director J. R. Bookwalter
J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door is one of those films that I saw on video shelves over the years but had no context for at all. The above image emblazoned the VHS box or DVD cover and certainly was intriguing. Also, the fact that the title seemed to have been borrowed from the 1983 Billy Idol tune “The Dead Next Door” (I was pretty into Billy Idol as a young teen), all this was interesting enough, but never tipped the scale in its favor for me.
What’s really interesting about this film is some of the “behind-the-scenes” stuff, the things that in 1989 would have been hard to get one’s hands on but are now at the fingertips of any intrepid Googler. The film was executive produced by Sam Raimi, under a pseudonym, which makes character names such as “Raimi”, “Savini”, “Romero”, and “King” make even more sense. But the big thing about the film is that the whole thing was shot on Super-8, the lowest of lo-fi film formats, which tells you a lot about the production. It was clearly done intentionally that way. How many other feature-length Super-8 movies are there?
The other thing about the film is that its ambitions are high. This is no piece of junk film, though from its low-budget origins and aesthetics, one might really wonder about this film otherwise. It is set in a post-zombie apocalypse world, with a team “Zombie Squad” that goes around trying to rescue people and help solve the disease. It also features a mad preacher who wants to bring about the end of times. And for its bootstrap approach, it’s a pretty fine fiesta of a zombie movie.
In fact, the FX (all practical) are rather gruesomely and effectively played out. One has to wonder if this film might have had greater reach with a slightly elevated budget and shooting on a higher quality film stock.
What all that means for the film today is that it is a genuine oddity and an excellent one. What really struck me was that I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987), also shot on the cheap and I think 16mm film stock got an aspect of Criterion recognition (at least on Hulu Plus), while this film, in many ways, is much cooler and more interesting. Sure, it doesn’t have a theme song performed by The Fleshtones, but to each its own.