Review Date: August 23, 2002
Released by: Splatter Rampage Video
Release date: ??
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
Way back when, in the days before video camcorders became prevalent, the home-movie medium of choice was Super-8 films. These were silent and fairly low quality, but the small lightweight cameras made filming really easy (in fact, it would be a long time before video camcorders became as compact and handy as they are now). A friend of mine made Super-8 films, and I assisted on several school projects using that camera. One thing I never even considered back then was using a camera like that to make a feature-length film. But Ohio's J.R. Bookwalter did, and the result was The Dead Next Door. Pick up a copy on DVD from Splatter Rampage Video if you want to see what was once called "the most expensive Super-8 movie ever made."
Our zombie tale begins in Akron Ohio. Dr. Bow (Lester Clark) and his daughter Anna (Maria Marcovic) have unleashed a virus, and the result is hordes of living dead. Luckily, the dead still manage to have a good time by renting videos in between meals of human flesh.
Several years later, it seems the world (or at least the United States) is overrun by zombies, and the government is frantically trying to solve the undead menace. Keeping the peace are select "Zombie Squads", and this movie centers on a squad led by a soldier named Raimi (Pete Ferry), who looks a lot like David Boreanaz and sounds a lot like Bruce Campbell. More on that later.
After a zombie raid that ends in yet another squadmember's death, the crew learns their next assignment is to escort two scientists, Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic) and Dr. Franklin (Roger Graham) back to Akron to search for the notes left by Dr. Bow. The theory is that they can develop an anti-zombie serum once they discover all of Dr. Bow's research. However, their efforts become seriously hampered when they meet up with a cult that actually sacrifices their members to the zombies.
The leader of the cult, Rev. Jones (Robert Kokai) aims to prevent the scientists from ever finding a cure for zombie-ness. He sends out an army of his own, led by the mulleted Captain Carpenter (Jeff Welch). Now we have a three-way war of soldiers, cultists, and zombies. And no one has checked to see if Dr. Moulsson's serum even works…
There's a fine line between homage and rip-off, and The Dead Next Door walks perilously along that line. But the good news is that the overall feel is much more on the homage side. And not just in the names of the characters, taken from several other horror personalities. No, what we have here is almost a "fan film" that tries to jimmy itself into the midst of Romero's Dead trilogy, with varying degrees of success. Director/Writer/Producer J.R. Bookwalter definitely adopts some of Romero's ideas (anti-zombie soldiers, scientists trying to find a cure) and throws in a few of his own (pro-zombie protestors, and the zombie-worshipping cult). The result is a pretty fun film, even if the acting and dialogue are sub-par at times.
Of course, there are more than a few flaws in the narrative as well (perhaps to be expected, as it supposedly took over 4 years to make). The film seems almost "episodic" with short plotlines that come and go fairly quickly. There is not one cohesive "thesis" that ties the whole film together, but I also heard that Bookwalter was a teenager when he made this. It's sure a helluva lot better than anything I could have done at that age.
You might notice when watching this that the Raimi character sure sounds a lot like Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame. Well, that's because it IS Bruce Campbell! Super-8 is a silent format, and Bruce came in to do some voice dubbing. And while on the subject of dubbing, this is actually a pretty well dubbed movie, as they did a great job on many of the sound effects and timing the dialogue. Compare this to something like Doris Wishman's A Night to Dismember and you'll find that a much more competent job was done with The Dead Next Door.
Like I mentioned in my overview, this was filmed with Super-8. It looks completely terrible, but about as good as Super-8 film can look. It's grainy and murky, colors are nearly non-existent, and forget about seeing anything in the darker scenes. Pops and lines show up in the print from time to time as well. I've heard of other releases of this film, but they supposedly came from the same print, so this DVD is as good as any of those I'm sure. There are rumors of a new edition coming soon, with a better transfer though, but even then, there's only so much one can do with Super-8. It was never meant to be a commercial film medium. The presentation here is full frame, with no anamorphic enhancement.
The sound presentation is actually a step above the video here. It's a Dolby Digital Mono mix, but it's pretty clear and distortion-free. Of course, since this is one of those "after-dub" movies, a little muddiness might actually be an improvement, since the decent sound only shows up the scenes where the sound isn't quite synched or the dynamics don't match. But overall it's better than you might expect.
Supplements on this disc are limited to a theatrical trailer. I've heard (from a fairly reliable source) that some international versions have an audio commentary. In all seriousness, I'd really like to hear that someday. Even if The Dead Next Door isn't a great movie, the do-it-yourself nature of it really interests me. I'd like to know some of the behind-the-scenes stories of making a Super-8 feature length film.
The Dead Next Door is fairly entertaining for such an amateurish production. The rather poor visuals may make for some difficult viewing, but I really appreciated the "home-movie" feel. This disc from Splatter Rampage Video was made in Canada, and I've heard that other countries have releases with more extras, so major fans of the film might want to search for copies of those. But for a look at what home moviemaking looked like before the camcorder explosion, stop in and pay a visit to The Dead Next Door.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - C-
Sound - B-
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour 22 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Surround
- Dolby Digital Mono