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"Wow," with a capital W-O-W.
After reading the near-unanimous venomous sentiments being spat in the direction of Tobe Hooper's "Masters of Horror" episode, 'Dance of the Dead,' I had the lowest of low expectations. Additionally, I don't consider myself much of a fan of Hooper's oeuvre--save for "Texas Chainsaw" and the "Toolbox Murders" remake, his career has been sketchy, with projects often falling victim to studio meddling and financial troubles.
And at first, I thought it was just my low expectations that made 'Dance of the Dead' stand out...but as it progressed, I realized that Hooper had just made a damn good episode. What 'Dance' achieves that most of the other shows have been missing is a personalization of madness and horror. The 'monsters' are not rubber-suited creatures or knife-wielding slashers, but unassuming tropes pulled from everyday life: most prominently, parental loss of control and the corruption of youth. Bio-terrorism, drug use, lurid sex, hypocrisy, nihilism, and the exploitation of the dead also pop up.
The notion of 'messages' underlying the horror are bound to throw up a red flag for some, but Richard Christian Matheson's adaptation of his father's short story is ingeniously executed by Hooper, who employs jittery framing and whiplash edits to produce a visceral experience (I've never seen a film simulate a drug high as well as 'Dance of the Dead') that, instead of dulling the social commentary, heightens it in a way that only really becomes apparent once the episode ends. Comparatively, Joe Dante's 'Homecoming' failed because it bypassed horror and hammered us with its message, whereas Hooper strikes an effective balance between the two.
There are so many subtle surprises in 'Dance of the Dead' that it's best to keep the plot synopsis brief: In a post-apocalyptic landscape, Peggy (Jessica Lowndes) lives under the watchful eye of her mother, and makes eyes with Jak (Jonathan Tucker), a sensitive rebel who runs blood to the emcee (a wonderfully sleazoid Robert Englund) of a local fetish club where the dead get up and do the titular deed.
For all the negative notices 'Dance of the Dead' has received, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Hooper has created a short film that is as creepy, hopeless, and frightening as it is moving and deceptively intelligent. A true dark horse in the "Masters of Horror" series, highly recommended.
Tobe Hooper's Dance of the Dead is never going to win over the usual
horror crowd. Why's that? Well because it focuses on meaning, message
and character as opposed to jumps, gore and kills. For those who watch
a horror film just for the kills and gore, give up and go back to The
"Dance of the Dead". Tells a story of a angst ridden youth of America, brought on by a total disregard for human safety by those in power. A theme that's becoming more popular in the horror genre with Alexandre Aja's "The Hills Have Eyes" remake. There are no monsters here, save for the corrupted and corroded humanity of the characters.
A true Masters of Horror episode in that it's directed by Hooper (Whose "Poltergeist" would go on to inspire "Ringu") and based on the short story by Richard Matheson ("I am Legend" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man" are widely considered some of the best sci-fi, and in the case of the former, sci-fi/horror novels around). Hooper captured some of that foreboding, and pessimistic view of that master write Matheson, although hardly to the standard that the novel "I am Legend" did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just thought I'd post a positive review of this picture which although admittedly flawed, does however offer solid bizarro entertainment. There are scenes in this film that got under my skin, (burning the leftover bodies in the trash bin like so much random waste, Englund's character fondling twitching corpses and those "dance of the dead" sequences where we watch people hiller, howl and whoop it up over sick, twisted dehumanizing acts of depravity). Much like bum fights, boxing, or even audience reaction at wrestling events. The movie is both twisted, pointed and funny as well as repulsive and out of its' mind. It makes a mockery of society's insatiable need to be entertained as well as unveiling the real sick and evil of humanity when the Mother character is revealed to have forsaken one of her own children. Englund's a riot in this one too, marking in my opinion, his best collaboration with Hooper to date. I hope they work together again next season.
Peggy just might be the last innocent girl left in a post-apocalyptic
world. Nine years earlier, Peggy watched as a rain of toxic chemicals
maimed, scarred and/or killed her friends at her seventh birthday
party. It is a memory which haunts her still, along with the deaths of
her father and older sister Anna. Sheltered by her overprotective
mother, the pretty sixteen year old Peggy works in the family diner in
a town which has all but dried up and blown away. When a group of
dangerous punks wanders into the diner one day, Peggy is immediately
attracted to the leader, Jak, a tough but nice guy. It is love at first
sight, but Peggy's hate- filled mother kicks the foursome out. It's too
late though. Jak has already arranged to meet Peggy at midnight, and
Peggy slips away with Jak and his friends to the forbidden and
dangerous town of Muskeet, where the diseased and the dying go to
party. Peggy is taken to the Doom Room, a scummy nightclub run by a
sleazy Emcee (Robert Englund) who literally deals in blood. The toxic
rainfall of 9 years earlier left many of its victims in a state of
undeath, but when injected with fresh blood, the zombies are briefly
reanimated. Hauled out onto the grimy stage of the Doom Room, the
zombies are poked with cattle prods, twitching and contorting for the
amusement of the customers. This is the Dance of the Dead, and Peggy
will learn more about it in one night than she ever wanted to know.
