Harking from the dismal days of the shot-on-video era of the early '90s--1992, to be exact--comes DEAD IS DEAD, an odd little flick (and I don't mean that as a compliment) from writer/producer/director Mike Stanley. While it technically counts as a zombie movie--a great deal of the dialogue is spent discussing them, even if only one actually makes an appearance--Stanley's indecisive screenplay can't seem to focus on the living dead, despite it being the most interesting aspect.
Stanley also stars in the film as Eric, a former drug addict returning to his hometown in order to rectify his tragic past (the backstory, presented in a confessional, operates under some pretty shaky logic, but it involves a loan from a drug dealer, Eric's brother, and the hospital fire that killed the latter). Eric stumbles upon an experimental serum that can regenerate damaged body parts--as he learns when his arm's bitten off by a tacky special effect early in the film--and, when taken soon enough, restores the dead to life. But when he tries to sell the serum to the dealer to whom he's indebted, he not only ends up double-crossed and murdered, a gloriously mishandled sequence involving the slowest truck chase captured on tape, but he also included a spoiled batch that turns people into "walking zombies." (There'll be no fast zombies here, my friends.) Reanimated by the very same formula, Eric embarks on a woefully pathetic spree of vengeance.
Even without the zombie subplot (a thread that takes up maybe a whopping three minutes of screen time), DEAD IS DEAD had the makings of a potentially good low-budget film, but Stanley opts to shoot himself in the foot at every opportunity. Forgiving the film's grainy videotaped photography, which gives it the production value of an amateur porno, the story is rife with plot holes. For instance, several of the characters are killed repeatedly, only to return thanks to the formula; however, each time this happens the person killed is left alone--so who's giving them the serum? The dialogue mentions a steady intake will accelerate the healing process, but unless I heard wrong, you have to be dead and then given the serum to return to life. Or something. I don't know. Moving on.
None of the four pirincipal actors in this thing can act worth a damn, especially the drug dealer who looks like he should be manning the customer service counter at Circuit City. Stanley shows a glimmer of promise in the opening scene, but as he continues to spew his own horrible dialogue--including the poorest excuse for tough-guy banter I've ever heard--his performance gets increasingly worse as the film wears on. What the hell kind of protagonist--or any character, for that matter--holds a shotgun on someone, only to pull a pistol from their belt and cap them?
If anything, Stanley's skills as a director are at least on a par of his as an actor. Watching this thing I wondered if he'd ever heard of an establishing shot, since most scenes begin with a tedious montage of Stanley eating, or sitting at a bar, or engaging in conversations with extras sans dialogue. Speaking of which, what's the point of these scenes where people talk about characters and events that we never see as if they're relevant to the movie, then abandon them?
DEAD IS DEAD is shit. A mediocre short film stretched to an interminable 70-odd minutes, it can't even entertain at its own expense. And considering Stanley never made another film, I think he knew that.