As I've probably mentioned before, the zombie archetype tends to be very character-driven. We need to understand and empathize with the characters in the story as they stand against a world-wide annihilation. The heroes of Dance of the Deadare misunderstood geeks facing a zombie apocalypse, earning the love and respect of the people who previously spurned him.
Sounds pretty familiar, right?
This time around, the heroes are the various dweebs and underdogs who couldn't get dates to the prom. When the chemicals from a criminally mismanaged power plant reanimates the dead, the sci-fi club rushes to the prom to save their fellow classmates. It's total geek wish fulfillment, which I can relate to.
The story also covers the notion that high school society is so stratified that the only way people from disparate groups would ever mingle is when they're under attack. This, of course, allows the cheerleaders and prom queens to marvel our geeky heroes' prowess as they dispatch legions of the undead. This idea was similarly covered in The Faculty, but that film suffered from being too pretty, too Hollywood, and full of too many attractive actors. The kids in DotD look and act like gangly, awkward, nervous teenagers, and it adds a layer of realism to the work. You really get the sense you're watching a teenage fantasy, something scrawled in jagged, enthusiastic script in the back of their notebook.
Being as much an action film as a horror movie, the teenagers prove themselves to be surprisingly skilled fighters. The stuntwork in the movie is amazing, particularly the scene where the heroes are running through a cemetary while the zombies explode out of the graves around them.
Dance of the Dead was entertaining enough, but it didn't exactly rock my cage. It was a little too earnest, a little too needy, a little too precious. It splits its energy among too many characters and many of the heroes are actually pretty unlikeable. Still, there's a lot of good stuff here. Unlike a lot of horror movies aimed at a teenage market, this one feels authentic. It's rough an unpolished and passionate and enthusiastic and it doesn't cynically try to sell the audience something from adulthood. It's the cinematic equivalent of a mash-up, and I dug that. Keep an eye out for director Gregg Bishop. I want to see what else he's got up his sleeve.
If that doesn't sell you, there are Zombie Teenage Makeouts, cynical gravediggers who attempt to keep the whole mess in check, and the prettiest rock band I've ever seen lulling the zombies into a stupor with their music. Check it out.