HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, January 29, 2012

THE DEAD -- DVD review by porfle

With the release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it turned out that George Romero, in addition to creating a classic zombie movie, had established a basic premise that would inspire a seemingly endless number of variations, continuations, and reimaginings.  One of the latest chapters in the saga of what happened after "that night" is the Ford Brothers' THE DEAD (2010), a rich and surprisingly moving horror-adventure tale set in the wilds of Africa.

As usual in the post-Romero zombie apocalyptic world, no explanation for the fact that the dead are rising and eating the living is necessary before we're plunged right into the story.  This time an American Air Force engineer named Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is on a doomed evacuation flight attempting to flee a zombie-ridden Africa before going down near the coast.  Making it to shore, Murphy then sets out through the perilous bush country to find another means of escape so that he may somehow rejoin his wife and daughter.

Meanwhile, an African soldier named Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) returns to his ravaged village to find his wife dead and his son having been taken to a distant military base.  He and Murphy eventually hook up and, after a slow process of gaining each other's trust, become allies in their mutual quest to survive the inexorable zombie onslaught as they travel through the wasteland in an abandoned truck. 

While delivering the sort of gruesome stuff one expects in this type of film--namely, an abundance of exploding heads, dismembered limbs, entrails, gory, gooey flesh feasts, and horrific makeups--there's a lot more to THE DEAD than a series of shocks and gross-outs.  In fact, the journey of Murphy and Daniel sometimes feels as much like a behind-enemy-lines war movie than a horror flick, with the ever-present zombies as the occupying enemy force.  Much of what we see in the wake of the marauding ghouls resembles actual newsreel footage of war-torn Africa. 

Freeman and Oseia sell their characters with restrained, realistic performances that are never less than totally convincing.  These guys aren't super soldiers or action heroes, just a couple of fathers yearning to find their families while doing what they have to in order to survive.  Their relationship is well-developed as an initial mistrust gives way to a growing bond and concern for one another's well-being.  The script gives them several moments in which their humanity is explored, adding depth to their characters rather than simply having them go through a series of stock horror situations.

There is, however, an abundance of shivery suspense and all-out shock as they encounter the living dead at every turn.  Instead of a group of humans fending off attack from within a fortified location, THE DEAD's protagonists must make their way unprotected through open terrain from which zombies may appear in growing numbers at any moment (sort of an extended version of the gas pump scene in NOTLD).  These are the slow-moving, shuffling Romero-style ghouls instead of the track-and-field stars of later films, yet their sheer numbers and the fact that they never stop advancing lends a constant menace and suspense to their frequent appearances.

Shots of ghostly zombies flickering in and out of the truck's headlights at night are particularly eerie, as is the sight of several of them slowly closing in from all sides as Murphy and Daniel race to perform a task such as gassing up their vehicle before it's too late.  When the two men creep through an abandoned village or some dense foliage the threat of attack is always skin-crawlingly imminent, and even the act of stopping to rest and replenish themselves leaves them dangerously vulnerable and exposed.  Later in the story, the fortress-under-siege element comes into play as hordes of the living dead force their way into a military base with no escape for the terrified humans cowering within. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a fine commentary track by the Ford Brothers, a brief behind-the-scenes short, and a deleted scene.

The authentic African locations and extras lend an invaluable visual richness to the film that is beautifully captured by co-directors Jonathan and Howard J. Ford, who, along with their cast and crew, endured hellish conditions and near-fatal bouts of malaria to get their long-simmering screenplay on film.  The fact that THE DEAD is a hard-earned labor of love shows both in the intensity of the lead performances and in the quality of the finished product.  More than just your usual zombie flick, it's an emotionally gripping journey that will stay with you after the disquieting fadeout.

Buy it at

No comments: