DECEMBER 24, 2012
Some movies benefit from a sort of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, where after a while you find yourself enjoying what was originally an ordeal. Such is the case with A Cadaver Christmas; in the first 30 minutes I was rolling my eyes at the humor and finding the flashback ridden narrative to be a needless method of padding out the runtime, but then it started clicking, and by the end I was having a pretty good time.
The biggest hurdle is the over-acting, as almost everyone seems to think that if they make wide-eyed expressions and say their lines in an exasperated manner, they will automatically be funny (and this is definitely a zom-com that cares more about the laughs than the zombie action). And the humor was too "busy" as well - the approach to a joke was basically Guy 1 will say something funny, Guy 2 will misunderstand (comically), Guy 1 will get annoyed and demonstrate that annoyance, and then Guy 3 will pop in with a non sequitur or something to further annoy Guy 1 intentionally. I find this kind of humor works best when a. everyone's timing is perfect and b. the audience has already built up a relationship with the characters - unfortunately the "a" part is never really true and the "b" part takes a while to get to.
But once it starts to click (right around the hilarious "Follow me!" gag involving a lengthy elevator wait), it's a pretty fun little flick, with lots of splatter and an admirable approach to killing people off. I honestly figured this would be one of those movies where almost none of the leads die, because if someone's dead they can't add much to the comedy, but they pull off two pretty great surprises in that department, including one around the halfway point or so. And kudos to lead actor Dan Hale (who also produced, and gives himself at least four on-screen credits for doing so, in case you miss one I guess) for playing the entire film with blood on his face. And I'm not exaggerating - the only time we see him without it is in the few pre-zombie flashbacks; he gets covered in it pretty quickly after they appear and never finds the time to wash his face throughout the rest of the narrative. I put some of that shit on for like an hour or so and it was driving me insane - he had to do it for weeks.
Or, months, technically. On the making of piece we learn that the movie was shot in three sessions over the course of a year, which probably accounts for some of the wonky performance issues and occasionally clumsy plotting (what is the point of the frat guy "initiation"?), but that makes the film's strengths all the more impressive in some ways. No glaring continuity issues, no shifts in the film's visual look (some movies with such gaps in production come back with different cameras, or even DPs), etc - it's all pretty seamless, and that can be tough even for a regular production for a narrative that is confined to one night. I wasn't crazy about the ending, however - it ends on a bit of a downer that the movie doesn't deserve, and seems to suggest that they screwed something up with regards to how they dispatched the zombies, but it's not very clear. Perhaps the scripted ending was less obtuse and it wasn't all shot?
Speaking of the script, I really dug the back-story with regards to why there were zombies everywhere - the obligatory well-meaning scientist was looking for a way to obtain useful blood from a corpse in order to prevent the need for blood donors and shortages of the rare type. Perhaps this was done before, if so I never saw it (or don't remember), and thus I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to being an interesting and cool new idea. However, putting the "film damage" filter over the entire movie is NOT a new idea, and it was never a good one to begin with - I see its value for flashback scenes or for dressing up what's supposed to be an old home movie or something, but the entire film has scratches and specks and all other manner of distracting, clearly fake artifacting. However, I'll give them credit for one aspect of their "throwback" approach - the film appears to be a period piece (no cells, standard definition TVs, everyone has rotary phones) but they don't draw much attention to it, as if it was just a movie made in the late 70s or early 80s - i.e. the right way to do a period piece, even if it's a comedy (i.e. NOT making ironic jokes about how "insert trendy item here" will always be popular).
Besides the making of (which is pretty interesting and covers a lot of ground and filled with lots of good anecdotes, like how the film's one actress missed her surprise birthday party because she was stuck on set), the disc also features an overlong gag reel that I'm guessing was assembled more for the cast/crew than fans, since much of it feels like you had to be there to get what is funny. It's nice to see the footage unaltered, but rule of thumb - if the reel couldn't have fit in its entirety during a standard end credit roll, it's probably a lot funnier to them than you. Several trailers for the film are also available; kind of interesting to see the different approaches they took to start things off (they all pretty much end the same, however), though I'd rather the disc space was given to the original short film they made that inspired the feature - they talk about it at length on the making of - why isn't it here?
It's got pacing issues and the gags miss as often as they hit, but overall I found the film endearing and mostly enjoyable. The holiday setting was a bit underplayed, but it still made for a fun way to kick off my all day Christmas movie/special marathon (which included Gremlins, Inside, and Lethal Weapon - I am awesome), and the making of won me over even more with their dedication and good humor about their struggle to get it done. Kudos, good sirs.
What say you?