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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
The Dead Next Door (1988)

"Damn things! Look at it! Why won't they die!"
- Richards (Scott Spiegel)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: February 02, 2006

Stars: Peter Ferry, Bogdan Pecic, Jolie Jackunas
Other Stars: Robert Kokai, Scott Spiegel
Director: J.R. Bookwalter

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme violence, gore)
Run Time: 01h:18m:27s
Release Date: August 09, 2005
UPC: 013131298796
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C-C A-

DVD Review

Ohio isn't exactly a filmmaking hotbed, and spending the first 29 years of my life there has made that abundantly clear. However, the Buckeye State has seen its share of films shoots, including the recent indie film, Blue Car, parts of which were shot in my hometown of Huber Heights. Frankly, I'm tickled when anyone chooses my frequently forgotten (and recently much-maligned, thanks to the 2004 presidential election) state, even when the film in question is the mega-low-budget schlock fest, The Dead Next Door. Filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter is a self-proclaimed zombie fan, and this was his effort to make a dent in the genre. Amazingly, a dent is exactly what Bookwalter made, as his 1986 film was one of the first of these underground, bottom-of-the-barrel-budgeted films to actually receive national distribution. Paying homage and slightly poking fun at George Romero's zombie classics, this film became the epitome of making something out of nothing.

Let's not forget about the film's Ohio roots. In the summer of 1986, Bookwalter traveled to Akron, keen on the numerous rural areas that make up the city. With the budget at a bare minimum, extras and even the major players were recruited and thrown into action. I guess if you're going to emulate the Romero, making your feature using the same methods he employed is a good way to go about it.

The story doesn't stray far from the genre formula, with the walking dead now roaming the entire country in search of their next meal. This food is in the form of human organs, which doesn't sit well with some of those who have yet to resorted to the slow, aimless walk of the undead. What's left of the government has armed these groups, but there are other groups, namely scientists, who are studying how to actually stop the zombies.

We meet one scientist who thinks the key lies in the writings of a man who might be the reason for these creatures' existence. This is where things get even nuttier, as a group sets off for Akron and comes across a religious cult that accepts the zombies as an act of God. These cultists get in the way of the zombie-fighters, and it's difficult to determine what side people are on when all is said and done.

The Dead Next Door's charm has virtually nothing to do with its plot, though. It's all in the cheesy story, ultra-cheap gore and special effects, as well as in the way that so much passion was put into the project from all involved. These amateur actors take the material as seriously as they can, and it shows. Some of the line delivery is as difficult to stomach as the gore, but seeing the fun that these people are having making this movie makes them pros in their own right.

While J.R. Bookwalter is by no means a household name, he is responsible for inspiring the countless other underground filmmakers that came after him. There's a Bookwalter in nearly every town in America, but hardly any of them ever get the chance to see their dream come true. The success of this film and it's remarkable ability to stand the test of time are a true testament to Bookwalter's talent, persistence, and to some extent, luck.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While looking every bit of its extremely cheap budget, the source material has been cleaned up a bit. The clarity of the images and consistency of color-rendering can change by the minute, but previous releases of the film had images that were almost impossible to differentiate between.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The original audio has been remastered to produce a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (there's a 2.0 mix as well). Surprisingly, every speaker is put to use quite a bit, yet there isn't a whole lot of directionality in play. The dialogue is actually one of the few aspects to benefit from directional effects, and it is always crisp and clear regardless of the speaker it's coming from. Still, while this track sounds much better than can be expected, given the nature of the film, your home theater system isn't going to get much of a workout.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Day of the Dead, Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, All Souls Day: Dia De Los Muertos
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/Director J.R. Bookwalter, actor Michael Todd, cinematographer Michael Tolochko
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Video Pre-Shoots
  2. Auditions
  3. Music Video - "The Dead Next Door" by Three Miles Out
  4. Still Galleries
Extras Review: Rumor has it that this wealth of extras was originally intended for a two-disc release, but fans of the film will be more than satisfied with what's here. We begin with an audio commentary with writer/director J.R. Bookwalter, actor Michael Todd, and cinematographer Michael Tolochko. This is almost as fun as the film itself, as all three guys have a blast analyzing the material, laughing almost the whole time.

Next is 20 Years in 15 Minutes, a comprehensive collection of interviews. After the film's original trailer, we have 19 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, narrated by Bookwalter. There's a pair of deleted scenes, followed by some outtakes (running a total of seven minutes), which die-hard fans are going to love and are actually pretty funny.

Eight minutes of video storyboards compare VHS test footage from pre-production with the scenes as they appear in the finished film. This is a neat way to analyze these scenes, and it's interesting how some actors who weren't available had crewmembers stand in for them.

There's also five minutes of video pre-shoots, which is footage from 3/4" video, that was shot as a test during pre-production. They decided to ditch this and shoot on Super 8 because the pre-shoots looked "too much like a soap opera."

The most interesting extra is the nearly 14-minute collection of cast auditions. It's great to see what these amateur actors (onewoman's experience stemmed from a game show appearance) will talk about to get this role, and some of their screams are priceless.

Finishing things up are a rather terrible music video, six minutes of footage from a cast and crew reunion, a pair of still galleries, and previews for four other Anchor Bay DVD releases.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

The Dead Next Door is nowhere near as effective as any of the Romero zombie films or many other low-budget horror flicks, but it makes a great addition to any horror lover's catalog since it never tries to be more than what it is: underground, campy fun. Anchor Bay's stellar DVD release has the film looking and sounding better than it ever has, and the huge amount of extras could have easily been spread out over two discs.


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