The Dead Hate the Living (1999) **Ĺ
Iím going to do the grumpy old man thing for a bit, here, and begin with a digression about the Good Old Days. (Yeah, okayó so I wasnít even around for most of the period Iím going to be talking about. I know. Now sit down and shut up.) It used to be that the makers of horror movies put a hell of a lot of creative energy into coming up with a title. Hell, with some movies, the title even came before the screenplay, which was then written to justify it. I could go on and on rattling off the titles of old horror flicks that drew me to them like ferrous metal to a magnet, but instead, Iíll just list a few of my all-time favorites to give you some idea of what Iím talking about here. Twitch of the Death Nerve. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Cannibal Holocaust. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Nobody does that anymore; todayís horror filmmakers are content with titles like Scream or Wishmaster or Jack Frost. So imagine my excitement the first time I saw The Dead Hate the Living staring up at me from the shelf at the video storeó now that is a title. Of course, the disheartening truth is that most of the movies Iíve seen with really spectacular titles fail to live up to them, and as it turns out, The Dead Hate the Living falls right into line with that tradition, although itís still vastly better than most of the crap Full Moon Video puts out. (And if youíre listening, Charles Band, I implore youó for the love of God, no more fucking Trancers movies!!!!)
This film also has one of the more attention-getting openings Iíve seen in a while (assuming one disregards a pre-credits sequence that is a little too close to Night of the Zombies for comfort). A female pathologist (Wendy Speake) working alone in a morgue is examining the wounds on what she will later describe as ďa mangled cute guyĒ (Benjamin P. Morris). She works her way up his torso, cataloguing the injuries as she goes, but it isnít until she reaches the neck that she discovers anything really out of the ordinary. The huge gash on the side of the dead manís throat is too ragged to have been made with a knife or an axe, or even with the chainsaw the doctor thinks was responsible for some of the damage to the trunk. In fact, just as the doctor is observing that the flesh of the throat appears to have been torn rather than cut, she spots a human molar stuck in whatís left of the cadaverís sternocleidomastoid. Eww... The doctor turns around to deposit the tooth in an evidence tray, and when she turns back to the gurney, the dead man is gone! He didnít go far, though, because he suddenly appears from behind a large piece of furniture, grabs the doctor, and slits her throat with her own scalpel. The zombie then lays the doctor on the gurney, rips open her lab coat and blouse, and proceeds literally to dry-hump her back to life!!!! Man, Iíve been watching these things for as long as I can remember, and Iím quite certain Iíve never once seen that before.
But alas, all is not as it seems. No sooner has the doctor returned to life than David Poe (Eric Clawson) yells, ďCut!Ē from his seat just beyond the cameraís field of vision; weíve been watching a zombie movie in the making all along. The doctor is really Davidís sister, Shelley, and her zombie paramour is a struggling would-be actor named Eric. The rest of the crew consists of special effects/makeup guy Paul (Brett Beardslee), production assistant/actor Marcus (Rick Irwin), production assistant/directorís girlfriend Topaz (Jamie Donahue, from Caged Hearts and Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars), and cameraman/stoner Chas. Oh, yesó and Nina Poe (Witch Houseís Kimberly Pullis), Davidís other sister, who is fronting much of the money for the movie, and who is supposed to be playing the role we just saw Shelley in. Nina is two hours late in getting to the shooting location (it appears to be some kind of abandoned, half-ruined hospital), and nobody likes her anyway, so David and his team decided to go ahead without her. Of course, now that Nina has finally shown up on the set, thereís going to be hell to pay.