I was really impressed with this third entry in the Masters of Horror series. This is Tobe Hooper's first foray into the zombie genre and it's a unique take. These aren't flesh-eating ghouls out for blood, just pathetic cadavers who have become entertainment in a world without cable reality TV shows.
The camera work is dizzying, the music is hard, cold and nihilistic and the performances are great, particularly by Englund whose Emcee is a thousand times scummier, sleazier and nastier than Freddy Krueger could ever hope to be. Jonathan Tucker as Jak is an extremely likable character, despite the fact that he's a thief and a drug addict - he's also chivalrous and heroic, an odd combination that Tucker miraculously makes work. Jessica Lowndes as the innocent Peggy is perfect, going from scared kid to world weary woman within an hour.
Suitably disgusting and abysmally bleak, Dance of the Dead is fun to watch and difficult to look away from, kind of like a particularly bloody car accident. I would (and will) watch this one over and over again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While 'Dance of the Dead' isn't my favorite Masters of Horror episode,
it's still a pretty good entry. If you're expecting
conventional-horror, look-elsewhere, this is about a horror that is
internal. Peggy (played wonderfully by Jessica Lowndes) is a young-girl
living in the contaminated-ruins of the United States, in Michigan. She
and her mother run a diner in what is left of their community, while
the streets are populated with the sick, dying, and gangs of youths
willing to do anything to survive. Utilities still exist, and there is
food, but the social environment is every-man-for-himself, a situation
very close to complete anarchy.
Everyone in the film is dying-slowly from a terrorist-attack of a chemical weapon known as 'blitz', especially those who have been exposed-directly. In Richard Matheson's original-story, 'blitz' is exploded in the stratosphere, creating a huge corona-cloud that rains a skin-eating snow on its victims. Most of the victims have the look of lepers. One day, a gang of young 'blood-runners' comes into the diner led by a guy named Jak, and Peggy goes with them to the shunned city of 'Muskeet', where the dance of the dead is the main-event for nihilist-survivors and criminals. According to the MC of the club (Robert Englund, in a show-stealing performance), the military found that certain chemical-warfare agents would reanimate dead-troops to keep them fighting. One of the main-ingredients for this process is blood. Peggy's mother has warned her about the town ('It should be burned to-the-ground.'), with an odd-turn. She's hiding-something, like the fate of her other-daughter who...you'll have to watch the episode.
In this bleak-future that could happen tomorrow, Tobe Hooper shows us where America is psychologically, and where it could end-up. I've actually talked to people in their twenties about this entry, and none of them could tell me why they didn't like it. I can tell you why--it paints-a-picture of youth that isn't flattering, and it makes a few comments on the counterculture (as a dead-end expression) that aren't either. We aren't really very far as a culture from the 'dance of the dead' strip-shows, not-at-all. America has become-addicted to a form of sexualized-violence in our culture, and it's a violence that is senseless and without any motivation behind-it, or meaning. Some would call this conditioning.
37-years-ago, director Sam Peckinpah tried to change this with 'The Wild Bunch', by showing-us violence for what it really was and, for-a-time, it worked. With his machine-gun editing (taken-up by Hooper here, the hour-episode has1,100-cuts), and his graphic-depictions of people dying in slow-motion, Peckinpah tried to make people sick. By the 1980s, this style had been copied ad-infinitum without any depictions of the consequences of violence. Ironically, showing these consequences is more visually-graphic, and usually earn a 'hard-R', 'X', or an NC-17 rating for a movie. So, by the 1980s, Peckinpah had been trumped by Hollywood. Today, it's even-worse.
Hooper (and both Matheson-scribes) shoves this fact in our collective-face, and he does it with a barrage of imagery that is pretty-ugly. You could take-away the setting of a post-apocalypse America, and you could still tell this story in the present about an overprotected 16-year-old girl who loses her innocence. This overprotection is crucial, and Matheson setting the story in the American Midwest is strongly-symbolic. This is the real story of 'Dance of the Dead', and it rankles the wounded-idealist in all of us. But again, he's also telling us that we are jaded, bored and dehumanized, another reason some viewers were angered by the piece.
