descent guy is played by Justin Welborn, who starred in the last film I reviewed, THE SIGNAL. Here he's obviously not your average teenager, but his older look plays really well - I think we all had that guy in school who was at least 6 years older and had failed so many times it was like having your uncle in you classroom. The supporting charcaters making up the sci-fi club and the rock band are also fantastic, and play the types so well it was like 1990 all over again back in my high school.
Don't go into DANCE OF THE DEAD looking for logic. Things don't make a lot of sense, the kids throw away lines like Catskill comedians, and there's that whole rock music stopping zombies thing. But that's also what makes DANCE OF THE DEAD such a fun movie. Definitely the type of thing I'd recommend watching with a bunch of friends and a couple beers. You won't be disappointed. There's shades of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, EVIL DEAD 2, and every 90's High School starring Jennifer Love Hewitt or someone like her. See it. You'll laugh, and you'll cheer. And if you're anything like me, you'll probably sing along to "Shadows of the Night" and admit that you would gone into the bathroom with Gwen too at that age, just like Kevin did. And when what happened to him happens to you, you'll agree it was totally worth it.