Night Life is a horror zombie comedy film that was released in 1989 and directed by David Acomba. It stars Scott Grimes, John Astin, and Cheryl Pollak. This is a smart and sharp comedy horror that is sadly overlooked more than it should be. This is your chance to correct that…..
One of the great things about horror is its ability to assimilate other genres and use them to its own advantage. Night Life is every inch an eighties teen movie, there are the jocks picking on the wise-cracking nerd, the cheerleaders with whom our nerdy hero will try his luck whilst ignoring the less obviously pretty girl who is waiting for him, there are pranks gone wrong, bad tempered authority figures who don’t get these crazy kids and….zombies.
Actually the zombies show up pretty late in the day. The first hour of the movie focuses on the trials of Scott Grimes’s Archie, a high school ‘brain’ who works part time in the local mortuary, for which he is bullied by his classmates.
Archie’s only friend is wannabe mechanic Charly, who you just know is going to have an ‘Oh wow, you’re beautiful’ moment when her oily overalls come off and she cleans the grease off her face. But with these clichés in place the film takes an unexpected turn. After sixty minutes of Archie’s life going from bad to worse, his hateful classmates are involved in a car accident from which no one walks away.
Archie and his boss Verlin Flanders (played by the always value for money John Astin) take the unlucky teens back to the mortuary. But that night the mortuary is struck by lightning (not usually how zombies come back to life but what the hell) and Archie’s classmates come back from the dead, and worst of all, they’re still jerks!
This is where Night Life really scores highly, both for originality and fun. In some respects the teens are your average zombies, lurching around with pale faces and photogenic flesh wounds, killing people. But, crucially, they remain teens. They may be the walking dead but they still like to listen to music, go for a drive, and even have sex! Most importantly from the story’s point of view, they are still basically bullies, picking on the helpless. It’s just that rather than name-calling they now eat the helpless. (The fact that they are trying to eat the school ‘brain’ is the best and subtlest in-joke of the movie.)
You can certainly enjoy this film on its own terms as a fun (and funny) zombie horror with its tongue firmly in its decomposing cheek. But, if you want to see it, there is also quite a sharp bit of satire going on. Mindless zombies who prefer to hunt in packs and are intent on hurting anyone different from themselves is a pretty on the money metaphor for bullies, and setting fire to them is bound to be an act of wish fulfilment for some in the audience.
Actually the fire doesn’t kill them, which is more good news because these weren’t initially the most interesting zombies to look at, but once fire-damaged they take on a more satisfyingly horrific aspect.
Although this is more of a fun movie than a scary one there are some genuinely unsettling scenes as well, most pointedly in the mortuary when the teens are brought in. Archie is forced to work on the bodies of his dead classmates (including one to whom he almost lost his virginity earlier that day) making them ready for family to see them. It’s a coldly chilling and unpleasant scene that sits well alongside the more humorous or action-oriented stuff, making the film an altogether more fully rounded experience.
The movie’s not beyond nit-pickery, but if I had to raise one major problem it would be the way the later scenes are shot. The teen stuff is fine in the first hour, but once the zombies arrive it becomes dark in all the wrong ways and increasingly hard to see what’s going on. But that’s a relatively minor quibble in an entertaining film.
Watch the trailer for ‘Night Life’ below:
Watch the full movie:
Written by: Robin Bailes