Not often do words like lame, ill-considered, stupid, not funny, and waste of time come to mind when watching a movie, but they did as I watched Dead Before Dawn, a horror-numbedy from Canada that misfires on both key areas: horror and comedy. Some things really shouldn't cross the border and this lacklustre paycheck-maker is one of them. Maybe if you had a few tokes before or during this zombie thriller manqué it would be tolerable, but you better have a BIG bong.
Horus Galloway (Christopher Lloyd) runs The Occult Barn (the Magic Box from Buffy it isn't), which must never close during business hours (it's not explained why), but no patrons ever visit because no one else is ever in the place except for him and the college-aged instigators (they look really REALLY much older) who will eventually upset the most demonish of demons stashed in the fragile urn capped off by a human skull. That rests on the top shelf of a rickety cabinet in plain site and without any caveat emptor or protection against slippery hands and the bumbling curious reaching for it. You want foreshadowing done with the subtlety of a sledgehammer? There you go. If that wasn't enough, a bad dream shows us how Casper Galloway's (Devon Bostick) father dies just holding it, after he catches Casper not heeding his warning to stay away from it. (Devon Bostick's acting throughout appears to be heavily influenced by excessive toking, by the way. Just saying.)
Here's the setup in a nutshell.
Horus implores Casper to man The Occult Barn's cash register so he can receive his life-time achievement award, in person, from the supernatural occultists’ society. Casper refuses. His mom insists. And after she cuts the crusty ends off his sandwhich just the way he likes, she gets her way and he's off to confront his fear and man the register. His college friends and the requisite make-fun-of-the-nerd frat pack show up. So does Becky (April Mullen), the girl he has a crush on. She wants to see the urn. She gets her way. They drop it.
Let the curse begin.
The one really smart ploy here (and it's the only one in this movie so enjoy it) is how everyone starts adding in their variation of what the curse will cause to happen as Casper tries to warn them of impending doom and to please shut up. Here’s what they wind up with: the "zemons" or zombie demons will cause death by hickies, but French kissing a zemon will make it your slave; and the kicker is that anyone they look at will kill himself or herself and turn into a zemon to attack them.
Rather quickly the zemons start multiplying with inexpensive but competent gory results. It starts with a football player impaling himself with the first down marker; then cheerleaders start dropping each other on purpose; Casper's mom takes a warm bath with a hot toaster, too. Now a zemon, she chases him out onto the street where two hillbillys—yes, that's right, I did say HILLBILLYS—run over her in their car. One jumps out of the car with a shotgun and says not to worry, he's carrying it because they just got back from duck hunting. And yes, that's the height of comedy brilliance achieved in this movie.
I couldn't tell if the actors were following the script or ad libbing, but one thing I can say with certainty: if they were sticking to writer Tim Doiron's script they should have ad libbed instead; but if they were ad libbing, they should have stuck to his script instead.
Horus returns to The Occult Barn in time to brain himself with his own award after they look at him, but before he goes all zemon-like, he manages to, cryptically of course, and with much hamming on wry, hint at how to reverse the spell. Like a Goosebumps episode that was written by 500 babboons locked in a stuffy room with iPads and only one charger, Casper with his rolling pin, Becky with her crossbow, and their freaked-out companions armed with lesser weapons, pile into a Winnebago to find the ingredients needed to seal the demon back up and stop the curse. Winnebagos are all the rage for zombie-related trips after one was used in Diary of the Living Dead.
So many wonderfully terrifying and funny horror movies have crossed the border from Canada: Black Christmas, The Gate, The Changeling, and PontyPool; just to name a few.
This movie isn't one of them.