For me, one of the most entertaining sub-genres to have come to prominence in the 80s horror boom was that of the splatter comedy. Of course, they’d been around for years before, ever since Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast - but it was with coming of quality effects that it really came into it’s own, helped by the visions of directors like Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon, Dan O’Bannon &, arguably its greatest practitioner, Peter Jackson. Sadly, whilst PJ’s Braindead/Dead Alive was the genres finest hour, it was also virtually its last; being pretty hard to imagine anyone ever outdoing that particular film in terms of pure insane invention, mad humour, & wall-to-wall gore. By the mid-90s, gore was decidedly out of fashion (boo!) & it looked like the genre was dead. However, if Beyond Re-Animator showed us that its corpse was still twitching, Dead & Breakfast sees it leap up, covered in all manner of grue & viscera, to enjoy a good ol’ hoedown. As your tears of laughter mix with arterial spray, it’s surely time to rejoice!
A group of six friends are on their way across the country to the wedding of cameo-ing Portia de Rossi. Unfortunately, they get lost & decide to hole up in the little town of Lovelock for the night. When their Bed & Breakfast turns out to be run by Robert Wise (who’s played by David Carridine) & his French chef, it’s clear that trouble is just around the corner. Awaking to a bloody mess, the local sheriff forces them to stay until he can figure out what happened, giving our heroes plenty of time to stumble across a weird Chinese box, which they obviously really ought not open. Like that’s going to happen!
Right from the beginning, it’s clear that Dead & Breakfast is made by people with a real love & understanding of the genre, & who are keen to respect & acknowledge their forebears, whilst still carving out its own particular identity. An excellent title sequence plays out with a series of Creepshow-esque artwork panels, like pictures from a comic book or indeed storyboards, deliciously whetting our appetite for the upcoming carnage. These delightful panels crop up again at varying points during the film, as a lead-in to one of the films recurring gags. It’s Randall Keith Randall, brilliantly played by Jack Selwyn, regularly popping up like a Greek Chorus to commentate on events in an extremely funny C&W musical manner. His weird, short little sing-a-longs are one of the highlights of the film – make sure you stay tuned for his excellent end title song, which will doubtless be stuck in your head for ages afterwards!
In fact, excellent as Selwyn is in his relatively short role, he’s just one of an excellent ensemble that’s been assembled for this film – the performances are much less enervating than Return of the Living Dead, for example. I know some people aren’t too keen on Jeremy Sisto (May, Wrong Turn), but personally I find him to be eminently watchable & have to admit that he has good taste in choosing his projects, as he seems to have been popping up in practically every other new film I want to see recently. It’s great to see Jeepers Creepers babe Gina Philips in another (& rather better) genre film, & she proves to be pretty adept at comedy to boot. ER’s Erik Palladino turns out to be a somewhat gifted physical comedian as well, with some brilliant slapstick & pratfalls – his reaction to discovering the mess in the kitchen is priceless. David Carradine doesn’t have much to do, but has fun in his few scenes. It’s his niece Ever who proves to be the most game for the gore scenes, & when she gets hold of a chainsaw – well, she’s about as handy as a pocket on a shirt, with one scene in particular that will call Braindead’s lawnmower sequence to mind.
I suppose it’s worth pointing out at this point, that the emphasis in D&B is pretty much on the comedy, & in generally having as wild & gooey time as is feasibly possible. It’s certainly not out to try to frighten you. In fact, the first act is pretty much exclusively in the comedy mould, and – barring the kitchen mess – there’s not really any gore until the hoedown sequence about halfway in. Logically, you may think that this would be the kiss of death for a splatter comedy, but it genuinely works thanks to the excellent performances & the fact that it doesn’t need blood & guts in order to be extremely funny. Whilst not everything in D&B entirely works, it’s quite surprising just how much of it actually does with laughs coming in thick & fast. And staving off it for the first half makes the gore all the more satisfying – not to mention even funnier – when it does kick off. Weirdly, the siege of the B&B somehow feels like a scaled down, gored up version of the climax of Army of Darkness, with head bad guy Oz Perkins (Psycho II, Secretary) having a ball, clearly having spent some time watching Bruce Campbell’s Bad Ash act.
Well, it’s reached that point in the review where I start to mention the weaker aspects of the film. Inevitably, D&B is going to be compared to Peter Jackson’s early films, & in direct comparison to those, D&B is not quite so extreme or free with its gore, nor does it feel quite so utterly effortless. Whilst there are moments when it seems as though you’ve seen all this before, it’s small-town American setting – complete with Miike-esque line-dancing zombies – ensure that it maintains its own unique identity. A bigger problem comes with the climax. Whilst Braindead arguably falls apart slightly in its finale by having nowhere to go aside from pushing its gore & silliness to the biggest extremes PJ can think of, D&B goes rather in the opposite direction. In fact, I can’t really remember what the climax of the film was, which must surely count as some kind of failing. On the plus side, when watching it I really didn’t notice or particularly mind it having a weak climax, it’s just something that has struck me looking back on the film.
Ultimately, Dead & Breakfast is a deliriously entertaining & gloriously gooey return to head-popping values, a film as hysterically funny as it is blood-splatteringly gory. OK, so it won’t give you any great insights into human nature, you won’t be touched by it’s sensitive portrayal of doomed love, & if you can find a way for it to make you more popular with the girls, you’ll have to let me know. However, it will make your world a considerably more enjoyable place for an hour & half, & leave you with an enormous grin that’ll prove irrepressibly hard to remove.