I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good description, and the guys at Netflix are among the best (no offense to their peers at FearNet, they’re great too). “Dance of the Dead” is described as an innocent girl going to a goth dance club, starring Robert Englund. Sold. Seriously, how could that go wrong? As the opening credits rolled, I was nearly hooked. Just a little bit of story to pull me in and… nevermind. As soon as the action started, I was very tempted to turn this one off. That’s been happening a lot lately, and I’m going to assume it’s because I have been abusing my Watch Instantly account for the past week, and because of my inability to turn away from a great tagline. However, I will say, before I go any further, that I am thrilled to have finished this one. It’s not hard, at a runtime of a little less than an hour, but those first couple minutes are a real test. Anyway, as an anti spoiler alert, keep watching. You will be happy.
Here’s how they got me in 30 seconds or less (a good formula for aspiring filmmakers):
Start by putting “Masters of Horror” opening credits to your celluloid
Next, add Tobe Hooper’s name under the “Directed by” category
For “music by”, a much overlooked title (sorry music dudes), put “Billy Corgan”
Finally, throw a little “Based on the story by Richard Matheson” into the mix
Now, that’s what I call a great recipe. But still, all those pieces had me wondering; how could a movie ever live up to those kinds of expectations? I mean, the story is obviously top notch, we’re going to get a visual treat with tons of depraved atmosphere, and the music is going to totally rock. What could go wrong?
Here’s what went wrong in the first couple of minutes: Tobe Hooper decided that since he had Robert Englund on his side, he was going to channel his inner Wes Craven and open with a mimic of “Friday the 13th”. It’s not “One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You”, but we get an overexposed shot of kids jumping rope singing “Ring Around the Rosie”. Then the camera starts stuttering and overlapping images. This effect I’m sure is supposed to look cool, but it ends up just hurting your head and obscuring the story. Next, you realize that this is being shot in a 4:3 ratio. Maybe all the “Masters of Horror” shorts were like that, but it’s still a knock against them. The sound mixing is horrible. I turn the receiver up to hear the characters’ voices and I get bombarded with ambient noise. Not even Corgan’s rad soundtrack, which would have been fine.
Now, after Hooper stops trying to shock the audience and settles into his paces, this flick goes from grotesque to gratifying real fast. The characters fill out, the setting is ironed out and we learn that this world is a pretty f’ed up place. World War III has already happened, and it’s after effects have a profound impact on society. The people that are getting by as respectable business owners are constantly harassed by gangs of thugs. The youth are in a permanent state of rebellion, causing trouble, taking drugs and going to Loopy shows. But more on that later. You really get invested in this sad, messed up world. The audience today can really connect with Peggy, the innocent girl who just wants to get a taste of what’s really going on outside. It seems messed up to her, and it seems messed up to us. Hooper does a great job of putting us in her shoes, really using the character as a sort of proxy for the audience. I was very impressed by the way the story with delivered.
“Dance of the Dead” really is a fitting title, but I won’t ruin it for you. It is the epitome of society going down the toilet, so you’re in for a treat. Peggy goes down to Muskeet, basically a big sin city, to go watch a loopy show. L.U.P., which stands for Lifeless Undead Phenomenon, is legal, as long as it is orally prefaced as a scientific demonstration. You’ll learn the specifics of this in the movie, so I won’t ruin it for you. I’ll just say, think about it for a minute. Try not to lose faith in humanity.
We don’t get a lot of gore in this one, but that never really was Hooper’s thing. Sure, he’s best known for the gore fest that is known as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but is there any real gore in it? Not really. It is certainly implied, and you are certainly sick to your stomach throughout the movie, but there is very little actual gore. Trust me. This film is similar, just for different reasons. There is not a lot of violence or need for gore within the story, but what does happen really rattles you. On the sex side, we got plenty, but not the good kind. Englund, being his usual self, molests and is molested by countless Loopies, which just makes you cringe. We get a couple of naked goth chicks dancing, but within the context it really just serves as another example at how far society can fall.
Please please please stick with this movie and think about it. I was hooked at first and then they totally lost me, but it was worth sticking around for. It wasn’t the fun, enjoyable experience I was expecting (I was thinking more on the lines of “Zombie Strippers”), but it got my horror bone tingling. A solid entry to the “Masters of Horror” catalog, and another gem for Hooper, I would suggest this movie for anyone that can get past the subpar sound and video quality and really dive into the world of 201X America, a world of graveyards and Blizz attacks, of muscle tusseling and Loopies.