Directed by April Mullen
Distributed by Vivendi Entertainment
Has anyone else been suffering from zombie fatigue lately? Between the ubiquity of “The Walking Dead,” a seemingly endless supply of recent films (practically half the DTV market is flooded with zombie movies), and hordes of merchandising that have made zombies so popular even your parents are getting in on the fun, I’ve kinda had my fill. Some of these projects have enjoyed much more success than others, but rarely does something come along that brings a fresh perspective to an old, rotting concept. And for that reason, Dead Before Dawn (2012) must be given some credit for trying a new angle, even if the end result is less than satisfying. Rather than give viewers the same decaying, stumbling corpses, this film combines them with demons, creating something called a “zemon”, an idea which is equal parts genius and stupid. But it is original, which is more than can be said for most offerings this sub-genre produces. The last zombie film with an interesting concept was Warm Bodies (2013), and even that was only a moderately enjoyable film. I’m not saying that this is better, though. Not at all. In fact, the lame brain script and horrible characters fully prevent this horror/comedy from rising above any of the countless other bad zombie films that are released each year. This one just happens to have a variance that makes it slightly unique.
Casper Galloway (Devon Bostick) is an awkward college student who desperately wants to look cool to his friends, especially potential love interest Charlotte (Martha MacIsaac). His grandfather, Horus (Christopher Lloyd), calls him in to cover at his shop, The Occult Barn, for a few hours while he goes to collect an award. During his coverage shift, Casper’s friends arrive and start checking out all the oddities around the place, eventually asking to see some urn with a skull on it. The same urn that Horus had told him earlier must never been handled, lest it break and the demon soul contained within is unleashed upon the town. But Casper wants to impress his peers; and Horus is obviously an idiot since he left something so dangerous sitting on a shelf in his store. Wouldn’t a better spot have been in a vault or something? Anyway, Casper picks it up and almost immediately breaks it while showing it to Charlotte. Seizing an opportunity to make a joke, all of his friends make up a ridiculous curse on the spot, proclaiming that now that the demon is free anyone who makes eye contact with them will kill themselves and then come back as one of the aforementioned “zemons”. You can make a zemon your slave, though, if you make out with it. And they give hickeys. It’ll all start happening at 10p.m. that night, and they have until dawn to break the curse or the town will suffer for all of eternity. It’s the kind of cliché curse you’d riff on while passing a joint around the room – totally absurd. Only this time, it worked. Once the magic hour hits, everyone the group makes eye contact with starts killing themselves (amusingly, I might add) and soon a massive horde of zemons are rampaging through town. Expectedly, Casper and his friends need to figure out how to end the demon curse before dawn arrives, bringing with it an eternity of zemon activity.
The film’s biggest fault is in the characters, or I should say caricatures, since Casper and most of his friends act like exaggerated, stereotypical people. There’s the bro jock, the perpetual douchebag trapped in a state of arrested development, the blonde bimbo cheerleader, the athletic Token Black Guy, the erudite female who has the brains to figure things out, and then there’s Casper, who is unhip to a fault and can hardly combine words to form a sentence when Charlotte is around. I get that this is a comedy and, thus, probably shouldn’t be taken with more than a grain of salt, but these archetypes are so old hat that unless they’re played really well they just wind up feeling stale. Bostick gets a little credit for displaying some grief when a family member dies and not losing that emotion as soon as the next scene hits. Loss should have more resonance in horror films, so they get some credit there. The best acting comes, unsurprisingly, from Lloyd, who puts his wacky cap on and eats up this minor role. Of course, the filmmakers couldn’t resist having him proclaim “Great Scott!” at least once. Can’t really say I blame them. There are a few other pop culture references that made me cringe, however, including “Boom Goes the Zemon!”, and a death directly quoting the infamous “Not the bees!” scene from our lord and savior Nicolas Cage’s maligned remake of The Wicker Man (2006).
Are there some good moments in here to make it worth your while? Sure. The zemon makeup is pretty cool, looking appropriately like a cross between zombie and demon. Some of the early deaths are funny, too. After making eye contact, a football player makes jokes to the crowd while slowly impaling himself with a field marker. Another guy does a face plant off a high rise balcony when his date looks deeply into his eyes. I was hoping the film might right itself after a rocky start, but once the initial amusement of the zemon craze wears off the remainder is mostly disinteresting. It succumbs to the same problem most failed horror/comedies do: it isn’t horrific enough to be horror, and it isn’t funny enough to be comedy. In the end, Dead Before Dawn winds up as a slightly entertaining way to kill 90 minutes of a night, nothing more.
This film was shot using Red One cameras, and it was also done natively in 3D. That particular presentation isn’t made available on this blu-ray, but the results are no less spectacular. Right from the start, the image exhibits razor sharp crispness, with solid depth, and virtually no grain to be seen. Colors are reproduced with a strong vibrancy, with good balance in both white and black levels. There’s just one very questionable scene early on when Casper and a few of his friends are leaving campus that looks downright horrid. The background looks compressed and crushed beyond any hope, causing all rear elements of the shot to look chunky. It’s literally the worst looking sequence I’ve ever seen on blu-ray. That’s the only time such a disastrous issue rears its head, but it sticks out big time. Director April Mullen said she composed the 3D with an emphasis on immersion, not gimmicks. As such, there aren’t any stick-in-the-eye gags a la Friday the 13th Part 3D (1983). The main audio track is in English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Dialogue levels are unusually low during much of the film, and seem even more disproportionate once some of the action kicks in. Rear speakers bolster the action when required, emitting howls of zemon rage at just the right moments. The low end bursts with deep bass rumblings when things really get heated. It never quite matches up to the scale intended by the film, but it’s serviceable enough to warrant a pass.
The disc seems stacked looking at the back cover, but it’s mostly just fluff save for one main supplement. The Making of Dead Before Dawn runs for over 43 minutes, covering all bases on the film’s production. There’s a lot of chatter about the 3D process, what it was like shooting with the rigs, etc. Some behind the scenes footage is included, and just about all the cast & crew get a few minutes to discuss the film. The disc also includes a trailer as well as a reel of bloopers, running for almost five minutes. Another included behind the scenes featurette is just an EPK piece, running for a scant 2 minutes and change. The DBD Gang contains profiles and pictures of each character in the film along with a quote. Finally, there are a couple original music videos for the songs “Dead Before Dawn” and “Zemons”. I have to admit, they’re slightly catchy.
Dead Before Dawn makes a commendable effort to introduce something new to the world of zombies, but those fresh concepts quickly lose their luster under the weight of a nonsensical script and hackneyed characters that will hold little value to audiences. And the humor constantly thinks it’s more clever than it is. I could maybe see a 13-year-old me getting a kick out of this; maybe there’s some kind of recommendation in that statement. Just don’t go in expecting much.
2 out of 5
2 out of 5