When the brilliant French horror flick Inside went straight to DVD, I thought "Well, yeah. It's hardcore horror and it's in French. It probably scared the arthouses and it would never play multiplexes. Bring on the DVD already." When I heard that the very awesome [REC] was going directly to home video, I thought "Yeah, Sony did an English-language remake, so no big shock there." But when I heard that Gregg Bishop's Dance of the Dead was not only going straight to video -- but it was also being released alongside seven other horror titles on the same damn day -- I got just a little bit irritated.
I mean no disrespect to the fine folks at Lionsgate, because they spend a lot more money on horror movies than I do (and I spend a lot), but Dance of the Dead is a whole lot better than just another "DVD drop" flick -- and it sure as hell doesn't deserve to be
Kids didn't show up to see freakin' Prom Night for Brittany Snow. They went because the trailer hooked 'em in, and teenagers will go see ANYTHING about other teenagers -- provided you hook 'em with a good trailer. Dance of the Dead has enough good stuff to fill five good trailers. (Kind of a strange compliment, but you get the point.) If one of the Dance stars (say the lovely Greyson Chadwick) had just popped up on a hot new Fox series, then "The Gate" would be holding Dance of the Dead in a vault for a few extra months -- just until Greyson's star was rising -- and just as prom season was getting closer. And if you think I'm just blindly backing a horror flick because I dig it, but I know little about which films truly play with an audience ... think again. Dance of the Dead is as "accessible" as anything out there. Call it "Dawn of the Dead meets John Hughes" if you must, but if that sort of description would get your ass into a cineplex seat, then that's the marketing hook I'd use.
And there's probably no way that Dance of the Dead could be suitably trimmed for a PG-13 rating, which means it's high time we all make one giant confession and have done with it: Ratings mean nothing. It was boys aged 14 and up who made 300 such a smash, and they did the same thing for Rob Zombie's Halloween. The R rating is not a deterrent to teenagers. It's a magnet. Quadruply so if you deliver a good movie that gets the Hot Topic crowd buzzing. And if this crowd tolerated freakin' Prom Night enough to drop nine bucks, I say they'll dig Dance enough to maybe wear the T-shirt. On the other hand, if your 14-year-old can't handle a little cleavage, a little cursing, and a little carnage, OK fair enough: You shouldn't let him go see Dance of the Dead. Me, I was obsessed with Kubrick and Cronenberg at age 14, and I'm only on medication three weeks a month.
Call it a silly little crusade of mine, but I can visualize a packed theater having a ball with Dance of the Dead. (I can probably visualize it because I experienced it (twice) during the last SXSW Film Festival.) And to those savvy marketing execs who would wag their fingers and say "Now, now, that's a festival audience. Plus they serve beer at the Alamo," I would respond with "Good point, so go screen this movie for 25 audiences, age 18 to 30. If those crowds don't eat the thing up, I promise to never play Movie Marketing Exec again." But I'm just one mild-mannered blogger, and nobody really cares what I think. (Aside from my mom, of course, but she doesn't like horror movies.) So I thought I'd get in touch with Dance of the Dead director Gregg Bishop to see how he feels about his baby's upcoming release plans. Here's how that particular conversation went down:
Scott: "When you made the deal with Lionsgate, was a theatrical release part of those plans?"
Gregg: "No theatrical release plans were offered from Lionsgate / Ghosthouse, only DVD. We had several other offers on the table, including some offers for theatrical from some smaller companies -- but we all felt that the movie would just get lost in anyone else's hands. When a filmmaker makes a movie, they want it to reach the widest audience possible. When it comes to genre marketing and distribution, there is no one better than Lionsgate. Ghosthouse / Lionsgate is, without a doubt, the best home for this movie. But the response this movie has received thus far has blown away all my expectations, and has led me to believe that a potential theatrical run would be a good idea to explore. Every time it is screened in a theater, it is like a rock concert ... and not just festival screenings: We screened it at USC as part of their Alumni Screening series and the college kids (totally unrelated to us) were going nuts!"
Scott: "It was recently announced that Dance would hit DVD on 10/14 alongside seven other Ghost House / Lionsgate title (mostly imports). No disrespect intended to these other movies (none of which I've seen yet), but is it safe to say that "one of eight" isn't exactly the DVD debut you were expecting?
