Directed by The Pierce Brothers
Waking up in a makeshift laboratory housed in the rear of a crashed van, a bewildered Mike Kellerman (McKiddy) is about to have a very bad day. Not only does he clamber from the wreckage with a case of amnesia, but after coming across flippant slacker Brent (Kidder) alongside a gang of feasting zombies in the woods, he further discovers that he and his new friend also count themselves amongst the ranks of the living dead – and he’s been in captivity for three years. These two are different, though – while the majority of the zombies now marauding in the countryside are the usual mindless flesh-eaters, Mike and Brent have somehow managed to retain control of their faculties despite technically being walking corpses.
With Mike’s memory gradually returning, the pair set off on a road trip so that Mike can make contact with his lost girlfriend and finally pop the question that he was just about to ask before his sudden disappearance. Along with a grizzled Vietnam veteran and a zombie of the mindless variety named Cheese, whom Brent picks up as a kind of pet/companion along the way, Mike and his new friend are forced to face off against a mysterious government organisation determined to put them on ice once and for all.
Landing firmly in “Zombedy” territory, The Pierce Brothers’ DeadHeads juggles the horror, road trip, buddy and romantic comedy genres on a constant basis; and while it does so respectably, it doesn’t fully succeed in gelling them together. Performances from the cast are admirable, especially leads McKiddy and Kidder, who manage to keep up a perfect back ‘n forth buddy chemistry. Benjamin Webster’s villainous McDinkle is played primarily for laughs, but his pro wrestler line delivery and posturing self-appreciation feel somewhat too affected to be a legitimate comedic caricature. This same kind of affectation is a consistent thread throughout DeadHeads, creating a distinctly off-kilter ambiance, whether concerning some characters or the narrative itself. The Pierce Brothers appear to be aiming for that peculiar feel of many late 80s/early 90s horror comedies (Dead Heat is a definite influence) but just can’t quite seem to settle comfortably in there. Once the bloody first half (which includes probably the best sequences in the film, referencing Night of the Living Dead and other classic zombie siege and action flicks) has passed, the film finds itself resting more comfortably into generic rom-com territory as it struggles to play the proceedings increasingly more safe.
So with the horror elements gradually waning post-setup, DeadHeads also finds itself being more chucklesome than laugh-out-loud funny. Moments involving Mike losing an arm are initially humorous but quickly overplayed, and some of the dialogue’s punch lines fall flat. Not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable – it most certainly is, but it isn’t as consistently hilarious as it seems to think it is. What DeadHeads doesn’t lack, though, is heart. Sentimentality raises its head quite often, but outright schmaltz is skilfully (and thankfully) avoided, and the inclusion, and fate, of Brent’s friendly zombie Cheese is a strong addition. Reminiscent of Day of the Dead’s Bub, Cheese is a fine example of the kind of emotional heart underpinning the proceedings.
Besides its failings DeadHeads is well shot and directed, suitably appealing, and the laughs that it does deliver (if variably) and likable characters will definitely see you through to the end. As long as you’re expecting more of a romantic comedy angle than real zombie mayhem, you should be more than satisfied with what it has to offer. Touted as North America’s answer to Shaun of the Dead, DeadHeads won’t be stealing the former’s crown any time soon but still remains worthwhile — and with its lack of the more straight horror elements found in Edgar Wright’s film it could, dare I say it, act as the perfect date movie for those zombie-loving guys out there paired with a horror-shunning other half.
3 out of 5