* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2004 at Loews Copley Place #4 (Boston Film Festival)
Dead & Breakfast takes the form of a horror movie but is not actually scary at any point. It's a comedy that involves evil spirits and attacking corpses, and manages a few good gags, but co-writer/director Matthew Leutwyler hews too closely to the horror handbook and the end result is a movie that doesn't cross genre lines but instead straddles them uncomfortably.
The movie starts out with our six young folks getting lost on their way somewhere, in this case a wedding. The characters don't really need names, since their types are so familiar. Among the girls, Sara (Ever Carradine) is The Tomboy, identifiable by her jeans, sneakers, and ingenuity when the violence starts; Kate (Bianca Lawson) is The Bitch, notable for her nice shoes, angry look, and tendency to make snippy remarks to her boyfriend mid-crisis; and Melody (Gina Philips) is The Screamer, the sweet, girly vegan who has a hard time with hurting anything, even zombies. Meanwhile, among the guys, David (Erik Palladino) is the Meathead who gets gung-ho about killin' some zombies (and would be obnoxious except that he's The Bitch's boyfriend and has to deal with her); Christian (Jeremy Sisto) is The Wiseass who is somewhat detached (heh) from all that's going on; and Johnny (Oz Perkins) is The Weirdo, who in a more postmodern movie would be a walking encyclopedia of horror clichés but here just acts a little squirrelly.
Because Johnny is a weirdo, they get lost, and wind up staying at a bed and breakfast in Nowhere, Texas. The proprieter is David Carradine, and there's a weird French chef named Henri (Diedrich Bader) there, too. And, soon, a couple of dead bodies that prevent anybody from leaving town while the Sheriff (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) completes his investigation, focusing mainly on a drifter (Brent David Fraser).
So, there's the horror set-up. It's not going to work as a horror movie, though, because Leutwyler is so matter-of-fact about it. He and his co-writers don't seem to realize that dead bodies with blood all over the place are familiar sights in slasher movies, but not to the characters in slasher movies. So when you've got them acting like it's some sort of minor inconvenience, you lose credibility. This movie tries to fill the space with comedy, including frequently funny musical interludes, and does an okay job with it, although only a few moments achieve "that's sick and I'm laughing anyway". The evil spirits are also a sort of generic evil; they're coming to kill the living, but only because the structure of the movie demands it.
This is a pretty nice cast, though. Gina Philips and Ever Carradine are likable heroines who deserve shots at higher-profile gigs, and Erik Palladino makes a character who is more than a bit of a jackass into someone who's fun to watch just from his enthusiasm and belligerance toward the undead. The real standout, though, is Oz Perkins, son of Anthony Perkins but struck me more as a young Jeffrey Combs. That lineage probably gives you an idea of who the crazy head zombie is, but he works it, eating large chunks of scenery and giving the only performance that really transcends the movie making little sense.
Leutwyler gives an obvious shout-out to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies at one point, but he's no Sam Raimi; he doesn't have the knack for moving the audience from one mood to another smoothly and he never chooses one mood and sticks with it. He's also got no skill wit blood & guts other than to say "hey, look - blood & guts!" That makes for a movie with good parts, but not much else.