Though he too was an outsider in high school, Judge Bill Gibron wasn't as big a geek as the undead nerds who populate this clever German horror comedy.
It's corpses vs. cliques in a humorous high school horror comedy
Phillip is a senior in the high school from Hell. His best friends, Wurst and Konrad, constantly complain about their status as despised geeks, but their idealistic buddy seeks greener pastures beyond the nerdiness. In fact, he is pining away for the school rich (w)itch, Uschi—rich, blonde, and as promiscuous as a strasse slut. He wants to take her to the Summer Dance, but she won't give Phillip the time of day. Even worse, her boyfriend Wolf is an overprotective tool who kicks the snot out of the trio whenever he can. Thinking that voodoo might help him win the woman of his dreams, Phillip seeks the advice of lifelong gal pal Rebecca. She's a Goth girl in training who hooks up with the local Satanists to expand her blasphemous belief system. An accident with some Haitian ashes turns our outcasts into zombies—undead monsters with superhuman strength and a growing hunger for human flesh…or, at the very least, some raw hamburgers. At first, their newfound powers make them the heroes of the campus. But slowly, the need for blood and brains becomes overwhelming, as is the tendency to decay at inopportune times. They need Rebecca to formulate an antidote and cure them of their creepy corpse status before they infect the entire population, creating their own, unique Night of the Living Dorks.
Is it fair to call a film that only correctly gets two-thirds of its points across a success? On the other hand, would it be just to criticize a movie that cruises along efficiently until stumbling over its third-act apprehensions? That's the dilemma facing anyone walking into Night of the Living Dorks, a German horror comedy that looks like a tasty Teutonic Shaun of the Dead, but really owes much more to the American Pie/Porky's school of adolescent sex farces. Instead of going for the obvious zombie homage with all its arterial spray and corpse grinding, writer/director Mathias Dinter wants to explore the whole freaks and geeks facets of being a teenager. Our heroes are a trio of decided dorks, guys who get beat up and humiliated as a matter of pecking-order principle. It's refreshing to see that Dinter expands the loser universe to include those individuals beyond the Math Club level of nerdiness. Indeed, Philip is an outcast based on social standing, his family's status rendering him impotent in a schoolyard filled with yuppies-in-training. Similarly, Wurst is a pariah thanks to his hapless horndog personality, a grating façade that hits on anything with a pulse and a possible orifice. Only Konrad carries the true pocket-protector badge of the befuddled brainiac…so naturally he will experience the biggest character boost once the lads are slathered with voodoo dust.
There are a lot of formulaic facets to this story, stereotypical elements employed to make the movie that much more recognizable. There's the stuck-up blond bimbo (and her medically enhanced chest), a good-natured Goth girl who really likes one of our leads, an oversexed teacher from the '60s who doesn't mind sharing her free-love ideals with her students, an arrogant Aryan Youth throwback with spiky hair and a trust fund, and a Nazi-like gym teacher who turns out to be a closeted gay sadomasochist. Toss in the clueless principal, the death-metal loving members of the local Satanist cult, a Caucasian stoner dude with imaginary ties to Jamaican Rastafarian culture (including some insipid dreads), and parents who pretend to be hip (including a mother who actually celebrates her son's "morning wood" with suggestions on how to cure it) and the predetermined players are all in place. This should make Dinter's job that much easier, since all he has to do is embrace the archetypes while twisting them just a tad, and a wonderfully inventive effort will be the result. But unlike his American counterparts, individuals well versed in the John Hughes version of Hell as secondary education, Dinter is too enamored of the motion-picture models he's borrowing from to give them any true lasting freshness.
This is perhaps why the ending for the film had to be reshot. For anyone who saw the film prior to this DVD release, there is a possibility that you remember the Summer Dance, a showdown between the "good zombies" and the "bad" ones, and a selection of sloppy CGI gags that underlined the film's low-budget leanings (this finale can be found as part of the extras provided by Anchor Bay). The new conclusion, featuring less standard scary movie action and adventure, sees the guys confronting each other over the power that being undead presents. It feels like an attempt to broaden the horizons of these otherwise rote individuals. Such closed characterizations don't ruin Night of the Living Dorks, but they do deny the film an overall sense of innovation. There is some very funny material here, references to macabre classics and nods to terror tendencies that will have the average fear fan giggling in their Go-gurt. There are also a lot of silly sight gags that will remind viewers of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle and even Robert Zemeckis's Death Becomes Her. The gore level is minor, far from Romero levels of garroting, and the last act really does fall apart. Dinter appears lost, unable to find a way to bring all of his dangling narrative strands together in a satisfying manner. When it's working, Night of the Living Dorks is delightful. Too bad it can't make it all the way up and through the cinematic finish line.
From a technical perspective, Anchor Bay puts together a fine digital package. We are treated to a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, loaded with details and overflowing with color. The control of the contrasts is expertly handled, and the play between light and dark is just fine. Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix is professional and presentable. But be warned—there is a goofy 2.0 English track that offers some incredibly juvenile dubbing. Purists should stick with the German soundtrack, complete with easy-to-read subtitles. As for added content, we are treated to an interesting making-of featurette (insightful), a collection of bloopers (called "Fun Scenes" here), and a look at the theatrical trailer. Most importantly, however, is the collection of deleted and extended material. While most of this edited content is enjoyable, it doesn't really add much to the movie. What is striking is the entire alternate ending. In many ways, the introduction of the "bad zombies" seems unnecessary, since we learn that all members of the undead turn wicked eventually. If anything, this version of the climax gives the dorks a chance to punt more popular-kid ass, and perhaps Dinter thought this would be payback overload. After all, the entire film is a series of vengeance vignettes interspersed with typical teen humor.
Unless your name is Peter Jackson, and you have a firm grasp on the balance necessary to mix genres expertly and efficiently, one shouldn't necessarily try to make a horror comedy. The bad examples of such category defying attempts far outweigh the successes. Night of the Living Dorks lands somewhere smack dab in the middle. With a better conclusion and a broader satiric perspective, this would have been a creepshow classic. Instead, it's just a very good, slightly goofy zombie stomp.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
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