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Neon Dead, The
Horror-comedy is harder than it looks. Both genres require a strong underpinning in reality to work correctly. The two together need a foundation twice as strong in order to support viewer's belief, and concern for our heroes. The Neon Dead unfortunately lacks solid ground to stand on. It's a case of a movie with strong visual style and a simple conceit, set up to deliver laughs and scares. Without decent footing, director Torey Haas' treats miss the mark.
Paranormal Investigators Desmond (Greg Garrison) and Jake (Dylan Schettina) bide their time working in a video shop, in Haas' debut feature. Meantime recent college graduate Allison (Marie Barker) sweats an upcoming job interview when she notices an irritating, bloody ghost in her newly inherited home. Brushing it off, Allison answers the door to a pushy girl scout, who conveniently recommends Desmond and Jake as a solution to the ghost problem. Deus ex Videomart! Desmond and Jake get their first real job, and soon enough all manner of chaotic supernatural action manifests, to semi-adequately pass your time.
The Neon Dead is a visual idea in search of a story to tell. Unfortunately Haas doesn't present more than an action set-up and a convoluted mythology of otherworldly demons. I'm all for the occasional brainless visual feast, and I enjoy a good comedic spoof, (even the two melded together, as in this case) but the movie's characters must exist in some reality where they're not just wisecrack-delivering ciphers, as is in Neon Dead. Allison, Desmond and Jake don't interact realistically with events; they're weightless and blithe, further undermining your suspension of disbelief. Towards movie's end, they've developed an 'under fire' camaraderie that helps, but at this point you'll likely have mentally checked out for good.
Haas keeps things fun to look at with his black light, glow-in-the-dark demonic creations. An Argento-esque color scheme provides a lush backdrop for the comedic gore and silly supernatural violence, while the bad guy (seemingly a visual stand-in for creepypasta anti-hero Jeff The Killer) looks pretty cool. And Haas whips the movie along at a furious pace. Ultimately, though, The Neon Dead represents a good-looking horror comedy without sufficient grounding in reality, and nothing to grab on to. The characters don't connect, the story isn't much, and the comedy and horror just don't work that well when you don't care why it's happening, or care about whom it's happening to. Rent It.
Presented in a lofty 2.35:1 ratio transfer, The Neon Dead completely pops off your screen with bright, saturated colors and good black levels. Fine details are sharp and clear in the foreground, while softening a bit in the mid-ground and more so in the background. Overall, it's a pretty slick presentation for a low-budget movie on DVD.
2.0 Stereo Audio does a great job highlighting the musical soundtrack, which seems to have been used as a way to feature a new, twangy Fender Stratocaster guitar with tons of reverb, for what feels like the entire length of the movie. Otherwise, the movie sounds decent, with clear, distortion free dialog, and an active stereo mix.
Wild Eye Releasing provides a standard complement of extras for The Neon Dead, including an engaging, informative Commentary Track from Torey Haas, with lots of fun low-budget movie making tips and stories. Included are two ten-minute Haas Short Films, "First Date" and "Troll Picnic" that are worth a look, and about ten minutes of Bonus Scenes, with a little bit of Behind The Scenes thrown in for good measure, in the form of four short 'profiles' of the characters from the film. Wild Eye Trailers wrap up the package.
While visually exciting and fast-paced, The Neon Dead represents a good-looking horror comedy without sufficient grounding in reality, and nothing to grab on to. The characters don't connect, the story isn't much, and the comedy and horror just don't work that well when you don't care why it's happening, or care about whom it's happening to. Rent It.