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Day of the Dead (2007) | DVD Review

“Good performances and technical competence can’t save the film and the sum of the individual efforts add up to something that should be saved for late night cable when you’re suffering from a bout of insomnia.”

The military quarantines a small town surrounded by mountains in Colorado. A viral outbreak turns people into flesh-eating zombies and interrupts teenagers trying to have sex. A few survivors band together to fight for their lives. And it’s all… pretty boring.

There really was no reason to make this movie, and there’s really no reason to watch it. It has all the polish of something that cost a lot of money that went into hiring people who are very technically capable. The lighting, f/x, stunts, editing, cinematography, sets, make-up and all the other technical aspects of the film look top-notch. The cast too, is quite an ensemble. Mena Suvari (American Beauty), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), and Michael Welsh, who proved he’s an actor to watch for with in All the Boys Love Many Lane – which is a much better horror movie than this. Ian McNeice, one of those recognizable faces who’s had a hundred small parts in films and TV, gives a fun performance as a burned out radio DJ. There’s talent on display by the less-recognizable cast members as well. The music is good too, a good score and Deadboy and the Elephantmen’s “Stop, I’m Already Dead” works nicely for a candlelit teenage makeout session in the films opening scenes.

Don’t get the wrong idea like this movie is anything above abysmal. I forced myself to watch it twice (once with cast/crew commentary), and during the second viewing, I realized that a lot of people put hard work into this, and deserve credit for that. It’s not their fault this film it a near-total failure. I’d understand if this was the directorial effort of two first-time writer/directors, but it’s penned by Jeffrey Reddick, who wrote the Final Destination movies, and Steve Miner, who helmed Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, House, and TV shows ranging from “The Wonder Years” to “Smallville.” The dialogue sounds like it was cut and pasted from Writing Sci-Fi Original Pictures for Dummies. The directing is full of gaps in logic and is without any trace of imagination. And sure, they’ve got actors who can act, and who do, but the plot and characters are about as thin as the paper the script was printed on.

At least they came up with a creative way to end the debate between fast-moving zombies and slow-moving zombies: Super-powered zombies, who move like a combination of the Keystone Cops (cameras shooting at over 30-frames per second to get that erratic super-speed movement) and the creatures in the movie Aliens (jumping around like insects, and even leaping onto the ceiling to crawl across it in a hospital sequence). Seriously.

The only thing it bears in common with the original is the title, and the presence of a pet zombie soldier named Bud (a homage to the famous Bub in the original).

The “On the Set” featurette shows the filming of the above-mentioned zombie crawling across the ceiling scene in the hospital, as well as takes of Ving Rhames dispatching a few flesh-eaters with some hand-to-hand combat skills, and a zombified Rhames chasing Suvari through an air duct, plus a whole mess of other takes of the less memorable junk that makes up the majority of the 90-minute runtime.

The audio commentary with cast and crew is full of lots of interesting tidbits like the fact that the film was shot in Bulgaria; Steve Miner owns the same kind of digital camera that Andre Agassi spokespersons; Ving Rhames signed on because he wanted to play a zombie; Scarlet Johansen’s sister makes a brief appearance as a nurse (she’s hot, but in a different way than her sister); when shooting a few scenes, the director gave cameras to Bulgarian teenagers with no filmmaking experience to “get interesting angles” (he should have let them rewrite the script too); to get that ultra-gritty look for some shots, they shot on 16mm and then baked the film in an oven before developing it (an effect the rest of the world can achieve with iMovie); they changed “Bub” to “Bud” because the former sounded dismissive, and they wanted their character to be more than a slab of meat (he comes off like the kind of lame movie reference you see at a freshman student film festival).

The best part is the explanation of the super-powered zombies: “Let’s go as far as we can with it! Zombies can jump, fly… all the sudden, it’s scary!” Not really, and nowhere near as scary as a dead little girl stabbing her mother to death with a garden tool in a dark basement.

The facts that the movie sucks and their ideas are lame seem to be lost on Miner and Reddick. You could make a fun drinking game with the commentary. Try taking a swig every time they say “Bulgaria,” and chug every time the writer and director talk about internet posting boards. If you’re still conscious, try watching the movie again.

There’s an alternate ending, but the commentary provides an even bleaker one: Miner plans on directing more zombie movies.

There’s also cast interviews, a photo gallery, and trailers for this film and others.

Good performances and technical competence can’t save the film and the sum of the individual efforts add up to something that should be saved for late night cable when you’re suffering from a bout of insomnia. A film like this can work if it has a good writer and a good director. This film has neither. It rides that sad, boring line between a cheesy-but-fun action/sci-fi flick like Resident Evil and the so-awful-it’s-funny House of the Dead category. The box sleeve is pretty awesome in a really gross kind of way, with a hologram of a zombie vomiting up eyes, ears, and lots of yellow-green stuff.

Movie rating – 1

Disc Rating – 2

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