Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Dead Don’t Die (1975)

It’s fitting that the worst thing about this zombie flick is a lifeless performance. Made for TV by horror specialist Curtis Harrington, directing a script by Psycho novelist Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die gene-splices the film-noir genre with supernatural horror. Because both of these genres feature existentialism and shadowy photography, they should mesh well, and indeed The Dead Don’t Die has some fun jolts involving zombies emerging from darkness in locations that could’ve been used in a Humphrey Bogart movie, but the thing never quite comes together. The story is set in 1934, when sailor Don Drake (George Hamilton) returns from military service to attend the execution of his brother, Ralph (Jerry Douglas), who claims he’s innocent of the murder charge for which he was convicted. In the course of investigating Ralph’s life and alleged crimes, Don enters the orbit of Jim Moss (Ray Milland), the shady promoter of bop-till-you-drop dance marathons. Eventually, it becomes clear that Ralph was mixed up with criminals who learned voodoo in Haiti, and are using the undead as soldiers in a nefarious scheme. Obviously, this is all very cartoony, but there should have been plenty here to sustain 74 creepy minutes. Alas, The Dead Don’t Die is merely mediocre, partially because of shortcomings in Bloch’s teleplay—his dialogue is way too obvious, for instance—and mostly because of Hamilton’s acting. A pretty-boy performer whose best work generally involves self-parody, Hamilton can’t muster anywhere near the intensity required to sell such outlandish material. Still, veteran actors including Joan Blondell, Ralph Meeker, and Milland provide competent supporting performances, and some of the zombie scenes work. As such, it’s not difficult to imagine some enterprising producer revisiting this material, smoothing out the rough patches, and coming up with an interesting remake.

The Dead Don’t Die: FUNKY

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