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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Indie Sunday: Dead Kansas

Do you enjoy impressing your friends by seeing movies they haven't heard of? Then you must be an indie fan! Read on! If you only watch big budget, wide release movies.... broaden your horizons.  Or just skip this review.

Here's a disclaimer: Dead Kansas is a low budget film, so set your expectations accordingly.   That being said, these guys did well with the budget they had.  Here's the set-up:  Survivors of something that turned much of the population into zombies called "Rottens" are living the small-town survivor life in Kansas.  (Kansas has a lot of stucco and palm trees in this story.... maybe this was also caused by the plague? Just go with it.)

A religious man named Glenn lives with his young adult/barely legal daughter, Emma. He is loosely based on Hank Hill.

 Meanwhile, nearby, a band of rowdy men are living in a makeshift camp. There have no women.  It is eluded to that most of the women were turned into Rottens. In reality most of the women that they asked to appear on the set that day were limited to the significant others and mothers of the production team.  The camp appears to be in a cramped backyard, in Kansas. I am pretty sure that those "Backyard Wrestling" videos were filmed here as well.

 They are led by Jeb, who is hands down my favorite character.  He wears a flannel shirt even though it seems to be more t-shirt weather. He has sunglasses that he takes off and puts on dramatically so many times they should get their own billing. It is never stated, but I have to assume that in the pre-apocalypse, Jeb cooked and used meth. He also probably watched a lot of Girls Gone Wild on VHS tapes. Oddly, he is single. He is also the leader of a gang of skeevy men. I imagine that the actors who played them are the core followers/fans/cousins of the director’s heavy metal band (a 1990s group called “Power of Aggression). So, with the “Rotten” apocalypse essentially deregulating the meth production, Jeb is forced to “cook” up something else.  He comes up with a plan to kidnap and sell Emma to some guy for the purpose of continuing the human race.  Ew. I guess this is what happened in a meth based economy when supply outweighs demand.
Jeb and his sunglasses take no shit

Jeb sets out to collect Emma with a few of his delightfully overacting cronies. One is his brother Zeke, played by Kevin Beardsley. Zeke only grunts and growls. His character is a conglomerate of Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” and Dick Cheney, only sweeter.  Beardsley also plays another role…."Rusty”…a medical assistant who wears a three piece suit and talks like Foghorn Leghorn. Just trust me, it works. At this point I have to wonder why you’re even reading this and not immediately viewing this movie!

There is also another henchman who has a very close relationship with his manikin torso "Sally". In fact, the movie is full of very humorous characters and shots. It is one of many examples of how the film makers played to their strengths in what was clearly a budget challenged film.

Back to the story... Rottens attack, Jeb's buddies get it, and Glenn gets bitten/infected.  The rest of the movie revolves around Emma's journey to get help for her father, accompanied by some odd but kind characters she meets along the way.... a la Wizard of Oz... NOW the Kansas thing makes sense.  Sort of.

Dead Kansas had a solid story line, it didn't veer off into a million directions, or try to have any clever twists that mucked everything up.  It had some famous actors (for a production where ordering anything that wasn’t on the “dollar menu” would send it "over budget”). Notably, the film had Irwin Keys and Ben Woolf. Both are recognizable character actors, appearing in American Horror Story, House of 1000 corpses, and many other feature films. And they both died shortly after making this movie. Which is very metal! But also weird. 

Irwin Keys- may or may not have released an album called "Songs in the Keys of Life"

I'm guessing the production of this movie was and is more interesting than the movie. But overall, we love supporting the spirit and dedication that goes into these sorts of films. And the writing was solid, even when the sets, acting, and casting were not.   No spoilers, but the ending was just right.  The other nice touch was that we didn't see the Rottens much.  No shitty zombie effects....a good idea when you have a small budget. Instead, when the zombies/Rottens were coming, we saw their point of view, which was in black and white. A nice touch.  

That being said, back to the insanity that producing this film must have been. There was the character of Emma, the only female cast in a major role in the film. And she was played by two different actresses (three if you count a flashback to her childhood).  This was confusing, especially since Emma #1 had bangs and chin length hair, and Emma #2 had long hair with no bangs.  Also their faces looked different, because they were, in fact, two entirely different people. Emma #1 also seemed decidedly more pious and pure than Emma #2, who acted like she didn't totally mind being made to wear a skimpy nightgown at Jeb's insistence.  We can only assume there was some kind of issue during the filming that caused Emma #1 to drop out (maybe she broke up with one of crew?) but let's just pretend that the use of two completely different actresses was an intentional homage to Ed Wood.  Yeah.... they meant to do that. It sort of evens out by having one actor play two different roles (Zeke and Rusty). Maybe. I’ll check the math on that later.

"Emma Bangs"

"Emma No-bangs"

Dead Kansas also has a good metal soundtrack.  Metal makes everything better. 

We are looking forward to the next film by this guy (Aaron K Carter), Cuatro Stinkos, a horror anthology that is winning already on name alone. And it apparently won an award as well- the Best Zombie Film at the 2014 FANtastic Horror Film Festival. The films it beat were:

Naked Zombie Girl
The Wretched Prologue
They Will Out Live Us All
Zombie Casserole

I would have voted for Naked Zombie Girl, but to each his own.

This movie is entertaining despite being low budget and flawed. Watch it to appreciate the effort that went into it. It's streaming on Amazon so no excuses! Maybe it will motivate you to pick up a camera and make your own film.

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