When you mention zombies nowadays, most folks think of The Walking Dead. However, there is and was a world of zombie stories out there beyond that show, going all the way back to 1932’s White Zombie. And a lesser known entry is the 1989 The Dead Next Door movie.
Who Are the The Dead Next Door in the Movie?
The set-up for The Dead Next Door is similar to a lot of zombie stories. Basically, sometime in the future, the bottom falls out and we have zombies. The government has had to organize “Zombie Squads,” teams of their best soldiers, to contain the undead threat. As a man-made virus caused this mess, Raimi (Pete Ferry, billed as Peter), Mercer (Michael Grossi), Kuller (Jolie Jackunas), and the rest of their team head to Ohio in search of a cure.
Once they get there, they encounter a devout sect who believes that zombies are part of God’s plan. (I bet they don’t want to wear masks, either!). So the team has to deal with this group, who is trying to jump-start the apocalypse, while also finding the cure. That last objective becomes dire when one of the team is infected.
The Dead Next Door: A Love Letter to the Horror Movie
Sam Raimi isn’t just a character name reference in this movie–he’s also a producer, billed under the unusual pseudonym “Maximum Cylinder.” Frequent Raimi collaborator and horror legend Bruce Campbell also does voiceovers for a few of the characters. In addition, there are several character names that refer to other horror legends. These include Carpenter (for John Carpenter), Savini (for special effects whiz Tom Savini), King (for Stephen King), and of course, Romero (for zombie king George Romero).
Akron, Ohio, native J.R. Bookwalter wrote and directed the movie, his directorial debut. He went on to write and direct several other films, in addition to acting in them. However, he seems to have transitioned mostly to producing these days. The movie was shot on Super-8 film and some sources estimate that it’s the most expensive movie ever made using the format. Sam Raimi used part of his salary from The Evil Dead 2 to fund this film.
The Critics Next Door: Should You See It?
Professional critics gave the film generally positive reviews. AllMovie said, for example, “…if mindless bloodletting is what the viewer seeks, this is admittedly one of the more skillful attempts.” Little White Lies said, “…there is no faulting its creative, and utterly unrestrained, use of blood and guts.”
Audience reviews, on the other hand, were more mixed. Some viewers, for instance, enjoyed the low-budget splatter. While they acknowledge that the acting and other elements, like the pacing, aren’t up to par, they still had fun. Other viewers, though, were more negative. They felt as if more effort was put into making the movie as gory as possible, to the detriment of a coherent story. Akron natives, however, love the movie, especially the opportunity to recognize many local landmarks.
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featured image via Tempe Video
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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at email@example.com.