Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THE DEAD ONE (2007) STARTS WITH A REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT PREMISE FOR A HORROR MOVIE. Based on the comic book by Javier Hernandez called "EL MUERTO", THE DEAD ONE concerns a young East L.A. man named Diego is killed in a car crash on the way to the annual Latino "Day of the Dead" celebration. Still in his full "zombie mariachi" makeup and costume, Diego is revived in the land of the Dead (Mictlan) by the Aztec god of death (Mictlantecuhtli) who cuts out Diego's heart (in the tried and true ancient Aztec way) and seals it in a clay pot; thus gaining control over Diego's soul. The "undead" (?) Diego is returned to earth in order to carry out Mictlantecuhtli's revenge against the Catholic church that supplanted the Aztec religion back in the days of the conquistadores. At least I think that's why he's sent to earth. Sadly, it's all a bit muddled and Diego actually pits himself AGAINST the god of death whose ultimate sacrificial target is Diego's girlfriend Maria: last descendant of the Somera family who established the first Catholic mission in the area. Diego (or El Muerto) has the power to restore life to the dead and is fairly invulnerable to natural harm. His skullface makeup is permanently emblazoned on his face (Diego actually steals concealer makeup in a vain attempt to cover it up).
As I said, basing the proceedings on Aztec mythology is a welcome change from the usual horror tropes. Off hand, I can only remember the classic episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER in which a young Erik Estrada is the agent of Aztec deities on Earth in which this theme is explored so fully. Completely unfamiliar with the comic book upon which the film is based, I was intrigued by the whole idea and as I started watching the film I must say I was totally captivated by the sumptuously gorgeous imagery that is on display throughout the whole film. I don't know if this is due in large part to relatively unknown director Brian Cox, cinematographer Steve Yedlin or the combined talents of set decorators, costumers and makeup artists. Sadly, the script co-written by director Brian Cox and Javier Hernandez lets the film down flat. It did occur to me that the movie might be a much better experience with the sound turned off. It really does look wonderful. Star Wilmer Valderrama (late of "THAT 70's SHOW" which I've also never watched) makes a passable leading man back from the land of the dead and his iconic image with the stark white skullface makeup and a cross etched into his forehead is arresting. I even like his black costume with all the little bones up and down his sleeves and pantlegs. Other than minor TV celebrity Valderrama, the most well-known cast member is surely the wonderful Michael Parks as the sheriff: probably best known recently for playing a similar sheriff role in Quentin Tarantino's "KILL BILL" as well as "DEATH PROOF". It's certainly nice to see Parks here because the rest of the acting can most kindly be called merely adequate at best.
Probably the biggest criticism about the film is that it's all image and no substance. THE DEAD ONE, as I've said, is completely let down by the script which never really seems to get going and, in fact, seems quite muddled in spots as to what's actually happening and why. A movie that looks THIS good with a superior script would've been something! Scene compositions are routinely tasty with nice use of deep blacks as well as vivid colours: the use of El Muerto's ghostly white face emerging from the shadows is utilized to great effect throughout and the spectacular colours of the "Day of the Dead" altars and the path of marigolds, particularly, are stunning. Unfortunately, another criticism lobbed towards this film is that it's merely a rehash of "THE CROW"; and there's some truth to that. The director seems to focus more on the "pseudo-supernatural-superhero" vibe that the Crow (or SPAWN for that matter) has when it would've been FAR better to downplay that aspect and highlight the horror elements and the Aztec mythology angle. Sadly, nothing approaching "scary" ever happens. The evocation of a spooky, supernatural atmosphere is actually maintained quite well; sadly the events on screen never payoff for the viewer and we're left with a beautiful but static movie. Other than "THE CROW", "THE DEAD ONE" also reminded me of several other (and better) movies while I was watching it. El Muerto's stark-white skullface makeup reminded me in some shot of the vampire Radu in Full Moon's SUBSPECIES series of films. Also, the "Day of the Dead" festivities naturally draw a parallel in the mind with Haiti's similar celebrations as depicted in, for one, "THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW"; the depositing of Diego's heart inside a clap pot to capture his soul also echoes the similar capturing of souls inside clay pots in the voudoun passages of "SERPENT". There is even one scene in "SERPENT" where Bill Pullman's character has his face painted white with a blood red cross on his forehead that foresees El Muerto's makeup. Basically, while watching "THE DEAD ONE", the viewer is constantly hoping that the film gets better but must sadly settle for some pretty pictures. A sad waste of any potential this movie might have had.

4 comments:

Weaverman said...

re: Aztecs. What about Q THE WINGED SERPENT and George Zucco in THE FLYING SERPENT >

Pax Romano said...

I have yet to make it through this one, thanks for watching it for me.

Cerpts said...

Weaverman,

I did know about that one but sadly have never seen it.

Pax,

All part of the service we provide! We watch bad movies so you don't have to.

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