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Dead & Rotting   B

Full Moon Pictures / Tempe Entertainment

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Director: David P. Barton
Writers: Douglas Snauffer, David P. Barton
Cast: Stephen O'Mahoney, Tom Hoover, Debbie Rochon, Trent Haaga, Jeff Dylan Graham, Barbara Katz-Norrod.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Tempe Entertainment's early movies had passion. From The Dead Next Door to The Sandman and Bloodletting, Tempe's films had an outlaw charm that made them supremely likable, even when the films had their flaws. These were movies made by folks who truly enjoyed filmmaking, adored the horror genre, and were making the movies they wanted to make the way they wanted to make them -- within the limits of their small budgets, of course. Whether they were paying homage to George Romeo's living dead trilogy or following the wickedly humorous exploits of two serial killers in love, that passion always made it to the screen.

That's why it was somewhat disappointing when Tempe honcho J.R. Bookwalter started producing movies for Full Moon Pictures a couple of years ago and most of the output lacked that passion. It's easy to see why: From Witchouse 2: Blood Coven to Hell Asylum, the movies were essentially assembly-line features commissioned by Full Moon president Charles Band. Tempe wasn't making movies for themselves anymore. It was clear that Tempe was giving these films their all (especially considering the insanely short production schedules allotted for most of them), but that trademark passion was all but vanquished.

How refreshing, then, that Tempe Entertainment's final production for Full Moon Pictures actually musters up a bit of that old passion and ends the partnership on a satisfying note. Dead & Rotting follows three redneck buddies (Stephen O'Mahoney, Tom Hoover, and Trent Haaga) who get on the bad side of the local witch Abigail (Barbara Katz-Norrod). After the three dudes become unwitting accomplices in the murder of her weird son (he orders a bowl of milk in a bar and laps it up like a cat), Abigail transforms herself into a sexy babe (played by über-sexy babe Debbie Rochon) to seduce them. She gets it on with all three in a single night and the ghoulish offspring that result become her bloodthirsty avengers. Wait. What guy wouldn't be a willing victim of those freaks in exchange for a night with Debbie Rochon? Some guys got it so good.

Dead & Rotting isn't an outright horror film intent on scaring the hell out of its audience, but rather a gleefully wicked black comedy with a tone similar to that of Stitches (a good thing, too, since both films are together on a double-feature DVD from Full Moon available at many video stores). The murderous ghouls are more goofy than frightening, and the universal fate of all the victims is gruesome, imaginative, creepy, and funny all at once. Regarding the cast, Allen Richards of B-Independent.com says, "Everyone has that look like they're in on the joke, but no one wants to admit it." That's part of the reason why the movie is so much fun.

But the scene that impressed me the most is one that made me forget (for a few minutes, at least) that this was all a sick joke. Several days after the three buddies take turns on her one crazy night, Debbie Rochon's seductive Abi takes a seat opposite our unwary protagonist Hollis (Mahoney) in a bar. The dialogue they exchange is awkward and realistic, as Hollis reveals that he really wants to get to know her better. "I'm not passin' judgment," he says, regarding her behavior a few nights earlier. Abi admits that she wants to start over and pretend like the other night never happened. Obviously, everything Abi is saying is bullshit, as she's merely trying to seduce Hollis to his demise. But Rochon and Mahoney play the scene so beautifully that it's actually convincing on two levels at once. These two have chemistry. It's unfortunate that they didn't share more screen time together, but what's there is really good.

While Dead & Rotting ultimately doesn't amount to much more than an icky-fun diversion, it's a promising directorial debut for makeup and special effects guru David P. Barton. The movie gets the deluxe treatment with the limited special edition DVD from Tempe Entertainment, which presents the film in widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. There's a commentary with Barton and star Tom Hoover, along with a Barton interview, one of his old Super-8mm short films, lots of fun behind-the-scenes footage, and Tempe's usual gallery of trailers. There's even an isolated music audio track, which is cool because the music in the film (the score and songs from a few bands) is pretty damn good. As with the Hell Asylum disc, this one features a 45-minute flick from brilliantly demented auteur Chris Seaver. This time it's Filthy McNasty, a sick and gory comedy starring Debbie Rochon and a horny demon, among others. This one must be seen to be believed. Hey, you've been warned.

Review published 05.24.2002.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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