Grave Misdemeanours (1989) (aka Night Life)

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The worst thing ever – yes, even worse than all the dictators and diseases that have ever existed – is comedy movies that aren’t funny. Horrors that aren’t scary or thrillers that aren’t thrilling at least have a plot to fall back on, but when the entire point of a scene is a gag that just doesn’t work, you’re left with nothing. So it was with deep sadness that, about 20 minutes into this, that I realised it wasn’t just a bit unfunny, but a sort of comedy black hole where the writer clearly thought “hey, people being really mean to each other is funny, right? I’ll just fill the movie with that!”

 

Take a look at the video cover, above. Looks like a wacky, knockabout zombie comedy, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of manages that for the last 20 minutes or so, but for the first 55 minutes, no zombies and precious little fun. It’s the tale of young Archie Melville (Scott Grimes, “ER”, “American Dad”), who works at his Uncle’s mortuary – that Uncle is played by John “Gomez Addams” Astin, seemingly annoyed at having to be there – and dreams of the hot cheerleader, who has a douchebag boyfriend (of course).

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The first two-thirds of the movie is Archie being insulted by his Uncle and mocked by the group of assholes (one of whom is a young Mark Pellegrino, who’d go on to much greater fame in “Supernatural” and “Lost”, among other things); tricked into almost having sex with the hot cheerleader; his only friend, Charly the mechanic (Cheryl Pollak, “Pump Up The Volume”, “I Was A Teenage Vampire”) gets a job working for a NASCAR team and leaves town immediately; then he gets sacked when the assholes steal a corpse and rig it so it falls on Archie when he enters the room. You know, a nice reasonable prank!  There’s a whisper of an idea that Pellegrino and the cheerleader are actual human beings with empathy, but that must have been stuff left over from a previous script draft as it’s entirely ignored for the rest of the movie. Anyway, the four douchebags die offscreen in a car accident, colliding with a chemical truck, then when they’re back at the morgue get hit by lightning and turned into zombies.

 

The last section is sort of okay, with Archie and a returning Charly (turns out the guy who hired her was an alcoholic pervert, not a race-car mechanic) fighting the zombies, trying to save the town, and so on. It perhaps only appears exciting in comparison to the funereal (no pun intended) pace of the first two-thirds, but still, it seems someone thought it’d be a good idea to have stuff happen.

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It’s really all over the place. When Archie realises the dead bodies are his enemies, he doesn’t seem upset, or secretly pleased, or anything, he just seems sort of indifferent, a curious character choice. The recently undead just want to torture him, like they did when they were alive, and the only real difference is they’re almost indestructible and don’t talk. Charly    doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman to take a job that starts in the middle of the night, with an obviously sleazy guy, at seemingly a few hours’ notice, but it’s small potatoes for a movie as dumb as this, I guess.

 

Director David Acomba had a largely undistinguished career in TV, but was an (uncredited) director on the “Star Wars” Holiday Special, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life; aside from his first ever directorial credit, an independent Canadian movie called “Slipstream” from 1973, he never made another movie. Writer Keith Critchlow only has one other writing credit, the Tom Hanks / John Candy damp squib “Volunteers”, so the signs were there if only I chose to pay attention to them before watching it.

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But, like I said, it’s a comedy with no jokes in it. It’s a zombie movie where the zombies don’t show up til it’s almost over. It’s slow and boring, and is of interest nowadays for its weirdly strong cast of people you’ll definitely recognise from other, more fun movies of the time. And for the middle section, you can safely have a conversation about whatever you like (we chose to discuss “Star Trek” fan films) safe in the knowledge you’ll not miss anything important at all.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

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