I am amazed by this film. Wait, that’s not quite right… I am amazed that such a film has been in my hands. Even with the particular forebodings I had with the selections in the Haul of Dubious Quality, I was not expecting anything like this. You see, I’ve long been tangentially aware of the independent direct-to-video horror film circuit. I’m not a big convention goer (in fact I’ve only been to one small local one years ago), but any coverage of any size of comic or horror movie convention will always afford you a glimpse of table after table of DVDs that would never otherwise see the light of day. I’m aware that among more hardcore horror fans than I, there’s something of a cult following for these films. But I never anticipated possessing such a DVD myself, even if only briefly. I can’t honestly say I would have given any such tables a second glance were I to walk by them.
And yet, here we are. I admit I can’t absolutely confirm that Brain Damage Films, have ever put up a table of their wares at a convention. But it would seem to fit the bill. Their primary distribution seems to be over the internet (which has to be a godsend to such companies). I certainly can’t imagine this film ever showing up on the shelves at Target. And in the case of this film, that’s a good thing, because it’s not for general audiences. Not that it’s particularly gory or scary or anything. It’s just terrible.
For my regular readers, let me take a moment to state why this review isn’t a “Morbid Curiosity Files” review. That label is reserved for when I am watching a movie that I know I am going to dislike before I start watching it, but am watching it for some reason other than expected enjoyment. In the case of the films from the Haul of Dubious Quality, even though I’m doubtful, I’m trying to keep an open mind in most cases. They may look like B-movies, but I don’t know they’ll be bad, and at least a couple have turned out to be OK so far. It’s not a Morbid Curiosity Files entry if I don’t know it’ll bad ahead of time… no matter how soon into the film I figure it out. Even if it’s within a few seconds.
Such is the case with Dead 7, where I figured it out before the feature presentation itself technically started, but after I had pressed play. This is thanks to the introduction tacked on by Brain Damage Films, which — in spite of its intentions — sets the bar for expectations as low as it can possibly go. The emcee, who speaks as if he’s attempting to imitate Batman with a severe case of congestion, tries to sell the film you’re about to watch by describing it with the most lurid and verbose adjectives available (whether accurate or not), as if aware that it’s still technically possible to lose the audience at this stage. The set he speaks at is ridiculous, and the text display at the start is actually the back of his jacket — he stands in front of the camera, unmoving, for about 90 seconds. It lets the audience know in no uncertain terms what they are in for.
I’m honestly unsure as to how this could be more ridiculous without going into deliberate parody.
But enough bashing the introduction. The film itself is the focus of interest. To a certain extent, I almost feel bad saying anything negative about the film, which is very clearly a no-budget production. It feels a little bit like kicking a man while he’s down. But this blog is not here for sympathy, it is here for honesty, and even without turning on the “mean reviewer” switch, this is a film that fails on almost all measures. The one thing that I can give writer-director Garrett Clancy credit for is that the story does not at any point become too incoherent to follow. With some serious reworking it could even have been a passable story, even if it’s a fairly familiar archetype for slasher films: someone is killed and multiple people who are either directly involved or accessories after the fact begin falling one by one. The usual.
But there’s very little else to give even halfhearted praise to here. The dialogue writing is pedestrian and stilted, and most of the characters are not only two-dimensional, they’re two-dimensional cliches, from the raging meth dealer to the inept crooked cop. Additionally, Clancy seems to have taken the notion of having distinctive character names a little too much to heart in some cases, as the film includes such unlikely names as Venus Equinox and Brownley Dawkins. Dawkins is fairly normal, but I doubt I’m the only one who has never heard of Brownley as a first name. Meanwhile “Venus Equinox” sounds like a c-grade superhero. Names should generally be minor issues, but these took me out of the film, and the film needs all the help it can get.
Several of the scenes have issues as well, sometimes with the writing, sometimes the directing, and sometimes it’s hard to be certain just where the failure is. There’s one scene where a character gives the typical “you go after that one, save this one for me” line, and then they immediately go after the opposite targets; I’d be inclined to think it was simply a case of the wrong actor speaking the line, but the character was played by director Clancy himself, who certainly ought to know his own writing. Chase scenes tend to be hampered by the handheld camera’s shakiness and frequent poor aim; there are quite a few shots of someone’s stomach while running. Other scenes either fail to reach their intended impact, or just seem wholly unnecessary. The killer’s viewpoint is shown in a warm orange filter, which doesn’t sell the sense of the supernatural it’s apparently going for. Venus Equinox practices voodoo with her stuffed animals while dancing; in theory, this could perhaps look eerie and weird, but in practice it just looks comical. Meanwhile I could have done without the scene of the meth dealer masturbating to photos of his henchman’s severed head. I’m going to say that was a poor writing decision.
The actors… well, they’re amateurs. That buys them a certain amount of forgiveness on the quality of their delivery, given that it is after all an amateur production. But even with that allowance, it’s rare for any of them to seem believable in their scenes. Granted, they’re hampered by the clumsy dialogue, but even emotional reactions generally seem off — either too much or too little emoting depending the scene and the character. Sometimes the characters are flat and sometimes they’re screaming when they shouldn’t be.
The amateur production values and skills also come into play with the audio; voices fade in and out mid-dialogue, and more than one scream is accompanied by feedback distortion (this distortion was present even at low volume on my system, so I know it was a product of the film, not of my own speakers). I understand there are limits to what one can do when operating on a small budget, and that an amateur crew is limited by what equipment they can buy, but I also have to judge by the end result, and the end result wasn’t very good.
And that’s pretty much how I feel about the film as a whole. I applaud any amateur filmmaker simply for making the effort. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it feels a little mean to harp on issues with an amateur film. But the end result is what’s important. The questions at the heart of any review are always “Was I entertained?” and “Would I recommend it?” At the risk of being mean, I cannot answer either of those questions even slightly in the affirmative for Dead 7.