• Dead Next Door, The



    Released by: Tempe Video
    Released on: September 26th, 2017.
    Director: J.R. Bookwalter
    Cast: Peter Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Michael Grossi, Jolie Jackunas
    Year: 1989
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    The Movie:

    Directed over the span of a few years by J.R. Bookwalter who shot not on video but on Super 8mm film, 1989’s The Dead Next Door may owe a massive debut to the films of George Romero but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Shot (mostly) in and around Akron, Ohio and funded in part by none other than Sam Raimi (using the pseudonym of The Master Cylinder!), it’s a fast paced gut muncher made with a lot of obvious dedication and love for the genre.

    When the movie begins, a plague has overtaken much of the country – we see hordes of zombies in fields, in the streets, even visiting the country’s capital! Raimi (Pete Ferry) and his crew of Zombie Squad commandos are out there doing what needs to be done: shooting the undead in the head and eliminating as many of the walking corpses as they can.

    Things get complicated when Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic) develops a formula that should stop the outbreak. Raimi and the others do their best to try and track him down and along the way run afoul of a cult led by Reverend Jones (Robert Kokai) who wants to use the zombies for his own personal gain.

    Admittedly, the story here has its share of problems but there’s so much enthusiasm up there on the screen that it’s easy to look past the logic gaps and questionable choices that pretty much every character makes at one point or another. A lot of the characters in the movie are named after a director, actor or famous horror character – in addition to Raimi there’s a Carpenter, a Savini, a Jason and a Vincent and there are references to Romero and Stephen King littered throughout the film. This is all too common in modern times but in the mid-eighties when Bookwalter was making this picture, it didn’t seem like the cliché it has become.

    The performances won’t win any awards and much of the acting is wooden but Ferry handles himself well in the lead, at least giving his part enough charisma that we wind up liking the guy enough to care what happens to him. Pecic is also amusing as the doctor while Kokai goes over the top as the cult leader (though it works in the context of the fairly nutty set pieces his character is a key part of). Look for none other than Scott Spiegel was one of Raimi’s soldiers in early in the film.

    That might all sounds like negative press, but really, The Dead Next Door is an extremely likable film, particularly if you’re the type of movie buff that enjoys seeing what creativity and guts can do in place of a big budget and an experienced crew. Bookwalter favors carnage and gore over deep characters but he does what he does well in this film. The effects are impressive and handled quite nicely while the locations used throughout the movie are effective and help to give the picture a much bigger feeling of scale. There’s also some fairly effective and often times very dark comedy in the picture that adds to the overall entertainment value that it provides.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    For the film’s limited edition Blu-ray debut (reviewed here) a crowd funding campaign was launched to allow Bookwalter the opportunity to basically re-edit the film from a fresh 2k scan of the original Super 8mm elements. Where some of those elements could not be found, tape sourced inserts are used but this doesn’t happen to often and when it does, thankfully it isn’t all that jarring. This reissue is based off of the new scan. The Blu-ray gives you the option to watch the movie in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio or in 1.78.1 widescreen (in fact the Blu-ray disc in this set is identical to the Blu-ray disc in the earlier release), both transfers presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Compared to what we’ve had before, this is a pretty substantial upgrade. While the movie will (and should) always look like the low budget production that it is, there’s a lot more detail here and a lot less print damage. The disc is well authored, there isn’t any overzealous noise reduction even if things look a tiny bit smoother than you might expect. The picture is free of obvious compression artifacts, boasts good black levels and strong color reproduction.

    Two audio options are presented for the film, both in English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio – the ‘original cast mix’ uses as much of the live audio that was recorded during the shoot as possible, so here you’ll find the cast all speaking in their own voices. The ‘classic dubbed mix’ is an alternate option in which pretty much everyone is dubbed (sometimes by an uncredited Bruce Campbell!). This is the cleaner, more concise track of the two provided, it’s got better directionally and sounds much stronger than the ‘original’ mix but they’re both here and that can only be seen as a good thing for fans. Optional English subtitles are provided.