Sadly, most of the bad-reviews of this film only prove-its-point: we have become desenitized and dehumanized as a culture. Through the use of deep-colors, incredible-composition, and an editing-style that can only be called a barrage, Hooper has a great work here. Also, most of the gore here is pretty grim, and I expect a certain level of it in most horror-films. It's my own humble-opinion that the worst horror-fans are gorehounds, but even-worse is the film-buff who expects Orson Welles to do Citizen Kane over-and-over again (you could argue he did). This is a great addition to Tobe Hooper's canon, even an exceptional one. I think the main-problem people had with this film was the editing--it never lets you rest, and that's good. What a heavy metal Weimar Republic-nightmare he has crafted, it's stunning and real. We're all denizens of the Doom Room.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the best in this series. Very different, and somehow quite disturbing. Some of the visual elements, especially the dumpster scene, tend to stick in my mind. It's definitely not a gore fest as some would like to hope, but reanimation is simply a creepy topic! There is some bad acting, especially from the main character, but the originality makes up for it. In this show the real monsters are indeed the average human, and it certainly does not end on a positive note. It captures a great glimpse of teenage uncertainty and a loss of hope when it seems the entire world has become morally degenerate, family included, and there's no more reason to anticipate a remedy.
The writing of Richard Matheson, the directing of Tobe Hooper, the most
violent music ever composed by Billy Corgan... and the legendary Robert
Englund. Even if this movie failed, it would still be memorable for
such a line up.
In a world that has been plagued by terrorist attacks (chemical attacks called "the blitz" if I understood the film correctly), few still live a normal life while many have gone on to a city called Muskeet where death and drugs are a part of life.
My only problem with this film is the way things were left unclear. To some degree, a mystery about the past helps the plot, but I was really confused through most of the movie and even after I had many questions. A film of this magnitude would almost have been better as a television series.
I also became a bit frustrated with Hooper's repeated camera technique I can only describe as "the water ripple", which he must have done fifty times. Once or twice would have been nice, but the film was hard to watch when it wouldn't stop.
Anyway, the acting was great. The main character (Peggy) was beautiful and strong, a great protagonist. Jak was also well cast. Everyone else could have been played by just about anyone (which is not to say they did a bad job, this film has some of the finest goth girls I've ever seen). And Robert Englund? Not his best performance, but great just the same.
I saw many parallels to "A Clockwork Orange", which I enjoyed (though some might say it was a derivative movie). The bouncers in suspenders, the car speeding scene, violence to old people. I could even say there's a connection between Alex's gang drinking milk and Jak's gang drinking orange juice (both wholesome beverages for degenerate people).
While the film had its weak spots (the actual "dance of the dead" is nothing special), they made up for it with the extra sex and drugs that any good horror film ought to have. And according to my friend Jason, they greatly improved upon what was a mediocre short story (though I cannot independently confirm this).
In a post-apocalypse society, the seventeen years old Peggy (Jessica
Lowndes) lives with her protective mother and works in her restaurant.
She misses her sister Anna, who died some time ago. When two couples of
punks come to the place to eat some hamburgers, Peggy feels attracted
by Jak (Jonathan Tucker), who invites her to date with him later. Peggy
goes out with Jak without telling her mother, and they go to a dark
place, the Doom Room, where the master of ceremony (Robert Englund) is
the ringmaster of a freak show with dead. The MC injects blood in the
dead, and they dance on a ring for the exalted audience. When Peggy
sees her sister Anna dancing in the show, the MC discloses the truth
about her presence in the circus.
"Dance of the Dead" is another apocalyptic view of mankind after the Third World War, where the survivors watch the dance of the dead maybe to feel alive. The sick and unpleasant story is actually about the lead character Peggy and the fate of her beloved sister. She unravels the mystery about the death of her sister and never understands the fight of survival of her mother. I found this episode of Masters of Horror only reasonable. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Dança dos Mortos" ("Dance of the Dead")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I very much ed enjoyed this episode and found that it was great step forward for the great Toby Hooper. I had hated his version Toolbox Murders and found Mortuary to be dull but better than Toolbox Murders. This episode being the ninth I've seen so far I found it to be the sickest of the shows so far and was quite pleased. This is the furthest Tobe or Robert Englund has ever gone. While Freddy Krueger is a better character than th M.C, I think the M.C is just so gross that he has to be at least in the top five of Roberts best characters. I think the plot being set in the future and showing the fall of man was great too. The sex really pushed the envelope on this one and if they were allowed to show this I can't wait to see Imprint. This is awesome see it.
Dance Of the Dead deals with a post-war America. Millions of people are
either dead or infected by 'blizz', an acid rain that eats your skin
off of the bone, or if you live you are infected. Scary thought. Of
course there pockets of civilization here and there trying to survive.
Okay, what do do for entertainment? The story is about Peggy, a good
hearted teenage girl who works in her mother's diner. In comes four
teenage thugs and Peggy takes a liking to one of them. She sneaks away
with him and sees what's out there by going to the 'Doom Room' a night
club of sorts to see the 'dance of the dead'.
All of the characters are likable, and Robert Englund's performance is really over the top! I like Tobe Hooper's camera tricks because they add to the insanity of the world in the story.
Good story, fine acting, but not scary in terms of "BOO!" moments, but in the thought of how this can happen.
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