Nowadays, any­body with a con­sumer-lev­el cam­era and some edit­ing soft­ware can crank out a movie and get it dis­trib­ut­ed some­where, even if they just dump it on the inter­net them­selves. However, in the days before online dis­tri­b­u­tion and cheap film­mak­ing gear, it was a minor mir­a­cle when micro-bud­get film­mak­ers man­aged to get wide dis­tri­b­u­tion for their efforts.

DeadND-posThe Dead Next Door is an inter­est­ing ‘80s-era exam­ple of a “back­yard epic” that made it into wide dis­tri­b­u­tion, the result of writer/director/producer J.R. Bookwalter per­se­ver­ing for four years to get his 8mm zom­bie debut com­plet­ed and released. Though it suf­fers from a lot of mal­adies com­mon to micro-bud­get hor­ror fare, it also has its own unusu­al charms.

The plot of The Dead Next Door leans hard on Romero-esque zom­bie flick con­cepts: five years after a zom­bie epi­demic, a gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned Zombie Squad strug­gles to find a solu­tion to put the liv­ing dead down for good. Their best hope is find­ing a miss­ing sci­en­tist and his for­mu­la so Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic) trav­els to Virginia with a squad that includes Raimi (Peter Ferry) and Kuller (Jolie Jackunas). They soon find them­selves con­tend­ing with a wild-eyed group of cultists led by Reverend Jones (Robert Kokai), who have found pur­pose in the zom­bie plague and want to keep it going.

Like most micro-bud­get hor­ror films, The Dead Next Door is stronger on ambi­tion than it is on craft. The plot is more inter­est­ed in set­pieces than it is in inter­nal log­ic, with a recur­ring prob­lem being how char­ac­ters fre­quent­ly do dumb things to facil­i­tate being bit­ten by a zom­bie. The film­mak­ing style is raw, veer­ing between trick shots and more sta­t­ic setups, and the act­ing is hit-and-miss in clas­sic no-bud­get film­mak­ing stDeadND-01yle.

That said, it seems more fair to judge a back­yard epic like The Dead Next Door on how often it deliv­ers the goods in a way designed to please the par­ty-hearty desires of the teenage hor­ror crowd. On that lev­el, The Dead Next Door is a lot of fun: Bookwalter is aware of his short­com­ings as a new­bie film­mak­er and puts his focus on tight pac­ing and deliv­er­ing a steady stream of flesh-rip­ping may­hem. The lead per­for­mances are bet­ter than usu­al by micro-bud­get stan­dards (Kokai in par­tic­u­lar is legit­i­mate­ly good) and the film’s Dawn Of The Dead-derived comic book approach goes a long way towards mak­ing up for the log­ic laps­es and tech­ni­cal stum­bles.

DeadND-02Sam Raimi fans will also want to check this film out because it has sev­er­al direct ties to him and his sta­ble of col­lab­o­ra­tors. Raimi was an uncred­it­ed exec­u­tive pro­duc­er and source of fund­ing for this flick, tak­ing the pseu­do­ny­mous cred­it “The Master Cylinder,” and Bruce Campbell super­vised the film’s orig­i­nal dub job, lend­ing his voice to two char­ac­ters and bring­ing in Ted Raimi and Dan Hicks to do addi­tion­al voic­es. You also get Evil Dead II co-writer Scott Spiegel pop­ping up ear­ly in the film as a jit­tery mem­ber of the Zombie Squad.

Ultimately, the most impor­tant ques­tion a hor­ror fan needs to ask with a film like The Dead Next Door is “Will I enjoy a film that is aimed direct­ly at crav­ings for splat­ter and schlock that I loved as a teenager?” If the answer to that ques­tion is “yes” then you’ll find a buf­fet of splat that will feed the rep­tile brain desires of your inner 13 year-old.