Dead Above Ground (2002) – By Timothy Martinez

Dead Above Ground is one of those films that leaves you wondering why. After viewing it, the film’s slasher/mystery killer origins are obvious, but it’s approach is so hit and miss (mostly miss) that one wonders why the producers bothered to make it. Sure, it treads ground that has been trodden to death in cinema, and the filmmakers try to throw in a curve ball on occasion, but the entire affair seemed a by-the-numbers production – where several numbers got skipped.

After a brief opening sequence during which an award winning Hollywood director and his girlfriend are stalked and murdered in their luxurious home, the film fast forwards five months in time and introduces us to bunch of students at Generic High School U.S.A. One student, Jeff Lucas, is a student filmmaker and Goth extraordinaire. He is also certifiably nuts. Rather than make a documentary for his communications project, he opts to make a short horror film. For this he is chastised by his teachers and ridiculed by his fellow students, which can only sour his already bad mood. A clash with a schoolmate at a party (held at the principle’s home no less) leads to a car chase and an apparent fiery demise. Fast forward (yet again) another year and the students and faculty members who caused Jeff so much grief are being murdered. Is the killer one of their own, or has Jeff come back from the dead like he promised in order to exact his revenge? In the end, who really cares?

What is truly sad about this film is that it was written by Stephen J. Cannell, who has built up quite an impressive list of Television credits and who also stars in the film as principle Hadden. With that sort of track record, one must wonder if he wrote this script while in a coma or something. The problem isn’t the premise as much as the execution. The characters are the worst set of stereotypes and they get zero in the way of development. In fact, more than one character vanishes from the film only to reappear when they are needed, leaving the viewer struggling to recall who they were again, while others who contribute absolutely nothing to the already anorexic plot hang around for far too long. With paper thin characterizations, its only natural to expect the acting to be bad, and one would not be disappointed. I’d have had a better time believing these characters as people if they ever said or did anything that a real person would do. However, they don’t and the lot just comes off as so completely unreal that when some of them die, the viewer can’t feel horror, sadness or pity – just a sense of “oh well.”

The film’s big mystery – whether the killer is mortal or the resurrected spirit of Jeff Lucas, never comes off as too riveting. When the truth is finally revealed, it at least explains the opening sequence with the murdered film director, as that entire segment had never been clarified within context of the film and had up until then reminded me of the ticking clock murder from the opening of Beast of Yucca Flats – pointless. The murders themselves are pretty poorly done as well. Not creative in the manner that so many other films pursue, they are rather lacking in both blood and thrills/chills. This film also suffers from that “Super Killer” syndrome that plagues so many films – the killer, in order to accomplish his aims, has to be either psychic or so damn lucky that one must wonder how he ever expected to get away with some of the killings without getting caught.

This film is also really short. Though it clocks in at nearly an hour and a half, lengthy opening and closing credit sequences help pad out the running time and the actual narrative is not much more than an hour and twenty minutes or so. Usually I hate short films, but in this case it was welcome as it got things over all the more quickly. In the end, I would advise people to avoid this film unless they are truly bored. There is nothing original here and the whole thing has been done better before in other movies.