The Dead Next Door

The Dead Next Door

The Dead Next Door

The Dead Next Door

The Dead Next Door

“The neighbourhood’s gone to HELL”.

THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (1988) gets its first ever UK release on DVD in May 2006 courtesy of Anchor Bay UK. Extensively remastered from the film's original elements and with a brand new 5.1 Surround Sound mix, the disc also comes complete with a host of exclusive extra features specially produced for this release by the film's director J.R. Bookwalter (WITCHOUSE 2 and 3).

The film begins with a raid on a farmhouse where a scientist has barricaded himself inside. Hundreds of zombies are roaming the streets of Akron, and a TV newsreader establishes the scene – sound familiar? First impressions suggest this could be a mere low budget Romero rip-off, but when a bunch of zombies enter a video shop and try to rent DAWN OF THE DEAD, EVIL DEAD and CREEPSHOW, we see that the severed tongue is lodged firmly in the cheek.

The scientist has created a deadly virus which takes over and replaces a corpse’s cells, using it as a slave to keep supplying its favourite food…human flesh. The virus runs amok, and an epidemic occurs resulting in a world rampant with reanimated flesh-eating corpses. The government forms an elite force known as the Zombie Squad to combat and exterminate the rampaging hordes of the undead. Meanwhile a doctor conducts experiments on captured subjects.

Hoping to find some clues to the origins of the virus, a small team from the Zombie Squad is sent to the lab in Akron, Ohio where the virus was created. There they discover a religious-based, zombie worshipping cult led by a charismatic preacher who believes the zombies are part of God's will, sent to exact divine justice on a sinful world. The cult want to keep the undead “alive and well” until the day comes for their ultimate mission – to inherit the earth from the living.

The film was secretly financed by Sam Raimi (THE EVIL DEAD, 1981) who was anonymously credited as The Master Cylinder; the name of a character in children’s cartoon “The Transformers”. Raimi had wanted to remain anonymous to avoid complications whilst he was simultaneously financing EVIL DEAD II (1987). Audio post-production was supervised by Raimi’s sidekick Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD’s Ash), who also lends his dubbed voice to several characters. The film also stars Raimi collaborator Scott Spiegel (THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT, 1985 and INTRUDER, 1989) as a careless and doomed Zombie Squad soldier. The budget, around $100,000 small fry by Hollywood standards, was quite a lot for a super 8 feature. It was shot on location in and around Akron, Ohio and Washington, D.C. 1,500 volunteer extras from the local areas played the rampaging zombies, who wreak havoc from the streets of Akron to the lawn of the White House.

Raimi’s influence is clear from the special effects, and much homage is paid to George Romero’s work. The civil rights background to the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) is amusingly referred to with a group of uninfected human pro-zombie protesters, in favour of "zombie rights", who picket research hospitals and government buildings. Key characters in the film are named Savini, Romero, Carpenter and King, and the S.W.A.T. style Zombie Squad is straight out of DAWN OF THE DEAD (Bookwalter himself had been an extra in Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD, 1985, and makes a brief appearance here). But just when you think the film is going to a be a straight DAWN OF THE DEAD spoof, in pops the Reverend Jim Jones with his army of hooded zombie cultists to confuse matters.

The acting is dodgy, and the dialogue and delivery could be culled from a dubbed third rate Italian rip-off. (No disrespect intended of course; ZOMBIE FLESHEATERS happens to be my own favourite zombie movie). As for the sets, the leader of the Zombie Squad himself comments on the cheapness of the cages used to house the zombie test subjects. But the grisly black humour and bargain basement gore compensate for any weaknesses in other departments.

The extras feature original cast and crew interviews from 1988 as well as more recent footage. Behind the scenes footage shows Bookwalter and associates travelling to Ferndale, Michigan to discuss the financing of the film with the then secret executive producer. They point to the sign outside the offices where you can just make out the name of the production company involved. We are also shown work on the set design and special effects.

THE DEAD NEXT DOOR is an interesting debut from a director who would spend subsequent years producing straight-to-video fodder. The film confirms the fact that Super 8 film looks a hell of a lot nicer than DV, even the out-of-focus shots. Bookwalter’s movie would inspire numerous shot-on-video zombie films.

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Features:

Audio commentary by writer-director J.R. Bookwalter, actor/co-producer Michael Todd, and cinematographer Michael Tolochko Jr.
20 Years In 15 Minutes featurette
Cast auditions
Behind-the-scenes stills gallery
Behind-the-scenes footage
Deleted scenes and outtakes
Music video
Production stills gallery
Frightvision 200 Reunion
Video storyboards
Theatrical trailer.