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Dead Before Dawn

Vivendi Entertainment // R // October 1, 2013
List Price: $19.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 29, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Hey, you got your zombies in my demons! You got your demons in my zombies! Zemons: two great tastes that taste great together.

Don't blame Casper (Devon Bostick), though. Well, only blame him a little anyway. After that creepy urn with the skull on it gets smashed open in his grandpop's occult shop, he has to break the bad news to his friends that they're cursed. They're the ones who spitball a bunch of rules about what the curse is, exactly. Anyone they make eye contact with will feel compelled to brutally murder themselves, and they'll come back as half-demon, half-zombie hybrids. But hey, this isn't that kind of zombie flick, so these zemons won't take a chunk outta you; they just wanna give you a hickey. If you get caught up in their undead hickey-dom, you'll be shoved onto the path of becoming a zemon yourself. On the upside, if you make out with a zemon, it'll become your obedient, generally mindless slave. Oh, and the whole shebang starts at midnight -- no, wait, make that 10 PM 'cause that works better with my schedule -- and if they don't shatter the curse by the break of dawn, they'll suffer zemon-spawning torment forever.

As if you need me to say it after reading through all that, Dead Before Dawn isn't trying to be some gruesome, grueling gauntlet of horror. It's an adventure/comedy -- dare I say a romp?! -- with some horror underpinnings, but it's never trying to make you feel like you have to sleep with your blue canary nightlight on. It's the work of some very young and very ambitious filmmakers north of the border. Heck, Dead Before Dawn is the first wholly Canadian flick to have been shot in 3D, and April Mullen is (1) the youngest and (2) the only female director to have a live-action, stereoscopic film under her belt. Oh, and Mullen and screenwriter Tim Doiron also both produce and star in this sucker. That's undeniably impressive, plus Dead Before Dawn goes for practical splatter whenever possible, the look of the undead is pretty neat, and there are
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a few familiar faces on the bill, among them Christopher Lloyd, Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald, and Superbad's Martha MacIsaac.

Dead Before Dawn isn't just another paint-by-numbers gutmuncher. Mullen and company pile together a really earnest cast that's a perfect fit for the movie's deliriously over-the-top, Saturday morning cartoon energy. It's fast, it's fun, and it accomplishes a whole bunch with very modest resources. This is a flick I really, really, really want to like but just...don't...all that much.

The whole zemon thing in practice doesn't set Dead Before Dawn apart from most other zombie flicks. They move faster than normal, they're a little less dim and can drive cars and shoot rifles and stuff, but they're generally not too far removed from your garden variety living dead types. I couldn't stop comparing the movie to Dance of the Dead, a zom-com from a few years back that sticks the landing a whole lot better. Dead Before Dawn doesn't score nearly as many laughs; the curse sequence is the only one that really works for me. Its characters really aren't all that memorable. I kept wishing that Dead Before Dawn would careen clear over the top and get unbelievably, ridiculously outrageous, but the execution is kinda low on surprises. Elements that could've made the movie more distinctive, like the zemon seduction angle, are sort of an afterthought. Dead Before Dawn is going more for spookhouse "boo!"s rather than unnerving horror, sure, but you could still build some tension and suspense in a movie like this. Not a whole lotta that here, though. It feels like a PG-13 movie awkwardly bumped up to an R by some out-of-place profanity and a blowjob gag. This sucker really wants to play to 14 year olds, and some of the more 'adult' bits seem stapled on outta nowhere and really aren't a comfortable fit.

So, yeah, this is me with a frowny face saying "Rent It".

I'm kinda digging the look of Dead Before Dawn. It's bright and colorful in a way that very few horror flicks are, plus the image is generally crisp, silky smooth, and very nicely detailed. There's one awfully nasty "except..." in there, though. There's a sequence around six minutes in that looks like a fullscreen YouTube video, and it ain't pretty:

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To be fair, this same footage looks like warmed-over garbage in the behind the scenes stuff too, so maybe something got borked in the original photography, and there wasn't the time or money to reshoot it. Still, though...yikes. I've attacked a couple thousand Blu-ray discs over the past six years, and this is the worst looking stretch of any truly high definition release I've ever come across. Um, other than that, though...! Pretty slick, but the way the quality plummets for a short while there is very difficult to overlook.

Technical stuff! Single layer Blu-ray disc. AVC encode. 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Most of this review's screenshots are from the trailer elsewhere on this disc due to technical hiccups on my end. There's a 3D release too, but I'll get into that a little later.

Dead Before Dawn's lossless soundtrack has all the right technical specs -- 24 bit! 5.1! DTS-HD Master Audio! -- but it's a little underwhelming. Sure, sure, the surrounds are used often and very playfully, with swirling cursey-type voices and the snarling undead and stuff. The movie does a great job whipping out hundreds of zemon-fied extras, and it's a bit of drag that the audio doesn't capture that same sort of scale. Dialogue struck me as sounding a little harsh and not balanced all that well in the mix, and the lower frequencies are generally anemic. Okay but less than great.

The only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subs.

There's a whole chunk of the review that goes on and on about Dead Before Dawn's 3D bulletpoints, but you probably noticed that I didn't say anything about this being a Blu-ray 3D release. That's 'cause it's not. The wide release is 2D only, and at least on this side of the border for the time being, the 3D version is a Best Buy exclusive.
  • Behind the Scenes Stuff (45 min.; HD): The centerpiece of the extras here is "The Making of Dead Before Dawn", a very comprehensive behind the scenes piece that delves
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    into just about everything: how the project came together, its writer and director toiling away on both sides of the camera, location scouting, production design, editing, social media promotion, effects work, and a whole bunch of technical 3D stuff. The ingenuity, hard work, and passion that the cast and crew have for Dead Before Dawn beams from every frame of this mini-doc, to the point where I feel kinda guilty for not writing a cheerier review. It's a really terrific making-of and is well worth a look for anyone buying or renting this shiny Blu-ray disc.

    A second behind-the-scenes featurette clocks in at two and a half minutes or so, and it's basically a highlight reel of the same footage. Sorta pointless if you've already watched the longer version.

  • Music Videos (7 min.; HD): Also along for the ride are high-def videos for The Graveyard Birds' "Dead Before Dawn" and The KaC HimselF's "Zemons".

  • Bloopers (4 min.; HD): There aren't any deleted/extended scenes or anything here, but you do score a pretty decent blooper reel.

  • The DBD Gang (HD): This is a set of one-page trading card type thingies with hero shots of each of the characters in the flick. Collect all eight!

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a minute and a half high-def trailer.

No DVD or digital copy or anything this time around. Dead Before Dawn comes packaged in a shiny slipcover, though, so there's that.

The Final Word
You're lookin' at a horror-comedy that's light on horror and kinda misfires on the comedy. So, yeah, Rent It.
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