Directed by J.R. Bookwalter, 1988 (released 2005)
Let's get the sensationalism out of the way: The Dead Next Door was funded by a mysterious figure dubbed "The Master Cylinder" in the credits. This was apparently Sam Raimi, who helped finance the film with Evil Dead 2 returns. The thrill of mysterious financing, as well as a healthy respect for DIY filmmaking (ask me about my own handmade gorefest, which according to rumor still airs each Halloween on Janesville, Wisconsin public television!) made this a must-see movie.
The Dead Next Door opens with obvious Raimi flair. Camerawork, editing, and direction all hint that the movie's crew hold Evil Dead close to their hearts. The gore gets going right away: the entirety of the movie's budget may have gone to zombie effects. I respect that. It had been at least three days since I'd seen a zombie film in the modern gorefest tradition, and I welcomed its creative deaths and excellent zombie makeup.
Our heroes are the Zombie Squad, one team of government-sanctioned hunters among many like them. The President has fallen to the zombie menace, but Washington is intact and devoted to obliterating the undead. As ever, dissension exists: pro-zombie protesters ("Let zombies walk! Let zombies walk!") march in front of the White House lawn. Later, zombies eat them. Poetic justice as comic relief? Lovely! The remainder of the plot involves a dead scientist's anti-zombie serum, an armed pro-zombie religious cult, and a brainwashed girl. Cops fall. Zombies munch. Serum is injected. Blood spatters.
I deeply admire the filmmaker's enthusiasm for horror, clearly and preciously expressed by characters named Raimi, Carpenter, Savini, and Romero. But my enthusiasm was gradually tried. It's an ambitious movie with too many unnecessary elements and a meandering final act.
Zombie explanation: Another movie opening with the zombie plague already well-established, which I love. I believe the dead scientist accidentally created them. Science zombies!
Contribution to the zombie canon: Even when decapitated or shot in the head, zombies don't die. That's a terrifying element I've only otherwise noted in Return of the Living Dead. Additionally, the inclusion of a half-human master zombie was an interesting touch but a trifle confusing. The final scene, in which the Zombie Squad becomes the Human Squad, is deliciously pessimistic.
Favorite moment: Singing zombie. Zombies as the basis of a religion.