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Diaries of the Living Dead
Zombie films are not rocket science - or at least, they weren't back before everyone and their brother had a camcorder and a DVD burner at their disposal. All you needed was a creepy local, a surefire idea, a couple of quarts of stage blood, and a basic proficiency in the language of cinema and you could deliver the creepshow shivers. Even the most misguided moviemaker could usually pull off an effective monster mash-up. Now, however, access to technology has made everyone a potential Romero, with the rancid results speaking loudly for the illegitimacy of said statement. Apparently, your typical cannibal corpse confuses the would-be auteur. Take Dead Summer and Deadhunter: Sevillian Zombies. These homemade horror fests want to redefine the genre dynamic while delivering some authoritative splatter. Sadly, neither one has the creative cajones to do anything other than roll over and play aesthetically dead.
Offered in a simplistic, single disc format, these two films couldn't be more different, at least from a narrative standpoint. Here are the plot particulars for each offering:
Dead Summer (2005) Score: **
It's been eight years since a zombie outbreak struck Pennsylvania, and now the residents of a sleepy little town in the state are struggling to survive. Everyday means preparing to kill someone you love, while so-called "cleaners" roam the countryside, supposedly dealing with the outbreak. Dale, Amanda, Brody, Cin, Lucky, and Mia all hang out at the local bar and discuss their life as victims of the government quarantine. They recognize that things are getting slowly worse, and if they don't change, they will be eventually be wiped off the map. When a bumbling backwoodsman named Rainer discovers the secret of what makes the zombies so aggressive and angry, things go from very bad to a helluva lot worse.
Deadhunter: Sevillian Zombies (2003) Score: *1/2
In the city of Seville, a recent outbreak of zombies has led to the creation of a special task force. Known as the 'Deadhunters', these elite agents roam the city streets taking out the undead and responding to the distressed calls of the citizenry. Naturally, some of these slayers want to play by their own arrogant rules, and that usually gets someone killed. As the number of flesh eaters rises, the ability for the officers to handle the situation decreases. Eventually, the chief decides to battle the fiends at their source. Apparently, these creatures came from the subway, and back underground is where these mercenaries plan on putting them.
As lessons in why you should never give an amateur a camcorder, the two films that make up Sub Rosa Studios Diaries of the Living Dead Double Feature (nice attempted tie in, guys) are examples of ambition completely overwhelmed by severe cinematic limitations - financial, practical, and artistic. Neither Julián Lara nor Eddie Benevich knows the first thing about feature filmmaking. Instead, they only appear capable of creating a series of scattered vignettes, both too enamored of the horror film to understand what makes it work. Dead Summer and Deadhunter: Sevillian Zombies have interesting premises, exploring how life would be among the occasional undead outbreak, and are full of promise. But just like other homemade moguls who think aspirations leads to excellence, it's clear that both projects are propelled by personal pride...and not much else. Of course, confidence in one's own vision is not enough to make up for shoddy camerawork, horrendous acting, and poor DVD mastering (more on this later).
Of the movies featured here, Dead Summer is the best, which isn't saying very much. When compared to Deadhunter, which constantly substitutes death metal for dialogue and toy gun goofiness for actual action, a blank screen would be more believable. It's clear that Lara loves his Terminator meets Tarantino ideal, dressing up his agents in Matrix style hand-me-downs. But when your cast is required to operate a stage prop firearm like he or she is playing cops and robbers with his or her five year old cousin, the level of scares is severely limited. Deadhunter is not even good at said attempted adrenaline rushing. The dialogue is so dumb, so bereft of originality or substance that it's like listened to the edited screenplays of easily impressionable seventh graders. The F-Bomb becomes an undemanding adjective, with all its multi-syllabic conjugations the rest of the script's noun/verb pantheon. Perhaps it's the subtitling, but Deadhunter: Sevillian Zombies is really obnoxious in its one note approach. Whatever pleasure writer/director Lara is getting from the experience is clearly not being passed down to the unfortunate viewer of this genre-junking mess. Oh, and one more thing - a zombie movie needs GORE. Tossing some Silly Putty at the camera does not equal ample arterial spray.
At least Benevich is trying something novel, even if it remains tied to the entire Romero school of scary social commentary. Dead Summer is like Slacker with cannibals substituting for pre-grunge ennui. Our cast comes across as some people the filmmaker picked up in a community college casting call, with more than a couple are convinced that they live in Dixie, not the depths of Pennsylvania. The thick Southern accents aside, there is a lot of meandering exposition here. Whenever something happens, be it the death of a friend or the discovery of some magic miracle living dead elixir, a few of the actors get together and talk the subject to death. Granted, the conversations add backstory, but they really don't generate any real drama or interest. And, of course, the ever popular F-word becomes the modifier du jour. We want more blood, more vivisected body parts, not soul searching dissections of life as a marginalized member of an isolated, infected township. There are attempts at humor - poor Lucky suffers from a severe case of coitus interruptus as he tries to mack on his woman - but, overall, Dead Summer is too scattered to maintain our interest. By the time Benevich delivers the denouement (a pointless lesson in not trusting nicknames) we have long since stopped caring.
Someone at Sub Rosa really dropped the ball with this release. Both Dead Summer and Deadhunter look horrible, the latter being especially unwatchable. The Spanish disaster is rendered in a 1.85:1 letterboxed presentation where details are fuzzy, daylight washes everything out, and colors appear pale and unappealing. Even the zombies, with make-up designs drawn from every school of undead appearance (Fulci, Romero, Jackson), look lame. Summer stands a bit better, it's 1.33:1 full screen image showing far more contrast and control. Of course, grain ruins many a night sequence, and focus pulling clearly wasn't part of Benevich's camcorder learning curve. Overall, both transfers are pretty terrible.
Here's a warning for anyone still not persuaded against this doltish double feature. While it starts out fine, Dead Summer begins to distort badly about halfway through. By the end, the sonic situation is so annoying that you can barely hear the conversations over the tinny, electronic din. Perhaps it's a mastering issue with Sub Rosa, or something to do with the source material. Whatever the case, the Dolby Digital Stereo really suffers. Things are better with Deadhunter, even with the nonstop shout outs to Opeth cluttering up the soundtrack. Of course, it helps that we have subtitles to explain what the mush mouthed actors are saying.
Nothing. Just two films and a single "select" menu.
As a supporter of even the most middling horror oriented independent, this critic can't agree with this pair of terrible titles. Dead Summer might be worth a rental, but with it digitally attached to the cinematic atrocities of Deadhunter: Sevillian Zombies, there's no way to split the difference. Therefore, a Skip It is the only way to resolve this matter - and have faith, it's the best thing for all involved. When living dead films are good, they satisfying the sickest facets of our fright fan ferocity. We love the blood and guts. When they suck, they make one doubt their initial love of all things eerie. The Diaries of the Living Dead Double Feature is so bad, in fact, it might actually persuade you to drop dread as your gonzo geek bread and butter, and take up the repugnant RomCom instead. Now that's frightening.
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