Thursday, 11 July 2013

DeadHeads - review

2011 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Five minutes in you'll either know you're going to enjoy the quirky, dumb humour of DeadHeads or that it just isn't for you. Taking its lead from a long succession of stupid over the top dark zombie comedies such as The Return of the Living Dead, Undead and even to an extent Dead or Alive, it's full of cliché with constant nods both blatant and subtle, to heritage horror and cult favourites.

Ridiculous stories, over the top performances, cliché characters and gratuitous blood and gore are all zombie 'b' movie staples and I'm a firm believer that the reasons we see so many films copying this template is that it's probably just easier and safer with a limited budget. DeadHeads doesn't quite follow the formula though; for all the absurdity of the premise, which we'll get onto shortly, the stupid banter and constant barrage of ridiculous ideas and knob jokes, writers/directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce never let the film turn into a full on farce. Instead if anything, by maintaining a strong cohesive narrative and never quite throwing the towel in and going stupid stupid, they've produced something that in many ways is quite mainstream.

At heart DeadHeads is a buddy road movie/rom-com but it all starts very much zombie dark comedy. Mike Kellerman (Michael McKiddy) wakes confused and disorientated attached to medical tubes. With no memory how he got there he pulls himself free and falls out into the living dead nightmare. Frantic, desperate and afraid he stumbles into the sentient zombie Brent Guthrie (Ross Kidder) who is overjoyed to not only find someone else who isn't a shambling brainless corpse but is also the same as him. From the start we know we're not to take this all too seriously. It's ground zero and a Night of the Living Dead parody but it's fun, quirky with constant throwaway one liners and a film to relax back to and switch off higher brain functions.

Taking Cheese (Markus Taylor) a big dumb zombie that comes over as a cross between Nick Frost as he was at the end of Shaun of the Dead and Sloth from the Goonies, as a goofy companion for the ride they fortuitously manage to hitch a lift from Cliff (Harry Burkey) a retired Vietnam veteran. Cliff is driving across the country to scatter his late wife's ashes and takes to our buddies helping them break the quarantine and make it from location to location pursued by seasoned zombie slayer Thomas Jeremiah (Thomas Galasso), the lone survivor from the now quelled outbreak, and the chuckle brother duo McDinkle and Gillman who represent 'the company'.

It's light, it's quirky and it's fun with each scene filled with good one-liners and sharp witty banter between complimenting characters. It's a crazy story, three zombies travelling across America to be reunited with a girlfriend that's probably forgotten him and if she hasn't, would probably have grave misgivings about dating a zombie but it knows it. Even self referential at times the narrative stays on point, the characters and their relationships develop and it never loses the focus that it's first and foremost a character film. 

So Mike and Brent are medical specimens and the result of a secret military project. They've been reanimated for study and something has happened causing the non-sentient, non-autonomous traditional flesh eating zombies to break loose and cause a bit of trouble for the small local community unlucky enough to be near the lab. It's never really explained and I guess it doesn't really matter. The zombies are zombies, they're shuffling Romero parodies, everything we'd expect and quickly disposed of. It's Mike and Brent that are interesting. They're dead and reanimated but they're still very much who they were. They have memories, full control of their faculties and even though, as Brent proves, they're flesh eaters, they have the ability to ignore their urge and instead feast on beer, burgers, pop-corn and marijuana. I also noticed that unlike the white cloudy eyes of their brainless brethren their's are normal with colour. They also seem to feel the discomfort of injury, if not the ongoing pain and they definitely share the same weakness to extreme brain trauma. I'm really reading too much into this all though and none of it really matters. It is what is and it all works as long as you let it.

I don't know, maybe I just like Big Dumb Fun (tm), but I really quite enjoyed DeadHeads. The banter between the characters was believable, never strained and at times emotive, the acting was excellent and it got quite a few smiles and laughs. The pacing was good with the old plot switcheroo of zombies being the good guys and military/government the bad driving the narrative, and it had some memorable scenes. It was as cohesive and compelling as you'd want from a popcorn flick. It does go a bit schmaltzy rom-com towards the end, though I think this was intentional and worked for me, and the jokes are often stupid, obvious or throwaway but taken for what it is it's all quite fun. As McDinkle would say, I don't know why everyone's being such a whiny bitch about it, 7/10.


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