Back in 2011, when Scott reviewed a movie by Rene Perez, THE DEAD AND THE DAMNED (here), he started out by stating that the movie tried hard, but “we all know that good intentions pave the road to that really hot place”.
I’ve had the pleasure of viewing Rene Perez’ follow-up, a semi-sequel called THE DEAD THE DAMNED AND THE DARKNESS. Has Perez got himself off that hellbound path? I hope so, because my initial reaction to his first movie was a disappointed disdain akin to a father seeing the tattooed, mullet-haired carny worker his daughter has just brought home.
The movie opens with a soldier type (Robert Tweten), whom we later learn is called Lt. Col. Sawyer, loading up some bloodied remains into what turns out to be a crematorium, silently gathering the ashes into a small can while glancing at some mementoes of what was obviously his family. Leaving the ovens, he starts running into some shambling zombie types wandering around the industrial facility.
I’m not too worried for his sake, however; he’s wearing what looks like a knock-off Power Rangers suit and is carrying a submachine pistol. We don’t get any exposition from him about the suit, where he got it or if it can do anything other than protect him from zombie bites, but at least it’s something a little different.
After a scene where we see a woman somewhere else send off a little girl before the woman gets attacked by another zombie (who tactfully rips open her shirt to bare her breasts before attacking her).
Then we cut to someone else entirely: a woman we will later learn is called Stephanie (Iren Levy). As she views an abandoned supermarket, she’s approached by a stranger (Russell Piette), who seemingly gets ignored by her until he’s practically on top of her. It turns out that she’s a deaf-mute who can read lips.
Okay, now my interest has piqued a little more. I’m not the type of liberal who demands that every TV show and movie provides a minority or a disabled character, but I can recognise when someone makes an effort to do so. And it *is* an effort, at least for most writers, because such characters are not default by nature.
Of course, if you’re gonna make one of your post-apocalyptic survivors a deaf woman, you’d think she’d look around her all the time so no one, living or dead, could sneak up on her. Seriously. Convince me that she could have survived on her own when so many others who could hear have died off.
The stranger takes her back to his place, where his story of having a wife and daughter waiting there are proved false – all he has is his meat and two veg. Fortunately Stephanie escapes.
Back with Sawyer, who gets stopped at a roadblock by some local police, who hear that he’s trying to make his way to the ocean. He gets turned back, which is probably a good thing, because eventually he gets to rescue Stephanie from some zombies, and together they meet another survivor, Wilson (John J. Welsh), who tells them of a nearby hydroelectric dam, a secure facility where they can have power and security and grow their own food and raise puppies and live happily ever after. Sawyer agrees to get them to the dam, but he has plans of his own: to scatter his family’s ashes in the ocean and then eat a bullet…
THE DEAD THE DAMNED AND THE DARKNESS has some positives. It’s a well-made movie for such a low-budget, professionally shot and lit (with excellent use of location footage of Shasta Dam, California, in the final act), and when you’ve seen as many crappy movies made by chimps with cameras, you appreciate watching something made by someone who knows what they’re doing. The cast are mostly fine, and there are nice touches to some of the main characters (in addition to making Stephanie deaf, Wilson is shown to be a Christian, something else you don’t normally see in a zombie movie, though it does lead to what was for me an unintentionally hilarious scene where he holds up his cross to another survivor and assures her, “See? We’re the good guys!”).
However, the film’s negatives heavily outweigh the positives. At no point do the zombies offer any sense of menace, never number more than four or five at a time, and when they’re seen, they’re wearing the most awful rubber masks imaginable. The climax of the story, when Sawyer must go it alone against the infected that have “overrun” the facility, plays with all the menace of trying to catch a moth in your kitchen. Sawyer is certainly not going to be in any danger in his airtight Power Rangers suit. Really, the zombie threat is so tepid that my puppy could deal with them in one afternoon and still have time to lick her bits.
The script also suffers from Too Much Story, one that pads itself out unnecessarily and leaves the plot top-heavy and disjointed. One third act sequence involves an extended scene where we learn from the then-acting President that the zombie virus had been found in a meteorite first discovered in the Wild West (thus offering flashbacks and a tenuous connection to THE DEAD AND THE DAMNED), and subsequently used by the First World to try and depopulate the Third World. It’s done in an attempt to cast doubt on whether or not the survivors should trust Sawyer, being part of the Military-Industrial Complex, but it’s as lame as my attempts at breakdancing.
And – sorry if this spoils it for you – but Sawyer discovers that his daughter is still alive, but rather than save this for an upbeat coda, it’s revealed halfway through the movie, so it’s more like a leisurely coast to the finish than a rollercoaster ride, because you know he’s not gonna get killed or off himself now.
The chief fault lies with Perez, who wore far too many hats: ones that fit well (director and cinematographer) and ones that didn’t (writer and editor). A script that might have centred more around an isolated place like the dam would have served the low budget and scant number of zombies better (there’s a reason so many zombie movies have siege plotlines).
THE DEAD THE DAMNED AND THE DARKNESS wasn’t fun to lambaste, because the potential was there to do a lot more with what was there. So, more disappointed disdain here; my daughter’s carny boyfriend has got a scrotal piercing. The movie is now available on DVD and VOD.
Director: Rene Perez
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 2 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Not dead or damned, but just a little dark.