SEPTEMBER 10, 2012
There's a difference between fun and funny, and so far Kevin Tenney's films have mostly worked when they stuck to the former. Witchboard, for example (his best film, IMO) isn't something to be taken too seriously, but there aren't exactly a lot of jokes in the film - it's just a breezy horror flick. Ditto for Pinocchio's Revenge - it's even less "funny" than Witchboard, but you can FEEL Tenney smiling throughout. However, Brain Dead opts for more overt comedy - one-liners, bad puns, cartoonish behavior - which puts it into dangerous territory. If you're not on the same wavelength with the writers' funny bone, it's going to get grueling at times.
Luckily for me, it wasn't too bad. Sure, the ratio of successful funny lines was like 1:5 (being generous), but the fast-ish pace and surprisingly decent splatter FX made up for it. Plus, it's from 2007, so you can't fault anyone for trying to add levity to the genre at a time when just about everything was EXTREME thanks to the success of Saw and Hostel. Remember how grim so many horror movies were back then? Obviously this was an independent production without a lot of money at its disposal, so kudos to them for doing something that required a hefty FX budget and wasn't cashing in on a trend, instead of latching on to the "torture porn" wave that would seemingly get any movie with a girl chained up to a chair an instant distribution deal.
It also had the type of scenario I always like in a horror flick, where you get a bunch of different folks who don't know each other banding together against their common enemy. It's always preferable to the "group of friends" setup, because a. it lends itself to slightly more characterization (strangers need to tell one another what they do for a living, why they're there, etc - friends telling each other these things are just awkwardly giving exposition), and b. it makes sense when they fight. I've said it a million times - I hate not understanding why these carloads of kids even hang out, as they always seem to hate each other with their constant bickering (and usually a subplot about one of them cheating on his girlfriend with her best friend), so when they actually have a good reason to not get along (i.e. they just met under trying circumstances), it actually adds tension. Sure, most of it is deflated by the fact that people act silly, but it's still a step in the right direction.
Oh, and there's a Fletch Lives reference. Now, I, like any sane human being, was left pretty disappointed by this sequel, but it's not without merit (and apart from Christmas Vacation it's better than just about any Chevy-starring movie that followed), and thus I've watched it enough times to spot a reference. To wit, there's a corny TV preacher named Reverend Farnsworth, which was the name of R Lee Ermey's character in the film. At first I figured it was probably just coincidence, because that's a weird movie to reference, but then the girl he is with turns out to be named Smoot - which is one of the aliases Fletch uses when visiting Farnsworth in the film ("Claude, Henry, Smoot.").
Then again maybe screenwriter Dale Gelineau just was looking at the "F" part of his DVD collection for inspiration, as Fled comes up too - two of the characters are prisoners who are handcuffed together for the first half hour or so. Yes, that's the plot of Defiant Ones, but which movie is more likely to be in the collection of a guy writing a zom-com with juvenile humor? And like those films, the chains are removed too early (I want someone to do a real-time version where they have them on until the final reel), but the difference is they're both white - their opposition stems from one being an insane psychopath and the other being a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Guess which one survives to be the hero?
Speaking of which, I really didn't care for the movie's wraparound scenes, where one of the survivors is in jail telling the story. He comes off as a complete jerk in both, as opposed to his rather likable self in the main story (he's sort of like Sawyer from Lost as played by Trey Parker), and why bum us out at the end? It doesn't set up a sequel or anything (though a prison-set followup would be pretty great - from Night of the Living Dead to Assault on Precinct 13!), and it's not like the movie was only 65 minutes long and they needed something to pad it out, so I just don't get the need for these scenes.
I also don't get why they call the movie "Brain Dead" when there are two other movies with that name, one also a splatter-y comic version of a zombie movie (technically Braindead - one word). Especially when people can't be bothered to scroll back a tweet or two; I don't know how many times I've gotten replies from lazy people who mistake one movie I'm watching for the one they've seen. So (this is a made up example, for the record) if I say "I'm watching Alone In The Dark, a 1982 film directed by Jack Sholder" and 2 minutes later say "Alone in the Dark is so underrated", some jackass will instantly start bitching at me that Uwe Boll is the devil and ruined the game. Sure, the zombies here are specifically after brain matter, but come on - put a little more effort into the titles. Unless you're HOPING people buy your movie thinking it's the other, then you're just scummy.
Speaking of how the zombies operate, it's the rare zombie film in which you never see more than one or two undead at once. It's more like a parasite, so one person is turned as the original one is dispatched, and then they infect someone before getting killed, and so on. There's no big siege climax like most zombie films - it once again comes down to a single zombie advancing on a couple of humans, same as the attacks throughout the film. I prefer some escalation, but if the time they'd spend applying zombie makeup freed them up to enhance the kill scenes, so be it. I particularly liked the girl whose head had a giant hole in it, her now-corpse still upright and wandering around a bit.
Like I said, it mostly works. I'd happily trade 10 bad lines for one good one (or another location - the cabin isn't very big and they never stray very far from it), and those bookends should be excised from every copy that exists, but I had fun and was rarely bored, and I'm glad to see Tenney is still out there making films that aren't too far below his best work in terms of quality.
What say you?