Dead Meat Review
If there’s one maxim to which I’ve always adhered in my time as a critic, it’s that not enough films take advantage of the potential of human-eating zombie cows. Indeed, I can’t remember the last killer zombie cow film so Dead Meat has come along at just the right time. The fact that it is undoubtedly the first killer zombie cow film to come out of Ireland makes it doubly welcome and a no doubt salutary shot in the arm for the Irish film industry. Not that all the zombies are cows I hasten to add, oh no. There are lots of people zombies too, done up in the usual Fulci-chic and pleasingly eager to chomp on the deeply irritating human cast. If you’re a fan of Lucio, if your idea of fun is to take a trip to the Manchester Morgue or if you’ve ever wondered whether those tax breaks that the Irish government give filmmakers are producing culturally valuable results, then Dead Meat might be your particular plate of steaming innards.
The plot centres around a naughty farmer who has been feeding animal remains to his cattle with complete disregard for those EC health and safety rules which we all moan about. So a valuable political message for us all is contained herein; conform to those EU regulations or we’ll all end up fighting off zombie cows and trying to stop our loved ones from ripping out our intestines when they fancy a quick snack. Anyway, Mr Farmer’s actions have resulted in a mutant strain of Mad Cow Disease which turns all his cattle completely bonkers. So when Helena (Araujo) and her beardy boyfriend Martin ( David Ryan) – obviously either a Jethro Tull fan or possibly a former member - knock over a zombie in the Irish countryside, you can tell that all hell is going to break loose. Helena looks for shelter but is attacked by all and sundry and only Desmond the gravedigger (Muyllaert) is around to help her.
Dead Meat is very obviously a first feature; it’s episodic, the narrative tension is jerky and inconsistent and most of the set-ups are reminiscent of other movies. But it’s entertaining and there’s some absolutely cracking gore on display. It’s not always well executed but the intention is there and with a bit of goodwill, it’s not hard to overlook the more obvious flaws. Seeing a zombie get his eye sucked out with a hoover is a moment which warmed my heart to its very atria and made me nostalgic for the days when just renting a video of this sort of thing would have resulted in a £10,000 fine and a few months in prison.
Pleasingly, however, Conor McMahon doesn’t overlook atmospherics in his eagerness to splatter the sheep guts about. He’s obviously spent a lot of time watching classic zombie films and there’s a touch of Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue about his use of the Irish countryside in the late afternoon. This sense of place takes you through some very clunky and badly acted exposition. David Muyllaert is perhaps the worst performer in his role of Desmond the gravedigger, carrying a big spade in case we forget who he is and demonstrating an inability to close a gate in a convincing way. In the central role of Helena, Marian Araujo isn’t bad although hampered by an apparent difficulty in understanding some of her lines and I could do without her whining “wait for me” in quite such a simpering tone. She does, however, have at zombies with a will and that counts for a lot, especially in a smashing scene where she wields a tree stump like Steven Segal with a pool cue in Out for Justice. Acting honours are taken by Eoin Whelan as a grumpy old git with a language problem and an inability to slow down his speech to a comprehensible level.
Inevitably, there are lots of very obvious influences paraded. Moments from Fulci are omnipresent and much of the structure is borrowed, in one way or another, from Romero’s zombie films – and the ending comes straight from The Crazies. Jorge Grau is an obvious source too, as noted above, and the somewhat strained attempts at comedy seem to spring largely from Shaun of the Dead - although there’s none of the absurdist wit of that film. However, some images are nicely memorable and there are flashes of inspiration – the zombie kids coming home from a party are amusing. Unfortunately, inspiration fails somewhat in the last twenty minutes with a chase through a ruined castle which seems very second-hand in every way with only the plentiful gore keeping your attention. Overall though, there’s enough energy and gleeful bloodletting to make Conor McMahon a name to watch for fans of cheap but cheerful horror.
FrightFest’s DVD of Dead Meat is quite an impressive package. The film is presented in a 1.85:1 ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. It’s actually a very impressive image with plenty of detail and a crispness which isn’t over-enhanced. Colours are good too, especially the omnipresent red. There are two soundtracks; one in two-channel stereo and the other in Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 track is surprisingly good with plenty of action from the surround channels – most of it the music and ambient effects – and directional dialogue. Both tracks are eminently clear.
There are also a number of extra features. The commentary track comes from Conor McMahon and two of his producers Michael Griffin and Edward King. It’s engaging and enthusiastic with plenty of behind the scenes detail and a good sense of bonhomie between the three men. It does edge into the self-congratulatory at times but that’s not unusual on this kind of commentary track. We also get an original trailer, some small black and white production photographs and a 19-minute making-of feature. The latter is a bit scrappy but good fun, demonstrating some of the ingenious ways in which low-budget filmmakers have to make the most of their resources. McMahon comes across as a bit irritating though, never simply talking when he can shout. Best of all, we get his ten minute short film The Braineater which is excellent and rather better in some respects than Dead Meat. It’s tense stuff and features the character played by Eoin Whelan in the feature film. Picture quality on this reflects its original DV source but is quite acceptable.
No subtitles are offered for either the film or the extra features.