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Dance of the Dead
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by Jay Seaver

"Kids kick zombie ass."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Sometimes writers (and the companies that deliver their works to you) have a devil of a time with finding a title for something, and it will undergo many changes and permutations before they decide that, yes, this is the one that will grab people's interest. And then there are movies like "Dance of the Dead", where the title (apparently) comes in a fit of inspiration and the filmmakers seemingly work backwards from that. It doesn't usually work nearly this well.

The situations of the title are laid out pretty straightforwardly in the start: Some sludge from the nearby nuclear power plant (right next to the cemetery) seems to be causing outbreaks of the dead suddenly showing signs of life, much to the annoyance of the gravedigger (James Jarett), while across town the local high schoolers are getting ready for the prom. Organizer Lindsay (Greyson Chadwick) is annoyed that her slacker boyfriend Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) doesn't seem to take it (or anything) seriously, and opts to go with student council president Mitch (Jeff Adelman) instead; Jimmy's friend Steven (Chandler Darby) is trying to ask his lab partner Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), but the cheerleader has her eyes on Nash (Blair Redford). No girl would want to go with backyard wrestling-loving thug Kyle (Justin Welborn) in the first place. It's a good thing all of them wind up late or not going, though - when the living dead attack the prom, it's up to them to come to the rescue!

Why, exactly, the school dance should wind up the focal point of the zombie outbreak is left somewhat fuzzy; we're to take it somewhat on faith that teenager is a zombie delicacy to the point where they will all naturally converge upon the gym rather than just shamble about randomly. Of course, these zombies aren't quite the Romero standard-issue variety; they're articulate enough to express their desire for brains and a few of them are tool-users. Heck, they've got enough energy to burst out of their graves like their coffins have ejection seats.

The zombies may be able to make pretty good time, but they still fall apart fairly easily. For a movie with a relatively low budget, Dance of the Dead has a lot of action, starting up pretty early on and never letting up for very long at all. It's generally fun, clever action at that - director Gregg Bishop busts out a bunch of fake blood, sure, but he also gives us neat bits where a character will run a zombie through with a baseball bat and then smoothly yank it out the other side. You don't see maneuvers like that very often, and other filmmakers might have stopped for a bit so that the audience could congratulate them, but these guys pull it off like it's no big deal.

It's also kind of funny, in contrast to the rest of the movie, which is very funny. It does a great job of not pushing too hard, relegating some of its best jokes to the background - I love how, during Nash's band's tryouts for the prom, it's the gray-haired teacher who's digging the rock & roll while the rest look uncomfortable (there's probably some amount of truth to that, as well). It plays on the familiar tropes of the teen comedy, and does it broadly, but has fun mixing and matching: The cheerleader is genuinely and unironically nice, the rowdy quotes the bible, and so on. They get to say and do genuinely funny things rather than just represent their cliques, as if they were actual kids who had known each other all their lives rather than just types who never encountered each other. This also applies to Mark Oliver as the high-strung gym teacher, who absolutely kills in his every scene.

He and deadpan James Jarrett are the main adults of note; the rest of the movie belongs to the kids. Most of them, I believe, are actual teens, or at least below drinking age, which is always nice to see. Most play their characters as basically good kids. I don't know whether it's really a big deal that many appear to be from the Atlanta/Rome area where the movie shot, but that certainly may be a contributor to how well they work as a group. I especially like how Kusnitz and Chadwick work off each other; it's not a bland opposites-attract thing, but two teens who seem to dig each other individually.

That's what makes the film a blast - it could very easily have just been a by the numbers horror comedy, just crossing genres in expected ways, but instead it constantly finds little ways to surprise.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17154&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/24/08 20:57:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/02/10 SS <3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/06/08 Blake This movie is great! Gwen could eat my tongue anyday! Sexy!!! 5 stars
11/02/08 Dan F Engaging, innovative and very funny!! More fun than Shaun! 87 minutes, not 78. 5 stars
10/11/08 Matt C Saw this on ninjavideo and it was AWESOME!! Funny, scary, exciting, funny. So, so good! 5 stars
5/10/08 Tina Loved it! art, see the movie before you rate it! 5 stars
4/04/08 tareq want to see 5 stars
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  DVD: 14-Oct-2008



Directed by
  Gregg Bishop

Written by
  Joe Ballarini

  Jared Kusnitz
  Greyson Chadwick
  Justin Welborn
  Chandler Darby

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