THE LAUGHING DEAD is the first feature from writer/director S.P. Somtow, perhaps best known as the author of such novels as VAMPIRE JUNCTION and the Stoker-nominated DARKER ANGELS. Filmed in 1989, the movie never garnered a legitimate release, though it's quite easy to find through "alternative" markets. Far from an unappreciated masterpiece, DEAD at least offers up a worthwhile experience for the adventurous viewer.
The somewhat jumbled story involves Father O'Sullivan (Tim Sullivan, in one of the most anemic performances I've ever seen by a lead actor), a clergyman suffering from a crisis of faith, as well as a series of mysterious dreams involving a former lover (a nun) and the illegitimate son they had. As a way to solve both his problems Sullivan heads up an archaeological trip to Mexico, bringing along what has to be the most obnoxious cast of characters ever assembled, including an annoying New Age couple, a greasy disco rat, and Sullivan's old flame and bastard son (an insufferable little shit with the foulest mouth I've heard on a child actor). Once they arrive south of the border, Sullivan finds himself cursed by a mad doctor, who's performing a series of rites that will eventually transform him into the incarnation of the Mayan god of death.
Though it's riddled with lousy performances, stilted dialogue, and feeble attempts at black humor that fall hopelessly flat, I'm surprised this movie never found a home on cassette, since it's no worse than the dreck that clogged video shelves in the late-eighties. What probably probed to be DEAD's undoing is the fact that child sacrifice plays a large part in the plot; there's even a sequence in which a line of young boys is slaughtered in procession--implied, mostly, though Somtow frequently cuts to a plateful of tiny, still-beating hearts throughout the scene. There's also a fair amount of gore which may have proved problematic, though I wouldn't call it excessive.
THE LAUGHING DEAD works best with a group of friends (preferably those with a MST3K-style film scholarship) and your chemical of choice, though Somtow sprinkles a few weird, surrealistic moments throughout--including a kinda-disturbing dream sequence involving the li'l bastard's birth--so hallucinogens may not be neccesary. There's plenty of ludicrous FX on display (courtesy of John Carl Buechler's MMI Inc.) such as shoddy opticals, a neat but stupid hand-down-the-throat gag (sorry), and a climactic showdown between two "giant" (re: miniature) rubber monsters.
Oh, and the zombies? They're in the mess somewhere, popping up late in the movie as the mad doctor's minions and don't do much outside of playing the dumbest basketball game in cinematic history (Forry Ackerman also appears in a cameo, but I missed him).
If you can get your hands on a copy, THE LAUGHING DEAD is worth a glance, though I wouldn't suggest going out of your way for it. It's still an entertaining flick, just not in the sense that I bet Somtow intended it to be.