First Look Pictures // 1991 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 12th, 2004
They're rotting to the core.
It's like an undead reality show. Maybe...Road Ghouls? (And in case you're wondering, I did in fact make that up just now.)
John (Jonathan Flanigan) and Jennifer (Beverly Hynds) are a couple of lovebirds on their way to a weekend retreat at a cabin. Along the way, they encounter a dead body on the side of the road. John is reluctant to explore the area, but Jennifer insists he check it out. Out he goes, and immediately scurries back into the glare of the headlights, clutching his neck -- he's been bitten! Jettisoning her bleeding-heart altruism, Jennifer dashes over to the body and savagely beats it with a shovel.
The two eventually sojourn to the cabin. As John languishes with his wound, which doesn't seem to ever heal, Jennifer grows concerned and implores him to go to the hospital. John finally agrees when he discovers he's got no pulse!
But the trip to the doctor proves fruitless when John spots the physicians going nuts over his condition. He freaks out, and in what can only be described as an utterly moronic move, takes his beloved and retreats to the cabin. She eventually catches the undead disease, and the two exist in their woodsy surroundings, gnawing on forest animals, talking about how much they love each other, fighting the urge to kill and devour people, and wrapping their peeling flesh up with Ace bandages.
I applaud this film for doing what it did. Though I don't really consider it a compelling use of 90 minutes, I think director Carl Lindbergh opted for a different approach to the zombie mythos, and the result is a relatively interesting, though overall underwhelming, experience.
Several elements derail the film from reaching the sought-after destination of "Cool Indie Film That I Never Heard Of But Is Actually Cool"-ville.
First is the dialogue-heaviness. Shadows of the Dead felt more like an off-Broadway play than a feature film. With two primary characters and basically three uninteresting sets -- the inside of an SUV, a doctor's office, and the cabin -- little ever changes. The writing isn't exactly stellar; it's not atrocious, but not riveting enough to shoulder the load of all 90 minutes. The first twenty minutes are just John and Jennifer debating whether to check out the body. And once they get to the cabin to settle into their decomposing, it's all talk, talk, talk.
There is some interesting stuff here, particularly the undead duo discussing the merits and consequences of feeding their hunger by killing people. But the bulk of the conversation is about their undying love for each other, blah, blah, blah.
Secondly, this is not a horror movie. It's a character exploration; what happens to Mr. X and Mrs. X when they become zombies? The back of the disc case claims that the film is "for fans of films like 28 Days Later, The Evil Dead, and House of a 1000 Corpses." If these fans are drawn to gory, visceral zombie movies, they probably won't be drawn to this.
There is no gore, no violence, no scares, and despite some half-decent makeup effects on Jennifer, no real evidence that these people are zombies. It's a character study with a love story thrown in.
Finally, Shadows of the Dead is plagued with a few "no-way-in-Hell" moments. Why the two fled the hospital is beyond me; they basically sentenced themselves to death. John's doctor-phobia is a cop-out, and I don't see any reason for Jennifer to willfully kill herself due to her boyfriend's petty fears.
It goes without saying that this movie conjures up memories of Eli Roth's Cabin Fever (which, to be fair, conjured up memories of a buffet of other horror movies); the "similarities" are evident -- some teens, ravaged by a disease, hole up in a cabin, and deal with moral issues. Of course these are two absolutely different movies; where the former plays it for scares and laughs, the latter goes after serious meditations on mortality and zombie ethics, with nary a drop of blood falling.
This low-budget movie looks a step above straight home-video quality, but still falls short of a truly theatrical feel, despite its widescreen presentation. The picture is very foggy, kind of a cross between an old British sci-fi show and a Downy commercial. Sound is fairly irrelevant, and the 2.0 mix does what it has to do in transmitting the endless dialogue. No extras.
Not your typical zombie movie. This might be a bad thing.
The court appreciates a different approach, but is ultimately unmoved. Adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R