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New Release Review (DVD/VOD) - THE NEON DEAD

A young woman, a girl scout and a pair of paranormal investigators battle a horde of day-glo dead.






Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Torey Haas

Starring: Marie Barker, Greg Garrison, D. Dylan Schettina, Mark Ashworth, Emma Greene



The Neon Dead has all the makings of a cute short film, but its ideas and energy don’t stretch much further than appropriating the VHSthetic and set ups of straight to video horror of 30 years ago.


Pinned at the top of The Movie Waffler’s twitter feed at time of writing is one of those multi choice polls, this one asking followers to choose their favourite era of the movies. The options are demarcated into 30 year increments which start at the genesis of cinema and take us bang up to the present day. Unsurprisingly, at the time of writing, the period that covers the 1980s is romping home with a 57% majority. Nostalgia for the '80s is paramount; Stranger Things on the telly, arguments about Ghostbusters on the internet, and horror cinema (especially at the more esoteric, indie end) cleaving towards a home video visual set (a VHSthetic?) of gaudy primary shades and gauche protagonists. It Follows is probably the most striking of the cycle with its candy coloured palette, its retro iconography of leg warmers and boxy televisions (television sets always feature prominently in '80s films - TV is how E.T. learnt about our human ways and what groomed Carol Ann Freeling, after all), and doe-eyed star Maika Monroe, whose willowy look saw her also cast in action-relapse The Guest. It Follows even subscribes to a throwback, reactionary subtext regarding sex (it’s so bad for you! Beware!), an ideology shared by 2016’s too silly The Neon Demon, which substitutes structure and insight for an (admittedly gorgeous) '80s infused style and spectacle. The effect of watching Refn’s film is akin to flicking through a Top Shop catalogue: glossy and superficially diverting, but aren’t we all a bit old for this sort of thing now?


And so from The Neon Demon to The Neon Dead, a film described by YouTuber Angry Video Game Nerd as ‘a visual feast’, where ‘Evil Dead meets Suspiria meets Ghostbusters’. As the world’s leading Ghostbusters fan he should know, I suppose, and the film certainly wears its '80s inflections upon its sleeve (the sleeve being attached to a pastel suit or that red leather jacket from Thriller). The plot is taken straight from the back of a Betamax rental, with cutesy-pie Allison (Marie Barker) terrorised at home by demonic zombies who, in true Troma fashion, ooze blood the colours of a kiddy’s paint set and have eyes that gleam like laser beams. Allison is forced to call paranormal investigating slackers Desmond (Greg Garrison) and Jake (Dylan Schettina) to not only save her, but also a girl scout (Josie Levy) who’s turned up to sell cookies and dispense sassy wisdom beyond her years. Yep, it’s random is The Neon Dead, and it lets us know it too, with the film winking at the audience throughout its slapstick action and self-deprecating humour. On the '80s monster scale, writer/director Torey Haas’ film is more Ghoulies than Gremlins, and sells its low rent roots by refracting its comedy horror through a ‘so daft it’s fun’ lense of irony.


I’m not sure I share the joke, which in any case runs thin fairly soon. Beyond the initial set up, which has a certain schlocky appeal, the film never quite figures out where to go next. As our get-along-gang hole up in Allison’s remote mansion, the neon demons sometimes invade, sometimes mill around outside; at times they are comically defeated, or are, when the plot decides they need to be, presented as an insurmountable threat. Despite an ostensibly sincere flashback sequence explaining the evil origins of the zombies, there’s never much at stake, and, by the time the Scott Pilgrim influenced final show down occurs - with videogame style intertitles popping up between Desmond and chief glimmer-zombie - your goodwill for The Neon Dead may have gone the way of perms and shoulder pads.


No one could argue that The Neon Dead lacks enthusiasm (especially the likeable, amateur charm of the cast), but perhaps this is where its problem lies. Simply adopting a recognisable style and goofily acknowledging your film's shortcomings only goes so far. As a reasonably well put together, knowing, and sincerely replicated homage to a specific era, The Neon Dead has all the makings of a cute short film which would have amused fans and acknowledged the '80s vogue. As a feature film, The Neon Dead’s ideas and energy don’t stretch much further than appropriating the VHSthetic and set ups of straight to video horror of 30 years ago.

The Neon Dead is on DVD and VOD September 13th.




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