Dead Mary (DVD)

Dead Mary DVD (click for larger image)Starring Marie-Josée Colburn, Dominique Swain, Reagan Pasternak, Maggie Castle, Jefferson Brown

Directed by Robert Wilson

Distributed by Genius Products, LLC.

If movies have one drawback, it’s that they can’t be punished for screwing up. When something truly bad wastes your time and leaves you angry and homicidal, there’s really shit you can do about it. Oh sure, you can smash your own copy with a hammer, but countless more will be there to mock you from the store shelves.

This is the kind of film that fills me with those violent urges. It’s called Dead Mary, but a more fitting title would be Evil Dead: The Emo Generation. We have the overused cabin-in-the-woods occupied by a group of mopey, depressed couples who spend the weekend reconnecting with their old chums. And for the entire first act there’s nothing to suggest that anything sinister is happening. There’s no build-up, no sense of impending doom, just bored young adults and their problems. The guys and girls break off into their own separate groups and moan about their love lives, later gathering for a long evening of joyless banter. It’s like watching some angsty film school remake of The Big Chill.

“Does he know you’re having an affair?”
“She doesn’t understand me.”
“Where is my life going?”

This kind of babble continues for over half an hour, jumping through endless insipid conversations until someone finally changes the subject: ”You ever hear the legend of Dead Mary?” Holy shit! We’re on to a plot!

Dead Mary DVD (click for larger image)As it turns out, “Dead Mary” is the exact same game as “Bloody Mary,” just with a word switch, which is a clear indication of this story’s creativity. For the uninitiated, this is one of the oldest campfire tales in the book: Repeat the name of a witch three times in a mirror and she appears a la Candyman. So one by one our bored characters enter and exit the bathroom having uttered the most cursed of all names into the mirror. There’s no sign of Dead, Bloody, or Virgin Mary, but when one character starts acting more emo than normal, it’s clear that possession is afoot. One dead body later, the cat’s out of the bag. To the group’s absolute horror, the deceased are returning as zombified “deadites” … and they love to gossip. Yes, these demonic creatures will talk your ear off if you give them the chance, and considering the soap opera hierarchy of this group (i.e., who’s the biggest adulterer?), you know that isn’t good.

Now its Pop Quiz time: You’ve just summoned evil forces in the woods, and they’ve made it perfectly clear they want you dead. What do you do?

A) Run like hell.
B) Form a survival plan.
C) Hang around the cabin and mope.

Well, if you’re a group of manic-depressive whinos trapped in a life-or-death situation, brooding clearly takes priority. Never mind your friends are back from the dead, they’re talking shit about your harlot girlfriend! That has to be one helluva burden, right?

The creative minds behind Dead Mary obviously pride themselves on ditching routine horror cliches; the victims aren’t obnoxious or sex-starved, there’s no stalking or jump-scares, and events move along at a slow grind. But this team is so preoccupied with what they’re NOT doing that they forget to do much of anything else. It’s obvious this was designed to be a classic paranoia story using relationships as the crux, but it’s all just a shoddy exercise in deliberate pacing. As much as I hate genre conventions, this is one instance where I longed for every cliché to revisit me tenfold. Give me brain-dead horny teens! Give me cat scares and musical stingers! Give me the world’s most obnoxious Eli Roth character! Anything but this dull attempt at high-brow horror!

Dead Mary DVD (click for larger image)So who do we crucify over this mess? Oddly enough, it’s hard to fault director Robert Wilson, who demonstrates a good grasp of style and lends visual touches that are almost too classy for this kind of film. There’s even enough evidence to suggest that the guy could make something great one day. The cast (led by Swain, everyone’s favorite Lolita) may be boring, but they’re a capable lot who could and have done better with the right material. Rather, the blame falls entirely on two screenwriters who should never be allowed near a word processor. As if their concept weren’t derivative enough, every moment in the script consists of bad melodramatic dialogue whimpered and shouted by victims and villains alike. Toss in some badly lit night scenes and a musical score plagiarized from The Thing, and you have a film with the ultimate cure for narcolepsy.

At the very least, Dead Mary has been banished to direct-to-video hell where it belongs, but that hasn’t stopped distributors from placing the big fat “UNRATED!” stamp across the cover. I guess this version features scenes too shocking for theaters had it played them, but what material here could possibly warrant more than a light R-rating? As for the disc, well, a boring film warrants boring extras: There’s a 30-minute making-of documentary that is nothing more than long movie clips intercut with out-of-focus cast interviews (it’s pretty sad what actors tell themselves to get through bad roles). Also included is a painful music video from some unidentified group, and aside from the fact that it shows band members mope around a room, I fail to see how it shares any connection with Dead Mary. It’s like the studio recorded a video off public access television and slapped it on the disc for the sake of having more extras.

There’s little else to say. I’ve watched Dead Mary and can’t unwatch it. It may be a labor of love and a technically competent film, but it doesn’t numb the anger coursing through my soul. And to make matters worse, this is the second film with the exact same subject to hit shelves this month – the first being, yup, Bloody Mary. For the love of God, just keep that bitch away!

Special Features
Making-of featurette
Music video


1 1/2 out of 5

Special Features

1 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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