Zombie films from countries not called “America” are rare, but all that seemed to change when the Japanese, following in the footsteps of the Italians from two decades ago, decided to give undead cinema a try. Alas, after a short spurt of low-budget offerings like “Junk”, “Wild Zero”, and “Stacy”, Japan seems to have lost its appetite for human flesh. Enter the Europeans, with the English offering up the much-heralded (and in this reviewer’s opinion, very average) “28 Days Later” and its far superior comedic brethren “Shaun of the Dead”; Australia graced the world with the loathsome sci-fi based “Undead”; and now you can add the Irish to the list with Conor McMahon’s “Dead Meat”.
“Dead Meat” opens with an obvious homage to George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, wherein we find lead heroine Helena (Marian Araujo) in a car with fellow tourist Martin (David Ryan) as they are traveling down a long, winding, and desolate Irish country road. After the duo literally runs into a zombie with their car, Martin gets bitten, and Helena seeks refuge at a cottage. Alas, the cottage proves dangerous, and Helena escapes into the wild, where she bumps into local gravedigger Desmond (David Mallard), an Irish lad armed only with a shovel and dry Irish wit. Luckily for both of them, Desmond happens to be very handy with that shovel.
It seems that Mad Cow disease has evolved, turning cow against their masters. The result: the living dead now roam the earth, seeking to feed on the flesh of the living. The use of a real-world scare, if nothing else, probably marks the most original explanation for the undead since, well, Romero dug up his cannibal flesh eaters 4 decades ago. This little bit of originality gives “Dead Meat” a leg up on its fellow genre entries, many of which almost always seem to fall back on the old clich’ of zombie via Evil Government Experiment Gone Awry.
On the run from zombies, Helena and Desmond meets other survivors, leading to a harrowing ordeal where they find themselves trapped out in the open, at night, and surrounded by zombies. As horror films go, the nighttime sequence, which takes up much of the film’s second half, provides some gut-wrenching horror scenes. At one point the survivors are trapped in a disabled car, only to be attacked by a most unexpected foe. Later, they’re out in the open again, when they stumble across —
Well, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you, because there’s an inspired moment when the zombies don’t attack, and the reasons for it is quite funny, but somehow realistic at the same time. All of this leads to the film’s climactic sequence inside an abandoned castle, where the survivors, their numbers dwindled, are forced to battle a massive onslaught by what appears to be every zombie in Ireland. It’s about 10 minutes of breathless, horrific action that redefines the phrase “on the edge of your seat suspense”. Although the film is advertised as a horror/comedy, there’s actually only a little comedy, and much of the film is gritty, unrelenting horror.
What makes Conor McMahon’s film that much more surprising is that he’s working with a very low budget, with all the effects achieved through practical make-up and props. McMahon further separates himself from much of his fellow zombie filmmakers in that he has actual talent with the camera. Visually, “Dead Meat” is simply fantastic, from its scenes in the wide-open Irish countryside to the cramp confines of a car, to the final 20 minutes when the survivors must brave the dark night or die. Along the way there are some breathtaking cinematography on display, as well as some intense moments of zombie combat in close quarters. Considering the constraints of a limited budget, “Dead Meat” is one hell of a good looking film.
At just under 80 minutes, the film moves at breakneck speed, and like Romero’s “Night”, there is little set-up. Once we are introduced to Helena, the undead killings begin almost immediately. Along the way, as Helena and Desmond encounter other survivors (which doesn’t happen until well past the 30 minute mark), we learn a little bit more about them. Even so, it’s nothing we couldn’t do without, and in fact it might have been a better idea if McMahon had kept the backgrounds of his characters unexplored. In a movie about strangers trying to survive a single day in a country infested with zombies, there really isn’t much point in character pathos.
Genre fans should rejoice, “Dead Meat” is one of the best zombie movies, regardless of budget, to come out in recent years. Gorefiends will get their fill (Desmond’s shovel gets quite a workout), and truly devoted fans of the genre will get a double dose of satisfaction at McMahon’s homage to the masters of the genre. In a genre burdened by legions of poorly made, poorly conceived no-budget offerings, it’s gratifying to get something of such overall excellence as McMahon’s “Dead Meat”. Combined this Irish treat with the recent “Hide and Creep” and Romero’s upcoming “Land of the Dead”, and the future is looking awfully bright for fans of undead cinema.
Conor McMahon (director) / Conor McMahon (screenplay)
CAST: Marian Araujo …. Helena
David Mallard …. Desmond
Ivan McCullough ….
David Ryan …. Martin
Eoin Whelan …. Cathal