Monday, August 23, 2010

Bloody Nightmares #24: Dead is Dead (1992)


Oh boy. I'm trying to restrain myself a little here, as there's really no reason to take the awfulness of Mike Stanley's auteur effort Dead is Dead personally. It wasn't created specifically as an affront to me, and i'm sure Mr. Stanley - who wrote, edited, produced, starred, directed, and almost certainly wrote this imdb comment - worked very hard to make this as good as he possibly could. Unfortunately, this still leaves a film that feels painfully padded despite being barely over an hour, and features a plot that I just can't figure out despite almost certainly paying more attention to it than anyone not directly tied to the production ever has. I wanted to find something to like here, but it's seriously an artless, ugly mess with few redeeming features.

Eric (Mike "the man" Stanley) has just returned to his home state of Michigan after leaving years earlier following the death of his institutionalized brother in a fire. Eric had borrowed some money to help his brother out, but used the money on drugs instead so the guy he borrowed the money from burned down the institution. Got that? Because things are about to get stupid. Eric goes to the middle of a field to retrieve some money he has stashed, and almost immediately gets his hand eaten off by some creature. He wakes up to find himself cared for by the friendly ex-nurse Laura, who had worked at the Institution before it burned, and who she smuggled out drug Doxitol - a re-animating agent that can grow back severed limbs and even bring the recently dead back to life. She apparently doesn't see how such a drug might have some value.

Eric steals/is given the drug, which he immediately attempts to sell to the nerdy Tony (Rob Binge who also composed the synth soundtrack), in exchange for having his debts erased. Instead, Tony attempts to have Eric run over in the closest thing this movie has to an action scene. Eric is understandably upset, and shoots Tony a few times until he reveals the location of Doug Hamil - apparently the brains of the operation. Hamil is in New York, which leads to endless scenes of the actor walking around the city, visiting Time Square, riding the ferry. Production value! Eric confronts him in his hotel room looking for the missing stash of Doxitol, which Hamil reveals is actually in a school back in Michigan. The irony! Thanks for wasting our time, Doug!


A few seconds of actual news footage shows us that Eric's plane crashes on the way back (leaving Laura very sad, apparently). But he's now powered by Doxitol, so he just hops up from the crash (aka some dirt, caution tape, and a small fire) and heads for the school. But it was a trap! Maybe! And he has.. his heart? or something pulled out of him before being beaten by Tony and left for dead. But, despite the title dead AINT dead and he gets his revenge by killing Tony (a couple of times) before going after the dastardly Doug (actual quote: "I advise you to go out and get baptized, see a priest, pray for your sins, 'cause Santa Claus is comin' to town and he's gonna kick your ass!"). Now, I thought I was paying attention, but apparently Doug just dies for some reason. I think the implication is that he had a bad batch of doxitol, but I really have no idea.

This sends Eric into a deep depression as he throws the formula for the drug into a lake before - I believe - attempting to commit suicide. Instead he runs into Laura at the bus-stop, and goes to see a priest again to explain everything that has happened up to this point, before killing himself. Apparently he also failed at this, since Stanley would return as Eric in Dead is Dead 2: The Incarnation.


If that plot summary was confusing, it's nowhere near as baffling as actually watching this tedious, near-unwatchable mess of a film. I can ignore the fact that it appears to have been transferred from a fourth generation VHS tape. I can ignore Stanley's ridiculous bowl-mullet haircut. I can ignore the entirely superfluous New York footage. But I can't ignore the bewildering plot, wretched acting and total lack of coherency. You don't want this.

The direction (by Mike "Orson who?" Stanley) is strictly of the plant-the-camera variety, with the tiny cast (only four people!) often appearing to have been filmed at different times. Characters interact, but are rarely in the same frame together. Stanley is obviously from the "tell, don't show" school of filmmakers, as most potentially interesting scenes (like, say, the plane crash) happen off-screen. I will give Stanley some credit for making early-90s Michigan appear to be the most unpleasant, post-apocalyptic looking place i've ever seen. I try to give points for effort - we're still not in Hip Hop Locos territory - but there's so little material here that has any potential.


Stanley's acting - where he spouts such classic lines as "you look and sound like a penis with dry heave" - isn't quite as bad as his direction, though his goofy look prevents him from ever looking as bad-ass as he wishes. Rob Binge as Tony and Dave Hildwein as Doug Hamil appear to be reading their lines from a sheet of paper which may or may not have occasional words misspelled, and both are about as menacing as children's cough syrup. It's hard to gauge Connie Cocquyt's performance as Laura, since she vanishes from the film at the half way point only to reappear confusingly in the final few minutes. I'll just go with "bad" to be safe.

As knievelcrash reminds us in the IMDB review, "director Mike Stanley doesn't throw the gore in your face", and that's absolutely correct. In fact, violence is used minimally in a way that implies that perhaps it would have taken time and/or money to put more of it on the screen. There are a few shots of a zombie mask before Eric gets his hand munched, though unless organ meat and Halloween props are your cup of tea, I wouldn't expect to be too impressed by the effects on display.


Dead is Dead is presented in its original fullscreen ratio, and the video quality here is really, really rough. It's blurry, the color is all over the place, and there are even occasional tracking issues. This is obviously just a direct conversion of the VHS, and not a very good one. Sound is a little better, as most dialogue scenes take place indoors and are generally audible. The synth-heavy soundtrack by Rob Binge is cheesy, but actually underscores things decently and is appropriate to the contemptible material on display.

No chapter stops. No special features. No subtitles. No nothing. This film really is a bloody nightmare.

Despite being awful, confusing, and confusingly awful, Dead is Dead actually has a sequel, which - once again according to knievelcrash - has been edited together with this one for a 2008 Dead is Dead: Director's Cut. While this film doesn't really have the potential to be good, more footage might actually help the plot make a little more sense, though its brevity is one of the few redeeming features of the film as is. Far from fun or amusing, Dead is Dead is simply tedious, and better left buried. 


Burgundy LaRue said...

I'm glad to see Bloody Nightmares' reviews up again. I get a kick out of them.

I'm considering buying some of Pendulum Pictures' 6-packs. B-movie goodness at about 50 cents a flick. They'd go well with my 100-movie packs.

Doug Tilley said...

Due to some personal issues I had to neglect the Bloody Nightmares films for a while, but I plan to make a new commitment to them. Only 24 since February 2009! I need to speed up!

Though, on the bright side i've heard from some of the filmmakers, which is the sort of personal touch you don't generally get from reviewing.

Those Pendulum Pictures collections are - obviously - rather hit and miss, but I know for a fact that there's a few decent ones upcoming.

snowcreature said...

Doug Tilley needs to review the NEW Directors Cut dvd version of Dead is Dead. His review is for the 1991 vhs version that Tempe video rushed into distribution. Tempe Video destroyed Dead is Dead. Dead is Dead was changed and re-edited from Stanleys work print. The copies Tempe Video distributed were fourth generation vhs copies on used tapes with half of the audio tracks turned off. Read the knievelcrash review on IMDB. Stanley re-shot, re-mixed, added new music, special effects and put Dead is Dead together the way it was meant to be. Dead is Dead is destined to become a true Cult Classic! Do yourself a favor Mr. Tilley, find Dead is Dead The Directors Cut on Amazon.Com and watch it then upload a video of yourself on youtube as you eat your own words.

Doug Tilley said...

Well, if you felt like sending along a copy of this future cult classic, i'd be glad to give it a fair and honest review.
However, that IMDB review is almost certainly a shill by someone involved with the creation or distribution of the film. And it's really rather transparent.
That said.. if i'm wrong, i'd gladly eat my words.