Sure, vampires had their time in the sun (thanks to the insipid Twilight series, quite literally), but, lately, everything’s coming up zombie. Thanks, in great part, to the success of AMC’s hit TV series, The Walking Dead, we’re in the midst of something of a rotting renaissance, with zombie-themed films, games, comics, and books topping the best-sellers lists and all manner of undead inspired clothing hanging from racks everywhere from Hot Topic to J.C. Penney. To paraphrase L.L. Cool J, Don’t call it a comeback - zombies never really went away in the first place, but it’s particularly satisfying to see that zombies have gone back to their old school shambling roots. That’s right; after nearly a decade of fast-moving, parkour-practicing cadavers inspired by Zack Snyder’s 2004 reimagining of George A. Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead, we’ve gone back to basics. The original recipe reanimates Romero first sprung on us way back in 1968 are back, and badder than ever, and, in my opinion, no film proves that more than the Ford Brothers’ 2010 undead opus, The Dead.
While evacuating survivors from a zombie-infested Africa, U.S. Army Lt. Brian Murphy’s (Rob Freeman) plane goes down when one of said planes critically wounded occupants dies and subsequently returns to life. When Murphy comes to, he’s lying face down in the sand on a deserted beach, but it’s not deserted for long as a horde of undead are drawn to the wreckage and its few survivors. While the zombies feast on one his less fortunate comrades, Murphy loads up on guns and gear and heads off into the harsh African desert. Meanwhile, African soldier, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) returns to his village to find his family only to discover that it had been overrun by zombies the night before. Still, Daniel is determined to find his son – undead or alive – and sets out to do just that. It isn’t long before Murphy and Daniel’s paths cross, and, after Daniel rescues Murphy from a seemingly hopeless encounter with the undead, the two decide to work together to find Daniel’s boy and get Murphy home to his family.
The plot of The Dead is as basic as they come. This is a film about survival, plain and simple, and, for a good chunk of its 105 minute running time, our heroes are put in some seriously tense situations and forced to find a way out of them. Yes, there’s an undercurrent of the spiritual, here, as well as a few gut-wrenching moments of effective drama, but, for the most part, the Ford Brother’s employ a tried and true survival/horror formula, with an economical use of dialogue (especially when compared to those chatty Cathy’s on The Walking Dead…sheesh), liberal amounts of convincing gore, and an abundance of white-knuckle suspense. Sure, things get a little repetitive (it seems as though every other scene ends in some sort of MacGuyver-esque salvation at the last possible minute), and Freeman’s not exactly the most compelling screen presence I’ve seen, but these minor grievances are more than made up for by The Dead’s relentless pacing, gorgeous cinematography, and an almost unwavering adherence to traditional zombie movie values.
The Dead shamble onto Blu-ray courtesy of the fine folks at Anchor Bay, who present the film in a very appealing 1.78:1 1080p transfer that’s recreates the Ford Brother’s grim and gritty aesthete while still managing to highlight the stark beauty of the film’s locale. The image is a touch soft at times, with colors tweaked to accentuate the sun-baked setting, limiting the palette somewhat to shades of yellow, orange, red, and tan. It fits the style of the film, however, and the subtle grain and occasional inconsistency creates a pseudo-documentary vibe that I quite enjoyed. As with the video, the 5.1 Dolby HD soundtrack won’t exactly wow those looking for a reference grade stuff, but it’s a nice, simple, and very organic sounding track. Dialogue is crisp and clear, while sound effects, like gunshots and body hits, pack a satisfying wallop.
Extras are a bit on the slim side, but the lack of any sort of deep behind-the-scenes featurette is more than made up for by a very entertaining and informative commentary track by Howard and Jonathan Ford. The duo gleefully dissects their movie, offering numerous nuggets of indie ingenuity. It’s a rapid-fire track, so keep the remote handy as you’ll probably find yourself rewinding often to digest every bit of info they’ve got to offer.
Other extras include a short BTS entitled The Dead: Behind the Scenes (SD), which is really just a collection of raw footage of the production, and doesn’t offer much by way of information. I would have loved a deeper FX oriented piece, but, alas, that wasn’t meant to be, it seems (at least in this iteration of the Blu-ray). Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the film, presented in HD.
The Dead is a welcome throwback to the zombie films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s an expertly crafted, beautifully photographed film, shot against the jaw-dropping beauty of the cradle of civilization, and made with an obvious reverence for the zombie lore established by the genre’s incontestable master, George A. Romero. For my money, The Dead is the best classic-style zombie film in years – perhaps even decades – and earns my highest recommendations.