Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dead One (2007)

Another day, another comic book adaptation to film, eh? Today it is Javier Hernandez’s El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie that has been remade into The Dead One (El Muerto).

As a young boy crossing illegally into the United States, Diego (Darien Dikeos) follows an old Indian (Billy Drago) who makes him give a blood sacrifice to the Aztec gods. Years later, Diego (Wilmer Valderrama) is all grown up and passionate about celebrating the Day of the Dead. He paints his face to look like a skull, puts on his best black mariachi-inspired suit, complete with bone tailoring, and begins driving to the festivities. Problem is, he never gets there. He crashes his car and dies. The Aztec gods have returned to claim their blood sacrifice.

Diego wakes on the Day of the Dead, in his now permanent costume, to find that he’s been dead a whole year. He sees his friends and girlfriend, Maria (Angie Cepeda), praying over his grave in the cemetery. After being lost and confused (for a little too long), he discovers that the Aztec gods have tapped him to help them reclaim power and kill those whose bloodline was responsible for wiping out the Aztec religion.

Through the love of his amor, Maria, and help from his best friend Zak (Joel David Moore), Diego is able to resist the evil and fight against it. Still, people close to Maria and the church where she works continue to die horrible deaths. Can Diego stop the old Aztec evil from bringing about the end of the world or will he succumb to it?

When I originally heard about this film and its mix of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore, I was really intrigued. It sounded very original and one of the few horror movies that focused on the Latino community. Then I watched it…and while it has some pretty nifty ideas floating around there somewhere, it was all lost on the presentation.

The Dead One falls victim to a slooooowly-moving story line. I appreciate the fact that it dives headlong into the story at the beginning and doesn’t waste time explaining the Day of the Dead to the audience, but from the time Diego comes back, undead, it just halts and we see the same scenes played out a few too many times. Diego looking confused. A bad CGI storm signifying the arrival of the evil Aztec gods. A dewy-eyed Maria, remembering promises of undying love. Diego running and hiding from police, friends, etc. Over and over again, we get these same scenes. Not to mention the anticlimactic fight scene between Diego and an Aztec baddie (funny, Billy Drago doesn’t really look Aztec…).

For a slow moving, repetitive flick, it sure doesn’t explain much. Anyone not familiar with Latin culture, Aztec mythology, Catholicism or Mexican folklore may have a hard time following along. I wasn’t too sure what was going on most of the time. One minute, they are talking about the end of the world and the next the Aztec gods are just planning on reclaiming world dominance. I was a bit fuzzy on the whole Aztec mythology and Diego’s reason for coming back one year after his death. Was he called back because of the love between him and Maria or because the Aztec gods sent him back?

The movie wasn’t all bad, though. Despite its poorly paced and convoluted storyline, the acting was pretty decent. It was a kick to see Billy Drago both as an “old Indian” and in drag and Wilmer Valderrama did a fine job as someone other than “Fez” from That 70’s Show. It also has good performances from familiar faces Michael Parks (Kill Bill), Tony Plana (Ugly Betty), Maria Conchita Alonso and Tony Amendola. This film showcases a very talented Latino cast…if only they had had a better script to work with!

The direction by Brian Cox (no, not the actor) was pretty basic and pedestrian, but still above average for a low-budget film. Still, since this was a comic book adaptation, I expected more KAPOW! and WHAM! action and instead of just dreary interior scenes over and over again. The only real “showdown” scene is at the end and it really is a sad sight for a comic book movie. Cox also wrote the script and shows the same problem…no clue on pacing and he makes it more of a teenybopper love story than one it’s supposed to be, which is a action-packed horror film.

Besides lack of action, there is also a serious lack of horror in the movie. Instead of horror, it really should be classified as drama (or the previously mentioned love story). Besides all the supernatural happenings and the scenes of the laughable Aztec god, there really isn’t anything remotely scary about The Dead One. It’s mostly about the love between Diego and Maria, but, DAMMIT, I wanna be watching a horror movie, not an Oxygen Network flick!

No matter how much I wanted to enjoy The Dead One (El Muerto), it was pretty near impossible not to wish I was six feet under instead of watching this dreary excuse for a horror movie. Still, I did enjoy the acting and it is a great Latino cast. The real fault here is the direction and script, which is a real shame because of the rich foundation laid by Javier Hernandez in his comic book.

Available from Amazon!

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