Now where was I?.... Oh, yes, I was talking about Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. If you've not read that yet - or, more likely, it's just plain been too long since that was posted - please go over. I'll wait here. Dum de dum de doo doo doo....
Back already? Okay, I don't blame you for not wanting to spend any more time with Alan and his troupe. Let's forge on ahead, and those who are still back at Children will just have to catch up.
The Dead Hate The Living begins with a nifty little device - we've seen it before, but it always help to get the story percolating early. A long-haired fellow speaks into a video camera, exclaiming he has made a breakthrough and his latest subjects are "showing an amazing.... aggression... something that I never imagined" which is borne out by the banging on the door behind him. Longhair places a revolver to his temple, stating that "with this final act, I join my legion... and the world that is known dies tonight!" A premature statement, as the doorbanger finally defeats the door, revealing nothing less than a zombie (the intestines hanging out are always a dead giveaway). Rather than going to meet his legion, Longhair wastes time by shooting it. A bad move, as the door-hating zombie decides Longhair would make a good substitute for a door . Fade to title.
Then it is time to visit a vastly underpopulated morgue (one gurney, one body) during a stormy night. Lightning! Thunder! (wait a minute... how many morgues have windows?). Enter the obligatory attractive young woman doctor (Wendy Speake), who examines the lone occupant - a young man with various wounds ("My guess - power tools. Perhaps a chainsaw.") and half his handsome face torn off - causing her to make the equally obligatory comment, "Why are the hunky guys always dead before I get to meet them?" And maybe that wasn't a good question to ask; she turns to put away an instument, and when she turns again - the body is gone. And the lights go out. More lightning! More thunder!
Being a doctor, she realizes the best course of action is to leave the premises immediately. Of course, standing in her way is the aforementioned hunky dead guy, who cuts her throat with a scalpel, spraying blood all over a nearby anatomical skeleton (a standard fixture in every morgue, I am sure). Hunky Dead Guy then hauls her back to the gurney, laying her down and then proceeding to lavish undead lovin' upon her. The dead doctor's eyes snap open, her legs wrap around his hips, and the zombies proceed to get busy as punk music blares on the soundtrack.
Until somebody yells "Cut!".
You see, what we were witnessing was the filming of a horror movie, the fledgling attempt of director David Poe (Eric Clawson) and his lifelong pal, the makeup meister Paul (Brett Beardslee). The doctor is David's sister, Shelly, and the Hunky Dead Guy is Eric (Benjamin P. Morris), a young actor hopeful that this will be his entree to bigger things ("Nicholson started like this, right?"). David and Paul keep trying to reassure Eric with statements like, "You'll be the next Dick Miller!" Eric's inevitable response: "Who?"
Yes, this is going to be one fast, quick and dirty shoot, mainly because the tiny cast and crew have sneaked into an abandoned hospital complex (which, for some reason, still has power) to film it. Other people you need to know: Marcus (Rick Erwin), a geeky combination grip/production assistant/zombie, Topaz (Jamie Donahue), another PA (and the most wholesome-looking Goth chick you will ever see) (also David's incipient love interest), and Chaz (David Douglas, who somehow got left off the IMDb listing), the dreadlocked, ganja-smoking cameraman. And the villain of the piece, David's other sister, Nina (Kimberly Pullis), who is bankrolling her brother's little project, and is thoroughly unpleasant and unlikeable. Everyone was hoping Nina's usual penchant for getting lost would keep her from the set, but no such luck.
While other scenes are being shot, Eric and Shelly wander around the hospital, eventually finding a ransacked room with - gasp! - a video camera and monitor still on! Watching Longhair's eulogical tape, they assume it - and the blood splashed all over the room - to be a part of David's movie. Topaz pops up - literally, scaring the hell out of everybody - and urges them back to the set. She takes the videotape for safe keeping, then proceeds to poke around a bit more...
Until she calls the others down via the walkie-talkie. She's found an amazing workshop in the basement, full of horrible things in jars, scientific equipment, and the centerpiece: a device that looks like an enormous coffin stood on end, covered in bizarre gargoyle-esque carving, like a half-imagined, hurried Giger sketch. This, David decides, has got to be a part of his movie.
