Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Laughing Dead – review


Director: Patrick Gleason

Release Date: 1989

Contains spoilers

Another film with a cracking cover that doesn’t live up to it – at least on the surface. You see there is something oddly interesting about this film, a film that might just be a post apocalyptic vampire and zombie flick – at least according to what I discovered about the film before watching it. In fact there isn’t a zombie in it; there are shambling, rotting toxic mutants, but we’ll get to them soon.

Hunter emerges from the riverThe premise behind the film is unusual. A man, Hunter (Patrick Gleason), emerges from a toxic river in a post-apocalyptic LA, but his moments in the river are interspersed by his younger self, in puritan period dress running from a torch wielding mob and, before jumping/falling into a river, looking at a young girl (Annie James).

Fern Finer as LisaHunter has no memory and we see him being moved by a bag lady and awaking in a crate like room. A room he seems to have been given. Through a hole in the wall he meets his neighbour Lisa (Fern Finer) and she wants to know if he has any drugs or a TV – it seems that the TV is almost a drug. He wanders into the night to score. In a conversation between Lisa and Joy (Nancy Rhee), her roommate), we begin to understand that, like Hunter, Lisa has no memory of past events.

John Hammond as the Limo ManGoing through the streets we see a range of oddness. There are street kids running, being hunted by a man in a limo (John Hammond). There are the rotting mutants, who seem to have little reason for being in the film except as scenery and occasional target practice. There are male prostitutes selling themselves for lotto tickets. Giant rats known as street pigs and mysterious men in white known as milkmen. Eventually he meets with Phinneas (Rico Cymone), a gun toting revolutionary – who again seems to have little plot input.

Hunter reverts to formWe discover that the man in the limo runs LA, that there are farms (of humans) and that the milkmen throw bags of human meat onto the streets for the population to eat. Limo man eventually finds Hunter and takes him in as they are half-brothers. It seems that Limo man’s father impregnated Hunter’s mother (also played by Fern Finer) and her villagers killed her for birthing a demon-child. The half-vampire Hunter ran and threw himself into the river of time, drifting through the ages until he emerged at the end of the world.

blood factoryLimo man says he never made the world as it is, humanity did that themselves. For survival reasons he took control. He has set up farms of healthy humans, he has factories siphoning blood and then giving the flesh to the city dwellers as food. He hunts in the city for sport and uses the lotto as a way of selecting victims.

a feed through desperationThe vampire lore is as sparse as the story is, for despite what might be a rich background the film meanders without any real plot. We see that sunlight is an issue and we see Limo man turn on Hunter for blood when caught in the sun. That’s about it folks. Everything else is hinted at in such a way that we feel Gleason knew what he was thinking but never actually said it in a coherent manner.

Hunter in the sunThe film is an oddity. The acting is very pompous and thespian in such a way that doesn’t fit in with what, on the surface, seems to be a post-apocalyptic action movie. It does work, kind of, but the cast is perhaps not strong enough to carry it in the direction Gleason clearly wished to take the movie. The soundtrack is understated, ambient and beautifully haunting. It is probably the best realised aspect of the film.

The trouble is, there isn’t a story. We get a barrage of concepts – often too complex for the low budget (the street pig is a prime example of crap SFX) and yet no real direction. We get more social commentary than we can shake a stick at, re drugs, society, power, loyalty and family – but no working framework to hold those comments together.

Nancy Rhee as JoyThe DVD print looks like an old VHS, which probably doesn’t help. Ultimately I got the feeling of a student art film, of a piece that had great ideas without the skills developed to commercially produce those ideas and with the pretension that a story frame to work within didn’t matter. The film is oddly engrossing but its negatives outstrip the positives, especially as the positives are so masterfully hidden. I feel awful giving this just 2 out of 10, but in honesty it deserves no more – though it should have been a cult masterpiece.

Incidentally the title refers to the laughter tracks on old comedy shows, which Joy says are haunted as the recording of said tracks features the laughter of folks who are now dead.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Wow! here do you get this DVD?
aaron soto

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I got it from Amazon UK market place, I've also seen it on e-bay said...

Thanks man, i follow your blog for a while, i have the oldest genre blog in Mexico, i will link your site, i'm doing a link update.

This is defntly the best vampire site in the net.

Aaron Soto

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Aaron, many thanks - I appreciate the compliment. I will recipricate the link