Saturday, December 03, 2011

Guest Review: DEAD MEN DON'T DIE (1991)

Today's guest reviewer is Michael Gingold, the managing editor of Fangoria since 1990, titular star of THE SUCKLING (1990) and the screenwriter of LEECHES (2003) and SHADOW: DEAD RIOT (2006). We've been friends with Mike for nearly 25 years, going back to the days when he was cranking out his fanzine Scareaphanalia while attending NYU and we were pasting together issues of TOS during study halls and lunch hours at Henninger High. And speaking of "high," you'll wonder what was being smoked, snorted and/or shot up when Elliott Gould's agent decided a third collaboration with the writer of S*P*Y*S and WHIFFS would be a good career move for his client. Heeeeeere's Mikey with his old-school 'zine review of...


It must have been someone’s idea of a gag to open DEAD MEN DON’T DIE in New York on the same day as FREDDIE’S DEAD. Then again, the title might be construed as a jest about the career of Elliott Gould, who stars in the film. In either case, the joke is funnier than anything writer/director Malcolm Marmorstein comes up with in the film itself. A combination of brain-dead horror comedy and toothless satire about TV news, it’s a riot of running gags that weren’t funny the first time, pregnant pauses for laughs that never come, and more mugging than the last couple of DEATH WISH movies. Academy releases it on video next month, but even the small screen seems way too large to house this pitiful offering.

Gould plays Barry Baron, a broadcast newscaster with a big ego. He thinks he’s run across the scoop of the year when he discovers drug dealings going on in the very building housing the station he works for; unfortunately for him, the thugs murder him before he can break the story. Unfortunately for us, he’s brought back to life by the studio’s voodoo-practicing cleaning woman, Chafuka (Mabel King in a cringingly demeaning role), who sets herself up as his manager and gets him back on the air. He’s looking pretty green and stiff now, but the show goes on anyway. And oh, the hilarity that ensues! Since he can’t read for himself, Chafuka hides backstage and dictates into a voodoo doll, and he echoes what she says, but as a result, he now announces the headlines in a Caribbean accent! And when one of the sheets falls from her grasp, he winds up saying, “De paper done fall to de floor” on the air! And since she reads everything on the page, he winds up saying everything that his pretty co-anchor Dulcie (Melissa Anderson) is supposed to say too! Stop, you’re killing me!

There’s more to the story, most of it having to do with the thugs being startled by Barry’s reappearance, their own deaths and subsequent resurrections at Chafuka’s hands, and an inept young detective who tries to solve the case and win Dulcie’s love at the same time. None of it is the least bit surprising, and Marmorstein brings a complete lack of pacing and timing to the material. No doubt a lot of money went into hiring Gould for this project, because the look is as low as low-budget gets. The entire thing is set in one night and day, almost entirely in one studio-and-office location; the action finally moves outside for a climactic chase that does provide a little zip, but the humor is just as strained here as in the rest of the movie. And whatever Gould was paid, it was too much; his performance is embarrassing, a catalog of bug-eyed stares and flailing arms. The rest of the cast understandably looks bored, with the exception of King, who brings more energy than a script deserves that forces her to say things like, “You be a zombie now, and I be your master!” The real tragedy here is that this tripe was released in the New York area by JGM Enterprises, who also own the rights to distribute Full Moon pictures to theaters. Would someone from the company please explain why DEAD MEN DON’T DIE was accorded a multiscreen break while Stuart Gordon’s PIT AND THE PENDULUM barely saw the light of a projector?

(Originally published in Scareaphanalia #105, September 1991)

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