‘Dance of the Dead‘ is a US zombie-comedy that was directed by Gregg Bishop, and written by Joe Ballarini.
Mashing up zombie splatter-gore with High School prom comedy is a pretty natural mix and 2008’s Dance of the Dead does it with glossy style. The film was picked up by horror maestro Sam Raimi to distribute through his Ghosthouse Underground Label which is as good as an endorsement gets.
The film follows the standard high school comedy group of geeks and beautiful girls who for one reason or another have wound up dateless for the prom. But, tragically for all concerned, this year’s prom has coincided with the rising of the dead, courtesy of a power plant near the cemetery.
Only the motley crew of dateless wonders, accompanied by a generic delinquent and survivalist gym coach can save prom and the world! What follows, it has to be said, is cliché-ridden in the extreme, and unlike more accomplished zombie comedies (say Shaun of the Dead for example) few of these clichés are exploited or turned on their head, they’re just clichés. We have the obligatory ‘let’s go save the world’ speech, the equally obligatory ‘tooling up’ prior to the big assault, and if you can’t spot the teachers who are going to get eaten then I’d be astounded. Even the effect rock music has on the zombies has been done before. There are some cool original touches; the zombie frog is a good laugh and the fact that the kids hide out in a funeral home during a zombie apocalypse I found hysterical, but moments like that are few and far between.
But if Dance of the Dead plays like a greatest hits of its respective genres, they are at least Greatest Hits for a reason and they’re well produced here. There’s nothing cheap or slapdash about the film; it looks as good as an MTV video and the zombies are nicely and imaginatively realised. The characters maybe overly familiar but their dialogue is sparky and there’s enough personality about them to make you care and want them to make it to the final reel.
The other thing that delivers, is the gore. It can be a fine line in a horror comedy; gore can be amusing but it can also be off-putting. Dance of the Dead walks the line with tightrope precision. There are genuine jump shock moments in amongst the cartoonish and bloody violence, as well as moments of real pathos when characters die, but mostly the violence is played for laughs. The opening scene more or less sets the tone with a gravedigger using a pair of shears to sever a hand that has come out of the ground to grab him; he throws it into a wheelbarrow with a bunch of other severed hands, all still moving. It’s gory, it’s funny, it moves the story; what else can you ask?
This movie also demonstrates sparing and sensible use of computer effects, the stand out being the zombie who carries his own severed head around with him, still ‘alive’. We also get a scene of what zombie lust might look like; I’ve seen zombie sex scenes in other movies but never one that captures the thrill of hormone-driven teenage desire in the undead, the pair literally eating each other’s faces as they drop to the floor. It sounds disgusting and it probably is but if teenage zombies had sex then I bet that’s how it would go down.
As zombie comedies go this doesn’t come close to the likes of Shaun of the Dead, or BrainDead (1992), but it’s streets ahead of the similarly toned Zombie High from 1987 (another one where rock music is the zombies’ Achilles heel).
It maybe predictable and wholly lacking in originality but it’s so well made that you’re willing to forgive those deficiencies. Watching Dance of the Dead for the first time isn’t like finding some great new film, it’s like watching an old episode of your favourite TV show (but probably with more blood); you know all the lines, you know what’s going to happen, but you watch anyway.
Watch the trailer for ‘Dance of the Dead’:
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Written by: Robin Bailes.