Gregg: "I haven't seen any of them yet either, but I've heard some good things... No, it's safe to say I wasn't expecting Dance to be part on an "eight-pack" release."
Scott: "But, I mean ... you're the director of the movie. Of course you'd love to get a theatrical run for your own film. I'm playing devil's advocate here, but what makes YOUR movie so darn special?"
Gregg: "No, that's a fair question. You ask any director if they'd rather their movie go straight-to-DVD or to theaters and they'll say "theaters" every time. I think a few test screenings would be a great idea. That way, the people who make these decisions can see how it plays in a packed house. I'm not asking them to listen to me, I'm asking them to listen to the audience."
Scott: "Hell, for starters, just show it to a bunch of the secretaries' (older) kids at a private screening with free pepsi & popcorn. Ask those kids what they think. Anything to indicate that this particular movie might be just a little more noteworthy than your run-of-the-mill DVD horror title."
Gregg: "Sure, just knowing that someone's giving it an extra look. Look, I couldn't be more happier with the team that is distributing this movie and either way I'm thrilled that the movie is getting out there. But you're right ... what if this movie could do a little bit more than that? This movie was always designed as a theatrical experience. Every time we screen the movie, the audience roars! I'd say the same thing if someone else made it. I just think that if you put the right decision-makers and a good audience in front of this movie, a lot more people would agree with us."
At that point Gregg hung up because it was well after 1am and we'd already finished talking about how awesome The Dark Knight was.
And just to show you that the film certainly does appeal to a wide array of demographics, I thought I'd ask one simple question of the Cinematical staff members who saw Dance of the Dead at SXSW last March. The question is this: "With the proper marketing angle, the right release date, and a smart (limited) release pattern, do you think that Dance of the Dead could prove to be a relative hit among the younger audiences?"
"Yes, absolutely. It's a terrific film -- funny and hip (without overdoing it) and full of the cool stuff that makes zombie movies fun without completely drowning the audience in blood 'n' guts. I saw it twice at SXSW, and I look forward to seeing it on the big screen again when (if?) it gets released. " -- Eric Snider
"I think slow-burn cult status kind of like what Donnie Darko eventually achieved might be possible, though maybe not quite to the same extent. It's a smart, funny movie -- I think people who see it will like it." -- Eugene Novikov
"If it was marketed properly (and it's a Lionsgate title, so that shouldn't be a problem), I think it could definitely reach beyond the hardcore horror buffs." -- Peter Martin
"Damn right if could. We saw a pair of raucous screenings at a festival, sure, but the movie was doing all the work. Austin movie crowds don't hoot, holler and stamp their feet unless a flick deserves it." -- William Goss
"It's smart, funny horror. Even if we're talking about teens with short attention spans, what's not to like? I'm not even a big horror fan, and I liked it well enough to see it twice within the space of a few days at SXSW. I never see films twice at festivals. I had to see it again just for the graveyard scene." -- Kim Voynar
"It's like Revenge of the Nerds meets Dawn of the Dead. If you're 18 and that doesn't sound appealing, you deserve to be eaten by zombies. In fact, I'd eat you myself ... with ketchup. And love it!" -- Erik Davis
And since the point I'm trying to make is that Dance of the Dead is NOT necessarily a niche film, I'll spare you the rave reviews from AICN, eFilmCritic, Bloody-Disgusting, Twitch, Film School Rejects, FirstShowing.net, Rotten Tomatoes, that massive gore geek over at FEARnet, and Cinematical's own Peter Martin -- and I'll make one final request: Show the movie to Sam Raimi. It's partially a Ghost House property at this point, so it shouldn't be too tough to get Mr. Raimi an early copy of the DVD. Ask him to watch Dance of the Dead with the idea of a packed (mostly youthful) crowd sitting behind him, and then see if he thinks I'm crazy.
And on the Lionsgate side of things, well, I expect a little more of an adventuresome spirit from the company that bought a scrappy little horror flick from Australia for a million bucks and then turned it into Jigsaw's House of Mega-Profit. Bottom line is that MOST of Lionsgate's cheaper genre pick-ups are more than deserving of a "direct to DVD release." The problem here is that, unlike most of the others, Dance of the Dead is a really good film -- and one that could be a hell of a lot more successful than just another DVD flick -- if someone just bothered to look a little more closely.