Club Dead

Club Dead

Shot on video and presented in NTSC format, Mike Bowler's dark horror film has a distinctly washed-out colour to it - which eventually begins to work in the film's favour.

Doyle Shakespeare (Leonna Small) hires a private detective (Tommy Kirk) to search for her missing friend Cathy. Before the PI will accept the case, however, he requires a little more information from Doyle - particularily an explanation as to why she is behaving in such a paranoid, defensive manner. It is at this point that the film adopts 'flash-back' mode, and the real story begins ...

Doyle is a member at Benson's Health Spa - an ailing gym on the verge of bankruptcy. Near breaking-point, Mrs Benson (the proprietor, played by Dierdre West) receives a visit from the mysterious Mr Ex (Ron Waldron) who makes a business proposition that is literally too good to be true - the chance to earn financial success and acheive the youthful looks that she so desperately wants back. Benson, whilst initially suspiscious, accepts the offer when a huge was of dollars is thrust under her nose. Before you know it, the clientele at the Health Spa has grown considerably and Benson's profits - and looks - are getting better and better. But Doyle smells a rat ...

So too do Cathy (Lisa Bawdon - best acting honours go to her) and Ken, who work with Doyle on a local college newspaper. And with good reason too: we learn in early scenes that Mr Ex is closely watching the people that a computer tells him to watch, following the on-line instructions of his electronic friend. If the computer says 'terminate', then that's what Mr Ex does!

Cathy's friend Marcia reports her sister Maggie missing, and tells Cathy that Mr Ex killed her mother - who accepted his help when her auto-repairs business went under. The budding reporters vow to expose Mr Ex, along with the sinister "Corporation" he works for.

Marcia goes missing and the plot thickens when her teachers/ landlord etc deny ever knowing her. After a near-death experience while meeting Mr Ex, Doyle suddenly starts singing the black-clad stranger's praises. All of which serves to make Cathy all the more certain that all is not well. So she goes in search of Mr Ex. She visits the Health Spa first, where she is horrified to discover the changes in old friends Roque and Anne - they have become loyal servants to Mr Ex. Anne, however, promises in confidence to tell Cathy precisely what the Corporation are up if they meet up later in the day ... but is curtailed in an obligatory shower scene that sees her naked and electrocuted. We mustn't complain.

An axe-weidling police lieutenant (seriously) gives Cathy the address of Mr Ex's headquarters - and suffers for his inadvertant help, winding up with said axe buried deep in his chest. Cathy then journeys to the HQ and finds a little more than she bargained for ...

Does this all make sense? The plot is quite simple, but the films runs at 111 minutes and there's a lot of information thrown at the viewer during this time. The wrap-up delivers a final twist that you may well see coming, but is still quite satisfying. If anything, the end strolls in about 20 minutes too late.

However, while CLUB DEAD may be overlong it should be commended on several levels. Despite it's length it does hold the viewer's attention and never once resorts to the ugly excesses of uber-gore that many micro-budget film-makers feel obliged to employ. Whether your average SGM reader will welcome a relatively bloodless video-horror flick though is debatable.

The script is thankfully farce-free for the majority of proceedings. It's nice to a horror movie that takes itself seriously and even has aspirations of making social observations on the modern obssession with physical/cosmetic perfection. There are a few dumb one-liners thrown in for good measure, but by-and-large this script is strong - as are the performances.

There are numerous dimly lit scenes set to the soundtrack of ominous keyboard hammering. Most of these accompany overlong chase/stalk sequences that initially evoke tension but become a little irritating after a while. They start to impede the pace - but that shouldn't be a put-off. In these scenes' favour, I frequently found myself forgetting that this was shot on the video medium and being sucked into the momentum of each scene ... it is well-edited during these particular moments.

All in all, CLUB DEAD offers some interesting ideas, and a wry obsevation not only on society's obssessions with beauty but also with the technophobic belief that computers will someday rule the Earth. What gore is on offer is restrained (although there's a nifty knife-in-the-head shot) as this place on atmospherics and lengthy peeping-Tom POV shots more than anything else.

Released by Cinematrix Releasing, this is an interesting addition to the shot-on-video fold. Sets are well designed, dialogue is strong and the plot moves consistently towards a climax that is explosive (literally). Therefore there's no reason to doubt that Mr Bowler could produce something really illuminating giving the right budget.

Oh, and stay the distance if only for the end credits - the principal cast are shown one-by-one in scenes from the film, in true porno style. Priceless!

Review by Stuart Willis