Take the attempted humor and characterization of “Shaun of the Dead,” the central plot behind the second half of “Night of the Creeps” and team it with “Return of the Living Dead” and you have yourself a sick and rather amusing little hybrid known as “Dance of the Dead” yet another zombie movie that branches off from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s universe and tries for the same comedic momentum with a modicum of teen angst that doesn’t always work, but is nonetheless a fun indie romp. Let’s face it, the zombie genre is all but a skeleton of itself but that doesn’t mean director Gregg Bishop doesn’t give it the old school try by making his version of the Pegg-Wright romzomcom.
The people of Georgia won’t stay dead, and that’s thanks to the chemical plant just down the street. In spite of the best efforts of the local grave keeper in bringing town’s biggest secret down, that can’t stop snooping teens from raiding graves one night during the big school dance and letting loose a horde of the walking dead. Speaking as someone who finds zombie movies to be some of the scariest cinema of the horror genre, “Dance of the Dead” easily rivals the “Shaun” US mimics with a plot centered around a bunch of losers whose inability to garner dates becomes their best asset as they’re forced to travel to the local prom at Cosa high and stop the ensuing zombie invasion. Along the way, we’re introduced to a variety of comedic characters, all of whom take on zombies that don’t particularly follow the rules Romero laid the groundwork for with his zombie trilogy.
Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini take their own twist on the zombies enabling them to run, jump, and burst from their graves while never quite providing a solid reason why they’re rising from their plots every night. Who is the grave keeper whose sole duty is to keep them down? Is it the nuclear plant that’s actually causing this epidemic? Bishop and Ballarini keep the maguffin ambiguous and provide a two pronged narrative that closes up the storyline while allowing for a sequel, should one ever be approached. The zombie action is nothing short of intense with much of the gore relying on the gross out to the absolutely over the top as the duo are also never afraid to play with the grue they elicit. How many times can zombie frogs work as a valid device on a zombie movie?
“Dance of the Dead” has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, but it’s also a very creepy story with a perfect grasp on the premise that keeps to the title and never forgets its audience’s sensibilities and makes for some truly great Halloween festivities with zombie lovers, zombie dancers, and one hell of a prom I’d never attend. You have to love it. It’s in the tradition of indie zombie adventures such as “Automaton Transfusion,” the first part in a larger story with its tongue in cheek humor surpassed by the successfully directed horror and gruesome gore Bishop pulls off with barely a hitch. As a Halloween movie, I loved it.