Deadheads is a US zombie comedy that was released in 2011.
Zombie comedies, or zomcoms, can be a messy affair – in fact, that’s true of almost any attempt at crossing over the horror and comedy genres. But for some reason, the world of zombie cinema seems to spawn countless attempts at blending comedic elements with Romero-esque sensibilities and they tend to be patchy at best.
There have been some outstanding additions to the genre over the last few years, with Shaun of the Dead (2004) probably standing at the top of the pile as the benchmark for most people, but Zombieland (2009) and the excellent Wasting Away (2007) spring to mind, in between some truly awful movies and some pretty noble attempts.
One of the more celebrated zomcom movies in recent memory is Deadheads, released in 2011 and written, directed, and produced by the Pierce brothers (Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce). The sibling directors both quote their father’s involvement with the Evil Dead franchise (he worked on set for a few of the original movies) as inspiration for Deadheads, which is a pretty audacious claim right off the bat – after all, is there any more successful meeting of the horror and comedy genres that in Sam Raimi’s seminal classic?
Despite it’s lofty influences and aspirations, Deadheads does succeed on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s tapped into a great subversion of the genre, one that hasn’t yet been overused to death, in the form of making a couple of reasonably sentient zombies its leading men. Hey, if the godfather of the modern zombie, George A. Romero, can play with the idea of vaguely sentient zombies in Land of the Dead (2005), then it surely endorses their existence…right?
So what’s it all about? Deadheads at its rotten heart is a cross-between a ‘buddy movie’ and a ‘road-trip’ movie, except with a zombie apocalypse as the background…and with two zombies as the main protagonists. If this movie was a homing pigeon, when you released it, it would probably instinctively fly home to the ‘stoner / slacker’ comedy genre as opposed to the horror or zombie genre. It definitely wants to be a mainstream comedy, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough blood or zombie-culture to keep the most hardened horror-fan engaged.
The film opens with Mike (Michael McKiddy) waking up just after an incident has occurred which has instigated a zombie outbreak in his home town. The twist here is that he isn’t immune, he has also been infected, but instead of craving human flesh like the zombies around him, he is still sentient and can reason and communicate. He soon bumps into another undead person, Brent (Ross Kidder), who also has most of his faculties intact, and before long the two zombies have embarked on a roadtrip to find Mike’s teenage love Ellie (played by Natalie Victoria).
One of the nice touches about Deadheads is that it doesn’t completely ignore the impact of the zombie outbreak – mankind is still in a state of fear and panic, society is collapsing, things are exploding, it’s just that you get to view it all through the eyes and outlook of the two main sentient zombies. It also contains enough references and nods to Evil Dead to keep your average ‘zombie trainspotter’ happy.
As the zombies embark on the road trip in an attempt to carry out the things they had planned when they were still alive, it’s clear that Deadheads isn’t just going to be another flailing attempt at purposely invoking genre tropes for cheap laughs. But let’s not assume that there’s much in the way of highbrow humour in this movie – this is a movie that wants to revel in the low-brow and appeal to as many people as possible.
The two main zombies meet an array of humorous characters during their trip, including picking up a more traditional-style shuffling flesh-eater variety of zombie called Cheese (played excellently by Marcus Taylor). There are plenty of great comic situations as they battle against decomposition, other humans hunting them down, as they progress on their quest.
Deadheads is maybe the epitome of gross-out, frat-boy humour, cartoonish violence, and dead penis jokes. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the humour, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t work if you’re willing to suspend your good taste for a couple of hours. The saving grace comes in the form of the film’s two leads, Michael McKiddy and Ross Kidder, who play the two zombies off to fulfil their own post-bucket lists. Out of a couple of stereotypical Hollywood slacker type characters, they manage to eke out something genuinely likable, and their strong chemistry carries the film over the small bumps in the weaker parts of the script. They also manage to hit a few decent emotional notes without dipping over into corniness, which is impressive given the general tone of the film, even if the horror elements do seem to mostly drop off after the first act is over.
Deadheads can sometimes seem a little too pleased with itself, and a little too self-aware in places, and it’s definitely not quite as consistently hilarious as it’s directors seem to think, however, that said, it’s still a perfectly serviceable entry into the zom-com genre and has enough energy and ideas to make it worth 90 minutes of your time. Deadheads is not pretending to be anything that it isn’t, it promises to deliver almost cringe-worthy levels of gore and even more cringe-worthy attempts at humour, and it does. Think ‘Harold & Kumar‘ but with zombies and you won’t be too far off what to expect with Deadheads.
For the Pierce brothers’ debut feature, Deadheads is a pretty impressive, reasonably original movie, and shows plenty of promise for the future endeavours.
Deadheads won the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2011 for best comedy, and also picked up an award at the 2011 Newport Film festival for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking’.
Watch the trailer for Deadheads below:
Since its release, Deadheads has gained a cult following and a lot of love was given for the film at numerous film festivals, and on various internet forums. So much so, that the creators made a short crowd-funded film shortly after the release of the movie called ‘Smush‘. It was intended as a loose prequel to Deadheads , and it focused on ‘Cheese’ – the lovable but dumb zombie from the original film as he tries to break into a house where a young girl is hiding. The two strike up an unlikely relationship during the 9 minute short film.
Watch ‘Smush’ the Deadheads short film spin-off below:
|Watch Deadheads at iTunes|
|Get Deadheads at Amazon|
|Deadheads official site|
Written by: Louise MacGregor