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The Dead Next Door   B-

Tempe Entertainment

Year Released: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: J.R. Bookwalter
Writer: J.R. Bookwalter
Cast: Peter Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Jolie Jackunas, Robert Kokai.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

This is writer-director J.R. Bookwalter's epic zombie film, influenced especially by George A. Romero's classic trilogy. The Dead Next Door was shot on Super-8mm film on a shoestring budget, so it has a rough, harsh look that gives it a special quality.

In the film, an epidemic has caused a worldwide outbreak of the living dead. The government has enlisted a team of gun-toting mercenaries known as The Zombie Squad to protect the living and destroy the dead. But there's also a strange cult bent on protecting the zombies at any cost (zombies have rights, too, you know!). One of the Zombie Squad guys, Mercer, gets infected with the zombie virus and it's up to his loyal buddies to find a cure before it's too late. Of course that pesky pro-zombie cult gets in the way, so it won't be easy.

I'm a huge Dawn of the Dead freak -- it's my favorite horror film of all time. So while watching The Dead Next Door, I had to remind myself that you can't expect every zombie film to be on par with Romero's work. You just can't. And if you can overlook the cardboard characters, uneven acting, and some of the none-to-subtle inside jokes (characters named Raimi, Romero, Savini, and so on), I'm sure zombie fans will find a lot to admire here.

First off, the zombies look great. The makeup effects people really had a field day with The Dead Next Door, and they deserve kudos for their stunning work. There's some splendidly gruesome imagery here, including an encounter with a farmhouse zombie that I won't soon forget. Just a note: If you ever have to pick up something that happens to be near a dismembered zombie head, please watch your fingers, okay?

Gorehounds should definitely be satisfied, but luckily this film has an intriguing (if somewhat familiar) premise to back up all the carnage. It's also well-directed and photographed -- though the grainy Super-8mm image can be too dark at times. It's not as potent as it could be, and it tends to drag in places, but any self-respecting zombie fan should seek this one out. And, hey, the ending was pretty damn cool. For all that was accomplished on such a low budget, it's pretty impressive.

ONE LAST THING: The Dead Next Door was produced during 1985-1989, and "master cylinder" Sam Raimi helped finance the film. Raimi's Evil Dead even plays on a TV in the background of one scene. Evil Dead 2 co-screenwriter Scott Spiegel has a role in the film. And, well, our good friend Bruce Campbell supplied the voice-overs for two of the characters in The Dead Next Door. I knew that Raimi character sounded like Ash!

Review published 06.09.2000.

Read our Interview with J.R. Bookwalter.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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