“We will always be together… always and forever…”
Oh Joe Dante, how I love thee. Let me count the ways: Gremlins, The Howling, Matinee, Innerspace, The Burbs, etc. The man is on of the most beloved and influential filmmakers of his generation, a witty movie nerd who turned in-jokes into a house style. He was like Steven Spielberg’s snarky little brother, a guy who delivered crowd-pleasing creature-features with a sneaky wit that let fellow film buffs know he got the cheesy appeal of B-pictures. He brought irony and movie nerd references to the masses long before Quentin Tarantino and The Simpsons made it mainstream. He’s a master filmmaker and a sneaky troublemaker. And yet somehow the guy just can’t get a movie made or released anymore. That’s the trouble with Hollywood. No matter how successful or influential you may have been at one point, even icons struggle for employment if they aren’t making blockbuster dollars. Sadly the arrival of a Joe Dante movie is a rare gift indeed these days. So, I must admit that I tucked into the Blu-ray of Burying The Ex with some nostalgic excitement. The movie is a thoroughly watchable and disposable horror/comedy that works in large part thanks to Dante’s irreverent movie geek touch and often in spite of its middling screenplay.
Anton Yelchin stars as a wayward twentysomething with dreams of opening his own monster themed horror store. He’s got a girlfriend played by Ashley Greene who clings to him desperately thanks to some pretty intense abandonment issues. He stays with her purely because of their hyperactive sex life, certainly not due to her controlling ways and gentle insanity. He’s also go a brother (Oliver Cooper) who like to makes sex jokes and develops a crush on an equally horror obsessed girl (Alexandra Daddario) who owns a novelty ice cream shop. Things take a hard left turn when Greene dies, which leaves Yelchin in a funk until he falls into Daddario’s arms after bumping into her at a Val Lewton double feature (oh if only real life worked life nerdy horror comedies). Then things get tricky when Greene rises from the grave half rotted and even more annoying. Yelchin isn’t sure what to do. The situation is certainly making it tricky to start a new relationship and the way Greene keeps vomiting up embalming fluid and decomposing poses some problems as well. Oh boy! Here comes some zaniness.
So, it’s not it’s not the most original premise in the world (it’s basically a gender-swapped version of My Boyfriend’s Back) and the sexual politics are childish at best and reductive at worst. It’s pretty easy to see where the story is heading most of the time and some of the dude/bro humor coming out of Oliver Cooper’s mouth is hard to stomach. These are all problems with the script, which in lesser hands could have turned into one of those forgettable zero budget timewasting horror flicks that clog up streaming services. Thankfully, the movie fell into Joe Dante’s hands and he was able to turn it into something far more watchable. It’s still a pretty thin premise, so there’s only so much that can be done, but Dante does what he can.
First and foremost, Dante cast well. Yelchin shows some unexpected farce comedy chops and an impressive willingness to be splattered with viscera for a gag. Daddario’s role mostly requires her to bat her eyes and seem ideal, but she does so in a way that actually feels human and that ain’t bad. Greene is hysterical as the overbearing zombie ex, gleefully grating on the nerves and pulling off a delightfully gross transition into her undead form. Around the corners Dante plugs in some amusing character actors (including an inevitable Dick Miller appearance that doesn’t disappoint). Dante always casts his roles well and knows how to work with his actors, which goes a long when selling a potentially stilted script.
As a graduate of the Roger Corman film school, the director also knows how to stretch a buck and half budget into a professional production. So despite limited locations and shooting days, the guy delivers a pretty stylish little movie filled with clever details hidden in the sets. He fills the flick with movie references and even if it’s hard to imagine the 20something folks on screen share the taste of a babyboomer monster movie nut, it’s worth suspending disbelief. The gore gags are well handled, jokes fly furiously around the screen, and the whole thing retains the live-action cartoon vibe (in this case with a heavy EC Comics influence) that Dante’s known for. Sure, it’s not a great film, but it’s a completely watchable horror comedy that flies by with wit and style. It would be nice to live in a world where Joe Dante could still bring his mischievous ways to massive studio projects, but that’s just not our world. At least in Burying The Ex, he was able to deliver a cheapy horror comedy with more style and invention than most directors half his age. That ain’t much, but it’s something. With a little luck, Burying The Ex will be successful enough for Dante to get a crack at directing something a little more ambitious. Clearly the guy still has plenty of talent, he just needs the more opportunities to show it.
Burying The Ex looks about as good on Blu-ray as a modestly budgeted contemporary horror film can. Colors are bright and details are crisp. It was shot in HD afterall, so transferring it to disc isn’t that complicated. For the most part the production is pretty claustrophobic with only a handful of locations, but there are enough primary colors to shine and details in the background to pop out. The make up effects and gore work particularly benefit from the transfer, with some gross details worthy of the HD treatment. Sound is clear with some nice atmospherics and score filling all the surround channels. For a cheapie digital horror flick, the movie looks good on Blu-ray. Unfortunately that pleasant quality is all you really get on the disc. There are no special features whatsoever, which is a real shame since Joe Dante gives a hell of a commentary track when given the chance. Oh well, hopefully it won’t be another five years before his next feature and that one will get a commentary track or a deleted scene or something…anything!
Does this Deserve a Spot on Your Dork Shelf?
As much as Dante elevates the material, there’s not much on this disc that begs to be owned, let’s just keep our fingers crossed that he gets another chance to delight us the way he always has.