This entertaining little German teen sex / zombie comedy is an unexpected acquisition for Anchor Bay, coming off some festival screenings in 2005 but pretty much completely off the radar of most genre fans. But those willing to overlook its rather silly (though accurate) cover art and title will find a creative and funny blend of situations from American Pie and Dawn of the Dead that’s not only able to retain the strengths of both genres throughout its short (92 minute) running time, but even manages to come up with a few new ways to liven up some genre clichés with a bit of Teutonic flavor.
Beginning with a Haiti-set “real” zombie prologue that morphs into a riff on a familiar sequence from Hellraiser, Night of the Living Dorks (Die Nacht der lebenden Loser, a play on the German title for the original Romero film) introduces three sex-starved, teenaged geeks at a suburban high school in Bavaria, the beer-loving southern region of Germany. Like movie geeks from My Bodyguard to Napoleon Dynamite, Philip, Wurst, and Konrad suffer the beatings and humiliations of the pretty, popular, and rich kids with a mixture of envy and hatred. Party animal Wurst lives to get high, firing up a bong in his van on the way to school. Misfit Konrad keeps a journal listing everyone who’s ever done him wrong, for an eventual day of reckoning. And horny Philip lusts after popular, hot blonde slut Uschi, not realizing that his next-door neighbor Goth chick Rebecca secretly loves him.
Seeking a love spell that’ll turn Uschi onto him, Philip and his pals attend a midnight, cemetery-set voodoo ceremony held by Rebecca and her Death Metal friends, where the aforementioned Haitian zombie ashes are accidentally blown into their faces. On the way home, the trio winds up in a traffic accident and wakes up in the morgue…with toe tags on their feet! Quickly realizing that they’re in fact now among the lebenden toten (after a peek at a video of Day of the Dead), they set about to take advantage of the situation – Wurst parties even harder, since vast amounts of drink and drugs can’t harm him; Philip stands up to the school bullies with his unstoppable strength; and Konrad takes out his journal and starts getting revenge on those who’ve mocked him. But after devours an abusive gym teacher, Wurst and Philip beg Rebecca to find a cure in her copy of the Necronomicon before Konrad, drunk on power and blood, kills more of their schoolmates.
You’ve got to love a movie that mixes Nazi jokes with Michael Jackson Thriller references, and Dorks doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Unrated in the U.S., the movie would probably receive a fairly hard R, as its makers have thankfully tried to include the best and most tasteless aspects of both the horror and teen sex comedy genres. Many filmmakers have tried to turn zombies into comedians before (and continue to do so, with Fido on the horizon this summer from Lionsgate), but with the notable exception of Shaun of the Dead (which overlaps release dates with Dorks in such a way that neither film probably influenced the other), few have been able to retain the strengths of the separate genres without sacrificing some important aspects of them. Not so here – not only is there full-strength gore, but there are enough jokes about drugs, teen sex with teachers, detached penises, hardcore gay bondage, and urination (this being Germany, after all) to throw the MPAA into fits. Writer/director Mathias Dinter clearly has an affinity for both genres, and he and producer Philip Voges speak in the accompanying interviews about how the idea for the film came to them as zombie movies were becoming popular again after 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake.
Smartly, rather than throw their hat into the crowded ring with yet another straight horror film, they concocted this mash-up which probably works best because it didn’t come from the perspective of someone too heavily invested in either genre (Dinter’s previous works have been across the board, encompassing thrillers, comedies, and TV series). And while it doesn’t have the scope or ambition of Shaun of the Dead, it succeeds on its own, smaller terms by sticking to the logic of a traditional zombie film, while finding the absurdity in such situations and twisting them subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) until the natural humor comes out of them. And besides, what horror fan wouldn’t get a perverse kick in watching a bunch of skinny geeks chowing down on the popular kids?
Anchor Bay’s DVD presents the film in a good-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, with the original German Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Unless you really can’t stand subtitles (and these days, there’s no excuse for that), skip the poorly-dubbed English track, which is only Dolby 2.0, to boot. The English subtitles are good overall, but sometimes present some colloquialisms awkwardly (what should be “in the cemetery” is subtitled “on the cemetery,” for instance, and there’s a frustrating use of “Gothic” instead of “Goth” when referring to Rebecca and her friends). Supplements include 15 minutes of unedited interviews with the main actors, director, and producer, a very brief look at the rugby sequence being shot, eight minutes of outtakes, the trailer in either German or dubbed English, a selection of deleted scenes (undersold on the back of the DVD package) featuring more of Konrad’s subplot (including a scene referencing the lakeside little Maria sequence from Frankenstein), and best of all, a 15 minute alternate ending sequence that’s completely different from the one in the finished film which includes not one, but four additional zombie characters!