THE DEAD MATTER
Article written by Heather Drain
Zombies, right? They are everywhere, from cross-stitch patterns to t-shirts to even organized public walks and proms. There is a veritable brew of walking dead fever sweeping the nation. I'm just waiting for a series of young adult books with sexy but sensitive zombie guys romancing winsome teen princesses. Until then, there is something much better than that in the form of Edward Douglas's 2010 film THE DEAD MATTER.
Douglas, who is the founder of Midnight Syndicate, a Gothic band best known for creating soundscapes perfect for any haunt, has applied a similar and dark sensibility here. Instead of opting for your typical brain chomper, the center of this tale revolves around a pendant in the shape of a purple scarab that has the power to control the dead. This “tear of Osiris” ends up in the hands of a vampire with bad intentions (and an even worse white wig) by the name of Vellich (Andrew Divoff). After rising up a near-army of the dead, he is quickly thwarted by McCallister (Jason Carter), a vampire hunter and devotee of all things arcane and occult.
Somehow, McCallister and his assistant Mark (Brian Van Camp) end up in Ohio, with Vellich closely following behind. The duo gets split up, ending with Mark getting killed but not before hiding the scarab. However, it is not too long after this when the necklace is accidentally discovered by a group of friends scouting for a good séance location. Turns out that Gretchen (Sean Serino) is trying to contact her recently deceased brother Sean (Kenyatta Foster) with the help of her Wiccan friend Jill (C.B. Spencer), Jill's boyfriend Frank (Christopher Robichaud) and her own boyfriend Mike (Tom Nagel). She doesn't really get to talk with Sean but definitely feels in tune with something beyond, courtesy of the scarab and whatever juju they attempted to drum up.
That becomes readily apparent when Mark, now decayed and Golem-like, shows up at their loft ready to do her bidding. As she grows more obsessed with the lurk-some powers of the necklace, Vellich is still on the loose, angrier and hungrier than ever, not to mention that McCallister is still hunting for both the BWP (bad wigged vampire) and the scarab. In addition to all of this, there's a subplot involving Tom Savini as Sebed, the leader of a group of vampires that he controls by hooking them on a highly addictive blood synthetic that transforms what would be strong bloodsuckers into babbling junkies.
One of the biggest things apparent about THE DEAD MATTER is the sheer amount of production and inspired effort that went into it. With a budget of around $2,000,000, which maybe small potatoes for the AVATAR set, but is massive for an Indie production, they have really put it to good use. From the gorgeous cover art to the film itself, you can tell that a lot of care and a good eye for detail when into it. The only visual misstep is without a doubt the hideous, white wig (complete with bangs) that poor Andrew Divoff has to wear. It's proof that Divoff is a fine, fine actor, because he is good despite the great wig monstrosity. Couldn't some of that money have gone towards a better wig for the man? Your lead villain should not look like they grabbed whatever wig got left behind a drunken anime festival.
The cast is solid as a whole. Casting the curly haired gamine Serino was a good move, especially as she grows more and more obsessed with the powers of the scarab. Her doll-like looks and girlish voice are a great contrast as she becomes more and more possessed. When she finally does get fully possessed, it's very reminiscent of the episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER when Willow (Alyson Hannigan) went demonically medieval. Well, minus the Goth make-up and annoying geek boys. All the supporting actors are equally good, though not unlike the previously reviewed METAMORPHISIS, the villains are the ones that steal the show here, with both Divoff and Savini throwing their seasoned talents around like it's a blood drinking fish fry. It is too bad that Jason Carter isn't given more to do since he is terrific in the few scenes that he is given. What little back story his character gets is actually more interesting than Gretchen's plot revolving around wanting to converse with her dead relative.
The film itself is an interesting yarn mixing different mythologies together, but it is the music that is by far the strongest element going. The soundtrack here is lush and at times borderline epic, to the extent of almost not fitting the very modern day setting. Hearing it certainly makes one think about how great it would be to see Douglas and his crew helm a period piece, especially something more classically Gothic (though that might be the Hammer fan girl in me) .
If you're a fan of the band, then you more than likely will love this film. There's even a reference to their “Gates of Delirium” album when a character briefly mentions the Haverghast Asylum. On top of that, at one point Frank talks about Jill's record collection, which includes Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and, of course, Midnight Syndicate. (What? No Christian Death?) If you are a hardcore fan who wants to share the delights of Midnight Syndicate with a friend/loved one, then the three-disc deluxe edition is the way to go. In addition to the DVD, you also get the soundtrack and a Greatest Hits compilation entitled “Halloween Music Collection.” Speaking of the DVD, it is loaded with extras, including a trailer, a feature length documentary, Director's Commentary, and a bunch of music videos. It is a buffet of extras.
THE DEAD MATTER is a fun genre film that does something a little different with some old standards. Vampires and zombies are getting very played out, but having someone use these great mythic creatures for something a little out of the ordinary is needed. Hopefully, more filmmakers will take an example from Douglas and company and infuse some more creativity and uniqueness to what is becoming the blanding of classic monsters.