Remember the classic Night of the Creeps? In that 1986 horror comedy, a bunch of college teenagers have to fend off the zombies their friends become after being inhabited by some nasty slug thingies. 2008’s Dance of the Dead has a bunch of high school teenagers on prom night fending off the zombies their friends have become thanks to a Return of the Living Dead plot device, so this film doesn’t break much new ground. But I’d say it’s definitely more satisfying for zombie lovers than the similarly toned Zombieland.
In fact, Dance of the Dead isn’t really TRYING to be original, but merely one of a seemingly infinite number of homage films that have, in the past decade, tried to resurrect horror sub-genres of the 70s and 80s for younger audiences while appealing to the geek in Gen-Xers with a load of trivial references. And this film is ripe with them. For starters, after an initial graveyard horror introduction involving a caretaker’s responsibilities that are reminiscent of Rupert Everett’s in Cemetery Man, the first half hour or so of the film pretty much turns into Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with all the classic Breakfast Club stereotypes—geeks, dirt bags, etc. Standard teen high school hi-jinx for sure. There’s even a cheerleader who looks like she moonlights as one of the Cheerios on Glee.
Once all hell on earth breaks loose, we are treated to a little bit of cool creepy crawly grave rising in true MJ Thriller style—right before zombies start BURSTING out of the ground like they are members of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon cast who accidentally roamed onto the wrong set! It’s the most unique twist this movie brings to the zombie genre.
After that, it’s a lot of fun but common zombie action: a surprise “cameo” by what is clearly supposed to be Tarman from Return of the Living Dead; the kids board themselves up in a house to escape the carnage; zombies need to be shot in the head to be killed; those who get bitten soon turn into zombies; and one-liners are thrown around that are sometimes funny but often fall a little flat. It’s all entertaining enough for you to give it a pause while channel surfing on a boring Sunday afternoon.
The gore SERIOUSLY delivers, yet the edits right before any violent contact is made during zombie bashing moments is blatant and a little annoying (and for all I know, might be an intentional move by the director for that retro feel). But all that aside, the film most deserves props for the unique use of Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night. And I’ll just leave it at that.