And then they open the coffin and Longhair's body falls out. Which David also decides has to be in his movie - "The first horror movie to feature an actual corpse!"
Soon David manages to talk everybody into going with his wild scheme, except for the sensible Shelly (who admits that her brother is "The ultimate bullsh*t artist"). A round paperweight is found that fits into the coffin like a key, Longhair's corpse is loaded into the coffin, and Topaz figures out how to turn on those impressive lights around the coffin...
And faster than you can say "Lights, camera, mayhem" Eric has (while speaking some of the worst prose you'll hear outside of Forever Evil) completed Longhair's experiment and opened the coffin to reveal... flashing lights and fog. The bewildered actor is sucked into the fog, which then proceeds to belch out a river of blood, and then one very dead actor. Then, stepping from the fog is Longhair, mysteriously transformed into... Rob Zombie!
Okay, not really, but we might as well stop calling him Longhair. He is actually Dr. Eibon (Matt Stephens), who has now achieved some sort of ascendancy over those zombie legions he was talking about earlier. He is followed by two zombie attendants, the monstrous Maggot (Andre "Doc" Newman) and the incredibly tall Gaunt (Matthew McGrory).
Everyone scatters, and it's time for the usual cat-and-mouse games inside the complex. Escape isn't exactly simple, as the coffin device has apparently transported the entire building to Limbo, and it is encircled with zombie hordes - as Chaz finds when he sticks his head outside. His body comes back, his head stays outside. Whenever Eibon's minions manage to kill one of our human characters, the human is loaded in the coffin and brought back as a zombie, their makeup transformed into gruesome reality.
We get a flashback from Eibon revealing that this whole mess came about when his beloved died of cancer, and he threw himself into some pretty weird research. As a matter of fact, his beloved is in a room full of corpses from Eibon's earlier experiments, and she comes to a sort of half-life so David and Topaz can quiz her as to why all these zombie guys want to kill them. Her answer is the title of the movie - "The dead hate the living!" - which pisses Topaz off enough that she puts her fist through the corpse's maggot-riddled head, prompting Eibon to fury. Yeah, way to go, guy - stack your beloved like cordwood with a bunch of failed experiments, then get all ticked off when something like this happens. Ultimate Evil can be such a dork at times.
Eibon's response is to capture Topaz with the goal of putting her in the coffin while she's still alive, just to see what will happen. So it's up to our two fanboy heroes to save her and find a way to shut down the coffin, which might even save the world.
I don't want to go into too much detail here - this is a fun movie, and deserves to be seen on its own - so let's inject some spoiler space, and those just wanting me to get to the damn point can click here.
The Dead Hate the Living has a number of distinctions going for it, not the least of which is that it's a Full Moon picture that doesn't suck. That's rare enough, but it also has the self-reducting distinction of being a horror movie made by a horror fanboy about a couple of horror fanboys making a horror movie --- that doesn't suck.
The horror in-jokes keep on coming, and they're not always as overt as lines like "What would Bruce Campbell do?" and "KNB can kiss my ass!!!". Paul wears a Blackest Heart Media T-shirt. A wheelchair in a desolate corridor recalls The Changeling. Eibon's first line to his underlings is "Make them die...slowly!" (I don't really have to explain that one, do I? I didn't think so.) The interview with the corpse comes straight from Return of the Living Dead, and even the corpse's line - and the title of the movie - comes from Bride of Frankenstein.
One of the cleverest moments in the movie comes when David and Paul make the discovery that zombies are basically pretty stupid, and are able to pass among them unmolested by simply making themselves up as zombies and shambling around (which is where the KNB line comes in). The scene where the zombies are pounding on a door, only to find that the room they are trying to get into is occupied by fellow revenants, and then shuffling off ... echoes Dawn of the Dead. And this is only the stuff that I can recall off the top of my head. Even the ending, when Topaz and David walk through the coffin to find themselves in the Land of the Dead is cribbed from The Beyond, except that they still have their eyes.
