Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead (Tobe Hooper, 2005)
Robert Englund may be the single most inconsistent actor on the planet. I never know whether Englund is going to end up bringing the A game that makes his roles in movies like Dead and Buried, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Red shine, or whether we’re going to get the Robert Englund of The Phantom of the Opera, Wishmaster, or Strangeland. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if an actor’s good output generally outweighs his bad (and it has long been my estimation that Englund’s does; even when the movie around him is bad, as with the first Elm Street movie or the more recent Inkubus, his part is usually at least worth the buck rental), so I keep watching Robert Englund flicks and hoping for the best. The same could be said for director Tobe Hooper, who pops out every once in a while with a film that may not be great, but it as least damn good (you probably missed Mortuary, and that’s a shame), but is just as likely to come up with something that’s just plain ridiculous (ever see Lifeforce? I did…). Throw the two of them together and you get the kind of probability malfunction that can lead to you having to go back in time and kill yourself in order to forestall the destruction of the entire planet, but since this little amusement was released under the Masters of Horror aegis, which has consistently gotten excellent work out of over-the-hill directors (John Carpenter and Dario Argento both turned in their best work in years for this series, and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road actually jump-started Don Coscarelli’s dormant career; he’s now making some of the best stuff he ever did), I figured I was in for a pretty good time. And I was right.
Plot: America, after the fall of society. Peggy (Autopsy‘s Jessica Lowndes) is seventeen, a good kid, kept on a short leash by her mother after the death of her twin sister Anna some years ago. The time she doesn’t spend in school, she’s working at her mother’s diner, and it is there she meets Jak (The Ruins‘ Jonathan Tucker). There’s a powerful attraction between them, and when Jak asks her to sneak out on a date with him that night, Peggy accepts. Jak and his cronies take Peggy to a nightclub run by a demented—but kind of fun—guy (Englund) who’s cooked up a drug that will bring the dead back for a short period of time. With the right stimulus, they dance. And given the right audience, they may do much more…
It’s fun. It’s not great cinema by any stretch of the imagination (I admit I was a bit surprised upon finding out that Richard Christian Matheson, who has penned some short stories that can be called “timeless” with a straight face, was responsible for this script, which is quite good but not destined for classic status), but you certainly won’t feel like you’ve been cheated by the slighty-less-than-an-hour you’ll put in on it. A feature-length treatment could do a little more exploration in some key scenes (did you buy the attraction between Peggy and Jak, for example? That should have been a priority, since the entire rest of the story turns on it), but what’s here is a solid second or third draft, a barrel of fun with maybe a little too much left out for it to really pack the punch it deserves. ***
The full movie at Youtube (officially).