Judge Gordon Sullivan isn't a zombie.
How far will they be forced to go to survive?
There's almost enough movies floating around to make a new genre, the zombie/not-zombie film. Though it didn't start with 28 Days Later, that's obviously the most famous example. It's a film that owes a lot to the post-apocalyptic vibe of zombie films, and certainly plays around with making the undead contagious and hard to kill. The thing that distinguishes 28 Days Later (and other entries into the nascent genre) is that the creatures aren't zombies. That doesn't seem like much, but it allows filmmakers a bit of creative freedom in how the undead operate. That difference can turn a thoroughly forgettable premise (at least for a zombie movie) into an above-average flick. Such is the case with The Demented (Blu-ray). Thanks to a simple tweak in the zombie formula, the film generates some decent buzz.
The Demented starts out in the most generic of ways: a group of young adults drive out to the palatial house of one of their rich friends (who is a jerk that everyone tolerates because he does things like invite them to his dad's huge estate). They begin a weekend of debauchery, but then a terrorist attack on the Gulf Coast unleashes a plague of zombies.
The Demented gets two things right that put it slightly ahead of the direct-to-video zombie pack. The first is by (hopefully intentionally) lowering viewer standards. Roughly the first third plays out like another crappy rendition of every getting-away-for-the-weekend horror film out there. A bunch of generic characters, a bunch of tired interactions, and an "exotic" location are almost enough to lull the viewer into a coma. I would suspect it's just inept filmmaking if it weren't for the fact that once the not-zombies appear, things get much better. Not Romero-better, but above what the horde of direct-to-video zombie films seem otherwise capable of delivering.
The main reason that The Demented can rise above its undead brethren is the filmmakers decided to do something at least a bit new. Apparently the terrorists did something funky to their biological threat because the resulting zombies are especially attuned to sound. That's right, it's not the sight of nubile bodies or the smell of aftershave on the annoying rich kid that draws the zeds from their stupor. Nope, it's the sound of victims that puts these monsters into a rage frenzy, that makes them Demented. This gives The Demented a few new tricks to add to the usual games of zombie cat-and-mouse. Silence is the rule for our heroes, and that means a bit of extra claustrophobia to scenes that would otherwise be totally generic.
The Demented also gets a so-so Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is decent for a low-budget flick, with a nice amount of detail but with a flat, overly digital image. Colors can pop when called on, and black levels are deep enough and pretty consistent. It's far from a visual tour-de-force, but it's a highly watchable transfer. The Dolby TrueHD surround track, on the other hand, could be a bit better. Considering how centrally sound is to the undead hordes of the film, it's surprising that this track doesn't have a bit more impact. Sure, dialogue is clean and clear and there's some good surround action here and there, but the problem is that there's no "oomph" to the sound here. The mix just isn't as aggressive or as dynamic as the subject deserves.
Sadly, the only extra is a DVD copy of the film in addition to the Blu-ray disc. Nobody expects a double-disc special edition out of The Demented, but it's pretty obvious that somebody went to the trouble of circumventing generic conventions with this one, and a featurette or two on that subject wouldn't be bad. Also, though none of the actors are famous stars, they're also not no-names from the sticks either, and hearing a bit from them would be appreciated as well.
The Demented is not great, not by a long shot. To say that it's slightly ahead of the DTV-zombie pack isn't really saying that much, since it seems like every idiot with a cell phone camera and some Karo syrup has released a direct-to-video zombie flick. Don't expect memorable characterizations, novel visual elements, or a resolution that satisfies with its cleverness.
The Demented is full of forgettable zombie action. With a stellar Blu-ray, the film might have jumped up to "seek-out" status, but with a so-so presentation and no extras, only the true zombie completist should seek this one out, and only genre fans should even bother to keep watching if they find the film on in front of them.
Not guilty, but a bit generic.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• DVD Copy
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