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Siege of the Dead (2001)

Siege of the Dead on DVD

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Lead Rain Entertainment

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I hear it all the time. Many fans out there are tired of zombies that run, jump, or who can beat them at a game of Scrabble. Personally, I'm not. I'm always game for new ideas being injected into the undead lore, yet there's still nothing like the dim-witted, lethargic limpers born of Romero. Siege of the Dead is an independent effort from Georgia that aims to recreate just a tiny slice of that Romero magic, and in a lot of ways hits the mark. It's one small group's story of survival, but you can imagine that at the same moment, many other similar versions of this story are happening across the nation, or even spreading across the world.

While Siege of the Dead doesn't claim to take place inside the confines of Romero's zombified universe, you could easily place it at some point after the events of Dawn of the Dead. The risen dead are the traditional fare, devoid of intelligence, very slow-of-foot, and easily destroyed by blunt trauma to the head or a well-placed bullet in the brain. No surprises with these corpses.

At the outset of the film, all we know are the basics. The dead have risen and they've been strolling around town eating people and generally stinking up the joint. We're told that through some narration as we watch Lloyd Dobbler (Doug LaVigne), a survivor in the aftermath, lug around his backpack full of supplies (and handy baseball bat) along a deserted country road. As he takes some time out to rest and jot down some thoughts in his journal, his desire to find some transportation is met when Lane (Joshua Spearing) and Jennifer Myer (Maggie Andrichak) make a "timely" arrival in their car. Unfortunately for Lloyd though, his potential ride is now out of gas. The good news though, is that Lane and Jennifer agree to join him on his trek to his friend's place in the countryside, where supplies are supposed to be plentiful.

A really long walk and a few zombies later, the three companions reach their destination. Friends Martin (D.W. Beck) and Gib (Kurt Zettlemoyer) are holed up in a house-turned-armory that has up till now given them respite from the death outside. Though, given the growing undead siege upon the house and the dwindling supplies, it's apparent a new plan of action must be conceived.

Their consensus is that traveling north is their best chance. It's thought that the as temperatures grow colder the farther north they go, the zombies would eventually freeze solid since they no longer produce any body heat. Ha! What a ridiculous idea, I mean know, that actually makes some sense. Sure, there would be other concerns about the cold, but it's not a bad idea at all. Zombie flicks aren't usually renowned for their logic, so it's not surprising that I was a little thrown off there for a second.

The entire second half of Siege centers on the group's search for more supplies for the trip northward. This is where most of the film's action takes place and also where everything falls apart for the group. The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and this story is no exception.

Siege of the Dead works for me because of its simplicity. The movie never gets bogged down in too many details and never attempts to explain the zombie phenomenon. Nor do the characters digress into bloated philosophical discussions on why this has happened or how they're going to rebuild civilization. They're only interested in one thing.staying alive as long as possible. There's not a ton of character development and no one personality stood out for me, but they're still a sympathetic lot. They all come off as the "average Joe", which isn't a knock on them. It's actually a plus because it's easy to relate. We may not know a lot about them, but you want to see them all succeed.

While the story itself is tightly spun, Kurt Zettlemoyer's script is merely average. It isn't helped by the fact that the actors' line delivery left a lot to be desired. I think that Zettlemoyer, who also pulled acting duties, did the best job playing Gib. Since he's credited with the screenplay, it makes sense that he probably had the best grasp on the material. Joshua Spearing was given the toughest task in playing Lane, who had the only real emotional scenes in the movie and they just didn't come out very well. Overall though, considering that these guys (and gal) had no formal training, you gotta cut 'em a break. It could have been much, much worse, and frankly, I've seen much worse.

When you combine a shoestring budget with a total lack of experience in filmmaking, you can't expect perfection. And even with its flaws, I thought that the good outweighed the bad. Director Chris Kaylor does a decent job behind the camera, despite a few annoying "shaky cam" moments. Exploding zombie heads, gunfire, and blood spatters were among the digital FX shots that came out surprisingly well and honestly, I was surprised to see any in the film at all. Another nice touch was the dream sequence that they included. Those can sometimes come off as cheesy even in big-budget stuff, but they did a great job, it plays very well in the movie. The music was a plus, wasn't overdone, and truthfully I wouldn't have minded a little more. The zombie makeup was sufficient, but the real props go the props (ha!) in the film. The bevy of M-16s, handguns, shotguns, and ammo boxes rounding out the group's arsenal is quite impressive.

In making an independent film (or any film for that matter), you have to know your limitations. Among other things, your budget, resources, and the acting abilities of your cast all have to be taken into account. Too many times you watch a film that tries to be more than it can be, or even needs to be. Siege of the Dead focuses on the high-powered zombie action and stays within its limits, and ultimately avoids many traps that usually sink a first attempt at making a film. I only wish it had been a little longer. It runs only 54 minutes in length. To their credit though, at least they didn't add a bunch of fluff as useless filler time. Another downer was the quality of the digital video. It wasn't the best, and had they the money to use film I think it would have made a huge difference.

The bottom line is that Siege impresses despite its amateur look. The film doesn't provide any real "scares" per say, but there are several scenes that stand out in my mind as exceptional filmmaking. Siege of the Dead far exceeds what you would normally expect in a low-budget film!


(Out of 5)
February 21 2004

Despite its flaws, it makes for an interesting and empathetic tale of survival. Certainly recommendable, especially if you're a fan of independent horror. Casual fans might be put off a little due to the ultra low-budget feel of it.
1. Gunshots attract smelly walking corpses.
2. Never trust someone who's just lost a loved one to watch your back.
-"You didn't exactly look like Mother Teresa coming at me with that tire iron."
-"I had to shoot my mother in the head."
-"What a snafu."
-"Let's drag that thing outta there before it ruins those seat covers."

Chris Kaylor
Kurt Zettlemoyer
Chris Kaylor [story]
Doug LaVigne [story]
Brian Stone [story]
Chris Kaylor
Doug LaVigne
Kurt Zettlemoyer
Doug LaVigne Lloyd Dobbler
Maggie Andrichak Jennifer Myer
Joshua Spearing Lane Myer
D.W.Beck Martin Blanke
Kurt Zettlemoyer Walter "Gib" Gibson
Lead Rain Entertainment
Lead Rain Entertainment
United States
54 mins Unrated

The final cut of the film was completed on July 28, 2001.
Every person who worked on the movie also played a zombie or two...or three.
The bludgeonings' FX shots were accomplished by using watermelons, tomatoes, cookies, and an archaic form of digital compositing. The biting FX shots were done with either ramen noodles, chunks of turkey, or a piece of an old t-shirt soaked with stage blood.
No live ammunition or functional firearms were used in the filming of Siege of the Dead. No blank ammunition ("blanks") was used either. All the firing effects were added digitally in post-production. Nearly all firearms used were non-firing prop items. Any real firearms used were completely disabled through the removal of firing pins and internal parts.
Most of the music was written and performed by actor/co-producer Doug LaVigne's former band, 'Big John Trail and the Linda Lovelace Experience'.
Siege of the Dead was filmed in and around Atlanta, Georgia.
Lead Rain Entertainment is comprised of Chris Kaylor, Doug LaVigne, and Kurt Zettlemoyer.
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