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Quint loves up on midnight zombie flick DANCE OF THE DEAD at SXSW!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Yay, a really good midnight movie has played at SXSW! I’ve actually heard some good things about a few of the midnights playing, like SHUTTLE, but DANCE OF THE DEAD is the first one I saw that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll pepper in some shots I took of the Q&A through-out the review. DANCE OF THE DEAD is not an original film. Not at all. In fact there are shots lifted from (or homaging if you like that term better) NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, FROM DUSK ‘TILL DAWN and a ton of other genre highlights. Hell, the poster screams SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

The story is simple: Zombies take over a town on prom night. The kids react. Guts fly everywhere. What this movie does extremely well, though, is strike that really difficult balance of horror, action and comedy. This film is definitely in the style of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and that’s why I loved it. There's an inventiveness to it that's appealing as well... it's not just thrown together, it's actually crafted. Care and thought towards the actual filmmaking went into the movie, which is more than I can say for 80% of the low budget horror I see at fests or on screeners. It’s goofy, the splatter is ridiculous, the characters are all shades of cartoony, but there’s still a sense of seriousness. It’s hard to explain… I don’t know if any of you saw a movie called DEAD & BREAKFAST… I didn’t care much for that movie, but I recognize the fun elements of it. That’s a film that was trying really, really hard to be fun and it showed. DANCE OF THE DEAD is just effortlessly fun. Let me go over the opening scene and some of the characters to give you folks an inkling of what this film is. The flick opens with a gravedigger at a cemetery. He’s digging a fresh one when he hears a moaning. He pops out of the grave and looks around. A nice vase full of flowers resting at the foot of a tombstone falls over. The gravedigger gets down on his knees, leaning a little too close to the fresh grass of the grave as he resets the flowers. They fall over again and he hears the moaning again, but it’s coming from beneath him. He puts his ear to the ground, hears it again… after a beat he raises up a little just in time for a hand to reach out and grab him. He grabs for his pair of garden shears and lobs the hand off. The arm jerks back into the ground and the hand stands up, like Thing in Addams Family, and runs at him. He grabs it and walks it over to his wheelbarrow and tosses it in. It lands on top of a dozen limbs moving around… Arms, legs, a head. We pan up and see a series of Nuclear power plants spilling pollution into the air and then we dive into our story. This film comes from the ever growing Atlanta film community, which brought us the awesome SIGNAL. In fact, one of the stars of THE SIGNAL, Justin Welborn (far right in the pic below), shows up in the movie as the “much too old to still be at school delinquent badass” character. All the rest of the kids are between 18 and 20, as close to High School age as they could get away with, with the exception of Wilborn. But it fits his character.

And as much fun as he looks to have had in THE SIGNAL, it looks like he had even more fun here, really going whole hog. The kids are all smartly written… not exactly retreads, but not exactly spoofing teen movies either. They exist in a kind of middle-ground of familiarity. The adults all written to be fucking crazy. The gravedigger is a loon, the principal is a douche, the science teacher is crazy and the hardass gym teacher turns out to be a badass survivalist type that relishes the opportunity to use his automatic weapons, army hand-to-hand fighting techniques and C4 explosives. The kids are all fun, with Welborn being a big audience favorite. The lead, young Jared Kusnitz (left below), also had a major role in OTIS which I didn’t like nearly as much. He was good in OTIS but had very little to do. In this one he’s naturally likable and makes for a good unlikely hero.

There is spine-ripping, zombie make-outs (in what I’ll assume is a nod to Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD), zombie frogs, undead flying out of their graves in a puff of dirt and the power of rock being used to quell the zombie hordes. This is an indie flick and the budget does show through a little at times, but I was really impressed with it. It’s pretty epic for a small movie and the directing by Gregg Bishop (THE OTHER SIDE) is inventive and smart.

It is currently looking for a distributor, but I don’t think they’ll have much trouble finding one. I just hope whoever picks it up treats the movie right. With a well-planned supportive release, this one has cult classic written all over it. The Q&A after the movie was rowdy, with what seemed like the entire cast and crew taking the stage. Seriously, check out this pic:

I’ll keep my ear to the ground on this one. It’s a must see for fans of horror, especially outlandish low budget craziness. -Quint

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