Review: 'The Dead Matter'

Have you ever watched the advertisements for SyFy Saturday night movies and wondered, “Why aren’t the movies they show ever as cool, clever, and fun as the promos?” If so, Midnight Syndicate films has exactly what you’ve been looking for.

A young woman (Sean Serino) obsessed with contacting her dead brother accidentally comes into possession of a strange amulet shaped like a scarab. Unknown to her and her friends, the amulet is being sought by a vampire hunter (Jason Carter) who stole it from a vampire lord (Andrew Divoff.) While the vampire lord attempts to enlist the help of the local alpha vamp (Tom Savini) and his minions to find the artifact, the young woman and her friends stumble upon the amulet’s secret: the wearer can command the dead.

With a script that is clearly from a horror fan writing for horror fans, The Dead Matter follows in the footsteps of such films as Idle Hands, The Evil Dead series, and most recently Trick ‘r Treat. Zombies and vampires appear with no explanation and no need for introduction, launching into the story of ordinary folks who quickly discover “what’s the worst that could happen” when dabbling in the occult. The dialogue is peppered with self-awareness while the plot twists with surprising imagination, using what you think you know to set up a scare and having fun honoring the genre instead of making fun of it.

Directed, edited, and co-written by Midnight Syndicate composer Edward Douglas, the film evokes an atmosphere akin to classic horror films where budget constraints give rise to imagination. With plenty of horror film knowledge on which to draw from, Douglas crafts his scenes to deliver the clues quickly before another round of screams sets in. Unlike big budget CGI-laced horror films that just don’t feel gritty enough for horror, amazing effects are achieved simply through makeup and camera angles. Douglas also isn’t afraid to plant his camera and let his actors do their job instead constantly zooming around them steady-cam style or over-staging scenes with too much going on. In the editing room, he also ensures that nothing goes on longer than it should, whether its a scene full of dialogue or a fight to the death.

Of course, in the world according to Midnight Syndicate, everyone knows the band, owns their albums, and wears their t-shirt to check the mail. And where else would you expect to find a mystical shrine with the power to destroy an artifact other than… the Buckeye State? These are the details that wink to the audience and share the experience with fans. From twisted dream sequences to impressive displays of supernatural power, you can’t help enjoy a movie that gets so much of the genre right (when so many get it wrong) while still managing to pull a few new rabbits of the old hat. The Dead Matter is a love letter to horror devotees as well as to Midnight Syndicate fans, so here’s hoping this isn’t the last film from Mr. Douglas, just merely the first.

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