Wow. I haven’t enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Dance of the Dead since…well, I can’t really remember actually. I was so into this movie and excited by how good it was that I was actually giddy when it was over. I was also tired, which is why I didn’t immediately blog about it last night. Dance is a perfect cocktail of some of my favorite genres including zombie, horror, comedy and late 90s teenage movies (which makes sense because according to Wikipedia and IMDB, the script was originally written in the 90s). If you like anything I just mentioned, you NEED to check out this entry from Lionsgate and Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Underground imprint which produced 30 Days of Night (eh) and The Grudge (nope). If you’re not already convinced, read on, but be warned, the review is, as usually SPOILER FILLED. Thanks to Wizard Staff Writer Steve Sunu for passing the full set of Ghost House Underground DVDs my way for review, I’m super psyched to make my way through them.
Anyway, the very basic idea of the movie is that this huge zombie infestation takes place on the night of homecoming and it’s up to a combination of our unpopular hero, the sci-fi club, the crazy bully guy, the prom planner girl, the cheerleader and the punk rock kids to save the day along with the the gym teacher. Now, I know that sounds like a lame premise, and it is, but the mix of comedy, action and gore really puts Dance head and shoulders above most of the other horror movies I’ve seen. I think I might even like it more than Shaun of the Dead (blasphemy, I know) because of how deftly the screenwriter Joe Ballarini balances the cliche moments with the humor and the violence. It’s perfectly over the top without crashing and burning on the other side. The cast is also fantastic and, hey, surprise surprise, they’re actually young. I’m not sure if they’re exactly high school age, but you’re not looking at a bunch of kids who are clearly 27 and were probably home schooled anyway. Kudos to director Gregg Bishop for getting such great performances out of the unknown cast (I didn’t recognize anyone) and putting together such a great flick.
And now some actual evidence of why this movie is so great, aside from the tone, humor and story, there’s also some really great scenes, both poking fun at and celebrating all the movies it lovingly hearkens back to. The movie opens on a graveyard where the groundskeeper nonchalantly cuts off a zombie’s arm and then throws it on a pile of other wriggling undead body parts. The camera pans up to reveal a nuclear power plant in the background and then the title of the film appears in old school green spooky letters that reminded me of a Troma movie.
From there you get a glimpse of the school with it’s over the top jerk@$$ biology teacher and tough as nails gym coach. You’ve also got plenty of high school relationship stuff set up that plays out through the rest of the movie (make-ups, break ups, crushes, that kind of thing). The actual night of prom starts off with all of our leads not actually at prom, they’re out in the town as the sci fi club goes to the cemetery and the zombies let loose. There’s this awesome scene where they’re running through the graveyard as zombies are jumping out left and right. There’s none of that boring “here’s one zombie, here’s another,” there’s a freaking LEGION of zombies out there.
The individual groups of kids start meeting up and one of my personal favorite scenes in the movie comes when our hero Jimmy meets up with the bully/backyard wrestler and they fight the zombies. The bully dude (who’s the only one who looks like he’s older, but that’s the whole point) goes crazy, ripping arms off and kicking ass. He even rips a zombie’s arm off and shoves it down her throat. AWESOME!
So after some more trials and tribulations most of the main characters all meet up at a house that turns out to be a mortuary (great twist and reveal). Meanwhile, the three dudes in the band are getting high in a garage and playing music. They open up the garage door to get some fresh air and there’s a half dozen zombies waiting outside for them. The lead band dude, Nash, stumbles backwards, kicks his guitar and the feedback stops the zombies. That’s right, ROCK AND ROLL apparently screws up the zombies’ ability to communicate with each other (like bees, one of the characters explains later). What an awesome moment and it gets brought back up later once they get to the prom.
The kids get out of the mortuary and meet up with the coach who happens to have an arsenal in his garage. He arms the kids and then they make their way to the prom, first stopping off to save the dudes in the band who bring their instruments as their weapons! But once they get to the prom, it’s completely overrun with zombies. The coach has a plan and the kids do their parts, but the coach’s detonator falls in the middle of the zombie jamboree so Jimmy runs in to grab it. His girl follows him and they have an awesome, back to back fight against a crowd of zombie. Just as things aren’t looking so good for them, the band starts playing again, but our heroes don’t just scramble around looking for the device, they SLOW DANCE their way around. Again, it sounds wacky, but the DOTD crew pulls it off masterfully. From there the ending rolls out and is highly satisfying, even setting things up for a sequel. Seriously you need to see this movie.
Still not convinced? Sheesh, okay, let me relate my favorite scene from the movie. You see, the Jimmy’s friend has this crush on the cheerleader, but she’s got a crush on Nash. Towards the end (SPOILER) the cheerleader gets bit by a zombie, she pulls Jimmy’s friend into the bathroom and asks him to hold her, which he does, but only after being completely grossed and freaked out. She even starts kissing him, which he’s into until she bites his lip off and starts attacking him. Later, we pick back up with them, now they’re both zombies and they start making out again in the bathroom hot and heavy, which leads to even more face biting. It’s great, hilarious stuff.
I could honestly go on and on, there were that many awesome moments, with more and more popping into my head as I type this (the convenience store scene, the cheerleader asking Nash out) but I don’t want to ruin EVERYTHING. Do yourself a favor and check Dance of the Dead out, it’ll be the best 87 minutes of your day guaranteed (unless you also happen to win the lottery or something along those lines).