SXSW Movie Review: Dance Of The Dead

If you're in the mood for survival horror (and really, who isn't?), then Dance of the Dead, directed by Gregg Bishop (The Other Side) and written by Joe Ballarini, will satiate your appetite and then some. Made on a modest budget (not a micro-budget, thankfully) and featuring a cast of unknowns (as is usually the case with independent horror flicks) and dozens of zombies, Dance of the Dead plays out like a contemporary remix of Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, with fast-moving, brain-munching, intestine-gnawing zombies on the prowl for, among others, teenagers trying to enjoy the senior prom) Gory, ridiculous fun from start to finish, Dance of the Dead will leave zombie fans smiling with ghoulish glee.

Here's a set-up. After an opening scene nod to George A. Romeo's Night of the Living Dead (yes, it's set in a cemetery), Dance of the Dead leaves the undead still in their graves while it follows a cross-section of teenage high schoolers, including Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz), a disaffected, disinterested goof-off, his unlikely girlfriend, Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), the vice-president of the student body, Jules (Randy McDowell) and George (Michael V. Mammoliti), charter members of the science fiction club, Steven (Charlton Derby), a nerdy type with an unrequited crush on Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), a stereotypically blonde, perky cheerleader, Kyle Grubbin (Justin Welborn), the class bully who sports a Mohawk and knows his way around guns (good to have on your side when the zombie apocalypse hits), and Nash Rambler (Blair Redford), singer, guitarist, and front man of a rock band. Coach Keel (Mark Oliver), a man who's obviously watched First Blood and its sequels 100 times too many, rounds out the cast of potential zombie chow.

As the teenage characters go about their usual business (i.e., worrying about getting laid) and prepare for the senior prom (which is coincidentally only hours away), the zombies literally spring out of their graves and begin eating their way through town, culminating, of course, with an attack on the high school during the prom. The characters split off, join up, lose a few members to the occasional random attack and, as expected make a final or near final counter-attack on the zombies. From there on in (actually earlier), the gore ratchets up in response. Even better, it turns out zombies can drive (if not do much else), the better to find and devour their next, usually ambulatory meal. And if that doesn't do much for you, then wait until you see (and hear) the spin Bishop and Ballarini put on the phrase, "Music soothes the savage zombie," (well, okay, that's probably the first time you've probably heard it that way, but you get the drift).

As for Dance of the Dead, don't expect anything innovative or original. Outside of one or two wrinkles, Bishop and Ballarini decided to go with the tried and grue, lots of zombie action per the formula established by Romero and, more specifically, O'Bannon and/or Peter Jackson (Dead/Alive). Return of the Living Dead is definitely the template Bishop and Ballarini went for with Dance of the Dead, where the emphasis is less on creating fear or revulsion in moviegoers and more on creating laughter through over-the-top gore effects, all of which Dance of the Dead does remarkably well for most of its running time. For horror fans, specifically for fans of post-Return of the Living Dead zombie flicks, Dance of the Dead will make a fine addition to their DVD collections. For everyone else willing to go into a screening of Dance of the Dead with (ripped out) tongue-in-cheek.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10