One of the most entertaining trends in schlock filmmaking is the genre-splice approach. This refers to a film that takes two different types of popular story concept that don’t seem to go together and splices their elements to create a new hybrid that will hopefully offer double the entertainment value (and profit potential). However, it doesn’t always work out that way because genres have to be combined with extreme care and the wrong combo can result in a film that works against itself in a Jekyll & Hyde sort of way.
Twice Dead illustrates the risks of genre-splicing. This offbeat horror/suspense hybrid attempts to combine the ghost story with the kind of “regular folks vs. gang members” storyline inherent to Death Wish sequels and exploitation thrillers like The New Kids.
In fact, Twice Dead kind of plays like a supernaturally inclined variant on The New Kids. It stars Tom Breznahan and Jill Whitlow as Scott and Robin, a pair of squeaky clean college kids who are forced to move to an inherited home in a rundown part of L.A. when their dad’s business falls apart. This house is also haunted by Tyler Walker (Jonathan Chapin), the former lover of the deceased aunt who once lived there. He was an actor who committed suicide when the aunt left him and it’s safe to say he isn’t resting in peace.
That’s not the only problem the kids have: there is also the matter of the drug-dealing gang who was using the house as a hangout before the family moved in. They resent being displaced and begin tormenting the two kids. When the parents have to leave town to tend to legal matters, Scott and Robin decide to scare off the gang via an elaborate ruse using Scott’s skills with makeup effects(!). However, said trickery only makes the gang angry and they come back for revenge. The siblings’ only hope is help from the house’s other tenant, resulting in a finale that offers a supernatural version of vigilante mayhem.
On the plus side, Twice Dead offers an ambitious and surprisingly intricate plot for a low-budget horror film and dishes out plenty of setpieces during its short running time. Unfortunately, its ambitions exceed its aesthetic limitations. Breznahan and Whitlow deliver solid performances but the “gang” is a laughably miscast, overacting bunch that look more like they came from a community theater version of West Side Story instead of a ghetto. Even worse, Scott and Robin’s plan to scare off their tormentors is so implausible and poorly thought out that you almost want the faux-gangstas to get them. The supernatural angle is also rather sketchy, with it never being clear why Tyler haunts the home or what he requires to rest in peace.
Bert Dragin’s direction is competent but lacks the kinetic/visceral flair this kind of material requires. His approach to it is also a bit schizoid: there’s a lack of gore, nudity or other exploitable elements until the last twenty minutes, which throws aside the PG-13 approach of the prior seventy minutes for a handful of gore effects and an amusingly gratuitous sex scene that gets interrupted by otherworldly means. As a result, the kind of trash-horror fans who might have been Twice Dead‘s audience might give up on it before it gets to its third-act payoff and the fans of the subtler approach of the first two acts will be turned off by the finale’s carnage.
Thus, Twice Dead ends up as a curiosity item for schlock scholars. You can’t be all things to all people – and this film’s unwieldy blend of milquetoast and mayhem severely limits its appeal.