“There is a place, a mystical nexus, where this unholy relic can be destroyed. I only hope we can get there before Vellich.”
When you think of Edward Douglas, you really do not think about him as a film director or writer. He’s made a name for himself mostly in the music business. No, you aren’t going to see his videos on MTV, and it’s not likely that you’ll find his name on the charts. He’s become somewhat the poster child for specialized Halloween music. So, I guess it isn’t that large a leap to find him writing and helming his first film, obviously a horror film. In case you’re not familiar with his music or band, Midnight Syndicate, Douglas won’t let you forget them in his first film. Their music and name can be found splattered, if you’ll excuse the pun, all over The Dead Matter.
Gretchen (Serino) has lost her brother. She blames herself for his death and misses him terribly. The experience has plunged her into an obsession with the occult. She wants desperately to communicate and even bring back her dead brother Sean. Together with three friends, she heads to a reportedly haunted area in the woods. There she finds an amulet in the shape of a scarab. The four attempt to hold a séance to contact Sean. The amulet comes to life and brings on a flurry of paranormal activity. While the séance didn’t connect her with Sean, it did bond her to the amulet. She soon discovers that it has the power to bring back and control the dead when a zombie (they prefer to be called Post-Mortem Americans), arrives at her bedside willing to do whatever she commands.
Enter the Van Helsing character, one McCallister (Carter) who arrives to find the gang playing with their pet zombie who happens to be his departed friend and partner, Mike (Nagel). He warns them of the power of the amulet and that it must be destroyed. McCallister has been hunting the amulet, attempting to keep it from the hands of two vampires in the area. There’s Vellich (Divoff) and his rival Sebed (Savini). Sebed runs a kind of vampire lair and drug business. It appears that a breakthrough diet drug also happens to be highly addictive to vampires. Sebed controls his minions with this Drac cocaine. Will Gretchen be willing to give up her new power, or will she find that absolute power corrupts? Of course, with great power comes… (sorry, wrong movie).
There’s a lot to like about The Dead Matter, even if there’s not a lot to love. The film is an obvious low-budget affair with all of the limitations that the term implies. That includes a good many members of the cast. It’s not the worst group, and no one is obviously bad, but some of the line delivery has that stinted read-from-the-script feel. Some of this might be more the inexperience of Douglas as a writer. Still, there are some rather notable standouts in the cast. Sean Serino has quite a presence as Gretchen. Her performance is decidedly understated and never stilted or stiff. There’s something about her that is rather compelling. She’s no raving beauty, but she has an essence that the camera appears to simply love. It’s always good to see my old friend Tom Savini getting so much work as of late in front of the camera. Of course, he’ll never be the quality actor that he has been makeup genius, but who is? Savini’s role is rather limited here, but he manages to steal most of the scenes in which he finds himself. There’s something about that over-the-top grin that never feels over-the-top when he uses it to such effect. My hat’s off to Tom for another memorable character. Andrew Divoff has the necessary intensity to make Vellich a great looking character, but I think he’s hindered by rather unclear motives and actions. Of course, you know him best as Nathaniel from The Wishmaster films. Jason Carter plays the Van Helsing role of McCallister pretty well. He’s a strong presence, particularly with his voice. That should be no real surprise, as that’s how he makes more of his living, as a popular voice actor. Prolific stuntman Jim O’Rear has a very nice role as a vampire henchman to Savini who is hooked on the stuff.
The movie has a camp atmosphere to it. So many of the images reminded me of the old William M. Gaines pulp magazines. There are a few throwaway images that are almost obviously intended as an homage to that sort of motif. Even some of the music has an almost Tales From The Crypt sound to it. You can’t really take a lot of what goes on here too seriously. In the commentary, Douglas readily admits that the sole purpose here was to have fun and entertain. I’d say he achieved that goal.
The Dead Matter is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I’m afraid that the bit rate falls low enough that this is not a great image presentation. It appears to be shot quite well, but the transfer is seriously lacking. Black levels are weak, and compression artifact is a serious problem here. That’s compounded when you have such a dark picture. There appears to be a ton of green screen for backgrounds here, and it does look rather obvious at times. I would very much like to have seen a better transfer of the film.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 does what is asked of it. There are a few good jump moments that make fine use of the surrounds. Dialog is fine. It should not be surprising that the music gets a lot of attention in this mix and sounds pretty solid.
There is an Audio Commentary with Edward Douglas and fellow producers Robert Kurtzman (with whom Upcomingdiscs spoke to about the film Deadly Impact) and Gary Jones. No, this is not the Gary Jones of Stargate fame. The trio have a lot of fun together, and the track is quite informative. The rib each other quite a bit and are enjoying pizza and chips throughout. The atmosphere of the commentary easily represents what it must have been like on the set. These guys act like they know how to have fun and never take themselves all that seriously.
Maximum Dead Matter: This is one of those good news/bad news things. The good news is that this mode of watching the film provides a huge Halloween bag of sweet goodies. While you watch, the film pop-ups and picture-in-picture screens provide a ton of behind the scenes footage and interviews. It’s a great way to see this material in relation to what is happening on the film. The bad news is that it takes up a lot of bandwidth. It eats up so much of the bit rate that the film itself suffers. This would be an absolute wonderful extra on a Blu-ray, and there is a reason why these things are most often left to HD releases.
Gag Reel: (3:05)
Fun With Mark, The Zombie: (1:20) A rather amusing little music montage of Gretchen and Mark.
I can’t wait until we reach the day when Blu-ray releases are within the budget of these kinds of films. If the movie suffers at all, it is that everyone is too ambitious here. There’s a lot going on that often makes the character motivations very hard to completely track. There’s a side story about the guys developing the drug and the relationship with Gretchen. It’s a great plot point, but there’s just too much going on here. The piece does allow for the appearance of Christopher Robichaud as Frank, a character and actor held over from the original film, which I have never seen, or unfortunately, heard about. In the end, it’s an entertaining film, to be sure. Also unfortunately, this movie looks like it was even more fun to make. Where do I sign up to cameo in the sequel? “Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun, if only I’d brought my Ouija board. What was I thinking?”