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Dead Room: The Final Cut (2001)
Directors: Ian David Diaz, Julian Boote, Gavin Boyd, and Phil Lott

review by Paul Higson

Dead Room is an anthology thriller which, like many films made in the first few years of the 21st century, is under threat of doing a vanishing act without even the pithiest of recognitions on home soil. Julian Boote is one of the four directors on the film and when providing me with this salvaged version he did so with advance apologies for what he considered to be a grossly inferior film experience.

Giving the DVD-R a test run on the television set it looked a bit bloated and bright, an overly jaunty introductory sequence in which the landlord drives to his property to evict his latest problem tenant. Other earlier compendium horrors have begun with the journey to the location (be it a crypt, asylum, or accursed house), which will become the setting for all the death and horror to come, or a conduit for predicted nightmares. Here, the journey is more pronounced. The basement level humour during the urgent opening montage includes a close-up shot of his foot finding a turd as he steps out of the vehicle.

Yep, let's return that to the sleeve and give it a shot on another day. Thinking that it might not look quite as bad on the laptop that is where it was eventually played and it felt less in your face but still... in your face... and for the first time I had that irksome sense that it was possible for a film made on this side of the millennium to feel dated. A decade on, even low-budget films that make it to a rental or sale shelf have a polished presentation as the technology has advanced and made more possible if not during shooting then in post-production.

The landlord (Anthony Ofoegbu) delivers his tale direct to camera, another pet hate of this reviewer. Another cross in that box, but then the dialogue shows promise. He describes the latest evictee as "a nefarious character of ambiguous parentage... bastard!" and you want that sentence on a t-shirt. One perks up in hope of similar lines. The dialogue continues to amuse and bemuse if not occasionally produce an occasional chuckle. The landlord believes that room #2 cursed, as each tenant and intruder appears to befall some gross misfortune or madness. Four tales were filmed but only three made it into the final cut. However, the trailer seems to include shots from the missing tale, so confusion reigns. The dupe offered is the 'definitive version' which has been seen only by an entourage 'elite'.

Story one is Need To Know in which a journalist (Richard Banks) is invited to tag along with a whistle-blower who purports to be Cleaner 31 (Giles Ward), an assassin with Redline, the government black ops outfit. He has taken room #2 while he sets up the killing of an enemy operative living opposite. The segment is caught on the journalist's video-camera, joining Cleaner 31 in shot when he can, his expression in asides informing us of his disdain for his clearly barking subject. So it is a bit of a jolt when Cleaner 31 invites him to meet someone just before he puts a bullet in his victim.

Details of the next target arrive and Cleaner 31 is filmed by the journalist through the window torturing and killing her. Now resolutely complicit, the influence of Man Bites Dog is clear, and we are reminded that the film was made at a time when that title was still implementing itself on a generation of filmmakers. Cleaner 31 reveals more to the reporter, though the legitimacy of his version of events is rapidly disappearing down the Suwannee as he confesses that the assassinated are by and the large Zarathustrians, an alien menace not of this world.

Night-vision camera shows him in bed reading The Fortean Times, himself using night vision. Cleaner 31 tells him that some Zarathustrians are currently untouchable because of their celebrity status. When the journalist bangs on about it Cleaner 31 is prompted to overstep that boundary and kill one of the untouchables, which sees them sneaking into the grounds of Jeremy Beadle's home. The makers clearly did not foresee the actual death of the arch prankster a few years later. Retrospectively, it does implant the unfortunate idea that Redline did eventually take Beadle out. Maybe those missing fingers were an earlier attempt.

The casting throughout the film is unusually sound for a film made on a zero budget. Richard Banks is a solid presence entirely appropriate for the role of Cleaner 13, big in frame, matter of fact about his activities, a machine that is baffled when asked what his philosophy is, and an ardent believer of his mad fantasies. Giles Ward is also a fantastic pick for the journalist, his comic glances to camera eminently exploitable but it is as a double act that they are a superb fit and their comic timing is on the button.

An interlude of sorts follows and an introduction comes to a character credited as 'the stalker' (Laura Carter), a fiery beauty in the park purchasing high explosives from a comic dodgy duo named Crow and Trojan, a pair of Caucasians jabbering in a ludicrous Jamaican patois and possibly inventing some of the idiom: "What do you need so much marzipan for?"

The second complete tale is City Living which has the interesting overarching theme of an incurably nice girl who is repeatedly treated rotten by everyone in her radius. The increasingly put upon young ghost writer is Charlotte (Esme Eliot) who has just split from her lover (the ex-girlfriend is not mean but has simply tired of her and has no interest in seeing her), and takes room #2 because it is all that she can afford. She immediately falls prey to a cartoon of a voyeur and cruel trickster among her neighbours. Her agent reduces the turnaround time on a footballer's 'autobiography' which she is already struggling with and her other neighbours are uniformly unfriendly and grossly unfair. The nicer she tries to be the worse things get for her. The writers are counting on Eliot's elfin prettiness appealing to all reasonable viewers, and conflict one with amusement at the comic dialogue and awful situations while feeling great empathy for the girl. The effect is achieved. As for the tale, the worm turns with violent results. Again, the casting is spot on. This is not a hurried appointment of any handy player by the makers but a meticulous shopping for the right faces and talents.

Story three has a prologue, or to be more precise a second prologue, in which Bernadette (Melissa Simonetti), the daughter of a gangster, is seen standing up to her father and leaving home with her fianc´┐Ż. The lover is swiftly disposed of by Bernadette's murderous stalker who is the girl previously introduced buying explosives. Bernadette is abducted and taken to that unlucky room in the now otherwise empty house (unknown to the landlord they have not only skipped the rent but skipped on life), and tied to a typist's chair which rigged to explode should anyone interfere with her bonds. Danny (Alex Stephenson) is down and out and the property appears derelict, so ends up in the unfortunate position of discovering Bernadette. She offers him a reward for assisting her, and a combination of genuine goodwill and the financial imperative persuade the serial sideliner to become involved and possibly improve his lot. It also puts him in a dangerous situation when the savage hard bitch of a stalker returns and finds him there. If Bernadette does not return her love for her she is willing to kill them all, and clock ticks down.

Stephenson's homeless Danny does not come across as forlorn enough and is perhaps a little too bulky and casual to pass for someone living out of dustbins. It is the first stumbled step in the casting, but even if a little too well-fed for the role he has the acting chops to keep his character popping with interest. The episode has the snappy dialogue, character and a dark mettle of the first two tales and the balance is complete. The connecting thread is in the same patter but feels more sketch show because it does not carry the threat level of the interior tales.

Dead Room, as an anthology movie, is the composite responsibility of four directors and a greater number of writers. The film also employs several different cameramen. The switcheroo crew does little to hamper the film, in fact, as a compendium movie it has a more equilibrium than most portmanteaus, which is therefore quite remarkable. Dead Room has rarely been seen in the UK and is seemingly currently only available on DVD in Greece. The submitted version includes the bonus missing story which may have been lost in the Greek release and which would bump the 89-minute running time back up to 103 minutes. The story should be deposited between the second and third tale and involves the comedic abuse of a black magic circle by three women. Silly banter and bizarre behaviour concludes with the demonic possession of one of the women and the death of the others, a CGI decapitation carried by one hand before the viewer. Dead Room can survive without the segment but neither would it be unduly damaged by the return of the episode as the gait of the all the tales means that there is never any real drag. I could apply the directors, writers and cameramen to their respective credits but as the aforementioned balance is well maintained it would appear to be unnecessary to do so with only the connecting landlord sequences and that ugly opening sequence worthy of outright reproach.

Dead Room



copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press