With screenshots that are most certainly not safe for work…
Along with the creepy old Palace Pictures logo and a trailer for Female Trouble, the original VHS release of The Evil Dead – the pre-VRA version – featured an advert for Basket Case, which made it hard to decide if Frank Henenlotter was some kind of genius or someone for whom getting dressed still required a checklist of instructions. A genius for making it look as though it were possible to produce a feature for $3.11 but also a hack for much the same reason.
Actually seeing Basket Case, and his later Brain Damage and Frankenhooker, made things no clearer with every moment of inspired horror – the bench saw incident in Basket Case is a classic death scene – coming after one so bad that a hospital visit was required to straighten one’s curly toes after watching it. “Duane…you’re different!”, being the kind of line that even a porn actress would hesitate over. For better or worse – although probably worse – I’ve actually kind of followed Henenlotter’s career in much the same way that I once watched A Country Practice. The gap-mouthed feeling of disbelief that a Henenlotter movie, and the goings-on in Wandin Valley, inspires is all too rare these days.
“It’s like a bad horror movie…only worse!” So reads the tagline that accompanies Dead & Breakfast but unlike Henenlotter, it’s clear that writer/director Matthew Leutwyler, though hamstrung by a budget not much bigger than that needed to feed a family of four for a week, is fully aware of the limitations of his movie. For once, you might just believe that the makers of this movie appreciate that it’s OK to make a really dumb movie so long as they, and you, enter into an unwritten agreement. “I, the viewer, am prepared to accept the shoddy directing, the suspect acting and curious decisions made during production – country’n’western Greek chorus included – so long as you, the filmmakers, deliver on the gore! By the ferryload!”
Beginning in the manner of about 80% of all horror movies since the making of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dead & Breakfast begins with a bunch of kids travelling across country in an RV. Along with couples Christian (Jeremy Sisto) and Sara (Ever Carradine) and David (Erik Palladino) and Kate (Bianca Lawson) are Melody (Gina Philips) and Johnny (Oz Perkins), the last one of which is on driving duties but who has, he’s ashamed to admit, lost the directions. On their way to a wedding but ending up in the sleepy little town of Lovelock instead, they buy gas and stay the night at a Bed & Breakfast owned by Robert Wise (David Carradine) and Henri (Diedrich Bader). Insulting their hosts and throwing a plate of cold cuts on the floor is a bad way to begin the evening but worse is to come when Wise drops dead of a heart attack and Henri is found dead in the kitchen, his own knife through his throat. So much for the dead but who’s going to prepare breakfast?
With the phones down and no mobile – sorry…cellular – coverage, the kids have to wait until the morning for David to bring back the sheriff (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) but that gives enough time for a mysterious figure to begin a killing spree that lasts…oooh all the way into the evening at least. As the bodies mount up, a box with strange powers is stolen and soon the population of Lovelock are threatened more by an increasing number of zombies than by the sexual advances of members of their own families. As the survivors hole up in the B&B armed with a chainsaw, a crossbow and homemade shotguns, the redneck zombies outside get ready for a hoedown like no other. Forget roadkill, it’s human flesh on the menu tonight…
The tone of Dead & Breakfast is set not only by the title, nor the blood that flows freely during the film’s last third but by the Greek chorus of Randall Keith Randall (Zach Selwyn). A gas station attendant who makes regular appearances throughout the movie, both as a normal person and as a zombie, Randall also performs a country’n’western commentary to Dead & Breakfast, useful for anyone who loses track of the story in amongst the bloodshed. He even offers a recap over the credits for those members of the audience who only stir themselves as the film ends, which actually comes in very handy to film reviewers, such as yours truly, who are looking for a pithy summary to include in their writing. The mix of zombies, rednecks and country’n’western all lead Dead & Breakfast into a nightmare flipside of Hazzard county with there even being a police deputy named Enus (Mark Kelly) and another character called Cletus (Jeff Enden).
Made quickly and with a cast known to writer/director Matthew Leutwyler – Miranda Bailey, who plays the Hall of Records Clerk, is a producer, while Portia de Rossi, who has appeared in Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, is cast as Kelly, whose wedding they’re on their way to – there’s something of the amateur about Dead & Breakfast. However, given that it’s horror, that’s not much of a criticism when films like Bad Taste, The Evil Dead and Brain Dead, all of which were equally amateur, are still amongst the best horrors of the last twenty years. Like Bad Taste, Dead & Breakfast does deliver on the gore with there being some terrific death scenes late in the film but where the two films are clearly different is in the humour in Leutwyler’s film clearly not working as well as it does in Jackson’s early films. Then again, like Jackson, Raimi and even Henenlotter, that it’s here at all is a credit to Leutwyler and if he can keep the blood flowing but work on the laughs as well, he may well have a promising future.
Dead & Breakfast was shot fast, in eighteen days in the middle of winter when there wasn’t a great deal of light so everything looks as though it was grabbed quickly before the light faded. Hence, the film looks rough, grainy and a bit shaky and badly lit but like a great many cheap movies, with the exception of the twopenny-budgeted efforts from Troma, once you get over this, you can begin to enjoy the film that bit more. The DVD does alright by Dead & Breakfast – it’s interlaced rather than progressive – but there’s a limit to how good it can make the film look.
Come the choosing of an audio track, though, we have the expected DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS options and they’re all of a muchness, getting no clearer but progressively louder going through them. As with a lot of these Anchor Bay remixes, there’s next to nothing coming out of the rear speakers regardless of what decoding is used – Pro Logic, Dolby Digital or DTS – but Dead & Breakfast generally sounds pretty good. There are, though, no subtitles except for a scene between Melody and a deaf/mute gardener.
The main extra are the Commentaries, of which there are two on the disc. Each one features writer/director Matthew Leutwyler and actor Erik Palladino and, therefore, some overlap but they’re joined by SFX Supervisor Michael Mosher and actor/singer Zach Selwyn on one whilst actors Ever Carradine, Jefferey Dean Morgan and Oz Perkins are also there on the other. Both commentaries are amiable enough listens but they were probably more fun to record than they are to listen to with plenty of the jokes that don’t really carry over to the audience. Stick with both commentaries, though, and there’s some funny stuff in there but it would help if you were a close personal friend of Matthew Leutwyler to really get the best out of them.
These are followed by Deleted & Extended Scenes (6m23s), which don’t offer much extra in the way of gore but plenty more on the RV and around the gas station whilst the Alternate Credits (2m58s), Outtakes (2m37s) and Zach’s Additional Songs (52s) offer a sense of this being a complete package if not a very entertaining one. Helpfully, though, it says ‘GAGS’ onscreen before the outtakes just in case you were wondering. There’s also an Easter Egg, which isn’t too hard to find, which appears to show the premiere of the film but although the cast are recognisable, the crew are not. Finally, there’s a Trailer (1m09s) and a Poster & Stills Gallery (40s).
I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but really only because the gore is of such a high standard, with some excellent chainsaw moves by Ever Carradine as the film rolls to an end. There is, as is typical of these movies, some eastern hokum and a notebook of frightening scribbles but like the Necronomicon in The Evil Dead, these can easily be overlooked, leaving a film that won’t trouble anyone who’s old enough to be able to buy it. All credit to Matthew Leutwyler for getting it made and for getting Anchor Bay, a very decent distributor, to release it but assuming he doesn’t get into a Henenlotter-esque run of increasingly awful sequels, he’ll likely do much better the more films he makes.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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