"If you want to know how to make films, then just go out and do it." I hear this (or a variation of this) all the time in interviews with established filmmakers, and it's an ethos I strongly agree with. We thankfully live in an age where digital video and editing suites are available to the average person regardless of talent or ambition, and thanks to the distribution options available via the internet there are literally hundreds of films in circulation that are basically training exercises. They are fascinating in their own way, but an interested viewer must keep their expectations in check before delving in. However, there are also times when even these lowered expectations seem to be beyond the filmmakers abilities. I introduce you to The Dead Live, a zombie film that is completely inane, totally wrong-headed, and somehow still completely fascinating.
After a credits sequence over static, we're introduced to our protagonists in one of those awful fake newscasts which have become a regular feature of this collection. Front and centre is Alex Travis, an ambitious female reporter covering a SWAT team hostage situation which ends with a shambling attacker biting one of the SWAT members. Following the story to the local morgue, with a requisite bawdy coroner and some surprising full frontal nudity, Alex and her cameraman are attacked by a corpse and find themselves at the mercy of a group of the living dead.
Now, at this point you may be excused for thinking that this film could actually be fairly entertaining - and you would be right, though certainly not because of the quality of the plot. Literally everything about this production is deeply flawed, from the acting (amateur), sound (alternately quiet or totally incomprehensible), sets (the coroners office is a treat), special effects (sometimes achieved by what appear to be MS Paint filter effects overlayed), and often baffling writing and direction where characters enter and vanish into the plot at random. And all of these, and plenty more, are already evident in the first 15 minutes.
Back to the plot: After her cameraman is bitten, Alex is rescued by Evans (Mike "Joe Joe Little" Jones), an undercover police officer. The two soon run into Lucas (Tom Hughes), a threatening redneck, and the shy Dawn (Brandy Patterson), before the four head toward an abandoned church and hide out in the basement. The group have to make their stand against a rampaging hoard of zombies, while dealing with infighting and a series of secrets amongst them.
Director Darrin Brent Patterson obviously has a love for zombie films, evidenced by rather transparent references to (George) Romero, (Tom) Savini, and (Sam) Raimi, but this reverence unfortunately doesn't stretch to borrowing plot structure or character development from their films, and his work here ranges from barely adequate to bafflingly bad. While i'm sympathetic to the budgetary limitations, the constant issues with sound - which mostly seem to be the result of using the built in camera microphone rather than a boom mic - are simply inexcusable. I had to constantly be changing the volume simply to be able to make out what was being said.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The acting is uniformally terrible, with Mike Jones likely being the best of a bad bunch, though he doesn't make a very convincing police officer. Continuity between shots is a real problem, with clothing and background noise changing on a constant basis. The zombie attacks are often incomprehensible, with choppy editing making the action very difficult to follow.
Let me take a moment to discuss the film's special effects and make-up, which reach a new depth of incompetence. Zombies range from having a few minor appliances (with blood around their mouths), Halloween masks, or often no make-up at all. There are a few identifiable zombies, including a cheerleader and schoolgirl, but they exist almost totally outside the plot. Gunshots are produced by obviously superimposed muzzle flashes, and head-shots are done in a similarly unconvincing way, or out of frame. One attempt to create a car explosion is just ridiculous.
After the film's closing credits there is, in my opinion, a rather tasteless and pretentious dedication to those who died in the World Trade Centre on September 11th, 2001. Yes, it's a zombie film - from 2006 no less - dedicated to the victims of a horrific terrorist attack, with a rather unfortunate comparison of the zombies to the terrorist attackers. I'm sure the motivations were admirable, but it's baffling in practice.
Coming from a DV source, the film shows a surprising amount of artifacting, particularly when there is any significant movement onscreen. Even the opening credits are garbled by the movement of the static, though I doubt that blame should go toward the filmmakers in this instance. There are also dropped frames and other various video problems which make watching the production an extended chore.
I can only imagine that Darrin Brent Patterson learned a ton in the making of this truly awful film that would hopefully help him in any future film productions. There are so many gaffes, weaknesses, and mistakes that his next effort, if it ever comes, would have to be infinitely better. If that's the case, then good luck to him in the future. I would hate to have The Dead Live be his final word on film.