Playing the remake of Resident Evil 2 this past weekend has put me in a zombie mood. It also got me feeling nostalgic, so I went to my shelf and pulled out my copy of The Dead Next Door. This one takes me back to the video store days. I remember the cover sitting on the shelf, nothing too special about it, except someone put a sticker on the box that read: “Made Right Here in Akron!” (I live in Canton, Akron is about twenty miles away) Adolescent me was intrigued. Remember, this was before Slacker or Clerks became big hits and I don’t think I even knew what an independent movie was. It was also the height of my zombie movie obsession and I was convinced Day of the Dead was the best movie ever made. This flick quickly became one of my favorites.
The movie opens with zombies taking over the city of Akron, and then it jumps forward in time and follows the adventures of The Zombie Squad, a newly formed government agency located in Washington, D.C. who are tasked with killing off zombies, as well as capturing them for study. The Squad returns to Akron, where the outbreak began, to search for a cure. There they find a city mostly free of zombies, all of them collected and contained by Reverend Jones and his cult of loyal followers who are into human sacrifice and protecting the living dead at all costs.
The Dead Next Door is 30 years old and while it hasn’t aged as well as Romero’s classic Dead pictures, I still really dig this movie. It’s pure 80’s horror cheese at its finest. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s pretty fucking funny in some spots. What they do take seriously is the make-up effects and gore, and it is really over-the-top and well done, not on the level you would expect to see in an independent production. The effects team were definitely students of Savini, and apt pupils they were. There are some parts that really churned my stomach, and I’m no wimp when it comes to the blood and guts. Anyone who is really into the hardcore gore should definitely see this.
Outside of being gory and funny and weird, the movie is chock full of references, both obvious and some kind of hidden in the background. Most of the last names of the characters are borrowed from horror icons, like Savini, Raimi, Romero, King, and Carpenter. But there are plenty of other things that are fun to spot that are homages to other legendary horror movies (I will tell you to keep an eye out for Chop-Top). Even the character of Reverend Jones is a reference, albeit a very disturbing one based in reality: Reverend Jim Jones who oversaw the murder/mass suicide of over 900 people in 1978.
The Dead Next Door was always popular around here because of the hometown aspect, but I really wonder if any of you have come across this movie before. The film has had several DVD releases and the Blu-Ray came out back in 2015, so I’m guessing it’s not a completely unknown movie in the horror world, but it is one I never hear being talked about and I wanted to share one of my old-school favorites with anyone who hasn’t seen it.
If you haven’t seen it or want to take a nostalgia trip back to the 80s VHS hey-day of horror, go check it out. Especially if you like it as gory as it can get.
The Dead Next Door is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Vudu, Amazon, and Google Play.