Gaiam // 2012 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 29th, 2013
Half zombie. Half demon. All Zemon!
Horror comedies, a subject that genre fans would never agree on. Some people really like wisecracking killers and slapstick murders, but I'm in it for the suspense and nothing kills suspense like laughter. Sometimes, if it's gooey enough, I can get into it, Bad Taste and Body Melt are clear examples, but mostly, I find them irritating. So when I received Dead Before Dawn, I took one look at it and expected to hate it. And while it's true that the movie isn't really my thing, it turns out that I respect what they've done and hope for a lot more from the filmmakers.
While his gramps is accepting an award for his supernatural work, Casper Galloway (Devon Bostick, A Dark Truth) is charged to man his prize-winning occult shop. When his friends come into harass him, they wind up smashing an urn that contains an ancient spirit. Now cursed, everyone they now make eye contact with turns into a cross between a zombie and a demon. Loading up in the RV, they try to escape danger while collecting the items necessary to build a new urn and trap the demon once again.
While the idea of "zemons" is obvious and really stupid, the way they arrive at the curse is kind of clever. Before the urn breaks, while the group is mocking Casper, these dumb kids start reeling off what they believe the curse would entail. The eye contact thing starts it off, but they continue with stuff about the zemons trying to kill them with hickeys and that, if one of the group French kisses a zemon, it becomes their slave. The demon is listening to them, though, and everything they say becomes reality.
Well, maybe clever is the wrong word, but the setup works. From then on, we know the rules and there are no surprises. That also means that there's no real suspense in the movie, but again, that's not really possible in a horror comedy, so I didn't expect it anyway. It allows director April Mullen (GravyTrain), who also stars, to move the comedy along without actually having to try to scare anybody.
Along with Tim Doiron (Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser), who wrote the screenplay and also stars, as well as the second member of the WANGO Films team, Mullen created the first ever fully Canadian stereoscopic 3D film. That may seem like a dubious distinction, but for that to occur in a completely independent film is kind of amazing and deserves mention. It's a strong production that looks great; there's clear talent behind the camera here.
And even though the jokes and situational humor don't work on me at all, the performances are exactly what are needed for the movie to succeed. Along with Mullen, we have Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Martha MacIsaac (Superbad) as the three female leads, which is a pretty gorgeous trio of actresses, so I'm really not complaining. On top of it, we get small appearances from Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Kevin McDonald (The Kids in the Hall), so even if you don't have any time for the comedy, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the movie. If you like laughs in your horror, there are a few strong ones, but I'll just hang my hat on those things and be happy with that.
Dead Before Dawn arrives from Gaiam with a strong Blu-ray release. As this is the 2D presentation, I can't comment on how the 3D works at home, but the way it is, it looks very good. There's good clarity and sharpness throughout the frame, with very nice black levels and strong coloring. The sound is even better and, really, quite good. The 5.1 Master Audio track is booming, with perfectly clear dialog, even with the booming music and surround effects, which are copious. It's a technically fantastic disc, regardless of how one feels about the movie itself.
Extras are pretty extensive, as well. It starts with a long-form behind the scenes featurette, which details what seems like every one of the twenty filming days. It's very detailed, with every member of the cast and crew coming off charming, and is what gave me respect for the movie. A making-of featurette continues with much of the same. A character gallery, two music videos, a blooper reel, and the trailer round out the disc, but I couldn't care less about any of that stuff.
Dead Before Dawn is certainly not for everybody, and it isn't for me. I very rarely like horror comedies, but what I do like is young filmmakers continuing the tradition of horror cinema. This team, which is described often and seemingly accurately in the supplements as a family, does exactly this. Even if I didn't care so much for this, I will be looking out for future work from April Mullen and company. One doesn't have to like a movie to respect it, and this is a movie I respect. I can't recommend it to anyone of my tastes, but fans of comic horror will better appreciate what's on screen.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Blooper Reel
* Music Videos
* Image Gallery
* Official Site
* Facebook Page