The Film (3.5/5)
J.R. Bookwalter should be a name familiar to those who are fans of the American underground horror scene of the 80's and 90's. Bookwalter through his Tempe Entertainment imprint, and later working with Charles Band during the decline of Full Moon's initial run would create such interesting genre fare as Ozone, Witchhouse 2: Blood Coven, and my personal favorite Polymorph.
Bookwalter was a pioneer in the use of VHS and later Digital Video as a format to shoot low budget horror, but at the beginning of his career he would shoot his films on Super 8mm. His earliest and best known film released on Ultimate Edition Blu-ray through Tempe Entertainment this month, The Dead Next Door would be shot using the Super 8mm format, and may be the largest scale production ever shot on the format.
The Dead Next Door takes place during a full scale zombie epidemic, the U.S., and possibly the world have been infested by the undead. The U.S. government has put together various "Zombie Squads" to act as exterminators of the zombie menace. One of these squads is sent by a scientist from their Virginia home base to Akron, OH. in order to retrieve the notes of the Doctor who caused the outbreak in the hopes of using his research to find a cure. Prefiguring the P.C. movements of the 90's There are also cults of people who are looking to preserve the current undead status quo, these people state that the zombies have a right to exist, as they are a part of God's will to punish the people of Earth. Of course when the Zombie Squad and these zombie cultists clash, things go horribly awry.
The Dead Next Door can be considered a minor classic of early 80's splatter. It's obvious very quickly that Bookwalter had a certain affection for the splatter classics that populated video store shelves in this era. The film's characters, of course, utilize the names of such genre luminaries as Savini, Carpenter, and Raimi (who is coincidentally the producer of this film under the pseudonym The Master Cylinder). Of course, outside of those blatant acts of homage, Bookwalter creates a film that utilizes visual queues from classic horror, most notably the films of George Romero.
I don't want to make the film sound like it's one big homage to horror, it is not. The Dead Next Door actually stands on it's own quite well. Its not quite an hour and a half long, and the short run time keeps things moving at a clip. The FX sequences in the film are excellent, and sure to please splatter fans across the board. Also, the sheer scope of the Dead Next Door is impressive to this day. It's obvious when watching that it's low budget, but then there are moments when hundreds of zombie extras appear on screen, and really up the size of Bookwalter's zombie apocalypse. The film, of course, is not without it's problems, it does drag a bit early on, and some of the performances are stiff, but overall the action, pacing, and violence keep the viewer too busy to focus on the few shortcomings.
Tempe Entertainment have presented the Dead Next Door with 2 possible viewing options, a 1:33:1 1080p transfer preserving the original aspect ratio. There is also a cropped 1:85:1 1080p transfer made for widescreen TV's. Since Super 8mm natively shoots in 1:33:1 I primarily stuck to that ratio for my viewing, and found myself quite surprised. The film looked quite nice with solid details, stable natural colors, and very film like textures. The only 8mm feature I had seen prior on Blu-ray before this was Buttgereit's Nekromantik, and I felt this image was cleaner, and more detailed than that one.
The audio is presented in 5.1 and 2.0 tracks in English. Both tracks are serviceable with dialogue and score being audible for the most part, but occasionally murky. It's decent, and gets the job done.
There is a reason this is branded the Ultimate Edtion. There are multiple commentaries on the film itself, some new, some archival. There are Behind the Scenes features, Deleted Scenes, Still Galleries, a re-release trailer, and that's just the Blu. On the second disc which is DVD is the 2005 remaster, the 1990 VHS version , alongside video storyboards, pre-shoots. audition footage, film festival appearances, music videos, featurettes and more. The third disc is a CD soundtrack with the films score, and songs included in the feature. There is also liner notes by Fangoria's Michael Gingold, and a reversible cover.
J.R. Bookwalters debut feature, and possibly his best known film has finally arrived on Blu-ray, and with an epic package. The Blu-ray looks quite possibly as good as this 8mm splatterfest will ever look, and is loaded up with extra features. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.