The Dead Next Door

The Dead Next Door (1989)
Wellspring Media
Cast: Peter Ferry, Jolie Jackunas
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

J.R. Bookwalter’s zombie cult-favorite, ’The Dead Next Door’ has finally landed on DVD from a new company, Splatter Rampage Video (I guess that name says it all…). The film is considered by many to be the epitome of low-budget, independent horror filmmaking. ’The Dead Next Door’ can be seen as a homage to/continuation of the Romero zombie films. The movie takes place in a world where zombies have run rampant and are very common. (They were the result of an experiment, which got out of control.) To deal with this problem with the undead, the government has created ’The Zombie Squad’; specially trained soldiers who try to eradicate the zombie hordes. Our story focuses on Zombie Squad 205, consisting of several men and one woman. Zombie Squad scientist Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic) decides that he must travel to Akron, Ohio (the site of the failed experiment) to attempt to formulate an anti-zombie serum. He is accompanied by Squad 205, and they soon find themselves up to their necks, not only in zombies, but also in a religious cult with sinister aims.

The best word to described ’The Dead Next Door’ is, ambitious. Most low-budget films of this type take place in one location (usually a house) and have few actors. But ’The Dead Next Door’ utilizes many exterior locations and hundreds of extras. The zombie crowd scenes are especially impressive. Writer/director/producer J.R. Bookwalter has crafted a very complex film, with several subplots, and didn’t let his limited budget stop him from telling his story. While some aspects of the film don’t work, one must admire the film’s tenacity. ’The Dead Next Door’ is well-paced and there are few scenes where there isn’t some kind of zombie-action taking place. Also, the numerous gore effects are very well done. ’The Dead Next Door’ (which was partially financed by an uncredited Sam Raimi) is a fan’s love-letter to the horror world and a dream come true for zombie fans. It may not be perfect, but it certainly does satisfy.

’The Dead Next Door’ DVD from Splatter Rampage is a Limited Edition release (although I’m unsure exactly how ’limited’ the release is). The digital transfer featured on the DVD is both a blessing and a curse for the film. The movie was shot on Super 8mm (yes, you read that right), thus the image from the DVD is full-frame. The picture is clear and sharp, offering nice colors and remaining stable throughout the film. The dark scenes never get overly dark, and the action is always visible. Unfortunately, the transfer has also revealed a noticeable amount of grain and many defects from the source print. Also, it is now evident when a shot is slightly out of focus. Those of you who have become accustomed to the pristine, reference-quality releases from the major studios may find this transfer to be sorely lacking in quality, but those of us who have seen the old VHS transfer of ’The Dead Next Door’, know just how good this version is.

The DVD fares better in the audio department. The audio on the DVD is a 2-channel surround mix. According to Tempe Entertainment (Bookwalter’s company), ’The entire movie was dubbed because the original audio was recorded on Super-8mm fullcoat and the costs to synchronize it were deemed cost-prohibitive considering the dubious quality of the tracks.’ Thus, the soundtrack is free from pops or hisses. (Try to spot how many different characters Bruce Campbell is supplying voices for!) The sound is mainly limited to the front and center channels, although there are occasional sound effects and musical cues from the rear speakers. The only extra included on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for the film, which is presented full-frame.