With a review title like that, you probably think I’m writing this thing from the back of a VW “party wagon,” as I lounge on some thrift-store cushions behind one of those beaded doorway things with a lava lamp churning away in the background and a black-light poster of Jerry Garcia staring down at me from the ceiling.
Alas, that’s not the case, because I’m not talking about the same “Dead” most folks who honk if you love ‘em are talking about. I’m talking about the recently-released (although apparently it was shot in 2010) indie horror mini-sensation The Dead, the debut feature from the British directorial (and authorial) sibling team of Howard J. and Jonathan Ford — not that you’d immediately guess that this was a British product since it was shot in various locations in western Africa, including some rather unforgiving parts of the Sahara, and the two main stars are American and African, respectively. But hey, that’s just how things work in today’s hyper-globalized world, right? And anyway, as the old — and pretentious — tagline for the Landmark theater chain used to say, “the language of cinema is universal.”
Honestly, though, in this case that pithy little phrase does indeed apply. To be sure, this tale of a zombie outbreak on the so-called “dark continent” does have its flaws — it’s rather slow to get moving, for one thing (even though it starts with a plane crash), it’s not exactly a breakneck-paced drama even once it does pick up some steam, and some very glaring questions (like, say, how this particular undead plague got started in the first place) are never even really brought up, much less answered, but good horror almost always relies more on atmosphere than it does on logic or continuity, and Los Bros Ford are serving up atmosphere aplenty here.
Really, the idea of a zombie flick set in Africa is such a no-brainer that’s it’s a wonder it hasn’t been done before, and while the basic plot here is of the standard “road movie” variety so common in this genre these days (Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman), the only survivor of a doomed evacuation flight, and his unlikely/somewhat uneasy ally, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) are journeying across the desert together, Murphy to find a way off the continent, Dembele to find his missing son), transposing that by-now-common “old chestnut” to a new — and gorgeously-shot throughout — geographical location breathes more life into the undead (lame pun completely intended, and yes I apologize) than one would rightly think possible.
It also means, unfortunately, that The Dead is something of a one-trick pony that probably doesn’t stand up especially well to multiple viewings. After all, it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, it just shakes up the lucky 8-ball a little bit and lets the familiar pieces tumble around for awhile and rearrange themselves in new ways. Still, the first viewing is so enjoyable — hell, even breathtaking at times — that I’m in no no real mood to be nit-picky about the fact that it’s probably pretty easy to see the man behind the curtain, so to speak, the third or fourth time through.
This film was recently released, after a brief and very limited theatrical run, on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay. Widescreen picture and 5.1 surround sound are both, as you’d expect from an essentially brand-new flick, pretty much pristine, and extras include a “making-of” featurette and a very solidly involving full-length commentary track from the Ford Brothers. Probably more worthy of a rental than a purchase, The Dead nevertheless makes for interesting and at times even compelling viewing. There’s a lot to look at even when there’s not much happening, and when there is something happening you absolutely can’t take your eyes off the screen. Honk! Catch ya on the flipside, dude!