The Dead Matter (2014)
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As a fan of the musical duo Midnight Syndicate, I was thrilled to learn that Edward Douglas was working on a feature film entitled 'The Dead Matter.' I have followed the musical exploits of this group for over a decade and I looked forward to how their audio work would translate to the medium of film - with the chilling music they created it just seemed like a natural progression for them. Was it worth the wait? Most definitely - but there is a catch. First off it helps to have a healthy dose of Hammer Studios and Universal Monsters blood in your veins. If you grew up watching b-movies starring the likes of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff in late-night creature features, then you'll totally 'get' this movie's vibe. If, however, you aren't cursed with a wickedly warped sense of humor (and fun), then 'The Dead Matter' might come across as just another off-beat vamp flick. For me, I totally jived to the old school approach to horror that screenwriters Ed Douglas and Tony Demci offered up. You can see how they were influenced by their horror forefathers, but they also give the film a groovy twist by injecting a bit of George A. Romero into the picture's undead veins. I've tried to think of another movie that incorporated vampires AND zombies into the same film and came up empty. Nice! Throw in the fact that the film is capably directed by Douglas, has a healthy sense of humor (you'll dig the classroom dream!), sports a likable ensemble cast including genre legend Tom Savini, not to mention some killer make-up effects, Midnight Syndicate's gothic, Hammer-esque score, some genuine scares (I was all about the creepy cemetery 'death is the answer!' scene) and you'll understand why this movie satisfies an old-school fan-boy like me.
There were, however, a few minor points that I felt kept 'The Dead Matter' from becoming a classic film. For one, there were a lot of characters to keep track of - none of whom are fleshed out to their fullest potential. A little more backstory on the main characters of McCallister and his vampire adversaries would have been nice, as well as more history on Gretchen and her group of friends (not to mention the amulet). Likewise, some of the acting was hit or miss. I can't help but feel that some scenes might have been a bit rushed, resulting in fewer takes, so the actors weren't able to achieve the best performances they were capable of (Also - here's my idea: Douglas should have worked Vellich's horrible wig into the story somehow. Since he seems like such a vain vampire, seeing him put the wig on over nasty, patchy hair would have been a hoot. There was no way to hide the fact that he was wearing a wig, so they should have played it up rather than try to sell it as his real hair). One last point is the effects. While the make-up designs were amazing, some of the CGI was not entirely convincing. I also thought some more locations were needed and the ending was a bit too vague for my taste - but these gripes have more to do with budget constraints than anything and are minor issues that don't dramatically decrease the quality of the film as a whole.
When the final bloodsucker is staked, I thought Edward Douglas's 'The Dead Matter' was a fun-filled horror-fest that mostly satisfied and definitely entertained - which is what Douglas set out to do - so in that regard, the film is a smashing success. The clever plot, the gnarly make-up, the perfect score (that had many nods to Midnight Syndicate's past), and a healthy mix of b-movie charisma make this film a refreshing change from the usual horror schlock that Hollywood churns out. It's always a thrill to see when a group of filmmakers 'get it.' For me, the dead definitely matter!
As I mentioned above, the acting is a hit or miss affair in 'The Dead Matter.' Some of the actors came across as rather over-the-top (Divoff as Vellich needed to be de-fanged), many were somewhat wooden in their delivery (Sean Serino as Gretchen was pretty and definitely talented, but I just couldn't connect with her performance), and some, like Jason Carter as McCallister and Brian Van Camp as Mark were as solid as you can hope for. I can't come down too harshly on the cast as I feel like they were doing the best they could within the constraints of the script. Crafting more subtle, nuanced, and natural performances is something director Douglas will perfect as he grows as a director.
For his first full-length feature film, I thought Edward Douglas did an admirable job. With the amount of money invested in this picture it would have been easy to buckle under the pressure, but Douglas definitely holds his own. The direction tends to get a little static in places, particularly when there's a conversation taking place, but thankfully Douglas makes up for it with an energetic style when the pace of the film picks up - and I know he will only improve as a director with each film he gets under his belt. Well done!
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