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TADFF 2011: DeadHeads Review

DeadHeads
Genre mash-ups are all the rage these days. Remakes and reboots aside, it seems like the only way filmmakers are able to get a genre film made these days is if they blend well-trod tropes and conventions together. Vampire police procedural? Let’s make a deal! Post-apocalyptic rom-com? Sign on the dotted line. Kung fu werewolf revenge drama? Please, just take our money! If any of these made up movie pitches appeal to you, then you might just get something out of the zombie-buddy comedy DeadHeads.

Taken on their own, zombie flicks and buddy comedies are two of the most overused and unoriginal sub-genres out there; the bad films far outweigh the good films. The VHS bargain bins of the world are filled to the brim with terrible undead schlock and allegedly funny buddy “comedies.” So while it’s hardly novel to combine these two genres, actually doing so successfully is another thing entirely. Does DeadHeads manage to create something that transcends the sum of its parts or is it just more dreck for the pile?

Mike Kellerman is undead… sort of. He’s a zombie in all the usual ways, save one: he’s not a mindless, flesh-craving monster. Confused but coherent, Mike (Michael McKiddy) wakes up in a body bag on the side of the road, with no idea of where he is or how he got there. Still unaware that he is, in fact, a zombie, Mike starts to freak out when he encounters several standard, run-of-the-mill zombies. Enter Brent (Ross Kidder), another walker whose faculties seem (mostly) unaffected by his otherwise zombified state. Brent wastes no time letting Mike know the facts: they’re both zombies and they have likely been dead for close to three years. With this gut-punching revelation, Mike sets off (with Brent in tow) to find his girlfriend (Natalie Victoria) and find out how exactly he became a zombie.

What DeadHeads lacks in production value, it makes up for in heart. Yes, the film tries too hard at times. Yes, despite the unusual concept the story is clichéd and full of plot holes. And yes, you’d better believe the multitude of 80’s pop culture references-for-the-sake-of-references become a bit stale (kudos on a very obscure Transformers reference though.) But despite these shortcomings, the two leads throw everything they’ve got at these roles, bringing life and energy to the quickly decomposing Mike and Brent.

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As a mash-up of two genres, the film has certain obligations that it needs to satisfy — A buddy comedy needs a straight man and a goofball, after all. This kind of film relies on the chemistry of its leads as the central pillar of the operation, even when said characters are rotting, reanimated corpses. The back and forth between stoner-zombie Brent and uptight Mike is one of the film’s strongest element. And, as it turns out, buddy comedy dynamics work surprisingly well against the backdrop of a zombie uprising; surviving as zombies in a hostile human-filled world is harder than it looks. It was refreshing to see things from the zombie’s perspective for once. The undead duo are repeatedly thrown into situations that go from ridiculous to absurd very quickly. More could have been done on this front, but given the budgetary constraints it’s understandable that the filmmakers needed to keep the film small in scope.

DeadHeads is a film that mostly knows what it is. You won’t find Romero-style social allegory, big budget thrills, or anything terribly original here, but you will find a fun little mash-up about a zombie in love.

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