Dawn of the Living Dead (David Heavener, 2004)
NOTE: the following review (well, the first paragraph) contains a major spoiler for this movie. Be warned.
Is there anything more satisfying in low-budget horror these days than watching Joe Estevez die horribly? And the best part is, it's so easy to find. Per IMDB, Mr. Estevez (who, in case the look and the voice didn't tip you off, is Martin Sheen's brother, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez' uncle) appeared in sixteen movies in 2010 alone. Without actually investigating, I'd say, simply judging by the titles, a little over half of those are horror movies. I'd further say, given my recent experiences with flicks in which Joe Estevez appears, he probably died (and horribly) in three-quarters of those. I mean, you can't really go wrong with a Joe Estevez movie, as long as you're only looking for "Joe Estevez Bites It. Horribly.". If you're looking for a good movie, on the other hand, you're almost certainly better off looking elsewhere. Estevez, over the past quarter-century, has made some choices that would have been career-killers for just about anyone else. Soultaker. Sigma Die!. Legend of the Roller Blade Seven. (And a sequel!) Zombie Farm. I Got the Hook-Up (which I think actually did kill a number of careers). Dawn of the Living Dead, which was originally titled Evil Grave: Curse of the Maya. Subsequently retitled, one assumes, to appeal to the Romero-loving crowd.
Plot: A former mental patient, Renee (Things You Don't Tell's Amanda Bauman), and her doctor, Jeffrey (Estevez), with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love, move out to the middle of the Arizona desert, presumably to continue her recovery. While wandering through the desert one afternoon, she comes upon Michael (martial artist Heavener), a caretaker for the surrounding windmills, and his mentally-challenged assistant Herardo (Todd Bridges... yes, that Todd Bridges). Since they seem to be the only people within hundreds of miles, Renee invites Michael back to the house for dinner, where he tells them that the house (which Jeffrey got on ebay, sight unseen) was the site of the recent murder of a family of illegal immigrants; immigrants, it seems, had been using it as a safe-house for some time. The dead are restless, and Renee finds that she must figure out who the killer is before they devour everyone in sight.
David Heavener's acting is... indescribable. Suffice to say that in the scenes they have together, he makes Joe Estevez (by far the best actor in this joint) look good. As Joe was never, shall we say, blessed with the talent of the rest of the family, that takes some doing. And then there is Bridges, who seems to have taken every emotion from the "I'm a mess" years and channelled them into this character, about whom nothing politically correct can be said (he is, in the classical sense of the phrase, a low-functioning moron). There are actors who have made careers out of effectively playing the mentally challenged, Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) and Leonardo di Caprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) being two modern examples. Todd Bridges will never gain that kind of recognition based on this performance. And, as Captain Peacock was wont to say, "thank heaven for that".
Heavener's IMDB page notes that, in addition to being a martial artist, he also composes and performs Christian music (whether contemporary or gospel is not specified). Judging by this movie, at least, he should abandon the film career and take up music full-time. It can't be any worse than this. A much better take on this same basic idea, though with ghosts instead of zombies, was released the same year, called <em>Kucuk Kiyamet</em>, in Turkey. Much harder to find in America, I'm sure, but a much, much more rewarding film than this. (half)