We'd award bonus points to Judge Patrick Naugle for working in references to all Romero's Dead movies—in one sentence, even—but he forgot Land of the Dead. Denied!
You don't want to borrow a cup of sugar from these folks!
What transpires when a terrible man-made virus begins reanimating rotting corpses into flesh-hungry denizens of the damned? Life becomes unbearable when the guy to the left of you is really The Dead Next Door! An elite government force called the "zombie squad" is on the prowl to take down the living dead while eager scientists scramble to come up with a cure for those infected by the insidious virus. What happens next—including protesters who think zombies have rights like you and I, a Waco-like zombie cult leader, and enough splattered brains to make even George Romero vomit—will take you out of the night, past the dawn, beyond the day, and into the stinking bowels of the dead next door!
I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting from The Dead Next Door; I'm learning that if a film is over twenty years old and not known very well, even in cult circles, there's usually a reason. After watching The Dead Next Door, I can safely say that while I was impressed at what was accomplished on such a miniscule budget (my best estimate is roughly $249.95), I can't say I'm overly excited to sit through it again. Yet a question begs to be answered: do you review a film like this based on other films of the genre (backed by big bucks and Hollywood muscle) or on the fact that some mildly talented folks scraped together enough change from under their sofa cushions to make a movie they love?
Written, produced, and directed by auteur J.R. Bookwalter (with a bit of backing by then up-and-coming director Sam Raimi), The Dead Next Door is a movie that uses its entire budget on make-up and gross-out effects, and why not? The film is, after all, a zombie epic (or at least as epic as you can get when it's shot on super-8 film stock). It has to with characters employed by a "Zombie Corps" unit and a few other "main" characters, though it's all just fodder to hang really neato effects off of. And the effects are the true stars here—though I wouldn't call the caliber of makeup effects "Savini-esque," they are still far better than you'd expect from what amounts to a few buddies down the street playing with latex and superglue. On that level, I give the filmmakers kudos; a few of the effects are genuinely startling (including one bedroom zombie who has some nasty stuff done to his body).
Because the film was shot on super-8 film stock, the voiceover recording and sound effects were either done independently of the production shoot or retooled during the editing process. Either way, the sound has a disjointed feel to it—it's as if the dubbing is roughly 97% accurate with a 3% distortion rate. In fact, I think that's cult icon Bruce Campbell's (The Evil Dead) voice dubbed for one character (which would make sense, since Campbell helped with the film's post-production), though I couldn't find his name in the credits. The rest of the actors are, well, amateurs in an amateur production. Need I say more?
I guess my conscience has gotten the better of me; while I can't recommend The Dead Next Door, panning it is the same feeling as mocking a painting done by your nephew who's in second grade: this is the best he could do, so why put it down? But hey, this is DVD Verdict, and I've got to give the movie a verdict, and I'm sad to report it's a very hesitant "thumbs down."
The Dead Next Door is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 Full Frame. Don't go in expecting this movie to look like the new Dawn of the Dead—the transfer shows many imperfections inherent in the film stock. The colors often look washed out and the editing shows jump cuts, dirt, and other problems. On the plus side, I think it's safe to say that this is the best The Dead Next Door has ever looked—so, fans rejoice! It's only a few notches above a VHS copy, but it's better than nothing.
The soundtrack is presented in both Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and Dolby 5.1 Surround! It's like watching your home movies remixed by George Lucas! Actually, the 5.1 mix on this film is pretty good—though there are obvious limitations to the audio track, I am surprised to note that there are a few well placed directional effects and surround sounds. While the bulk of the mix is still rather front heavy, those with 5.1 capabilities won't be disappointed. No alternate subtitles are included on this disc.
The Dead Next Door is overflowing with extra features for fans of the film to chew on. Included on this disc is a goofy commentary by director/writer/producer J.R. Bookwalter, actor/co-producer Michael Todd, and cinematographer Michael Tolochko, Jr.; a retrospective documentary titled "20 Years in 15 Minutes" that includes interviews with various cast and crew members; audition footage; a behind-the-scenes still gallery and footage; a few rough deleted scenes; a cheesy music video; a production still gallery; a "Frightvision 2000" reunion with the cast and director; video storyboards; a theatrical trailer; and various trailers for other Anchor Bay zombie movies (including Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead and zombie grandfather George A. Romero's splatter-fest Day of the Dead.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary by Writer/Director J.R. Bookwalter
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