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This no-budget eighties zombie epic isnít much from a technical standpoint but has a real low-rent charm, and enough creative bloodletting to fill a dozen mainstream gorefests.  Itís deeply flawed, in other words, but for true gorehounds impossible not to enjoy! 

The Package 
     1988ís THE DEAD NEXT DOOR was the first, and in my opinion best, film by Ohioís J.R. Bookwalter.  Later Bookwalter flicks like ROBOT NINJA, OZONE and THE SANDMAN, all made for his shitty movie outfit Tempe Video, have little to recommend them, but THE DEAD NEXT DOOR, created when the filmmaker was just eighteen, has an infectious innocence and enthusiasm the later films lack.  It was shot on Super-8mm and lensed in the filmmakerís hometown of Akron, Ohio. 
     The full story of the making of this micro epic is documented in Bookwalterís self-published 1992 tome B-MOVIES IN THE 90ís AND BEYOND, probably pretty hard to find now but required reading for all DEAD NEXT DOOR fans (of which I know there are quite a few).  It contains the full scoop on what happened during an infamous sequence shot in Washington, D.C., when Bookwalter and co., according to the book, had ďno permits, no guards, and, in hindsight, no common sense!Ē  They filmed zombie extras climbing the gates of the White House and were busted by the Secret Service, who eventually let them go.  (I wonder what would have happened had they tried that stunt today?)
     The reported $100,000 budget, making it perhaps the most expensive Super-8mm film ever made in 1988, came from the pockets of a famous Detroit-based filmmaker who to this day wonít allow his name anywhere near THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (a dictum that extends to the Anchor Bay DVD extras, which in the making-of segment has the personís moniker beeped out).  Iíll honor the executive producerís wish to remain anonymous, even though Iíve never understood his reasoning, but will say this: itís not for nothing that a pivotal character is named Raimi.

The Story
     For no apparent reason the dead have begun to rise throughout Akron, Ohio.  The situation reaches crisis status extremely quickly: zombies pack a football field, a fast food joint is ransacked, a radio station is infiltrated by the living dead and reruns of THE JEFFERSONS and SANFORD AND SON are preempted.\
     Cut to several years later, when the living dead have overrun the entire US.  A Zombie Squad is formed to hunt down and destroy the zombie hordes, led by the gruff Raimi and his buddy Mercer.  But one day Mercer is bit by a zombie, which, as we all know, means heíll become a zombie himself.  Thereís good news on the horizon, though: an antidote is being developed that promises to reverse the effects of the living dead virus.  The bad news: the restorative elements are in the hands of Reverend Jones, a psychotic cult leader who entraps zombies in his basement for use in his weird religious practices.  Raimi and his surviving Zombie Squad colleagues decide to kidnap a zombie the Reverend Jones has injected with the serum (itís his ďpetĒ), but this causes a mini-war, with Jones and his living dead minions coming after Raimi and co., leading to an all out zombie mash few will survive--and thereís still the question of whether the serum even works...

The Direction
     This film has such low-rent charm that Iím willing to overlook the washed-out 8mm stock (only slightly crisper in the remastered DVD edition), wildly derivative storyline (this is very much a fan-made ďtributeĒ picture and it shows), tacky synthesizer muzak (composed by the filmmaker himself, evidently not much of a musician) and many, many technical problems (wobbly camerawork, loose compositions, stilted acting, erratic pacing, etc.), as thereís so much down-and-dirty fun to be had.  The gore effects are for the most part impressive, and accomplished with a brilliance that often crosses the line into out-and-out genius--check out the zombie who bites off a manís hands and then gets decapitated, with the bitten-off fingers visibly twitching in the exposed neck! 
     J.R. Bookwalter doesnít let the fact that heís saddled with a joke budget deter him from making an epic.  With scenes of the living dead flanking the Lincoln Memorial and a mind-blowing aerial shot of what looks like hundreds of zombies converging on a football field, this film has a scale that outdoes just about any of George Romeroís films, even if it falls far short quality-wise. 

Vital Statistics 

Tempe Entertainment/Amsco Studios 

Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: J.R. Bookwalter
Cinematography: Michael Tolochko, Jr.
Cast: Peter Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Jolie Jackanus, Robert Kokai, Floyd Ewing, Jr., Roger Graham, Maria Markovic, Jon Killough, Scott Spiegel, Jeff Welch, Michael Todd, J.R. Bookwalter, Jennifer Mullen, Joe Wedlake, Lester Clark, Michael Tolochko, Barbara Gay, Bill Morrison, Kelly Helmick, Bruce Campbell

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