[review by JA Kerswell]
|Being a goth was a lot more fun when I was at college!|
Perhaps the top billing given to ex-underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr. should have been a warning. DEAD ABOVE GROUND is one of those millennium-era slashers where it is almost impossible to know whether it is purposeful satire or just plain bad movie-making. A group of students are targeted by a killer in black robes carrying an axe the year after one of their classmates was killed in a fiery car accident. Messier that a Real Housewives girl’s trip, this is an explosion of earnestly gurning teen faces, wooden (bordering on petrified) acting, a scenery-chewing rubber-masked loon and high school goths spouting nonsense about wanting demons to kill their teachers. It is even blessed with lines such as: “If you think I’m going to let you use that as a dildo you’ve been hoovering up some bad shit again!” In other words, fans of awful slasher movies will have a grand old time with this stinker. Everyone else may want to bury it six feet under.
Moody goth Jeffrey (Josh Hammond) flips out when his class laughs at his doomy video assignment. Blonde cheerleader Kelly (Keri Lynn Pratt) had accurately predicted: “That movie of his is going to be major suckage!” Earlier, Jeffery had railed against the normies and staff with his “Batcave princess” goth girlfriend Zara (Adria Dawn) saying things like “Mr Hatton will get eaten by the wandering demonic hordes!” and “Malevolent entities never ask for ID”. Jeffrey dramatically tells his class: “All of you are dead above ground!”, before being wrestled out of the classroom by hunky jock Dillon (Charlie Weber) and sports coach Tom (Don Michael Paul). Unsurprisingly, the school counsellor Brenda (Lisa Ann Hadley) can’t placate Jeffrey and he keeps up with his dark ravings.
Later, at schoolteacher Mr Hadden’s (Stephen J. Cannell) annual pool party (!), Jeffrey pushes Dillon’s girlfriend Darcy (Lauren German) into the water for no discernable reason before storming out and taking a car. Hot on his tail, Dillon chases him only for Jeffrey to lose control and plunge over a cliff.
|The cheerleaders and the jocks give the goths the evil eye in DEAD ABOVE GROUND.|
A year later, the new boy at school, Chip (Adam Frost), says he has ominous visions of Jeffrey. Zara warns the others that he had promised to return from the grave and take his revenge on the anniversary of his death. Sure enough, someone in black robes and a big chopper begins killing the group one-by-one …
DEAD ABOVE GROUND is a mess. California set, it desperately wants to be BEVERLY HILLS 9021-ARGH or MELROSE AXE-IN-THE-FACE. It flirts with teen slasher, teen possession movie, teen comedy movie, teen romance movie and even middle-aged cop movie. It more-or-less settles on being a slasher, but it’s one of those films where most of the cast survives - even if the grand finale is suitably demented with Antonio Sabato Jr.’s lion’s-maned-cop flicking his hair as he rips off the killer’s ear.
**spoilers** Skip to the next paragraph to avoid seeing who the killer is and their amazingly convoluted motive! Jeffrey actually escaped from a looney bin and killed his father (Bernsen). For some reason, he pretends to be a high school student and survives a horrifically disfiguring car crash that leaves him with head-to-toe burns. He returns a year later posing as new boy Skip in a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE style mask to kill classmates who laughed at his homework. Talk about anger issues!**end spoilers**
The teens are as one-note as they are broad, but the actors say their cheesy dialogue with admirably straight faces. One girl dates the film immediately when she tells her on-off boyfriend: “You’re such a Baldwin”; whilst another says: “Don’t get up in my grill, girl!” The goths are hilarious with their talk of pagan rituals and demon retribution, as they roll their kohl-rimmed eyes and stare darkly at the cheerleaders. Others spout lines only a 62-year-old screenwriter could come up with, such as “Last time we prayed to Dionysis your neighbours called the police.” The killer even gets in on the act telling a would-be victim: “Are you ready to rumble?” Admittedly much of the script is pretty funny thanks to the scriptwriter Stephen J. Cannell - who also plays teacher Mr Hadden. He even gives himself one of the best lines in the movie: “I don’t go around killing people. I’m an educator!”
|Someone with a big chopper intends to make mincemeat of the cast of DEAD ABOVE GROUND.|
Talking of ageing the movie, sub-Pearl Jam grunge ballads litter the soundtrack (at least when there isn’t an annoying guitar wailing in the background). Corbin Bernsen shows up for a Drew Barrymore-style cameo for the first five minutes of the movie, as an ill-fated famous film director. Bernsen camps it up and tells the axe-wielding madman to “Please go away!”. He had, of course, already secured his place in horror history as THE DENTIST (1996) and with its 1998 sequel. The makers clearly wanted a bit of that FINAL DESTINATION (2000) magic to rub off. The killer supposedly offs victims according to how people die in Jeffrey’s class film project, but it doesn’t even get that right as it bears no resemblance to it. So it’s a wonder how the characters work out who is supposed to be next.
Also known as DIRECTOR’S CUT (the possible shooting title), DEAD ABOVE GROUND has a made-for-TV feel with no nudity and relatively restrained gore. That’s no surprise given Cannel’s long and varied TV career from acting to writing. He is credited for creating the character of Jim Rockford which was developed for THE ROCKFORD FILES with James Garner. He was also the co-creator of 21 JUMP STREET (1987-1991). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - although possibly not for this film. He worked with another TV veteran Chuck Bowman who directed this and their more widely distributed horror film THE TOOTH FAIRY (2006). Both men were in the 60s when they made DEAD ABOVE GROUND, which might explain the film’s ludicrous teen depictions. The film was the last screen appearance for popular TV actor Robert Conrad - who may have wished for a slightly better epitaph. Although the late actor is now internet famous for his butt and amazingly tight trousers (Google it if you dare!).
No one could argue that DEAD ABOVE GROUND is a good movie. It’s daft and unfocussed and commits the cardinal sin of spending too much time with the teenage protagonists and not enough time killing them off. Still, the script is sometimes hilarious and everyone seems to be having a good time. Whether you the viewer will is up to your tolerance for barely released, post-2000 slasher trash.
female: 3 / male: 6
1) Female run through with a sword
2) Male hacked to death with an axe
3) Female decapitated (film within a film)
4) Male whacked in the chest with an axe
5) Male found dead with wounds to his face
6) Female has his neck broken
7) Male killed with an axe (off screen)
8) Male seen with his throat cut
9) Male falls to his death and is impaled
Thank you for reading! And, if you've enjoyed this review, please consider a donation to help keep Hysteria Lives! alive! Donate now with Paypal.