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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Dead Don’t Die (1975)

This made for television movie completely surprised me and was a real find. The story is set in the thirties where we see a man named Don Drake visiting his brother in prison. It is the night before he is to be executed and Don has just made it back in town. His brother convinces him of his innocence and while they can’t stop what is about to happen asks him to prove it. This leads Don to Chicago where his brother lived and where he meets the various characters in his life.

Up until this point The Dead Don’t Die plays very much like a film noir. It is a murder mystery where the cops have already punished the man they think is responsible for the killing. Here is where things get interesting thought. When Don starts to dig he is approached by a mysterious woman named Vera who warns him to leave town. Almost immediately after that he chases a man that looks just like his dead brother into a nearby antique shop and accidentally kills the proprietor in a scuffle. He wakes up in Vera’s apartment and starts to piece together the mystery. Turns out it was his brother, who is now a zombie, and that there is a zombie master plying his craft in the city! Yeah, it went from mystery to horror just like that. All of this leads to a big finale where Don faces the man who framed his brother and has been trying to kill him.

I can’t say much more than I have without spoiling things. I loved this movie, so I really don’t want to do that. The story is quick paced clocking in with a seventy four minute runtime that was typical of made for television projects like this. There isn’t a wasted scene as we start with the brothers in the jail cell and quickly move to Chicago and the zombie plot line. Characters pop in and out of the story but none seem throwaway and all move things along. This is a well written script, which considering it was from the legendary Robert Bloch isn’t that surprising. When you have Psycho and The House that Dripped Blood I guess you know what you are doing.

Creepy zombie
The way that they present the undead is very simple with some old school makeup (dark circles under the eyes) and acting (shuffling with moaning dialogue) but it is effective. This isn’t a gorefest, but instead an old school voodoo inspired take on zombies. Overall I got a very Val Lewton vibe from not only how they were brought to the screen but also with the reliance on camerawork and lighting to set a spooky mood. I’m a huge fan of old school horror like Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie so this movie checked a lot of boxes for me. Damn I really need to cover those for the site.

Finally the cast is excellent. Our main character is the always reliable George Hamilton who we just saw in The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. Here he is solid as the brother trying to unravel the mystery of his brother’s framing for murder. The filmmakers double down with an excellent supporting cast as well. Ray Milland (The Uninvited) is helpful dance hall owner and ally Jim Moss. The always welcome to see Ralph Meeker (The Food of the Gods, Without Warning) is the local policeman. Hollywood legend Joan Blondell and genre favorite Yvette Vickers (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Attack of the Giant Leeches) have supporting roles. We even get a pre-Kurt Barlow Reggie Nadler. There is a lot of talent in front of as well as behind the camera.

I could keep gushing but is it necessary? This is why I love these made for television flicks. They allowed creative folks to cast old school actors and because they had to work within limited budgets and under the watchful eye of television censors, they had to lean into quality writing and acting. I highly recommend The Dead Don’t Die.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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