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Proof That Zombie Flicks Can Still Be Original (A Review of "Dance of the Dead")

Dance of the Dead is a 2008 horror/comedy from Ghost House Underground, written by Joe Ballarini and directed by Gregg Bishop. Oddly enough, you don't really hear people walking around quoting this movie and proclaiming it a favorite the way they do with its more popular coun, Shaun of the Dead. The only explanation for that I can think of is that word has mply not gotten out about the quality of this film, which constently entertains and succeeds on pretty much every level. This film is set on the day of a high school prom and boasts a zable and fairly diverse ensemble of teenagers, as well as a couple memorable faculty members. The cast is excellent across the board, especially Jared Kusnitz as Jimmy, Carissa Capobianco as Gwen, Randy McDowell as Jules, Justin Welborn as Kyle, Mark Oliver as Coach Keel, Blair Redford as Nash and Lucas Till as Jensen. The sheer number of well-developed and skillfully performed roles in a script with this many characters is impresve in and of itself. However, Dance of the Dead has a number of other things going for it as well. Bishop's direction finds a perfect groove between horror and comedy, making this a solid entry in either genre. The action is lively and often unpredictable; the bad ass is not necessarily going to be one of the last survivors, the cute cheerleader is actually handy to have around rather than being a sobbing wreck, and one of the best weapons against zombies turns out to be the guitar. All the different "cliques" in a typical high school are represented (slackers, jocks, preps, stoners, nerds, etc.) but even though this is a comedy, the script is too clever to allow any of these kids to turn into caricatures, and the different groups are not treated like gangs at war with one another, which makes this high school seem a little more real compared to other fictional schools.There are several strikingly original story elements in play here, too. The zombies don't just rise from the grave creaking and groaning, they often explode

menacingly out of it, and they have a fascinating vulnerability that is unique to this film. I won't give away what that vulnerability is, but I found it to be really cool and, in my opinion, it adds a little more depth to a subgenre that could really use it. We're also treated to what may be the first ever love scene between 2 zombies, which isn't (quite) as gross as it sounds.

The make-up and special effects teams are also deserving of a ton of credit for their work here. The budget is obviously relatively low, which works in the movie's favor. There is no glaringly obvious CGI, just good old fashioned costuming innovation. The film rightfully seems proud of this fact, delivering a good number of jolting zombie close-ups that showcase the careful artistry that went into making these particular monsters.The only arguable weak point of the film is the ending, which sets things up for a sequel that, to date at least, has never come. If a sequel is made fairly soon (which the movie is exceedingly worthy of), then even that small weakness would be redeemed. Even if it's not, the ending still works okay as something of a cliffhanger, although it's obvious that was not the original intention.The bottom line is that this movie is not only fun to watch, you can tell everyone involved must have had a blast making it. There are few movies in any genre that feel like labors of love from beginning to end, but Dance of the Dead is definitely one of those rare gems. I give it 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.
ImmortalSidneyP Friday 1/20/2012 at 07:36 PM | 89748
Really loved this movie when I watched it a few years ago. Nice to see that it is getting the attention that it deserves.
TheyCallMeGhostface Friday 1/20/2012 at 11:23 PM | 89757