The rest of the cast and crew scatter when the big inter-sibling blowout begins, so when it finally reaches its conclusion (Nina, invoking the financial backerís prerogative, gets her way in the end), David has to send Topaz to round everybody up. In the room where she finds Eric and Shelley, she also finds a video tape which she assumes was left there by David by mistake. None of the characters realize this, but it was in this very room that the pre-credits sequence (which I was hoping to avoid having to talk about) took place. A man who looked exactly like White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie (back when he was younger, thinner, and still using his real last name), who we will later learn went by the name of Dr. Eibon (Matt Stephensó and note the reference to The Beyond), had been talking to his camcorder about ďmy army of the deadĒ when a zombie broke down the door behind him and did what zombies usually do when they meet somebody with a pulse. The tape Topaz found thus has something of the flavor of a suicide note. And judging by the fresh-looking bloodstains all over the walls and windows, it canít have happened all that long ago. So we in the audience are unable to share in the charactersí surprise when Topaz (still looking for missing crewmembers) stumbles upon a huge, black, metal coffin, covered in strange hieroglyphics and wired for some reason into the hospitalís electrical system, propped up against the wall in a room on one of the lower floors. Nor can we share their surprise when they open the casket up and the lifeless body of Dr. Eibon falls out onto the floor. What is a bit surprising is how David decides he wants to deal with the situation. Rather than getting the hell out of there and calling the cops, as Shelley suggests, he gets it into his head to incorporate Eibonís body into the movie: ďWhatís the one thing that no living dead movie has ever had? A real corpse!Ē
Not a good idea, there, David. And turning on the power to the coffin gizmo while filming the next scene is an even worse one. When Eric (now out of his zombie makeup) opens the door on the humming, glowing device, he is pulled inside it by the reanimated Eibon, who steps out to confront David and his crew with a pair of particularly large and ferocious-looking zombies at his sides. ďMake them dieó slowly!Ē Eibon intones, and the zombies attack.
From this point, youíve mostly seen it all before. The film crew scatters while fleeing, are separated into small groups, and are picked off one and two at a time by the murderous corpses. Where The Dead Hate the Living attempts to break some new ground is in the motivation behind all the slaughter. Dr. Eibon, as a flashback reveals, lost his wife to cancer some years ago, and his current zombie project began as an attempt to bring her back to life. What Eibon evidently didnít realize is that, as per the title, the dead hate the living, almost by instinct, and the zombies he created as a trial run killed him and stuffed his body into his Zombiematictm, where the foolish young filmmakers found him. And because the Zombiematictm apparently works by opening a portal to Hell (for some reason, this whole business makes me picture Wile E. Coyote prying the lid off a big-ass crate marked ďAcme Portal to Hell, satisfaction guaranteedĒ), David and company are now trapped in some kind of limbo between the world of the living and the world of the dead. As if they didnít have enough trouble having to dodge flesh-eating ghouls...
Iím inclined to cut The Dead Hate the Living a good deal of slack regarding its shortcomings, but there are an awful lot of them. Iíll begin with the acting; though it isnít anywhere near as bad as it could have been, it mostly hovers about the middle of Full Moonís usual range of quality, which isnít that impressive even at the top. The special effects are strangely uneven. The makeup on the featured zombies is, for the most part, excellent (itís so rarely that one encounters a zombie movie in which the living dead have anything like individual personalities), but that for the zombie extras is comparatively sorry, and there are a few ill-considered CGI effects that are both hilariously awful and completely inexplicable. (Who the hell would use computer-generated fire when the real thing is so easy to come by?) The pacing of the story is awkward, too, segregating action and exposition in a dated manner more typical of 1950ís monster flicks. And I just canít shake the idea that I would rather have seen the zombie movie David and his friends were shooting before they brought Eibon back to life.
Then there are all the inside jokes and reference-dropping. The Dead Hate the Living is a movie made by obsessive horror fans, for obsessive horror fans, and it never lets you forget that. Some of the winking self-awareness is charming, like the ďFulci LivesĒ bumper sticker on Topazís car (Lucio Fulci died three years before), and the appearance of Fulciís name on one of the headstones in Davidís graveyard set. But thereís way too much of it for the movieís good, and it eventually gets a bit annoying when it starts invading the dialogue too. (Iíve already mentioned Eibonís command to the zombies to ďMake them dieó slowly!Ē Thereís also a point at which David tries to focus his mind on solving his zombie problems by asking himself what Bruce Campbell would do, and when asked why they want to kill humans [in a scene lifted from The Return of the Living Dead], one of the zombies answers by paraphrasing Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein: ďHate the living; love dead.Ē)
But on the plus side, The Dead Hate the Living is at least a real horror movie, and is mercifully free of the more vexing features that have marred most recent work in the genre. Only once does anyone crack wise after killing somebody; some effort was clearly spent on keeping the gore effects more-or-less plausible; there is no setup for a sequel the movie doesnít deserve. (Do you hear me, Charles Band? I said it doesnít deserve a sequel!) And besides, I really miss zombie movies. Itís been most of a decade now since one worth mentioning appeared on the scene, and even longer since we got one that took itself anything like seriously. So The Dead Hate the Living gets high marks for effort; if writer/director David Carver can tighten up the execution a little bit next time, he might really have something.