Dead Shack – VIFF 2017 Review

Director and co-writer Peter Ricq (alongside Phil Ivanusic and Davila LeBlanc) have constructed the sort of depraved little B-movie that’s ideal for late night showings designed primarily towards forgivable genre fans who crave considerably splatter, the odd quotable quip (my fave was probably “I think that if the blood’s black, there’s no going back!”), a high body count, and a high-five or two. On those relatively easily attained terms then Dead Shack is a lively and lowering release.

When 14-year-old Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) joins his bratty BFF Colin (Gabriel LaBelle), and his much more salt-of-the-earth family (including slightly older sister/crush, Summer [Lizzie Boys]), for a weekend retreat in a rundown cottage out in the wintry sticks, the stage is slowly set for flip and furious genre misadventures. For just beyond the property of Jason and his pals’ Sam Raimi-esque cabin in the woods is another, even more Sam Raimi-er cabin in the woods where the undead, kept on a short leash, do dwell.

Faster than you can say “neighbor from hell” it’s revealed that a well-armored, zero-bullshit-taking matriarch (Lauren Holly) runs her next door abode with murder in her heart, for she has a brood of codependent zombies that she must regularly feed, and Jason and his friends are next on the limited menu as today’s special.

Dead Shack doesn’t take itself too seriously of course, and while it may be marred by some of the atypical trappings of B-movie fare –– an obviously tight budget, inconsistent acting, and a diverse range of gaping plot holes –– it still moves ahead with ghoulishly gleeful surety. In fact, a lot of the bloody money shots are impressive, and there’s some eerily effective action sequences, too. True, it takes a little while to get going, but once it does it’s a pastiche-heavy torrent of 80s horror movie aphorisms, f-bombs, and gross-out giggles.

For myself, and most of the late night audience that were rolling in the aisles at the VIFF screening of the film –– and let’s own it now, Dead Shack works best as a midnight movie or at the very least, in a tight ‘n’ tipsy party-setting –– the best bits and biggest howls belong to Donavon Stinson’s scene-swiping drunken stoner dad, Roger.

As the easy-going patriarch, he’s perhaps too easy-going, as he’s forever-rolling-with-the-punches; a hangdog Dude-lite figure, always encouraging his kids (when he awakens from a stupor to see his kids adorned in Mad Max-style homemade armor and wielding crude weapons, his first instinct is to tell them all that they look really cool), and making them laugh, even or perhaps particularly when it seems like the end is nigh.

So, if you’re a fan of recent-ish splatter comedies like Dead Snow (2009), or Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010), if you’re tickled by 80s zombie movies along the lines of Return of the Living Dead (1985) or Night of the Creeps (1986), well then you’re in luck and you’ll want to cosy up to Dead Shack and have a good, mildly-offensive, and blood-flecked time.
Also, bonus points go out to Ricq’s band HUMANS, who’s synth-saturated score bumps up the nostalgia factor and the atmospheric angle considerably.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.