Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

The problem that many zombie films have is that they exist in a very crowded marketplace – there are so many zombie films, particularly in the low-no budget bracket, that original ideas are increasingly rare. New ideas are thrown out every year and trying to make your zombie film stand out is no easy feat – and many show up ‘dead on arrival’.

Dead Meat is an Irish zombie film that was directed by Conor McMahon and was created on a micro-budget with support from the Irish Film Board.

Dead Meat tries to distinguish itself by using modern farming practices as the catalyst for getting an infection into the human food-chain that causes zombies. It is a fairly unique twist and this particular zombie epidemic is an off-shoot of mad cow disease, which seems pretty logical enough as a plot-device when you remember that BSE started because cows were being fed processed cow flesh. As well as making the film nicely topical it’s a premise which promises zombie cows! Who says there are no original ideas left in cinema?

The story starts typically enough when a couple, Martin and Helena, accidentally hit a man with their car. They think they have killed him but after they have loaded him into the car he appears to come back to life and bites Martin, who of course becomes a zombie too and attacks Helena.

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

The zombie outbreak inevitably spreads and Helena is forced to run for her life in a landscape increasingly filled with the walking dead. One thing that does slightly differentiate this movie form the usual zombie B-move fare is the setting – the Irish countryside looks spectacular in the film, and lends a certain eerie and unsettling feel to the action.

Helena eventually comes across a gravedigger called Desmond, who saves her from a zombie attack, and he turns out to be rather adept at killing zombies with his shovel. This is probably the most engaging section of the movie, and the idea of a gravedigger being the hero in a zombie film is a nice touch. Despite his undesirable profession, Desmond is basically the hero of this movie, and the relationship between Desmond and Helena has a modern fairy tale element to it with strong suggestions of a modern white knight saving a beautiful princess…..which works especially well when they take shelter in a ruined castle. Despite this promising segment, the film then unfortunately ambles into more familiar territory as the couple join up with other survivors and head for the nearest safe zone, fighting off zombies as they go.

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

But what about the zombie cows? Well, they do appear, albeit extremely briefly and in extreme darkness, but it’s certainly not the gloriously silly triumph that the premise promised. In fact much of this film is shot in extreme darkness and I’d guess that this, as well as the cow’s non-appearance, is down to budget. It’s hard sometimes not to see Dead Meat as an object lesson in not trying to do too much with too little. As a standard zombie film it could have been fine, but because it promised so much more it feels like a let-down. The only time the mad cow USP really delivers is in the film’s uncompromising ending.

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

Unfortunately this isn’t the only problem. After the ‘white knight with a shovel’ section ends, the gory fight scenes lose all imagination (there’s also way more eye-gouging than any film needs). They’re not helped by the love-it-or-hate-it camerawork. When the camera is still it’s clear that director Conor McMahon and cinematographer Andrew Legge have a great eye for an image, the landscape looks great, especially with the characters in it. But mostly the camera is all over the place, crash-zooming, whip-panning, cross-cutting at high speed between extreme close-ups of something you might be able to make out if it wasn’t handheld. Camerawork like this is probably a matter of taste; it didn’t work for me.

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

Which is not to say that there’s nothing good about this film. We have already professed our love for gravedigger Desmond, and his relationship with Helena is well described (although the speed with which she forgets about Martin is a little jarring). Far and away the best scene is the heroes creeping through a group of sleeping zombies – I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen sleeping zombies before and McMahon has had a great idea, they sleep standing up and the eeriness of the scene just increases the tension already potent in the fear of waking them.

Because it fails to deliver on its potential, Dead Meat will always feel like an opportunity missed. But if you go into it knowing that it’s just another zombie film, then it’s a perfectly decent one with a few great ideas and some really nice imagery and moments.

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)


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