    Extras are comprehensive, to say the least. In addition to the two different aspect ratios and two different audio options the disc also includes a commentary track led by writer/director J.R. Bookwalter who is joined by producers Jolie Jackunas and Scott P. Plummer.

    The Blu-ray disc also includes some interesting featurettes, starting with a twenty minute piece called Restoration Of The Dead. As you could have probably guessed from the title, this is a look at what went into putting this package together with a whole lot of very technical information provided by Bookwalter himself about shooting, editing and restoring this picture. It’s genuinely interesting stuff as it gives us a bit of a history lesson but also shows just how much work went into this. The twelve minute Capitol Theater Screening is a look at a showing of the feature that took place in 2015 where many of the cast and crew members appeared to talk about their work in the film. This is complimented by the Nightlight Screening feataurette, which Bookwalter delivers a sixteen minute Q&A session with to a crowd of theater goers. Also included here is a nineteen minute assemblage of Behind The Scenes footage. There’s some interesting stuff in here, including material shot while the movie was in production, some location footage and quite a bit more. Bookwalter provides commentary over this material.

    Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray disc is seven minutes of Deleted Scenes/Outtakes presented with commentary from Bookwalter that gives the material some welcome context and explains why what we see in this section didn’t wind up making the cut. We also get four fairly comprehensive still galleries (Around The World, Storyboard, Behind The Scenes and Production Stills), a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The Blu-ray isn’t the only disc in this set, however. There’s also a DVD included that contains a lot more supplemental material, and surprisingly enough the content on this disc is not the same as the content included on the DVD with the limited edition Blu-ray (which might irk those who helped fund that release). Alongside a standard definition version of the restored feature in fullframe format (with both audio options offered up in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound) we also get three commentary tracks. The first is the same producer’s track found on the Blu-ray disc but we also get a 2001 track recorded for a foreign DVD release featuring Bookwalter and makeup FX technician David Lange and the 2005 commentary featuring Bookwalter alongside actor Michael Todd and cinematographer Michael Tolochko Jr.. Both of these are pretty engaging talks but by this point, there’s a fair bit of crossover between the three commentary tracks – but hey, better to have them here than to not.

    From there we move on to the featurettes starting with Richards Returns, a five minute interview with Scott Spiegel in which he talks about his part in the film, how he and Sam Raimi came to be involved in the picture after seeing a short film that Bookwalter had shown them, how the movie ‘had something’ and his thoughts on both the picture and the shoot. After that, it’s time for an eight minute location tour shot in 1999 with actor James L. Edwards. Shot fifteen years after the original movie it’s an interesting look at how things have changed over the years with some recollections from Edwards as to what the shoot was like. Twenty Years In Fifteen Minutes is fifteen minute long featurette made up of cast and crew interviews in which they talk about the involvement of ‘Mister X,’ Bookwalter’s directing style and ambition, what makes the movie different from other zombies movies before and since (the cult angle being a big one) and lots more.

    Rounding out the extras on the DVD are a collection of video storyboards, a music video, six minutes of video pre-shoots, fourteen minutes of audition footage and a six minute clip from the 2000 Frightfest Reunion that took place alongside a screening of the film. Trailers for a few other Tempe releases are included on the disc as well as menus and chapter selection.

    Not included with this reissue but found on the aforementioned limited edition release from last year are a few exclusive featurettes, the original version of the film with an optional commentary from Doug Tilley and Moe Porne of the No Budget Nightmares podcast, the soundtrack CD and liner notes from Mike Gingold. The first 1,000 units of this release come packaged with a slipcover featuring some newly commissioned artwork.

    The Final Word:

    The Dead Next Door has aged quite well, it’s an ambitious and entertaining slice of low budget zombie mayhem made with some obvious passion and impressive ingenuity. This Blu-ray release offers those who didn’t get the limited edition a chance to own the film in great shape and loaded with extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!