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Dead Men Walking

Directed by Peter Mervis

Written by Mike Watt

Starring Bay Bruner, Brick Firestone, Scott Carson, Brandon Stacy

Produced by David Michael Latt, David Rimawi, Sherri Strain

Rated R

85 minutes

****

Time for some fresh zombie movie fare from the good folks at The Asylum!

So what we have here is the story of a plague that’s found its way into a prison. And we’re not talking bubonic—this one’s not only killing people, it’s also bringing them back to life. The only non-infected folks left, a group of elite guards and a handful of inmates, have to overcome their natural differences and get out alive.

Just when you thought there was no way you were going to get anything but comical zombies out of The Asylum (thanks again to Chance Shirley for making up the positively kickass “Hide and Creep”), we get some genuine zombie survival horror, the greatest of the genre.

This is, actually, one of two movies that were film in the exact same prison. The second, a trailer for which is found on the DVD, is the upcoming “Shapeshifter.”

Now, I have to admit, this is a really, REALLY unique idea. It basically takes the concept of “Night of the Living Dead,” and takes a slightly different look. We’ve been to a farmhouse, the mall, underground, and a city with it—so let’s take it to prison. Guy gets bit by a zombie before anyone really knows what the zombies are, and he gets carted off to jail after blasting a handful of them attacking them in his house. Naturally, the cops don’t think self defense, and a court at this early stage of the game is NOT going to think “Hey, let’s let the guy off—after all, his alternative was be eaten alive.” And by the time we get to a point where a court WILL take that as an acceptible reason to firebomb the neighborhood, there isn’t going to be a whole lot left in the way of law enforcement.

I’m frankly amazed that George Romero didn’t think of this first.

It would’ve been perfect to slip in between Dawn and Day, but this works, as a homage to George. I’d guess Watt and Mervis were Romero fans.

I do have some minor gripes with “Dead Man Walking.” First off, they’re using the “fast zombie” model that the “Return of the Living Dead” series began and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake popularized. Longtime readers will know that I’m a bit of a zombie purist. I believe in slow and sludgy…and stupid. I don’t much care for zombies who plan, or zombies who run like track stars, or zombies who leap long distances in a single bound. But this is a minor gripe—nothing I’ll hold against the movie in general.

Second, I’ve got a problem with the run time on this little beauty. It’s too good to only be eighty five minutes! I like this, really I do. And I’d love to see more of it.

In perfect honesty, “Dead Men Walking” is high-quality zombie survival horror. There’s just not near as much of it here as I’d like. What’s there is just excellent. We get the rapid descent into horror and chaos that shows a system about to collapse, and it’s portrayed in a very convincing fashion. Ultimately stirring and chilling at the same time, it is actually very plausible, and this plausibility ramps up the tension factor.

Interestingly, dig that shot of the map at the thirty eight minute ten second mark. They’ve put a web address at the top of the map—”www.hauntedportraits.com.” It took me a little while reading upside down to puzzle that one out, but there it is.

The ending is an impressive mostly no-win scenario—the planning was all off and they all pretty much paid for it. It’s a good lesson on the value of planning ahead. Plus, a “Night of the Living Dead” homage will also make an appearance in the final seven minutes.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, director’s commentary, audio options, and trailers for “Shape Shifter,” “The Beast of Bray Road,” “Frankenstein Reborn,” “The Girl in the Basement,” and “Dead Men Walking.”

All in all, “Dead Men Walking” is a beautifully chilling example of modern survival horror. It’s fantastic stuff—despite a few minor flaws, it will still be well worth your rental.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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