Death of the Dead (2010) – By Duane L. Martin

Wanda (Christina Rose) is the school nerd. Awkward in the extreme with a crappy home life, a tortured school life and a desperation to just be accepted and beautiful, she really only has one thing in her life that makes her happy, and that’s studying martial arts with Master Sensei at the Mojo Dojo. Unfortunately, Master Sensei has an enemy called Evil Sensei who runs his own Dojo and trains his boys to kill people, tells them it’s cool to smack around their ex-girlfriends, etc…. Evil Sensei and Master Sensei used to be best friends, but when Master Sensei was chosen over Evil Sensei by the ultimate sensei, Ghetto Sensei, to be his pupil and to inherit the magical belt that gave him his tremendous martial arts powers, the two had a falling out and Evil Sensei swore to take down Master Sensei one day. The reason Ghetto Sensei chose Master Sensei over Evil Sensei, is that the belt must be passed on to a student who’s basically an incompetent, hopeless, worthless piece of human garbage, and that in a nutshell is Master Sensei.

Much as it was in The Karate Kid, Wanda is put up against Evil Sensei’s star pupil in a karate competition, and promptly gets her butt kicked because she’s so hopeless. Even Master Sensei bet against her. After the competition however, on the bus ride home, there’s an accident, and the bus the evil dojo people are riding in hits a couple of scientists who are dumping a barrel of this genetic transfer goo that turns living things into zombies, and passing their traits on to those who they infect in the future. So basically, they all become karate zombies, and those they infect become karate zombies, only as the infection is spread from person to person, those traits that are passed on become stronger and stronger. When they discover what’s going on, Master Sensei tries to train Wanda so they can fight the zombies, but when it turns out that no amount of training will make her not suck, he goes out to fight them himself, and subsequently, gets broken in half by the Evil Sensei zombie. When Wanda kneels down for her last words with him, he passes the belt on to her, and once she puts it on, she turns into this amazingly hot super martial arts girl, out to kick ass, kill zombies and to find a way to stop them once and for all, which she eventually does with the help of a goth freshman girl that she found hiding in the lab where the scientists had created the zombie goo. There’s a whole lot that goes on in this film, and so many quirky things that I could never even begin to cover it all, but that’s basically the story. Now for the review…

This film is silly, and it’s supposed to be. It’s directed by Gary King, who I know to be a phenomenal film maker from reviewing his past films, and yet this totally wasn’t a style of film making I expected from him. He’s always surprising me by trying new things, and this film is no exception. The film itself was written by Bo Buckley, which is why, while it has a Gary King feel to it from a film making standpoint, it has a totally different feel in content. I love that Gary’s always getting involved in projects that expand his talents as a film maker rather than stagnating in one particular style.

Oddly enough, while watching this film, all I could think of was how much it reminded me of a Troma film. It totally had that feel to it. So much so in fact, that I kept expecting to see Lloyd Kaufman show up in a bit part somewhere. The humor is, as I said, silly, and often peppered with self aware bits, like the sound guy with the boom mic bouncing around in the bus crash right along with all the Evil Dojo folks. The type of humor in this film will appeal to some, some will watch it semi-stone faced, while others will probably either dislike it or hate it. I personally found myself divided. Some of the humor was a lot of fun, while some of it sort of fell flat for me, but at no time did I find myself hating any of it, which is a good thing.

I think the one aspect of this film that worked the least for me was Master Sensei and all of his sexual quirks. Looking back on it, I don’t think it was character I didn’t like, but rather the actor (Jack Abele) who played him. Not to keep using the reference, but he sort of struck me as being a boring version of Lloyd Kaufman. I couldn’t get into his performance at all. I’m not saying he’s a bad actor, which would be unfair since this is the only time I’ve seen him in anything, but I think someone else cast in the role could have been funnier and really brought out the best in the character.

Everyone else in the cast ranged from pretty decent to really good, with Christina Rose as Wanda doing a particularly good job with her role, playing both sad sack and hot zombie killer with equal adroitness and enthusiasm. It was really amazing how gorgeous she became after she changed. You’d almost never recognize her as the same person. She actually reminded me of a younger, hotter Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Someone else I really enjoyed was William Lee as Evil Sensei. He was just cheesy as hell and some of the looks he’s get on his face were just priceless. Michael Blaustein as his prize pupil Donnie was also a stand out performer, and really good at playing a total ass, especially when he was in the karate competition with Wanda. He sort of reminded me of A-Cup in Orgazmo the way he played the character.

From a film making standpoint, this, like all of the films Gary King has directed and edited, this one was very well made, had some great camera shots, and was edited in a way that moved the story along really nicely at a great pace. The lighting is always good and at no point was I ever struggling to hear what was being said. It’s always been my opinion that nothing can kill a movie faster than poor lighting or sound, and if it suffers from both, you might as well just not release it at all. I never see those problems in the films that Gary helms.

When it comes to the zombie make-up and gore effects, these were kind of a mixed bag. The zombie make-up didn’t look all that typical, with the zombies looking more like post-apocalyptic mutants than zombies, which was absolutely fine. I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I found it rather refreshing to be honest. Zombie movies are a dime a dozen, so when one brings something different to the table, it takes away a of that "same ol’ stuff" feel. The gore effects were typically very cheesy looking, which is what they were supposed to look like. This is a comedy after all. If this had been a serious zombie film, I’d have been slamming the gore effects nine ways from Sunday, but in this film, they worked. I do have to say though that on the zombie that was cut in half and then cured toward the end, his chest looked more like a box under a shirt than a chest.

Christina Rose was really good at kicking zombie ass, and handled the fight choreography really well. The fighting was never really meant to look all that serious in this film, but when she did her moves, she did them really well. I’m not really surprised either. I saw a photo of her on IMDB tonight from some fight film she was in, and she’s doing a straight 180 degree splits across the second rope in a boxing ring. Now that’s some serious flexibility!

Is the film cheesy? Yes, it’s cheesy as hell. Does it all work? No, not all of it, but most of it does, and even the stuff that doesn’t isn’t groan worthy enough to drag down the overriding fun of the film, and that’s all that matters really isn’t it? Despite any flaws it might have, it’s just generally a really fun and entertaining film, and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, the closest I was able to find an official page for it was it’s page on Gary King’s site, which you can check out here.