Dead Life (2005)
By: Devon B. on May 17, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Brain Damage Films (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.78:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0, English DD 5.1. 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: William Victor Schotten
Starring: Michael Hanton, Ashleigh Holeman, Jayson Garity, Lindsay Gerish, Mike Petrucci
Screenplay: William Victor Schotten
Music: David Caleris
Tagline: In the end, the dead eat the living
Country: USA
A young boy watches his father do an impression of George Eastman pulling his guts out like on the cover of Anthropophagus. Then the father develops some eye problems. Years later, the boy has grown into a man and he's trying to fix up the family home where the incident occurred. A zombie infection begins to spread through the small town, and as is to be expected, the undead eventually trap our hero and his friends in the run down house.

Dead Life features amateurish acting, which is to be expected, but also has a script and thespians who think they're funny when really they're not. Sometimes they are amusing, but that's the highest calibre on hand. Fortunately most of the humour is done early on. The film is slow to get going until the Night of the Living Dead-esque situation sets in. Maybe that's the 70s feel the blurb on the back of the DVD cover is talking about, the inexcusable slowness that 70s movies so often have. Dead Life also suffers from padding, most notably in a phone call in a hardware store. The commentary track describes this as funny, but in context it just kills the pace of the film. Surprisingly, the characters in Dead Life actually do intelligent things sometimes, except for one guy who literally walks right into a zombie.

The zombie makeup is mostly just latex and grease paint, and more often than not, people's zombie infection appears to stop at their hairline. Except for one particularly messy zombie, who gets some quite good, unique makeup, but she is only on screen for a few moments. The film uses schizo editing to cover the FX flaws and limitations, but also uses this type of editing as a style choice in other places, so maybe hiding boo-boos wasn't the editing intent.

Dead Life also has a very metal driven score. I understand that metal and horror go together (when metal's not about dragons, kings, and fairies, that is) but if all the source music is metal, it gets boring and clichéd. The commentary actually says the film has been called 'Dead Life: The Musical' because of the amount of metal music. Another huge problem is that all the metal is provided by one rather generic band, Kitchen Knife Conspiracy. Some diversity, like maybe the use of TWO bands, would've really helped here.

Dead Life does break out of the Night of the Living Dead plotting, but never strays too far from Romeo's quadrilogy in terms of ideas. If you want an innovative, cutting edge zombie movie, look elsewhere. If you want an okay, homegrown effort, here you go.
Dead Life is presented letterboxed, but not 16x9 enhanced. Given that it was shot on Super 8, you have to wonder why they bother letterboxing it, especially since some things that were meant to be seen got cropped out. The film is grainy, and has splotches and scratched in places. The overall image is soft, except for a segment of television footage that was shot on video and looks better than the film. At other places the image quality improves, which is explained in the extra features as the attempt to use 16mm film stock. I have to say I didn't mind the Super 8 look, since it represents an effort by the filmmakers to not just simply shoot on video.
The audio is available in English two channel or 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 mix is way too quiet, and the two channel is way too loud. Both tracks are prone to distortion, and the 5.1 sounds muffled. I mostly watched the film on the two channel sound, so I could hear it, but I had to set the volume to the lowest level, then turn down the DVD player's output volume as well. The film's sound seemed out of synch in both tracks, but I don't' think it's the NTSC conversion, as the SOV sections were fine. The audio synch problems make the whole film seem ADRed and disembodied, which isn't good combined with the Super 8, because then the whole thing looks and sounds even cheaper than it was.
Extra Features
The DVD includes Dead Life's trailer as well as some for other Brain Damage releases. One, The Root of All Evil, is about killer Christmas trees. I know a stocking stuffer I want come next holiday season! This thing looks hilarious! Other bonuses include the scene select option, a Kitchen Knife Conspiracy music 'video,' a fifteen-minute making of, and a commentary track. The 'video' is actually a live clip at what looks like a school with like four interested youth and about 50 others just watching. The commentary features the director and cast and crew. Some people are hard to hear on the track. It's an amusing enough track, and those involved clearly are proud of the film without being oblivious to its flaws. They cheerfully point out continuity errors and rip on the director, but then they also back pat a lot. They mention a drinking game that's on the DVD sleeve, but I couldn't find that. Perhaps it's on an insert that I didn't get with my copy.

There's also an Easter egg. In the special features menu, press left on scene select to highlight a quare on the zombie's flannel. Press enter to see a short film by the director of Dead Life.
The Verdict
I like underground horror, but I feel it should offer something you won't see from mainstream cinema. When even big action movies like the Assault on Precinct 13 remake challenge the conventions of Hollywood cinema, that means underground horror has to become more challenging. There is really only one scene that sticks out as one Hollywood wouldn't do in Dead Life (which is also the only sequence that would earn it an R rating here), and it's so ridiculous and confused that it's hard to take seriously. I appreciate the efforts the filmmakers went through, and understand it took four years to complete, but the film needs tightening, particularly in the very slow beginning.
Movie Score
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