Retro-review: New on BluRay/DVD from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
Directed by J.R. Bookwalter
Written by J.R. Bookwalter
Starring Pete Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Michael Grossi, Jolie Jackunas, Robert Kokai, Roger Graham, Floyd Ewing Jr., Maria Markovic, Jon Killough, Scott Spiegel, Jeff Welch, Michael Todd, J.R. Bookwalter, Jennifer Mullen, Joe Wedlake, Lester Clark, Michael Tolochko, Barbara Gay, Bill Morrison, Jodi Raines

While we may be sick of seeing reinterpretations of George Romero classics, back in the late eighties, zombies were pretty much only seen in Italian horror and Romero films (save for the Dan O’Bannon classic, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD). So while it might be low budget as hell, I remember THE DEAD NEXT DOOR making some waves in the horror community. And this recognition is well deserved.

Little is known about a zombie plague that is spreading across the world. All people know is that the dead are rising and eating the living. A group of scientists are out to find the cure of the zombie plague and they’ve teamed up with ex-military and some police officers called the Zombie Squad to make sure they don’t become zombie food before they do. Discovering an encampment run by the evil Reverend Jones (Robert Kokai) who leads a cult who worship zombies and keep a herd of them ready to unleash on anyone who enters their basecamp. Jones has also found a way to train zombies to do his bidding. One zombie in particular named Jason is especially tame and the Zombie Squad sets out to capture Jason in hopes he is the key to curing the zombie plague.

This is a fan made film that hit the big time. The acting is low rent as is the directing, sound, and pretty much everything else involving this film. Still, it’s the spirit of the horror fan that makes this film a must see for all zombie lovers. Characters are named Raimi, Carpenter, Savini, Jason, and more in honor of the horror greats of the time. This is a film made in the middle of the VHS revolution, when everyone was going to their video store to see the latest and greatest horror films to rent. There’s even an amazing meta-scene where a zombie walks into a video store, picks up DAWN OF THE DEAD and a few other choice horror flicks, takes them to the counter, and it isn’t until the cashier asks for his membership card that the zombie and his zombie buddies attack everyone in the store. The film is filled with a lot of fun tongue in cheek moments like this, reminiscent of Troma-esque low fi chuckles and thrills.

But what isn’t amateur is the effects. This film was made in the era when FANGORIA was king and the practical effect was an art everyone was trying to perfect. This one has fake heads, headless bodies, puppeteering of zombie heads, tons of fake innards being digested, and humans being torn limb from limb. If you loved gore in the eighties, this is a film that celebrates every ounce of that love.

I have a soft spot for THE DEAD NEXT DOOR, mainly because it was made in Akron, Ohio, not too far away from when I was growing up. Watching the film on VHS as a kid had me jumping up and down in excitement and looking out my windows when they announced that the zombie plague was spreading across Ohio. THE DEAD NEXT DOOR is a low budget treat that cheers right along with you when the blood spatters and the brains are eaten. It’s funny and gross and everything a zombie film should be. Sure, it follows DAY OF THE DEAD a little too closely in terms of themes, characters, and story structure, but it does so out of a pure love of zombie cinema and feels less of a rip-off and more of a true homage to a great era in zombie horror.

This Arrow Films Special Edition BluRay comes with legions of special features such as; 2K Restored Feature in 4:3 Original Aspect Ratio, 2K Restored Feature in 16:9 Widescreen, audio commentary with producers J.R. Bookwalter, Jolie Jackunas and Scott P. Plummer, ‘Restoration of the Dead’ featurette, Capitol Theatre screening Q&A, the Nightlight screening Q&A, behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes & outtakes, storyboard gallery, around the world gallery, behind the scenes gallery, production stills gallery, new rare 2001 foreign DVD audio commentary with writer/director J.R. Bookwalter and makeup FX artist David Lange, “Richards Returns” a new interview with actor Scott Spiegel, new 1999 Akron location tour with actor James L. Edwards, 2005 audio commentary with writer/director J.R. Bookwalter, actor Michael Todd and cinematographer Michael Tolochko, Jr., “20 Years in 15 Minutes” featurette, video storyboards, video preshoots, auditions, “Three Miles Out” music video, & trailers!