Thursday, December 24, 2015

December to Dismember: A CADAVER CHRISTMAS (2011)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Video Junkie house, not a creature was stirring, not even a computer mouse. While Tom has keep the lights on by burning lots of Christmas movie coal, I’ve slacked on my end. It is due to a combination of lack of Xmas cheer and the fact we’ve burned through a lot of bad holiday flicks over the years (FEEDERS 2 [1998], I’m looking at you). Video Santa obviously felt some twinge of sadness at my feeble state and decided to reward me. Instead of getting another lump of shot-on-video coal in my stocking, I got an honest-to-goodness surprise present in A CADAVER CHRISTMAS.

Kicking off with the simplest premise, CADAVER opens with Eddie (Ben Hopkins) serving his lone customer Tom (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) in his bar on Christmas Eve. Trouble falls into their lap when a bloodied janitor (Dan Hale) stumbles into the bar (how many times have I heard that joke?) and asks for the restroom. Eddie is justifiably alarmed and calls in the local law enforcement in Sam (Yosh Hayashi). Arriving on the scene, Sam encounters a series of living cadavers in the parking lot and decides the best course of action is to haul everyone - including his recent perv arrestee (Andrew Harvey) - to Mt. Peacemore University to get to the bottom of this (Sam has his own reasons for this peculiar action, which I won’t spoil). Through a series of flashbacks, the janitor tells of how he was working late in an old building that houses the lab of Professor Hildencress when he was suddenly attacked by the reanimated dead. Trapped in the magnetically locked building, the group must now figure out how to survive the attacks of these shuffling zombies. Er, sorry, cadavers.

I actually bought CADAVER last Xmas season with the intention of reviewing it then but my laziness kept me from meeting such a tight deadline of 31 days. The film flew into my radar when I was looking for Christmas themed horror films and I saw the trailer on Youtube. Full disclosure - it was one of those trailers done up in the faux grindhouse style with fake scratch lines and cheesy narration, which I normally loath. But something about the film transcended that; director Joe Zerull displayed a inventive visual style akin to a young Sam Raimi (RIP) and Peter Jackson (RIP) and it had a kicking, John Carpenter-esque score. Most impressive of all, there were jokes in the trailer that were actually funny. Not in the standard “haha, we’re making a bad movie” winking manner, but in an actual “we set this up and followed it through” manner. So, I bought the DVD, let it age like fine wine for a year and finally gave it a spin. And, honestly, I’m glad I did.

Yes, you read that right, I actually liked a recent, low budget horror/comedy zombie film, a genre beaten to slow death in the last decade. Shot in the wilds of Iowa, CADAVER sets itself aside from the horde with a funny script and several hilarious lead performances. One of the great things about films like BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987) is that the filmmakers inserted comedy (mostly through cocksure lead characters) but never let the events fall into parody. Zerull and company were obviously inspired by those films (look for nods to both in the film) and expertly walk that fine line in a script concocted by Zerull, Hale and Smith-Dorsey. There are some great scenes that get punctuated by some genuinely funny lines (“He stabbed Eddie in the neck with a desk!”) and some visual gags that actually made me laugh.

Credit should also be given to Hale (who also produced as Daniel Rairdin-Hale) for his committed performance as the janitor. He really holds the events together and everyone feeds off his energy (it should come as no surprise that several of the actors are trained theatre professionals). If you do end up purchasing the DVD, do yourself a favor and watch the half hour “making of” documentary that chronicles how this film went from a 48 Hour Film Project to a two-week shoot to something that spanned two years. And marvel at how everyone on the small crew wore several hats. For example, Hale was not only the lead, but also doing the makeup effects. So not only did he have to keep his character’s thought process straight, but also had to keep continuity on his constantly bloodied face (spoiler: they do an amazing job). The behind-the-scenes is a true testament to the commitment these guys had for their little horror film and will remind you of something a young guy named Sam Raimi (RIP again) and his crew did in the wilds of Tennessee in the late ‘70s. In fact, the only misstep I can find with CADAVER is the aforementioned fake film scratches added to the movie. I know it is the hip thing to do in the post-GRINDHOUSE (2007) world, but CADAVER didn’t need it at all as it can boldly stand on its own two feet. The film ends with a coda promising more adventures from the janitor and I certainly hope to see him mopping up more monsters in the future.

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