88 min., 2012
Directed by Terrill Lee Lanford
My rating: ★★★
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE LANSDALE FAMILY! And zombies.
Meet Calvin. When it comes to the holidays, he’s gotten kind of lazy, which sucks for his wife, who is a Christmas fanatic. She wants to kick his ass in gear to get some decorations up outside on Christmas Eve, but he’s kind of wiped out from work. Instead, he catches a nap on the couch. Just as he closes his eyes, a light show erupts in the skies, and his wife and daughter watch it along with the rest of the world. Unfortunately for them, everyone who sees the lights drops dead right away. Shortly thereafter, they rise from the dead . . . .
Now Calvin finds himself alone in Nacogdoches, surrounded by the dead. And all he wants to do is celebrate Christmas for the rest of his life. He feels the need to make it up to his wife, who he keeps in the garage like a dog, feeding her from a dish and keeping her locked away, even as she rots.
But don’t take it the wrong way. This isn’t a serious movie, although it has certain somber moments. No, director Terrill Lee Lanford plays it for laughs, for the most part. Juxtaposed against the Texan landscape, zombie apocalypse and all, he uses Christmas songs on the soundtrack. Many of the zombies have goofy Christmas outfits. One of them is a former pizza delivery boy, who seems intent on delivering that final pizza.
In fact, Calvin sees the zombies not as dangerous creatures—even though they are—but as his neighbors. As he tries leaving his house, which he has turned into a compound, a zombie approaches him, and instead of shooting the fellow in the head, he prods him back with a baseball bat in an extremely lazy way. In another moment, as he’s siphoning gas, he merely pushes an approaching zombie away. Why? Because he thinks there’s a cure out there. He wants to keep everything as normal as possible until that moment comes.
But that starts to change when he meets G.M., a self-styled zombie slayer. Calvin is horrified to see G.M. killing the undead. He never tries to stop G.M., though, and soon they become apocalypse buddies. Apparently, G.M. survived the light show because he was wearing 3D glasses at the time. He keeps them hanging from around his neck as kind of a good luck charm.
When you get right down to it, this is a buddy movie, but the entire weight of it rests on Calvin’s back. If you get a lousy actor for that job, then the whole thing will fall apart. Luckily, Calvin is played by Damian Maffei. He’s not perfect, but he’s got a great grasp on the character. He’s capable of playing both the sheer lunacy of Calvin while maintaining the depressing, sad core of him.
It also helps that he has Brad Maule as G.M. to play off of. Maule has an even more difficult task than Maffei: G.M. is the comic relief, but it’s all there to hide the emotional wreck he is. However, there is a lot of wisdom in his character, and without G.M., Calvin would never be able to progress in his character arc.
The only problem with this film is from Lanford himself. He handles the comedic scenes perfectly, but when it comes time to express real emotion, he just can’t pull it off. The score unnecessarily overwhelms these scenes and completely pulls a viewer out of the movie. Considering the complexity of these two characters, that’s a major problem.
It’s a shame, because this is a beautiful family effort. CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD is based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale hisownself. He produced the movie with his wife Karen. His son Keith wrote the screenplay. His daughter Kasey not only starred as Calvin’s wife, but she also contributed to the soundtrack, since she’s a country singer and all. Hell, her husband even made a guest appearance as Calvin’s neighbor.
This is to say nothing of friend of the family and novelist Bill Crider getting a producing credit. And then there is novelist Chet Williamson’s turn as Mac, the lunatic reverend with mental patients as his apostles and his herd of zombies who are hungry for humans thrown into the Church (which is really just a former rodeo). Who would have thought that the writer of “Yore Skin’s Jes’s Soft ‘n Purty,” the greatest story in RAZORED SADDLES, could act so well! Williamson is truly a demented bastard.
You simply can’t miss this movie. There’s a dance number involving the zombies which must be seen to be believed (and it still makes sense within the movie). If that doesn’t convince you, there is always Mr. Bear. If you forget everything else about this movie (unlikely as that might seem), you will never forget Mr. Bear.
Christmas isn’t that far away. You’d best celebrate it with the Lansdale family.Have You Read...?