Dead Meat starts out with great expectations. Visually, its washed out colors and interesting camera work (nice framing, disorienting motion shots, wide angles, high f-stop) make up for its low budget DV quality. There’s even a sure to be legendary eye-sucked-out with a vacuum cleaner scene which harkens back to the squeamishness seen in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (see ‘splinter in the eyeball’). But as the story unfolds the poorly written dialogue, melodramatic acting, shallow character development and meandering story arc became more and more apparent. The beginning of movie works, because honestly, there isn’t a lot of talking. As day fades to night, additional characters join the ranks and that’s when the film starts to fall apart.
[Side note: one of these additional characters, Cathal (played by Eoin Whelan, the father in Mc Mahon’s 2001 short Braineater, included in Dead Meat’s special features), was so unintelligible to my American ears that I had to turn on the English subtitles shortly after his introduction.]
And like the living breathing characters, who we never learn much about (except maybe their nationality or occupation), we never get a solid definition of McMahon’s zombies who take up more than their share of face time. Ok, so let’s get this straight … the zombies are deft enough to attack with pitchforks and strong enough to lift a full grown woman off the ground by her throat, but a horde of them can’t seem to break into a parked jeep packed full of human delectables? All they do is gently pat at the windows? Then they collectively give up, turn around, and disperse back into the darkness? Come on now. They’re obviously all about the food (three feasting zombies at one point ignore a passing Helena and Desmond so they can focus on the feast at hand), so if a horde of them were hungry enough to swarm a stranded automobile why would they give up so easily? Just one example of Dead Meat’s lackluster scriptwriting.
All that really happens in this 80 minute fast-paced-but-not-going-anywhere dead walker is a lot of wandering through the poorly lit hillside, killing zombies that happen to pop up en-route. Sure there’s a fount of fun zombie bashing (head-lopping, cranium-splitting, eye-gouging, etc) with shovels, high heels and hurleys, and there’s the first (and sure to be campiest) flesh-eating zombie cow I’ve ever seen, but there’s no larger message and worst of all no final pay off; just an abrupt, blatantly referential ending. [The ending’s only real saving grace is the totally ridiculous Dead Meat theme song during the credits.]
McMahon, only in his mid twenties when he made Dead Meat (his first full length production) should be applauded for scoring a €100,000 production budget from the Irish Film Board and gaining international distribution rights for the film, but he still has a lot to learn when it comes to making a landmark zombie movie. To make it in a genre that started nearly 40 years ago with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, you need a lot more than gore these days, which is all that Dead Meat really had.