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John Kalangis’ “The Mad” is more horror spoof than horror-comedy, despite what the film’s DVD box cover art would have you believe. To be sure, the zombies (or Mad Cow People, as a friend of mine remarked) may seem to indicate the presence of ambitions toward being a horror-comedy ala “Shaun of the Dead”. But don’t be fooled: “The Mad” (and yes, that is quite an awful title for a horror movie) is so intent on the gags that there is little room for anything else, much less credible tension and thrills. Which is a shame, as a healthy balance of comedy and horror, no matter how slight, would have improved “The Mad” from good to pretty damn good.
Billy Zane (“Titanic”) headlines “The Mad” as the patriarch of a makeshift brood on a trip to their cottage in the countryside for the weekend. They stop at a countryside diner for lunch, but unfortunately the diner is serving chemically produced cow patties that quickly turns the diners into Mad Cow People, who behaves suspiciously like zombies. But these Mad Cow People aren’t your typical zombies, and their bite doesn’t cause infection. Which is fortunate for Amy’s boyfriend Blake (Evan Charles Flock), who gets bitten on the foot, then shot on the other foot, and later, decapitated by a zombie mob. Looking back, maybe the poor bastard wasn’t so fortunate after all.
Also trapped at the diner with Jason and Amy is Monica (Shauna MacDonald), Jason’s girlfriend and Amy’s wannabe mother-in-law. Alas, Monica doesn’t last very long, and is quickly dispatched by a utensil through the head. Which leaves father and daughter to team up with a rifle-toting cook and Tomboy babe/waitress Steve (Jordan Madley). As zombies close in on them, the foursome makes their final stand inside the diner. Well actually, that’s not entirely true. Director and co-writer John Kalangis eventually bores of the diner setting, and sends father and daughter in pursuit of the farm where the contaminated meat had come from, which allows the quarreling family members to bond in-between zombie ass kicking.
As can probably be surmised by now, “The Mad” is all about the gags. To its credit, it’s a very funny movie, and as a horror spoof it hits on all cylinders for much of its short 80-minute running time. Star Billy Zane breaks some molds by proving himself to be a gifted comedic actor. Sporting homely glasses, Zane is stellar as the perennially chagrin ex-musician turned doctor who isn’t quite satisfied with his lot in life. Shauna MacDonald is also excellent in a limited role, and I’m really not sure why Kalangis decided to kill the Monica character off so quickly. In fact, Kalangis and his screenwriters seem to default to killing off characters whenever they run out of ideas.
If it isn’t clear by now, if you are looking for a horror movie, “The Mad” will not suffice. The zombies, not intended to be scary, are not, and of course the presence of flesh-eating hamburger patties will do nothing for people looking for some suspense. (The meat eats the people, get it?) I would not be honest if I didn’t say that I was a little disappointed all of “The Mad” was played for laughs. There is never a second when you don’t believe Jason and daughter Amy will survive their ordeal, especially when they start cracking wise after Blake is decapitated seconds earlier.
But purely as a horror spoof, “The Mad” is right on target. It’s a very short movie, which allows the film to be funny throughout without the pace ever really flagging. The credible cast is composed mostly of unknowns (with the exception of Zane) that do their jobs very well, and the production value is reasonably high. Much of the budget probably went to hiring Zane (and to be sure, it was money well spent), leaving the production with limited locales, which is not a handicap considering the film’s premise. Lastly, it’s just good to see a zombie movie shot-on-film again that doesn’t have a Hollywood budget behind it.
John Kalangis (director) / Kevin Hennelly, John Kalangis, Christopher Warre Smets (screenplay)
CAST: Billy Zane … Jason Hunt
Jordan Madley … Steve
Maggie Castle … Amy Hunt
Shauna MacDonald … Monica Tepper
Matthew Deslippe … Johnny Sutter
Christopher Gross … Tommy
Evan Charles Flock … Blake MacNaughton