Here's yet another zombie comedy, one that I was really looking forward to seeing. The 2006 production DIE AND LET LIVE was shot in Fairmont, WV, not too far from my old stomping grounds of Morgantown (where, in fact, the movie's premiere was held). And while director Justin Channell's film is relatively charming, it never packs quite enough oomph--in either a comedic or horrific capacity--to really score.
The movie focuses on a pair of lovable college goofballs Benny and Smalls (played by Josh Lively and co-writer Zane Crosby, respectively). When Benny despairs over his unrequited crush on the lovely Stephanie (Sarah Bauer), Smalls decides to cheer up his pal by throwing a party. (Maybe not the most original of plot conceits, but would any movie be shot so close to WVU and not center around a party?) What the boys don't realize is a nearby medical research lab has accidentally unleashed a swarm of the living dead, and soon Benny and Smalls have bigger concerns than the pizza getting delivered on time.
Though the level of humor in DIE AND LET LIVE is decidedly sophomoric, and the characters often obnoxious jackasses, the movie itself never becomes intolerable, buoyed by its feel-good tone; so even if there are only a few genuinely funny moments, it's still consistently amusing--though it felt more like a rejected sitcom pilot than a horror-comedy. The non-professional actors are surprisingly good, even if they're not exactly out of their comfort zone. Channell even wrangles a few cameos from Troma fixtures Lloyd Kaufman (who must be serious about usurping Stan Lee for the number of most annoyingly gratuitous cameos) and the always-welcome Trent Haaga (in a blip of a role as the head of the research facility where the zombies originated), as well as a voice-only "appearance" by Debbie Rochon. And the gore, while not in the over-the-top league, should still be sufficient to satisfy fans of the red stuff.
The film's biggest problem is mostly its pace, which has the same "Whatever, dude" disposition of much of its cast, aimlessly meandering from one vignette to another without any forward momentum. If the story had had a real spark to it, this easily could've been a non-stop blood-and-chuckle-fest like Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, but unfortunately never gathers enough steam. And though I realize having Benny and Smalls's primary conflict be getting the super-awesome Bambino's Pizza is part of the humor, a more substantial throughline would've made for a stronger movie.
Regardless, DIE AND LET LIVE is all about having a good time, both for its characters and its audience, and thankfully never takes itself seriously (something I wish a lot more do-it-yourselfers would do). Although Channell and his friends didn't quite hit their mark, I look forward to what they've got up their sleeves for next time.