“The Dead Next Door” (1989)
Studio: Amsco Studios
Starring: Pete Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Michael Grossi, Robert Kokai
Directed by: J.R. Bookwalter
Running Time: 78 min.
Synopsis: A team called The Zombie Squad hunt down the living dead who have been terrorizing the country.
The Dead Next Door is one of those underrated zombie films that came out in the 1980’s. The film, which was made on a shoestring budget in 1985, but it didn’t get released until 1989 and went straight to video. I remember I discovered this movie in the early 90’s and enjoyed the film very much. It’s not the best zombie film, but it is a fun entertaining movie and is still good after all these years.
The film is about a zombie outbreak that starts in Akron, Ohio. A scientist accidentally causes the dead to rise from the grave and the zombies start to grow in numbers all over the country. Years later, the country is still at war with the undead and a task force called The Zombie Squad is formed and goes out and tries to kill as many zombies as possible. They do round up some for the scientists can work on a cure. One of doctors from D.C. takes The Zombie Squad to Akron to gather notes from the scientist that started all of this.
When the group makes it to Ohio, they find the scientist’s house and many of his notes on the experiment that he was doing that caused the dead to come back to life. A religious cult tries to stop the group from finding the scientist’s notes. The cult is keeping the dead alive because they believe they are still God’s creatures. The two groups fight it out with themselves, but also have to deal with the undead that are growing in numbers.
There is a lot to like about this cool little film. The story is simple, but very well executed. The adventures The Zombie Squad go on are thrilling, entertaining, and worth watching. The cast, which are rookies in the acting department, manage to be likeable and you find yourself cheering or booing for them. The special make-up effects are very well done and capture the great low budget gore effects of the 80’s that didn’t look bad because of their budget, but looked good for what they had to work with. One make-up effect scene that stands out is at the beginning when a zombie’s head is chopped off, but since the brain isn’t destroyed, the head is still alive. One of the troopers from the squad gets his finger bite off from the head and there’s a scene where the head is on the floor and you can see the finger coming out of his severed head.
The movie also had a good score and the whole film had this gritty documentary feel, which gave it an extra edge to it. The look of it was great and it’s one of those little horror films that have no budget or stars, but are still able to pull off a great movie. There was a scene I thought they could of taken out which was a part with the religious cult. In the scene, one of the squad members is snooping around the house of the cult group. As he looks through a window he sees the cult group in black robes and they are sacrificing a woman. The scene wasn’t needed because for one, we all ready know they are a radical religious cult who keep zombies captive and feed them human flesh, so they don’t need this added part to make them more evil or disturbed, they all ready are. The other reason is that it makes them look as if they’re devil worshippers and they don’t mention the devil ever or show them in robes expect for that scene. The leader of the cult wears a robe at the end of the film and maybe one other person, but that’s about it. I just think they didn’t need the scene in my opinion.
The director of the film, J.R. Bookwalter pays homage to icons in the horror genre by naming characters in the film after key impact players in the horror world, like Raimi, Romero, Carpenter, Savini, and King. Kids shot the film in their early twenties, shot on Super-8, and everyone worked for free. It was an ambitious effort from this young group that paid off in the end. I just was reading up on the film and read that Sam Raimi himself was an executive producer, but he was under the pseudonym The Master Cylinder. Not sure if he started helping out with the film during production or after production, but it was around the time after he finished shooting Evil Dead 2, because he used the money he got for that film and put some of it towards The Dead Next Door. Also, Bruce Campbell dubbed the voices of two characters, one being the lead, which was named Raimi and the other was a part of the cult named Carpenter.
The Dead Next Door took four years after it was in the can to get to the public, but after its release in 1989 it slowly started to get a cult following, which is still very strong today. The movie is a very good zombie film that doesn’t get mentioned too much in the company of other zombie films like Romero’s Dead Series, Zombi 2, Return of the Living Dead, and others. Although it’s not as good as those films mentioned, it still packs a punch and is an entertaining movie to watch. If zombie films are your thing and you never checked out The Dead Next Door, go check it out. You’ll be glad you did.