Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
How to Abort the Zombie Genre
Jimmy Dunn (Jared Kusnitz) never seems to take anything seriously. He likes to spend more time in detention than he does in class. So it’s no surprise that Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), the girl Jimmy was going to take to prom, decides to not go with him after realizing that Jimmy has no ambition. To make matters worse, something weird is going on in the graveyard next to the nuclear power plant in town. The dead are walking and they’re headed to the prom. The town is now in the hands of the losers who couldn’t get dates to the prom. There goes the neighborhood and here comes the pain; that is something that is certainly meant in more ways than one.
This is the type of horror film you have the urge to turn off as soon as it starts. Written by Joe Ballarini (My Little Pony: The Movie) and directed by Gregg Bishop (the “Dante the Great” segment of V/H/S Viral), Dance of the Dead is a part of the eight films that made up Ghost House Underground; horror films from all over the world chosen by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert supposedly representing a “fresh” perspective of the horror genre. The problem is that most people would seek out one of these films and then never bother with the rest because why would you torture yourself any further?
The first 20 or so minutes of the film revolve around high school melodrama and the prom. This is supposedly where you get accustomed to the film’s humor, but it’s mostly nothing more than high school kids being obnoxious and unbearable. The graveyard scene is where things get even worse. Zombies start rising from beyond the grave and decomposing hands start bursting through headstones since that makes more sense than soil. Emerging from the ground simply wasn’t enough either; these zombies explode from their graves with smoke and a loud crash. Moments later during the same sequence, there are zombies jumping several feet into the air out of the ground, landing on their feet, and running after these kids. If it sounds cool in the slightest, then this description isn’t doing this dumpster fire justice.
The zombies are all over the place in Dance of the Dead. They start off as the zombies that run similar to the zombies in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Later on in the film, they stumble around and are slow like George Romero’s zombies. Even later after that, the zombies are running again while some attempt to speak, say, “Brains!” and then get in a car and drive off. Someone had pointed out that the zombies in the film who are fresh out of the ground run while older ones move slower, which only makes this turd milkshake slightly less nutty. Dance of the Dead also can’t decide what zombie films to pay homage to either. Return of the Living Dead has a massive influence, but the film clearly pays tribute to Night of the Living Dead when the kids reach a house and decide to board up all the windows and take shelter. It seems like the one consistent aspect this film has is to be inconsistent.
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Did you know zombies can be held at bay solely by the power of rocking out? Three stoners in a band (a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer) inadvertently discover that their music stops zombies in their tracks. A bit later in the film during the prom, the gymnasium is full of zombies. There’s music playing and it shows three zombies on stage playing musical instruments; a guitar, a bass, and a drum set. Fast forward a little more and the three stoners are back again playing their stoner rock and the zombies are back to being frozen during their performance. There’s no consistency when it comes to what they play or how it affects zombies.
“In extreme circumstances, the assailants can be stopped by removing the head or destroying the brain.” Do you remember this quote from Shaun of the Dead? Try to keep it in mind, especially the, “removing the head,” part. A guy gets his head torn off by a zombie and you’d think he’d be dead, but this actually turns his decapitated head into a zombie. He comes back later on; his headless corpse carrying his decapitated head around. It’s one thing to try and reinvent a genre, but when you have so many reinventions along with homage out to wazoo you’re basically throwing cow pies at a brick wall and seeing what sticks.
Zombies shouldn’t make out with each other. Vampires shouldn’t sparkle and Warm Bodies shouldn't be considered canon. Two students turn into zombies and still end up in a giant make out session after they’ve turned. The kiss turns awkward as they start chewing on each other mid-kiss. They start taking bites out of each other while they’re still sucking face. This is the scariest aspect of the film considering that maybe most of us don’t want our eyeballs chewed out of our skulls during something so intimate.
When the special effects aren’t being a complete eyesore from being so cheap and ugly, the gore in Dance of the Dead is decent. Blood splattering everywhere is pretty common throughout the film. The acting isn’t completely terrible either. It absolutely isn’t good by any means. Dance of the Dead is basically Degrassi with zombies and everything lame you’re expecting to tag along with that reference. Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class, MacGyver) has a brief cameo as one of the rockers in the film and he's probably the only cast member you'll recognize.
The jumbled mass of homage and redefining of zombie lore in Dance of the Dead throws a monkey wrench in calling the film stereotypical and cliché, but it certainly feels that way. It seems like a rejected, alternate, first draft of a film you’ve already seen rather than a film that attempts to stand on its own two legs. It may be fun for fans of campy horror films, but its so-called originality is borderline offensive since Dance of the Dead seems to just combine everything you know about zombies or purposely does the opposite at an attempt at being a different chomp of undead horror. Unfortunately though, Dance of the Dead is too overwhelmingly absurd for its own good as its gore feels like the drunken antics of a washed up clown rather than a competent horror film.
Dance of the Dead is available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play for $1.99, Vudu for $2.99, and iTunes for $5.99. The DVD is $7.72 on Amazon while the Blu-ray (which is Region 2 only) is $25.52 from a third party seller. The DVD is $7.49 in new condition and with free shipping on eBay or $4 with $2.99 shipping pre-owned. If you enjoy terrible things, the eight disc set of all the Ghost House Underground titles are available as a boxed set on Amazon for $179.74 and on eBay for $39.99 in brand new condition and with free shipping.
© 2018 Chris Sawin