A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
Day Of The Dead (2008)
The man behind Lake Placid and multiple Friday The 13th sequels, junior-league frightmaster Steve Miner delivered a remake of George Romero’s 1985 cult zombie movie Day Of The Dead in 2008. It’s a curious beast for a number of reasons. The success of 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead, Zack Snyder’s hyperkinetic re-imagining of George Romero’s 1978 masterpiece of social satire, clearly kick-started the film into existence, even if its creative team (since this is a remake of a sequel I’m using the term “creative” loosely here) insists there’s no connection between Snyder’s film and Day Of The Dead. That’s in spite of the fact that the films’ zombies, like the zombies of Snyder’s Dawn, are less the clumsy, Frankenstein-lurching oafs of yesteryear than the superfast, hyper-evolved beasts of the present.
That isn’t inherently a negative development—those old-school brain-munchers look awfully poky and prehistoric today—but the hapless filmmakers err on the side of making their zombies too ridiculously agile. The zombies in Day Of The Dead are so mind-blowingly athletic they seem more like acrobats in Cirque Du Soleil than monsters in a simple horror film. Yet despite this impressive new skill set, the zombies here remain more comic than terrifying.
Day Of The Dead stars Mena Suvari as a corporal burdened with having to quarantine her hometown, ostensibly as an exercise. But once the sick begin morphing into blood-crazed, flesh-devouring ghouls, what initially appears to be a simple drill becomes an all-out war for survival, as the weary, wounded, and terrified living band together to try to escape a full-on zombie apocalypse. Suvari conveys the steely determination of her character by hissing her lines through clenched teeth in a bored monotone, when she’s not suffering the insults and wisecracks of a hotheaded fellow officer played by Nick Cannon. Cannon’s amusingly out-of-place performance suggests his agent tricked him into accepting a supporting role in a low-budget zombie movie (where the title is the real star and central attraction, followed closely by the genre) by convincing him that Day Of The Dead was actually a kick-ass Nick Cannon action vehicle, in the hallowed tradition of Underclassmen, that just happens to be populated by abnormally pale folks with an unusual taste for brains. Cannon swaggers and struts and wisecracks through the film, even if he’s a badass leading man only in his own imagination.
Day Of The Dead is incompetent enough to inspire a warm wave of nostalgia for the ADD, headache-inducing excess of Zack Snyder. Snyder’s film may have been soulless, but at least it was distinguished by a strong authorial vision and a crackling sense of craftsmanship, however overwrought. The same cannot be said of Day Of The Dead, a film that incompetently tries to fake scares through shaky camerawork and dim lighting seemingly designed to obscure the inconvenient fact that the film was filmed in Bulgaria. Scare-free and weirdly padded even at 85 minutes, Day Of The Dead answers the question at the core of every zombie movie—“Who will survive?”—with a shrug and a half-hearted, “Eh, who cares?”
Just how bad is it? Pretty dire
Some Guy Who Kills People (2011)
Some Guy Who Kills People is a curious but winning contradiction: a heartwarming tale of mass murder. In a rare and welcome lead performance, the great character actor Kevin Corrigan stars as a fragile, damaged soul unsteadily trying to acclimate himself to life outside a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Corrigan has the thousand-yard stare, haunted air, and monosyllabic vocabulary of an inveterate loner, if not a flat-out serial killer. But it’s a mark of the filmmakers’ rare generosity that this strange, solitary man has a terrific support system headed by gleefully sardonic mom Karen Black—whose wry delivery wrings the most out of every wisecrack—her silver-haired detective boyfriend Barry Bostwick, and a best friend/co-worker who is loyal and devoted to Corrigan to a suspicious extent.
If that weren’t kindness and compassion enough for one lifetime, The Office’s Lucy Davis sees past Corrigan’s creepily intense exterior to the kind, patient, and generous man underneath as she attempts to date him, while a daughter Corrigan unknowingly sired years ago seeks him out and attempts to establish a relationship with him. For a spooky, luckless loner, Corrigan has an awful lot going for him. The same is true of Some Guy Who Kills People, which marries an empathetic, compassionate character study of an agonized man out of step with the modern world to blood-splattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy.
A smartly cast Corrigan commands the screen despite a minimum of dialogue; there’s a quiet dignity to his performance expressed largely through eyes that hint at a humiliation and pain far too intense to express through words. Some Guy Who Kills People works better as a character study and an offbeat comedy than as a horror thriller. The mystery at the center of the film—who, if not Corrigan, is slaying townsfolk in a series of gruesome yet extremely creative murders?—wraps up with an indifferent shrug that betrays how little the filmmakers are invested in its outcome. But that doesn’t particularly matter, since Some Guy Who Kills People is ultimately more about human connection than plotting or twists. Think of it as a contemporary version of Marty, only with a much higher body count and considerably more laughs. It’s a sleeper that requires and rewards patience, though the less indulgent might find it just a little too sleepy.
Just how bad is it? It’s actually quite good
If Some Guy Who Kills People can be reduced to the simplistic, if not entirely inaccurate, equation of Marty + bloodshed, the equally winning, if altogether nastier, horror-comedy Severance is essentially The Office by way of Deliverance. Like Some Guy Who Kills People, Severance has a whole lot more on its mind than simple shocks. Severance is savvy and sly in the way it manipulates and subverts slasher tropes like the Last Girl without being overly indebted to the conventions of the genre.
Severance follows a group of employees from a sleazy defense contractor as they embark on a team-building exercise in what is billed as a “luxury lodge” in a remote location deep in Hungary. Things go wrong pretty much from the start: The non-English-speaking bus driver refuses to drive through what he describes as particularly dangerous country and drives off, leaving his passengers stranded. Matters go from bad to worse when the luxurious lodge they’ve been promised turns out to be a dilapidated shithole with a haunted past. In one of the film’s funniest sequences, the corporate drones offer wildly different takes on that tortured past. One posits the lodge of the damned as a former hospital for the criminally insane where the inmates took over the asylum; another hypothesizes that the lodge has become a haven for deranged war criminals, while the least likely and most entertaining theory holds that the lodge used to be the scene of deranged bacchanals involving Sapphic, sex-crazed nurses.
It’s not at all coincidental that Severance focuses on employees of a defense company. There’s a distinct element of karmic blowback to people who sell death at a safe distance suddenly finding themselves on the receiving end of the instruments of destruction they sell, as crazed mercenaries declare war on the terrified white-collar drones. Severance is a brutally amusing, amusingly brutal horror-comedy about the darkest team-building exercise imaginable. In the film’s most inspired irony, this blood-soaked descent into hell does prove to be an effective team-building exercise—if a team can survive being pursued by insane, gun-wielding mercenaries in remote Eastern Europe, it can certainly survive periodic downturns in the market and difficult clients—albeit one most of the luckless team is doomed not to survive.
Just how bad is it? Like Some Guy Who Kills People, it’s actually a pretty nifty little sleeper
Editorial note: This is the final omnibus edition of Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory. From here on out, this will be a weekly feature running every Tuesday. Please feel free to suggest films for this feature.