Not to say that The Dead Hate The Living doesn't have moments of its own - the most surprising being the death of Paul (hey, the spoiler space is there for a reason), when the makeup guy finds out that dying with your throat torn open sucks. Director Dave Parker admits in his DVD commentary that he wasted some zombie horde time by stopping to get that moment just right, but it proves to be a wise decision.
Slight digression - Parker's commentary also states that the character of Eric the actor is there to be a representative for viewers who aren't horror fans. Which begs the question: your movie is called The Dead Hate The Living, and the box features an ugly monster - who besides horror fans are going to be watching this?*
There are a few missteps at the end, when the movie's ideas overstep its budget, with poor CGI electricity effects and a thoroughly unworkable climax involving "radio controlled squibs" dropped at perfect intervals and the flammable qualities of both whiskey and zombies - but for Pete's sake, this move was made for $150,000 and in seven days! Those examples only seem cheesy because the rest of the movie is so well made, the production values seem much, much higher.
There are a few other things that needed to be tightened, like that videotape - it's brought up so often, and Topaz goes back, against all reason, to retrieve it a time or two - that the fact it never truly figures into the resolution of anything is a direct violation of Chekovian Dramatic Law. But c'mon. $150,000. Seven days. Shot on film. Breaks must be given.
I now think I'm ready to get to the point. After the bracketing spoiler space, of course.
Why am I so determined to place The Dead Hate The Living in the same space as Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things? The similarities are there, certainly: a group of artistic types plus a corpse equals lots of murderous zombies. The point I want to make, however, is a bit more expansive than that.
The Dead Hate The Living is certainly not a remake of Children, but while watching it, I could not help being reminded of the earlier film. In fact, the term "remake" seems to be verboten these days, replaced by the rather Disney-esque term "re-imagined". Heaven forfend that in this brave new millennium, we should actually call a spade a spade (excuse me - "long-handled entrenching tool").
My point is, in a field rife with "re-imaginings" - starting with the more recent versions of House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts and the one that seems to have coined the term - Planet of the Apes - if any of these had been made with half the wit, commitment and yes, respect of the materials rehashed in The Dead Hate The Living, the whole "re-imagination" thing would be regarded much more highly, and these new films would likely have been much more entertaining. And I wouldn't have to sift through e-mail after e-mail or forum thread after forum thread filled with howling, bitching, pissing and moaning about the current trend of sequels, remakes, or the fact that Hollywood is more overt than ever about eating its dead.
Let me give you some perspective. In the mid-to-late 80s, there was a hideous trend in advertising, post-The Big Chill. The souless monsters in ad agencies took the tunes to pop hits of the1960s and rewrote the lyrics to sing the praises of whatever product was being thrust at the camera. This was the music I grew up with, that occupied a fairly sacred place in my heart, and this felt like nothing less than blasphemy. If my life depended on it, I could not remember one of those rewritten abominations. I rejoice at that. It was like turning on the TV in the middle of a commerical and heard, sung to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers":
For a period of about three years or so, that was the template for what seemed like all commercials, and if any product took the trouble to create an original jingle, you can bet I went out of my way to buy it.
Like all trends, it ended. Let me repeat that: like all trends, it ended. Eventually, something not based on an earlier work is going to make a buttload of money , and the corpse-eating will fall off. Maybe some sort of horrible plague associated with cell phones or not actually possessing a soul will kill off whatever is running studios these days and people who actually care about movies as a form of entertainment will come into power again (and then, as Charlie Brown once said, I will flap my arms and fly to the moon).
All things considered, it's sad to note that Dave Parker hasn't made another movie since this one, especially in view of announced remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead. Parker is, apparently, one of the people working on the script of the Sega videogame-based House of the Dead, which gives one a little hope for that project. At least there's somebody there who knows what they're doing.
But now that he's made his tender valentine for his hero, Lucio Fulci, I would really like to see what else Parker has in him*.
The Doc Loves The etc., etc.
- March 15, 2002