The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Dead & Breakfast was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
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I have a special affection for horror films. While I understand that most of the films of the genre tend to be crass, commercial cash-in’s aimed at the lowest common denominator, when they hit (the original Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist, The Descent), they are among the most visceral, upsetting, and powerful films most viewers will ever see. That’s why I see horror-comedies as such a tricky proposition. The best (Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2) of the sub-genre send up the conventions and clichés of the horror film while also respecting it, working as both horror films and comedies. The worst horror-comedies are the ones that spoof those same conventions and clichés with a tone that comes across as smug superiority to an inferior genre. These films show a lack of respect for the genre that is galling and turns them into hollow, snobby affairs. For this reason — and many more that I will dissect — Dead & Breakfast is one of the worst horror-comedies I have ever seen.
A group of sketchily drawn twentysomethings (Ever Carradine, Gina Philips, Jeremy Sisto, Oz Perkins, Bianca Lawson, and Erik Palladino) are traveling across Texas to attend a wedding in Galveston. They get lost and stop for the night in the small town of Lovelock. There they stay at a bed and breakfast run by Mr. Wise (a cameoing David Carradine). When Mr. Wise drops dead of a heart attack and his snooty French chef (Diedrich Bader) is found murdered, the local sheriff (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) holds the group in town until he can get to the bottom of the mysterious goings-on. Unfortunately, one of them opens a special box in Mr. Wise’s room that contains an evil spirit. This leads to a zombie outbreak that finds the characters fighting for their lives.
Beyond the condescending tone that implies all horror films are stupid exercises in gore and moronic characters, Dead & Breakfast is just disastrously put together by writer/director Matthew Leutwyler: Every actor seems to be performing in a separate movie, a ridiculous score hits the audience over the head with its reliance on “funny” cues, the script is a series of poorly strung-together skits that are at the quality level of a middle-school improv team, a singer (Zach Selwyn) provides witless musical interludes commenting on the story (in the vein of the much more entertaining Nat ‘King’ Cole and Stubby Kaye from Cat Ballou), and the basic logic of the story fails to hold water. If Leutwyler was attempting to make the film feel like a haphazard collision of half-baked ideas and confused performances, he was successful. But the only reason to make a film in this manner is to create a campy movie. Campiness is something that can’t be purposefully crafted. It’s an accidental concoction of ineptitude that finds a filmmaker refusing to acknowledge his or her own lack of skills. Trying to pull off that tone intentionally just creates a mess that’s as entertaining as picking at a scab.
Even worse for a film that boasts enough of a budget to put together an experienced cast and some impressive special effects, it looks like it was shot with a thirty-year-old Bolex in desperate need of maintenance and lit with a couple of candles and a cigarette lighter. Combined with the horrible script, lack of direction, and random editing, I’m hard pressed to come up with another professional film that looks and feels so amateurish.
Smug in its certainty that it’s spoofing a completely inferior genre, Dead & Breakfast is a horror-comedy for people who hate horror films. But if you have a shred of respect for the genre, you’ll probably find it as obnoxious and disheartening as I did.
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