The Dead One

Before George Romero came along and shifted the scene in 1968, zombie movies almost exclusively used voodoo as the cause for the resurrection of the dead. From White Zombie in the 1930s through Hammer’s Plague of the Zombies in the mid 1960s, black magic and spells unearthed corpses so they could roam free, often under the control of the voodoo master. 1961’s The Dead One follows this formula, transporting the action to the wonderful Creole world of New Orleans, using beautiful location shooting. Unfortunately, the film brings no new life to the undead.

The film starts off with Monica in the slave quarters of a mansion outside of New Orleans. Surrounded by the plantation’s black workers, she conducts a voodoo ceremony, commanding her brother Jonas to rise from the grave. As the drum beat builds frantically, the scene cuts to the family mausoleum, where Jonas follows her commands. Pulling out two voodoo dolls, she then orders him to kill an as yet unrevealed female. The scene then shifts to a street in downtown New Orleans, where Monica’s cousin John and his wife Linda, married earlier that day, decide to go clubbing. The next fifteen minutes take the audience through three separate clubs, and three accompanying musical numbers. In the second club, starlet Bella Bella performs a girlie show. Later that night, on the way to the mansion, John and Linda encounter Bella on the side of the road, where her car has broken down. John offers for her to stay the night at the mansion, which he is to usurp from cousin Monica under the stipulations of their grandfather’s will. But Monica and Jonas intend to keep the plantation, at all costs.

This is not nearly as fun as it could have been. The film’s greatest sin is that it creates absolutely no tension. Jonas disappears after the first two minutes of the movie, then doesn’t reappear until almost 40 minutes later. In the interim, there’s no real buildup to his inevitable return at all. Scenes around the mansion, including inside the slave quarters and the family tomb, come across as flat, developing no real dread at all. The arguments between Monica and John adds no pathos, if only because the acting is so atrocious; John McKay sleepwalks through his role, and Monica Davis, with her goofy wide eyed look, chews scenery like a Romero zombie munching on a fat guy. Even when Jonas shows up again, he does little to scare. He looks like a greenish David Bowie from the Ziggy Stardust days, and shambles so slowly that he might as well be moving backwards.

Lack of tension is not the movie’s only fault, though. Implausibility clocks in at a close second. It’s hard to believe that any woman on earth would ever want her husband to take her to a girlie show on their wedding day. And a word of advice: no man should ever offer a ride and a night’s sleep in his new home to a go-go dancer on his honeymoon. Nor should he show his blushing bride the family’s slave quarters. Illogic shambles elsewhere in the film, such as the scene where Jonas finally kills someone after almost an hour, and it’s the wrong person. And then, there’s one of the all time classic pieces of dialogue: When John says, "She’s dead," Linda cerebrally asks, "But can’t we help her?" Clearly, writer/director Barry Mahon knew little about plotting, realistic dialogue, or suspension of disbelief.

Despite its relative obscurity, The Dead One sports two extras. First, there are the trailers for this and four other zombie movies. And then, there’s Voodoo Swamp. The Dead One was boring, but at least it was competently made. Whereas Voodoo Swamp is an incoherent mess. Cobbled together sloppily from a number of sources, including stock footage that would fit perfectly on the old Wild Kingdom show but is ill fitting here, there’s no making any sense of the piece. For the most part there’s no soundtrack (I chuckled hard when one character asked to talk to another at a separate location; "It’s too noisy in here," he claimed of the packed bar, as his voice was the only sound), with the exception of some horrendously dubbed dialogue. It seems that a private detective, whose voice bears a strong resemblance to that of Kermit the Frog, is looking for a woman’s twin sister in the title swamp. At least I think that’s the plot. It’s such a mishmash, that I can’t really promise that’s the premise. What I found most interesting about Voodoo Swamp is that, at 70 minutes long, it’s actually 2 minutes longer than The Dead One. Why it belongs as an extra on this disc, I cannot say.

One more thing of note: The Dead One is a member of the Horror Movie Relocation Program. It also goes under the name Blood of the Zombie, though this zombie never bleeds.

The Dead One is one zombie flick well worth passing on. Its dead pacing kills it long before it develops into much of anything. Had Monica, with her histrionics, commanded Jonas to do something exciting, such as go on a murderous rampage and eat the neighbors, or make tea for the coming guests, perhaps this film would not have been dead on arrival.

–Phil Fasso

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