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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

THE DEAD INSIDE -- DVD review by porfle

Travis Betz, the eccentric writer-director of 2009's delightfully dark indy flick LO, gives us another chapter of "how to make a dazzling film on a dingy budget" with the effortlessly compelling supernatural musical THE DEAD INSIDE (2011). 

It looks like it's going to be a zombie comedy at first, with living dead couple Harper (Sarah Lassez) and Max (Dustin Fasching) frustrated by a locked bedroom door that keeps them from their human prey.  When Harper moans the word "Braaains!" while beating on the door, Max chides her for using such a hoary cliche'.  "Besides, you're a large intestine girl," he reminds her. 

Such amusingly banal exchanges between the two zombies (whose makeups are outstanding) will recur throughout the film, but only as fictional scenes from a novel that pulp author Fiona (Lassez) is writing as part of her best-selling "The Dead Survive" series.  The locked door is a metaphor for both her own dwindling inspiration and the stalled dreams of her husband Wes (Fasching), a photographer reduced to snapping wedding pictures. 

Their first song together, "My F**king Heart", is an impassioned lament that leads into a hilarious wish-fulfillment fantasy about how much fun it would be if a zombie apocalypse came along to relieve them of their responsibilities.  Later songs grow darker and more impassioned as the plot twists into increasingly somber territory, with Fiona's behavior displaying signs of possible possession by an unknown entity that threatens to take her over completely.

While some recent films have thought it would be a cute idea to be musicals without actually having decent songs or the proper sensibilities (or, worse yet, having the cast dance around like idiots while singing them), the catchy, hook-filled music and lyrics by Betz and composer Joel Van Vliet are first-rate and advance the plot while being highly entertaining.  The two leads have the talent to deliver them very effectively as well, especially Lassez who really knocks her solo vocal performances out of the ballpark every time.

Betz and cinematographer Shannon Hourigan, who have the visual sense of good comics artists, don't waste a frame in designing a succession of beautiful and imaginatively staged shots that often have the rich look of saturated colors on a black canvas.  Betz manages to maintain our interest in what is basically a two-location story with two actors playing dual roles (Lassez actually ends up playing a third role when her ghostly passenger takes full control of her body).

The DVD from Monarch Home Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette, a deleted song, and a trailer, along with two entertaining and funny commentary tracks on which Betz is joined by cinematographer Shannon Hourigan and actors Lassez and Fasching.

When we learn the truth behind what's happening to Fiona, the story takes on an emotional resonance that gives her final song, the beautiful lullaby "Ghosts Begone", a genuine poignancy that is, well, haunting.  What happens next, both in the "real" world of Fiona and Wes and in the fictional lives of zombies Harper and Max, should keep THE DEAD INSIDE creeping around inside your mind for quite awhile.

Buy it at


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