The Dead Next Door (1988) Movie Review

If I had to guess, I would say that J.R. Bookwalter, the auteur behind the no-budget zombie opus “The Dead Next Door”, shot his movie with a 8MM film camera. It looks grainy enough, dark enough, and has enough incomprehensible visuals to be 8MM. Of course I could be wrong and the film’s bad images could just be the product of a faulty 16MM film camera in the hands of an incompetent person. Either way, “Dead Next Door” is a big disappointment, even for fans of low-budget Zombies Attack movies such as myself.

Our epic opens with a plague of zombies taking over the planet. Flash forward to 5 years later, and humans are still in control albeit just barely. In an effort to contain the growing zombie population, “zombie cops” drive around in station wagons (!) armed to the teeth. But strangely enough, for a bunch of supposedly well-trained cops that have been battling zombies for the last 5 years, our heroes prove to be rather incompetent. Before the first 20 minutes are up, 3 zombie cops get bitten by zombies because of actions that can only be defined as idiotic. You’d think that after 5 years these guys would be smarter than this, but apparently not much of anything, or anyone, in J.R. Bookwalter’s world can be called smart — the film included.

“Next Door” has quite a reputation in the realm of Zombies Attack fandom. I’ve been hearing about the film ever since I became aware of guys like Romero, Savini, and Fulci. Apparently Bookwalter, the writer/director/everything of “Next Door” has seen all of the same movies that I have. “Next Door” is chock full of questionable scenes of local people playing zombies eating thinly disguised “flesh”. And that, I think, is the biggest problem with “Next Door” — Bookwalter spends so much time prepping the flesh-eating scenes that he forgets about the rest. The blood spurting is well done (for a low-budget movie), but what about everything else?

Everything else includes: making the film viewable; directing his zombie actors to have a uniform ability — some hop, others walk, and still other zombies sprint; and how about this, actually hire actors that can act. Name calling the abysmal acting in “Next Door” seems a bit harsh, now that I think about it, considering that the screenplay itself is a hodgepodge of everything Romero had already done. Bookwalter throws in a plot about a preacher name Jones halfway into the movie, but it’s all for naught.

What it all comes down to is that J.R. Bookwalter is simply not a very good writer. Although the direction sometimes shows promise — that is, unless you’ve seen a lot of movies, in which case you’ll know that Bookwalter doesn’t invent any new camera angles or set-ups. Which is to say, Bookwalter should stop making films, because the man just doesn’t seem to have the talent for it. He reminds me of the hero in “American Movie” — a midwestern fellow with a lot of passion for the craft of moviemaking, but just no real talent for it.

I never thought I’d say this, but “Next Door” makes the video opus “Meat Market” look like a masterpiece. I think my readers know that I tend to give low-budget films the benefit of the doubt, and when a filmmaker shows creativity and originality I credit him/her for it. That said, I can safely state, without hesitation, that “The Dead Next Door” is an unmitigated disaster with laughable acting, incompetent execution, miserably writing, and last but certainly not least, a perfectly bad way to waste 70 minutes of my life.

Don’t believe the hype. “The Dead Next Door” is dead on arrival.

J.R. Bookwalter (director) / J.R. Bookwalter (screenplay)
CAST: Pete Ferry …. Raimi
Bogdan Pecic …. Dr. Moulsson
Michael Grossi …. Mercer
Jolie Jackunas …. Kuller
Robert Kokai …. Rev. Jones

Buy The Dead Next Door on DVD