The Dead
Directors: Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford

Cast: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia
Review by Brian M. Sammons

This was the best horror movie I saw in 2011. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, and you know what I like and I don’t, and you find yourself agreeing with me more often than not, then stop reading this right now and order yourself a copy of this amazing movie right now. Yes, it doesn’t come out until Feb 14 (and thus would make for an excellent Valentine’s Day gift to that special horrorhead in your life) but reserve your copy now so you can watch it as soon as you possibly can.

Why am I so geeked about this movie? I mean a ton of zombie flicks come out all the time, what makes this one so special? Because not only is it the best zombie movie made in years, and that (sadly) includes the last three Romero zombie movies all rolled into one, but it is actually a very well-made movie first, and a zombie flick second. Do you know how incredibly rare that is? Well sit though as many of the recent-ish, rancid, rash of zombie movies that I’ve seen (off the top of my head; Automaton Transfusion, Dawn Of The Dead: Contagion, Day Of The Dead (remake), Survival Of The Dead, Return Of The Living Dead 4 & 5, Flight Of The Living Dead, Zombie Strippers, Resident Evil (any of them), and those are just the ones I can quickly remember from the last 5 years or so) and you’ll be as thrilled as I am when a good zombie movie eventually stumbles your way.

Now I’ve already reviewed this one when it was at the theater, but just in case you missed that, and since I hate repeating myself, the following is what I said then, and it’s still what I think now.

(cue flashback-wavy-dissolve effect)

In the war ravaged continent of Africa, the hell that man has made there for decades has just gotten a whole lot worse as the dead have begun to rise to attack the living. Sure, this is a very familiar story, but it is how that story is handled that makes all the difference in this film. Here the tale begins with an American Air Force mechanic on the last plane out of the blighted continent, but unfortunately for him the plane crashes. For our mechanic, surviving the crash is just the beginning because now he’s lost in the wilds of Africa with more flesh hungry zombies than you can shake a severed head at. Our costar of this movie is an African solider who leaves his post to go back and protect his wife and son. Well, like any good zombie tale, there’s enough bad luck floating about for everyone and our solider returns home only to find that his village has been attacked by the undead, his wife eaten, and his son missing. A dying old woman tells him that his boy was taken to relative safety by a group of other soldiers. Eventually our two heroes meet and begin a dangerous journey over the beautiful, wild countryside, with the solider looking for his son and the American just looking for a way out of Africa.

A somewhat typical story, yes, but there are many things that make this movie so damn good. First there are the slow, shambling, traditional undead, not the hyperactive, super athletes like many modern zombies. And while 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remakes were great, I’ve always preferred the inescapable dread and doom that the slow zombie represents, and that is done to great effect in this movie. Take for example this scene: our Air Force Hero gets a car, but it gets stuck in the lucky-to-be-called-a-goat-trail he’s forced to travel. He gets out of the auto to fix it and he looks around, seeing several undead, but they are a good distance away, so he thinks he’s safe. He starts to work on the car, and the camera pans back to show that the silent, shuffling zombies are closer. The guy continues to work on the car … and the flesh eaters get closer. He drops a tool, goes to pick it up, and now there’s a zombie right next to him. No, he sees that there are five right on top of him, and more closing in.

Another thing that I loved about this film was the long moments of silence. For much of this movie both heroes are on their own, so who would they be talking to? No one, that’s who. Still, if this was a Hollywood flick, I can’t imagine the filmmakers having enough faith that the audience wasn’t a bunch of A.D.D. addled spazzes that have to have constant droning less they become bored, to allow the movie to shut the hell up just tell its story through visuals alone, like The Dead does. No, they probably would have resulted to inner narration if nothing else. I mean, do I really have to point out Blade Runner here?

Perhaps the reason The Dead is comfortable with its moments of silence is that the visuals it has to offer are so beautiful and striking. I mean, we’re talking about Africa here. Sure it’s savage, wild, and sometimes desolate, but it’s breathtaking nonetheless. This beauty is well juxtaposed with the horror that’s happening all over and the rotting zombies that are causing said horror. I can honestly say that this movie is probably the best looking, most visually stunning and memorable zombie movie ever made. For that reason alone, to prove that horror films don’t always have to look cheap and dirty, you should see this movie.

Lastly there’s the normal movie stuff, like acting, direction, music and such, combined with the horror staple of gore, and The Dead gets all of that, and more, so right. Perhaps my one and only complaint with this movie was the (thankfully) infrequent use of CGI for gore gags such as bullet hits and the like. I guess such things are unavoidable these days, and at least the ones in this film range from good to ok, but I still don’t like them. I’d just like all films to get the video game graphics out of my movies, but I suppose that will never happen, so I guess I can’t really hold that against this otherwise great fright flick.

(cue flashback-wavy-dissolve effect again to tell the audience we are returning to the present)

As for the specifics of this movie on the new Blu-ray from Anchor Bay, they’re pretty damn good. The film’s amazing visuals are well presented here, but there is still some of grain that gives it that “real film” look. It is more noticeable in some scenes than others, specifically dark scenes. Some people hate that, but I can live with it as long as it doesn’t get too out of control, and here it doesn’t. Still, I thought I’d mention that so the grain haters are duly warned. As for the special features, they’re sadly very disappointing. One is a very short (read as: five minute long) behind the scenes bit that’s just a hodgepodge of production home movies. The second is a single minute and a half deleted scene that adds nothing to the story. And … that’s it? Wow, for as good of a movie as The Dead is, Anchor Bay really seems to have put this one out on the cheap. I guess they’re too busy giving I Don’t Know How She Does It the deluxe treatment to spend a few more pennies on this silly little zombie movie. There is an informative and sometimes entertaining audio commentary track with the directing/writing Ford Brothers, but that’s about it for these not-very-special special features.

Dearth of good extras on this disc aside, I still must agree with Alice Cooper when he said, “I Love The Dead.” It’s got style, good acting, great moments of suspense, zombie gut munching, and a beautiful and unique setting that hasn’t been done to death by dozens of other zombie flicks. I highly recommend this movie, it’s a must have for zombie lovers everywhere.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.

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