A few years ago I caught a surprisingly cool micro-budget action-horror-sci-fi flick called The Other Side at the Slamdance Film Festival. I remember writing (somewhere) that if you gave writer/director Gregg Bishop a half-decent budget, he could almost definitely turn out a seriously entertaining genre flick. Guess what? Someone gave Gregg a half-decent budget.
Working from a consistently clever screenplay by first-timer Joe Ballarini, Mr. Bishop is back with his sophomore effort: Dance of the Dead, a horror / comedy / adventure flick that will undoubtedly entertain anyone who loves a good zombie massacre, only this one is combined with inspirations from Freaks & Geeks, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, and about a dozen other flicks. (With some John Hughes seasoning, just for flavor.) And yet it still strikes a confidently colorful tone and somehow wrings some new ideas out of some very old ideas.
How's this for fun: Thanks to a toxic leak from a nearby nuclear plant, the dead have risen and have decided to have a massive feast during prom night. And the only ones left to save the day are the geeks, the nerds, the outcasts, and the weirdos who weren't "cool" enough to score a prom date. Bishop and Ballarini give us three groups of eclectic characters, he sets up his premise, his tone, and his character development with a very deft touch ... and then we're off.
Dance of the Dead boasts three or four really excellent sequences of creative carnage, but here's the best part: The non-zombie bits? The parts that are usually left as "chatty blah-blah" filler material in most horror flicks? All of those "character moments" are as amusing as the gore geysers! The characters are broadly-drawn archetypes but just "real" enough to provide a rooting interest, the chompy moments are often followed by well-timed punctuations of humor, and the (almost completely unknown) cast is pretty much aces across the board! (Seriously, all the leads and backups are strong, but keep an eye on redhead doll Greyson Chadwick, as I'm pretty confident you'll be seeing a lot more of her soon.)
THIS is why we horror geek / movie critic types get so annoyed at "cheap-ish" horror movies that just don't deliver the goods: Because movies like Dance of the Dead get every damn nickel of their production budget up on the screen -- and it certainly doesn't hurt that the young cast is clearly having a damn good time with this comic-booky material. (Plus there's one mega-slick sequence in a graveyard that's reallllly impressive, and that's totally regardless of budget.)
"Energy" is what Bishop has to offer (based only on two movies, anyway), and Dance of the Dead wastes no frames whatsoever. We're given just enough character development to make us care, and then JUST as the action is supposed to kick in ... it does. And, despite the flick's fairly familiar trappings, Bishop & Co. have more than a few surprises in store for the serious genre geeks. It's fast and funny, sick and sweet, geeky and gory. Basically, a whole lot of fun. Between this flick and The Signal, I'm beginning to think Atlanta is becoming the new home of quality indie horror.