Saturday, April 01, 2006

Night of the Living Dorks

Original title: Die Nacht der lebenden Loser. Directed by Mathias Dinter, 2004.

The annual Wisconsin Film Festival afforded us the opportunity to see this German gem in a theater full of zombie and film (and zombie film) fans. No comedy fails to benefit from a full theater-- especially one that serves alcohol. Bearing in mind that the raucous laughter of 200 people may have ennobled this movie beyond its worth, let's dive in.

Night of the Living Dorks is, at heart, a high school film. I hate high school films. Their empty stereotypes, their comedic injustices perpetrated against my cinematic avatars, their formulaic plots and facile resolutions... we hates them, precious. But (you knew there was a but coming, right?) the movie uses all of these expectations to great advantage. Zombie comedies already rely upon genre conventions; the addition of another genre's conventions only adds spice. Setting up social cliques doesn't give me Vietnam-style high school flashbacks when I know that zombies will rip through the popular kids by the second act.

This is a tight, fast, clever movie. And it's the little touches that make it. The zombifying agent-- cremated zombie remains-- are transported from Haiti to Germany via eBay. Our three hero-nerd-zombies attend Friedrich Nietzsche Gymnasium. As soon as they suspect that they might be fearsome flesh eaters, they watch Romero's Day of the Dead and celebrate by shouting "We're so the undead!" A zombie on meth crashes a house party and dances Thriller by the pool. Body parts like ears and testicles fall off and have to be stapled back on. Each of these things is awesome unto itself. Together, they create the feel-good zombie movie of the year. (That year apparently being 2004.)

There are some ludicrous suppositions in this film, but they spring from the high school formula. The general opinion of goths, for instance, and the vacationing parents cliche grate a little. But really, zombies aren't often placed in a strictly adolescent context. This novelty alongside the humor and craftmanship assisted my willing suspension of disbelief.

Zombie explanation: Voodoo-- marginally. The goth kids' graveyard ritual happens to involve real Haitian zombie ashes, and the nerd trio is accidentally doused. Then they die. Then they come back. As zombies. And continue going to class as usual.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Besides serving as a worthy heir to Shaun of the Dead in terms of zombie comedy, Night of the Living Dorks combines zombies with typical high school clique film conventions. Awkward adolescent hilarity ensues! Also gore!

Favorite moment: The wicked zombie and his insatiable appetite for flesh and vengeance appealed to me.

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