Dance of the Dead (2008)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #256

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Number of Views: One
Release date: October 13, 2008
Sub-Genre: Zombie Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Gregg Bishop
Producers: Gregg Bishop, Ehud Bleiberg
Screenplay: Joe Ballarini
Special Effects: Matt Green, Toby Sells, Ashley Adair, ‘Puppet’ Chris Brown
Visual Effects: Chad Eikhoff, Gregg Bishop
Cinematography: George Feucht
Score: Kristopher Carter
Editing: Gregg Bishop
Studios: Compound B, Bishop Studios LLC, Bleiberg Entertainment
Distributors: Bleiberg Entertainment, Lionsgate
Stars: Jared Kusnitz, Greyson Chadwick, Chandler Darby, Carissa Capobianco, Randy McDowell, Michael V. Mammoliti, Mark Lynch, Justin Welborn, Mark Oliver, James Jarrett, Blair Redford, Lucas Till, Hunter Pierce, Jonathan Spencer, Stephen Caudill, J. Jacob Adelman, James Jarrett, Zoe Myers

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Suggested Audio Candy

Layton “Shadows of the Night”


Zombies have been fairly well represented over the past ten years or so. Actually, that’s like saying that Rocky Dennis has a reasonably hefty tumor on his noggin. They’ve been flogged to death and then back to life again. There are running zombies, walking zombies, Nazi zombies, zombie sheep, zombie Sims. At one point even Osama Bin Laden rose from his sandy bunker and popped out for a bite to eat. It seems a long time since Barbara took that ill-fated stroll through the cemetery and watched helplessly as her beau received a grill full of tombstone. Tonight ladies and germs it’s all about those high school zombies and, that alone, is cause for great rejoice.

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Director Gregg Bishop (The Other Side, V/H/S: Viral) brings us a teeth in cheek dead-fest which turns out to be a rather unexpected delight; the beloved hark back. He evidently spent his adolescence watching the films of a certain John Hughes and the culmination of his well-spent youth is Dance of the Dead, a veritable delight which combines all the angst of growing up with the shenanigans of raising the dead and does a somewhat stellar job of it. It can be difficult standing out from the crowd in such a saturated sub-genre but Bishop finds a way of ensuring that his film floats to the surface of the punch bowl and joins B-list classics such as The Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Creeps in the upper echelons of zombie goodness.

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So what makes this little-known oddity resonate above the hordes? For one, it shuffles a fine line between humor and horror and does so without ever veering too far into parody. All the stereotypes are present and correct; dumb but feisty cheerleader chick, even dumber prom queen, sleazy date-raping rich kid, unlikely slacker hero, skull-crunching bully and, of course, the no sex-getting science dweebs. They’re each a walking cliché and it would have been easy for Bishop to knock out a piece of forgettable teen-directed garbage but he remembers the key factors to milking the undead teat so to speak.

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He knows how to set up, first and foremost. A brisk ten minute introduction tells us all we need to know about our menu suggestions and, given the high school theme, he has fun with it culminating in a light tone shared by his addressees. He then procrastinates no further in getting to the meat. Those amongst us searching for deeper meaning will not find it here. There is no real explanation given as to why the stiffs are back walking the Earth, whereas Romero purists may be disgusted by the fact that many of them hit the ground running. It’s all irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, we are here to watch a bunch of pimple-faced freshmen getting chowed down upon and he gets that. It’s as though he’s sitting beside you, sharing out popcorn.

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Moreover, Dance of the Dead manages to supply a melange of likeable characters, each as fleshed-out as is necessitated. Every viewer will likely have their favorites to root for and, despite any comedy leanings, they play it straight(ish). There are tender moments, high-octane action sequences, numerous moments of hilarity; a veritable smorgasbord of reasons to be cheerful. At a lean 95 minutes it fills out its running time admirably and never once loses its way. This could well have been branded with the Return of the Living Dead moniker and it wouldn’t seem nearly as out-of-place as many of the questionable sequels, Brian Yuzna’s glorious third excused.

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One senses a tight ship for the shoot of Bishop’s film. The young cast is universally fine and it feels like every one of them is in on the same joke. Joe Ballarini’s screenplay is consistently amusing, if not gut-busting, and there are some true moments to savor. The instance where our cheerleading co-ed turns around to the group and comes clean that she has never shot a machete is one of a number of lines which helps endear these caricatures to us and, despite each representing a stereotype, they receive their moment to shine and operate out of their tidily labeled boxes.

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Grue is also well accounted for. Whilst not excessive or lingered upon there are a multitude of gory set-pieces and Bishop pitches just right to his chosen demographic. As touched upon, the breakneck speed never really lets up once the first fist pounds through the earth. To quote the legendary 45 Grave “it’s party time” and, with Bishop at the helm, there’s never any danger of someone pissing in the punch bowl. Those expecting revelation can keep on dreaming as there is scant food for the brain on exhibit. However, more critical, is the fact that there is plenty of gristle on these bones.

Jared Kusnitz as Jimmy and Greyson Chadwick as Lindsey in "Dance of the Dead."

I would urge that you seek out Dance of the Dead post-haste as it sure looks Pretty in Pink. Neuroscience it isn’t, innovation is an unrealistic expectation also, but it’s a whole cavalcade of chuckles and, when all is said and done, that’s what we want from our prom right? Zombieland, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead, The Revenant; all succeed because they know when to slam on the brakes, kick off the clown shoes, and bask in the sheer mortification of being surrounded by gnarling flesh-eaters. It pleases me heartily to report that y’all can add this one to the list.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Skull caps are split with woodsman’s axes, flesh torn, head removed and used as hand luggage; there’s more than enough on display to sate the appetite. Keeper’s standout would have to be the alarmingly sweet coming together of two lost souls without pulses in an elevator which signals the swan song of two of our affable teens. One for your Idle Hands sensibilities.

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Read Zombieland Appraisal

Read The Return of the Living Dead Appraisal

Read Night of the Creeps Appraisal

Read Cabin Fever 2 Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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