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Review: The Dead Ones (2019)

The Dead Ones (not to be confused with the short of the same name I reviewed earlier this year) is from director Jeremy Kasten (The Attic Expeditions) and writer Zach Chassler. They’ve collaborated on The Thirst, The Wizard of Gore, and The Theatre Bizarre. Here they take what looks like a high school slasher film and go somewhere unexpected and disturbing with it.

The Dead Ones opens with a montage of locker room bullying, classroom shootings, and what looks like somebody trying to escape via an air duct before dropping us into a van with a driver and four students. They are Alice ‘Mouse’ Morley (Sarah Rose Harper), Scottie (Brandon Thane Wilson, Star Trek First Frontier, Tales from the Other Side), Emily (Katie Foster, Deadwood Falls), and Louis (Torey Garza). Their principal, Ms. Persephone (Clare Kramer, Road To Hell, Big Ass Spider) is taking them to summer detention, their task is to clean up the school.

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Our first clue that something odd is going on comes when we realize that it’s night when they arrive. The school looking like a riot occurred in it is our next clue.  And whatever happened, these four did it. Ms. Persephone promptly locks herself in her office. And just when you think it can’t get much weirder, four figures costumed as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up and lock everyone in the school. And that’s all in the first ten minutes.

Starting off with a vibe that’s like a cross between See No Evil and The Breakfast Club filmed in Silent Hill, The Dead Ones quickly establishes its own identity. Between what seems like supernatural incidents and the intruders’ use not of traditional slasher weapons but gas and firearms, the film obviously isn’t going where we thought it would.

And it’s disturbingly creepy up through this point as I was trying to figure out what was going on. Because none of it seems to make any sense.  But once the film begins to cut back and forth between past and present, The Dead Ones becomes a very different kind of disturbing. The kind that will probably turn some viewers who thought they were getting a simple horror film off.

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Because The Dead Ones crosses the line from safe fictional horror to incorporating all too real violence. Kasten and Chassler use the genre to look at bullying and school shootings. And it’s not in a clean, sanitized way either, something that’s signalled when one terrified victim wets herself. The downside to this is it also becomes fairly easy to figure out what’s going on. Not that that makes it any less disturbing. In some ways, as the details are revealed, it becomes worse. There’s blame to be laid in a lot of places here.

The filmmakers were lucky enough to find an abandoned school to shoot in. And its authentically trashed appearance lends a great deal of atmosphere to the proceedings. It’s also helped by effects that seem to involve practical makeup enhanced by or overlaid with CGI. The result is very strange and eerie looking.  

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The Dead Ones left me feeling disturbed, and not in the way a good horror film usually does. This was a deeper, more profound, kind of feeling. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Most of the film was shot in 2009, but against a rising tide of real-life school killings, it proved impossible to get completion funding. Every time he was close to a deal, another shooting would make the headlines and scare off investors. It wasn’t until last year that he was able to get it finished and find a distributor.

If, as he’s said in a recent interview, Kasten has given up film for fatherhood and farming, The Dead Ones will make an excellent swan song. Artsploitation Films will release it on September 29th. You can check out the film’s website and Facebook Page for more information.

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