Night Of The Living Dorks

Night Of The Living Dorks (2004)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Tino Mewes, Manuel Cortez, Thomas Schmieder, Collien Fernandes
Extras: Featurettes, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Outtakes, Alternate Ending, Trailers

"I'll just continue to use the stapler!"

I adore zombie flicks. Actually, anything with zombies… as long as the gore is dead on and the story is well constructed. Looking back over the last few decades, there aren't many examples of quality zombie horror. Instead, poorly written, low-budget nonsense has littered the subgenre since George Romero introduced it to the public with his revolutionary masterwork, 'Night of the Living Dead.' Since my discovery of the undead hordes, I've had the manic pleasure of films like 'Dawn of the Dead,' 'Zombi,' 'Day of the Dead,' '28 Days Later,' and the hilariously brilliant 'Shaun of the Dead'. In other media, I've found a lot of satisfaction in books like the questionably titled but shockingly poignant 'World War Z,' and comics like the epic journey into madness of 'The Walking Dead.' I'm not sure what captures my imagination with slow, shuffling mobs of the dead… but I'd guess it's the one horror subgenre that can put frightening action to the side for moments at a time and focus on the development of its characters.

'Night of the Living Dorks' is a diminutive German production that takes a dash of 'Revenge of the Nerds,' attempts to splice it with 'Shaun of the Dead,' and overworks its script to create the next, great horror comedy of the century. But truth be told, I could never get past the zombies themselves, the clichéd story, and a depressing lack of laughs and horror.

The story focuses on three misfits, Philip (Tino Mewes), Wurst (Manuel Cortez), and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder), that are accidentally plagued with a zombie curse during a cemetery ritual hosted by Philip's next-door, goth-freak neighbor, Rebecca (Collien Fernandes). After a car crash ends the three boys' lives, they wake up in the morgue to discover new powers, near-invincibility, and a nagging hunger for human flesh. Unfortunately the story never evolves beyond its premise and the zombies of this fictional universe can speak and act normally until a blood lust overtakes them and drives them insane. Mindless killing machines can be terrifying… but blundering teenagers trying to score and extract vengeance on bullies? Not so much. To be honest, a lot of you may enjoy this movie. Ain't It Cool News, in all their varied geekdom, seemed to really latch on to it. Me? I prefer my horror comedy laced with a heavier dose of horror, clever spins on the conventions of the subgenre, and the ability to take its internal logic seriously while presenting ludicrous situations that make you laugh till it hurts.

My biggest problem with 'Night of the Living Dorks' is its throwback attraction to the teen sex comedies of the eighties. It instantly feels dated and the ham-handed actors are mostly 'Saved By the Bell' guest stars that never bring anything of interest to the table. I rarely laughed and the humor beats were long, obvious, and too desperate for my attention. The plot holes were overwhelmingly deep, even for a comedy, and I found myself distracted with thoughts of how Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright would've approached the material in their cinematic zombie world. When you compare this high school romp to 'Shaun of the Dead,' it seems dim-witted, tedious, and behind the game with a lot of outdated refrences and exposition. Pegg and Wright nailed the laughs, sold the scares, and never forgot to inject their 'Shaun of the Dead' with a heaping helping of heart. 'Night of the Living Dorks' is just the opposite and, in the end, extremely disappointing.

That being said, I'm finding it difficult to describe what didn't work for me because I really think it came down to basic taste. All I can do is point out the areas in which 'Shaun of the Dead' excelled… and explain that 'Night of the Living Dorks' didn't achieve anything close on any front. Fans of zombie films, horror comedy, relics of the eighties teen craze, and German farce should rent 'Night of the Living Dorks' to decide for themselves. A lot of people had a smashing time with this flick… I'm just definitely not one of them.

The transfer of the film to standard DVD is an above average, if not occasionally adequate, presentation of a primary color wonderland. There isn't any distracting noise aside from a moderate curtain of grain, the contrast provides a good bit of depth, and the image holds up well on a large screen HDTV. However, the color palette is flat and there are times when colors are bright one moment and dull the next. Blood is particuarly disappointing and looks like coffee in some scenes. The filmmakers also use a bulky amount of CG, even when a practical effect would've sufficed. While it's usually convincing in spite of its exaggerated style, it often shows its low budget seams too clearly.

The audio, on the other hand, is a complete mess that I could've arranged on my laptop. Sound effects are punchy and ordinary, most of the sound is relegated to the center channel, and the soundfield was completely unconvincing with little action from the rear speakers. Sounds are assigned to different channels, but their volume and substance is never taken into consideration. The soundscape, even when brimming with life, is unimaginative and simply substandard.

But the biggest problem on deck is the translation of the subtitles and the script for the English speaking cast on the dubbed track. Just for fun, whichever format you prefer, turn on the dubbed mix and the English subtitles at the same time… notice how insanely different the dialogue is from the subtitle text? I don't know who's getting the better deal here – the subtitle camp or the dubbing fans – but I can't comprehend why the two English translations are so drastically different.

A nice set of supplemental features await fans on the same disc as the feature film. There's a campy behind-the-scenes documentary with cast and crew interviews, a group of deleted and extended scenes that try to add more laughs, a group of outtakes that are of the what's-my-line variety, and an alternate ending; a fifteen minute feature you should certainly check out if you liked the movie. Alternate cuts are usually short affairs that only change a minute detail here and there. With 'Night of the Living Dorks,' you get a complete, exorcised subplot, a new closing, and different fates dealt to most of the main players. Finally, to finish off the disc, you'll find original trailers and previews for films you can catch on DVD.

To be clear, a lot of you will watch 'Night of the Living Dorks' multiple times, laughing your collective nuts off. I have a hard time condemning anyone's love of crappy horror because I'm haunted by the knowledge that I shamelessly enjoyed 'Feast' last year. If you had a good time with the recent straight-to-video 'American Pie' flicks but found yourself wishing they had more cannibalism, you should be the first in line to snag a copy of 'Night of the Living Dorks.' If you're a huge fan of 'Shaun of the Dead,' you'll probably despise this German junk out of sheer principle. I hope the horror comedy genre will be alive and kicking for years to come… I just hope we're increasingly given flicks with witty screenplays, deeper scares, and heartier laughs.