AFF Review: DeadHeads

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DeadHeads still photo

The popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead series testifies to the longevity of this horror subgenre, with the success of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland prompting more "zombedies." Both of these movies focus on the survival of unaffected individuals during a zombie apocalypse, but DeadHeads takes another road with the story of two zombies just trying to survive and fulfill unrequited love. Written, produced and directed by brothers Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, DeadHeads pays homage to many of the classic zombie/undead films, especially Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, for which their father Bart Pierce handled the photographic special effects.

DeadHeads centers around Mike Kellerman (Michael McKiddy), who awakens to find himself in a strange place. After escaping, he encounters and runs in fear from flesh-eating zombies. What Mike doesn't quite get is that he is also one of the "undead," as he is able to speak and think regularly. A chance encounter with Brent (Ross Kidder) -- another zombie who can think and talk -- leads Mike to the realization that he's been dead for over three years. Even worse, as his memory returns he recalls that he had been on his way to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Natalie Victoria). But how did he die to begin with, and why are there zombie-killing bounty hunters pursuing him?

DeadHeads gives a nod to the classic road/buddy movies and is reminiscent of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with two characters from different backgrounds uniting to reach a destintion. Brent has no trouble accepting his lot in the afterlife -- he was already quite the slacker when he was alive -- but it is Mike who is determined to fulfill his intent of expressing his love for his girlfriend. Along the way the pair are joined up by pet zombie Cheese (Markus Taylor) and Vietnam vet Cliff (Harry Burkey). Cheese is a more "fleshed-out" version of zombified Ed in the denouement of Shaun of the Dead, and viewers may feel a bit more attachment to his character.

The comedic writing of DeadHeads is its greatest strength, especially when paying homage to classic zombie films such as The Evil Dead and Day of the Dead. An early action scene in the woods as Mike attempts to escape and subsequent reaction to zombies attacking and eating humans, as well as the loss of his own detached arm to convince him of his demise, had me laughing out loud.

The chemistry between McKiddy and Kidder was perfect, with Kidder often stealing the laughs from straight man McKiddy. However, supporting cast members roles came across as overdone caricatures of stereotypical B-movie characters -- most notably Eden Malyn as Emily, executive assistant for the head of the company, and Benjamin Webster as the overzealous McDinkle, with direction taking a turn often into into the realm of Hell Comes to Frogtown or as Jenn Brown noted, Troma films. The cinematography is well done and the special effects including makeup are decent for a film project of this size. However, the practical effects could have benefited from more modern techniques as I felt at times that I was watching a film from 20 years ago.

Much like Kerry Prior's The Revenant, which was also centered around a zombie lead character, DeadHeads relies on a sinister plan as the source of a zombie state. However, DeadHeads is much lighter humor and never takes itself too seriously. As long as viewers enter with this knowledge and not the highest expectations, this film will please zombie fans. Be forewarned very little mercy is shown for the undead, including children and women who are dispatched less than an undead heartbeat.

[DeadHeads will screen again at AFF on Sunday, October 23 at 8:30 pm at the Austin Convention Center Screen 2.]