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I'm a sucker for zombie movies, and have been ever since I was a kid and saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time on television one Saturday afternoon back in 1982. In those days, if you were into zombies, you took what you could get, suffering through whatever Italian Dawn of the Dead rip-offs you could find, or merely waiting impatiently for the next George Romero movie to come along. From the mid 1980s up to the late 1990s there was never more than ten really great zombie movies. Then there came something of new renaissance of the living dead and the zombie-ish, ushered in by Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, and a ton of novice filmmakers trying to capture lightning in a bottle the way Romero did in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Now, with zombies everywhere--in films, comic, television, and video games--there are more options for tales of the walking dead than ever before. And still, there isn't more than ten really great zombie movies. And still, I continue to be a sucker by watching all these movies, hoping that something truly great will come along. When I'm lucky, the best I can usually hope for is something Dead Season.
Set in a world where the dead have come back from the grave to feast on the flesh of the living--essentially this is the world created in Night of the Living Dead--Dead Season is an ambitious film that tries to bring something new to the zombie genre. Elvis (Scott Peat) and Tweeter (Marissa Merrill) are a pair of survivors of the zombie apocalypse who pair up in the hope of finding some place safe from the hungry hordes of the living dead. They make their way to an island off the coast of Florida that is supposed to be a zombie-free paradise. Of course, if something seems too good to be true, it inevitably will be too good to be true. In the case of the island, it is run by Kurt Conrad (James C. Burns), an ex-soldier who oversees everything like it was a military operation. Food is scarce on the island, and a boat full of zombies that recently washed ashore has left the place crawling with zombies. Conrad and his crew have reservations about Elvis and Tweeter, but the fact that Elvis is a paramedic means he might come in handy. Unfortunately, Conrad has a sinister secret that threatens to destroy his demented kingdom.
Dead Season has some interesting story ideas, great locations, and the lead actors all give good performances, which is enough to make the film watchable--for the most part. The problem with the film is that not all the actors are created equal, and to be honest, there just isn't enough of the zombies for my taste. I'll give the writers bonus points for putting together a story that actually cares about character development and plot, which elevates this above the majority of the low budget zombie flicks I've seen in recent years. The characters of Conrad and Elvis are both interesting, and there is a scene or two with them that outshines much of the other dreck of the living dead you may be unlucky enough to watch. But I really wanted more zombies--I'm taking hordes, throngs, and masses--when it seems like all I ever got was smatterings at best.
Dead Season is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great film. But is has enough moment to make it entertaining and watchable. At its best, it is better than the worst episodes of The Walking Dead (of which that zombie-in-the-well episode ranks as the all-time worst). I know that may not sound like the most ringing of endorsements, but considering some of the crap of the living dead out there--garbage like Zombie Diaries or that one I can't remember the title of, where the zombies have a human farm--it is easy to appreciate Dead Season as a moderately watchable diversion.
Dead Season is presented widescreen 1.78:1. Some of the scenes were shot in low-light settings, and come across as being a bit too dark, but the overall picture quality itself is good. Shot on a high-end digital camera, with the exception of the dark scenes, there are some very vibrant color palettes, and certain scenes are very well shot.
Dead Season is presented 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, with optional closed captioning for the hearing-impaired. The sound levels are all good, with a solid mix and separation that remains consistent throughout the film.
Deleted scenes and outtakes, including a different opening sequence are interesting--especially the alternate opening, which features more characters, but isn't as well-executed as the version that made it into the final version. A brief making of featurette is the standard behind-the-scenes stuff, but nothing overly compelling. There is an audio commentary with the most of the key filmmakers and lead actor Scott Peat, that may appeal to the most die-hard fans of Dead Season.
Dead Season has some fun moments, solid performances, and as far as zombie films go, there is much worse out there. Not the most ringing of endorsements, I know, but if you're a fan of the living dead, and simply can't help but watch zombie movies, you'll get more out of this one than most others.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]