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Movie Review: Dance of the Dead

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You've seen George Romero movies. You've seen John Hughes movies. But have you seen them rolled into one fantastic amalgamation? If not, you should definitely see Dance of the Dead.

Ten years ago, Joe Ballarini and Gregg Bishop graduated from USC film school with little under their belts but a few well-made 16mm student films. After coercing some of their old classmates to join in, the writing/directing team put together a zombie film created by unknowns, starring unknowns. Their goal? To produce one of the most entertaining pieces of cinema they had ever seen. According to the movie's DVD commentary, they succeeded. In fact, they even found a fan in Sam Raimi, who hand-picked the film as a selection in his Ghost House Underground DVD collection.

Dance of the Dead is the story of a group of high school students. You know them well… the underdog, the princess, the rebel, the nerds, and the cheerleader. When none of them winds up going to the prom, they find themselves in the middle of a zombie uprising. Now, little explanation is given for the emergence of said zombies, other than a nuclear reactor which looms over the skyline of their town. But this lack of exposition doesn't really matter once the zombies start flying out of their graves, hitting the ground running.

Our hero is Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz), the slacker who has always been in love with the red-headed student body vice president (Greyson Chadwick). The kids are joined by Hummer-driving, gun-weilding Coach Keel (Mark Oliver), who bashes zombie skulls with the same gusto he uses to torment his gym class. In the end, Jimmy of course becomes the hero and gets the girl. But along the way, he sees an awful lot of his friends turn into the walking dead.

What makes this movie so remarkable is not just the quirky, smart writing or the cast of real teenagers or the killer stunts or the visual effects. It is the fact that what appears to be a $200 million film was actually made for $200,000. It is almost impossible to see where corners were cut as Bishop uses the same tricks he employed in film school to masterfully stretch his tiny budget. (When you see zombies fly out of their graves via pullies attached to three fat guys, you'll know what I'm talking about). Filmed near Bishop's hometown in Georgia, Dance of the Dead features a number of local actors and uses almost all local crew and locations. And who knew After Effects could do everything they pay millions of dollars for ILM to do?

If you don't fall in love with every character in this film, your heart is dead inside. If you don't laugh at the Bring It On-style repartee, your comedy meter is seriously broken. If you don't feel a pang every time one of our heroes turns into a zombie (whoops, spoiler alert), you might just be one yourself.

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