I haven’t seen a whole bunch of films from Full Moon Features, Charles Band’s production company, but they have had a couple great titles for their flicks. There’s Castle Freak, which is a more literal title than it appears at first glance; and Evil Bong, or, as it’s called in headshops all over America, Evil Water Pipe. Today’s horror flick has a title better than those two. In fact, it’s a title on par with Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Like Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, getting the title right was the high point of the production, unfortunately.
The Dead Hate the Living! comes to us from the far distant year of 2000, when the United States was still riding the high of the 1990s, and the century had yet to go bust. The Rachel haircut was on the way out, and low-rise pants were on the way in. 1980s nostalgia had yet to take over fashion and music, yet this flick is something of a throwback to horror films of the 1980s. Much of that is due to look and feel. Sets and lighting are very much from that era of b-cinema. Also, this is a straight-to-video flick, and it looks like Full Moon didn’t bother to prepare a proper digital release. The copy I saw was formatted for television, like it was lifted straight from an old VHS tape.
Dead was written and directed by Dave Parker, who has spent most of his career in Hollywood as an editor. This was his second feature directorial effort, after 1997’s Bimbo Movie Bash. This guy has some talent.
The film follows a small movie production that is filming a horror flick in an abandoned hospital. The film within a film is only a small part of this flick, though. The crew is led by Eric Clawson as David Poe — an outsider filmmaker with big dreams. He’s joined by his sisters and cast members Shelly and Nina (Wendy Speake and Kimberly Pullis), best friend and effects guy Paul (Brett Beardslee), cameraman Chas (David Douglas), leading man Eric (Benjamin P. Morris), and production assistant Topaz (Jamie Donahue).
They’re just going about their business at the hospital when they discover some kind of powered metal coffin propped up in the boiler room. Like every urban explorer has discovered, there is no such thing as an abandoned building. Someone else is in the hospital.
They find the mystery man pretty quick, when they open the coffin and a body comes tumbling out. This is Marcus (Rick Irwin), whom audiences met during the film’s intro. He’s much less ambulatory, now. Having found a real dead guy, David gets the inspiration to include the corpse in his picture. A little of this, a little of that, and Marcus is raised from the dead, summons his own undead henchmen, and it’s time for the flick to get bloody.
The remainder of the plot plays out in expected fashion, and that’s okay. What makes this film stand out are the production values and the cast. They both stink. The cast shoulders most of the blame. They were eager and willing, but only Donahue and Speake seemed to know what they were doing. Of the two, Speake was the most believable. She flattened out along with the rest of the cast as the film went on, but early on she was acting circles around the other cast members.
As for the production, it’s not that bad if this were a network TV show of the era. The overall style has a strong resemblance to an episode of The X-Files. But, with a budget estimated at only $150k, there was only so much the filmmakers could do. The special effects are about as cheap as they could get, and it’s easy for a viewer to tell where time and money was running short with the makeup.
In many ways this is a zombie flick, and those dead folk required the most makeup work. Only one of the undead characters had convincing makeup. The rest couldn’t survive closeup shots. That’s too bad, because Charles Band got a lot for his 150k. If he had ponied up some more cash, I’m sure Parker would have made a better movie.
The Dead Hate the Living! is an entertaining flick, despite being so deeply flawed. Parker did not work miracles along the lines of John Carpenter or George Romero when they were impoverished. But, he did make a stupid, low-rent horror flick that had just enough to keep me watching. It lands in the Watchability Index at #94, between The Incredible Melting Man and Dance of the Dead.