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Dead is Dead (1992)

Directed by Mike Stanley
Tempe Video VHS

Eric snorts a line of coke. Then he shivers naked in a corner. This is not what usually happens when you do coke, but then again, this isn’t a documentary.

In a confession booth that looks suspiciously like a gazebo, Eric admits that he has sinned. He had borrowed money from a thug named Tony to help out his brother, who is in a mental institution. But Eric ended up using the money for drugs instead and couldn’t pay it back because, try as you might, you can’t make a living by snorting coke and shivering naked in a corner. Tony took revenge by setting fire to the mental institution and killing Eric’s brother.

When I was little, my brother would steal bacon off my plate, and he’d tattle when I practiced piano for 52 minutes instead of the full hour. I thought he was the Worst Brother Ever, but now I know that the title really belongs to Eric.

Eric wanders in the woods, finds some cash, and then a goo-faced monster rips off his arm. But then he wakes up with his arm. Surprise! Was it all a dream? No, it was drugs! A blonde named Laura explains that she had injected him with Doxitol, a drug that can grow back severed limbs and bring back the dead. She was a nurse at the mental institution where they just had cases and cases of this stuff. I’m not sure why a mental institution would have Doxitol on hand—seems like their patients’ number one health complaints wouldn’t be a severed arm or death. And from what I understood, the mental institution had caught on fire, but then again, this isn’t a documentary.

Eric realizes Doxitol is “the miracle of the 20th century” and “can change the destiny of man.” He gives the medicine to Tony to repay the debt, though you’d think that after Eric’s brother was torched, the whole debt thing would be squared away. Eric cuts off his own finger to prove that it works. The finger grows back and Tony gets excited. The destiny of man looks very profitable.

Then a truck chases Eric through a field. It is a long, slow scene that really should take three seconds because cars move quickly and people don’t. Eric gets run over, but thanks to Doxitol, he’s totally fine. But he’s pissed. One side effect of the drug is attitude. Another is sass. Yet another is guns. Eric shows up randomly in a thug’s hotel room to seek revenge. And soon we learn that Eric has a knack of popping up in people’s homes. He shows up in a thug’s kitchen, in a thug’s garage, and in Laura’s shower while she’s in it. He sprays people with his one-liners and bullets.

“I have the gun, which means I have the floor.”

“This next bullet is gonna have you pissing out of your ass.”

“You look and sound like a penis with dry heave.”

Dead is Dead starts with a ton of fun ideas and action, with great potential for DIY madness. It seems to have everything you want—drugs, tube socks, a wall that says “fuck,” a heart that gets pulled out of a chest. Unfortunately, it suffers from a brutal second half that involves a lot of walking and talking—and not even at the same time. It’s like a rollercoaster that starts out thrilling, but then devolves into a dinner with an uncle who’s trying to remember the name of a book he read fifteen years ago, and really, it’s on the tip of his tongue, maybe it was that one book by that guy—no, no, not that one, the other one? The film is frustrating and boring and repetitive. If you’re going to allude to drugs, mental institutions, and arson in the first five minutes, then we expect drugs, mental institutions, and arson in the next 80 minutes. But what we get instead is a scene where Eric searches a glove compartment. Dead is Dead is one of those movies where you don’t remember the ending because you have checked out completely, and when the credits roll you have to remember that you just watched a movie.

The real star of Dead is Dead is Eric’s hair. It is a perfect bowl cut/mullet hybrid that is impervious to wind. Imagine a squire in King Arthur’s court, but in 1992. Now you have imagined Eric’s hair.

Director Mike Stanley made his first film on Super 8 as a teenager, and then went on to have his own cable access show in Michigan called Tales from Beyond. It was an anthology horror show that ran for 5 years, and some of the segments got him in trouble for being too racy. His heart seems to be in the right place, but then he wrote/directed/starred in sequels that no one asked for, Dead is Dead Again (2011) and Dead is Dead 25 (2014). I should note that Dead is Dead Again involves repurposing “public domain” footage from Silent Night, Deadly Night and Panic. This makes me sad. People should make their own shit. Even if it’s bad, it’ll still be yours.