For a B-Movie maniac like myself, Dead 7 sounds like a late-night dream. Take some 90s-era boyband icons, throw ’em into a steampunk-y Western dystopia, and record a closing-credits collaboration with lyrically tied-in cheesiness. Backstreet’s back, right?! Wrong.
Much to my dismay, audiences are “treated” to yet another SyFy disasterpiece courtesy of The Asylum – cable TV’s leading team in cut-rate, storyless boredom for everyone. It’s a shame this zombie shoot-out wastes sky-high genre potential on a studio who’s more about marketing ploys than production, because, dare I say a smile crept on my face once or twice?
The cast is a who’s who of your annoying little sister’s fantasy boyfriends, including members of N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98º, O-Town and Everclear – but not Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass or any of the BIG names (sans Joey Fatone, I guess? Is Nick Carter still a thing?). Dead 7 is all about Carter and his gang of heroic scoundrels, as they fight back against an evil, zombie-controlling voodoo priestess known as Apocolypta (Debra Wilson). You’ve got Fatone as Whiskey Joe, Carrie Keagan as Daisy Jane and Howie Dorough as The Vaquero – all guns for hire with a deadly mission. Apocolypta and her right-hand man, Johnny Vermillion (A.J. McLean), must be stopped at all costs, before her zombie army becomes too massive to defeat.
Alas, from an opening scene that’s heavy on helicopter scenery shots (and light on furious action), Dead 7 proves to be the exact film I feared it would be. Director Danny Roew tries to have as much fun with this spruced-up corpse as he can, but obvious budget restraints preemptively kill take after take. Generally speaking, actors don’t have much stunt-work, they just point-and-shoot a lot of fake guns, while unnecessary romantic arcs are tossed in for no supplemental enhancement. There’s goofy jabbering, especially when it comes to Fatone’s dusty zingers, and a lack of practical effects work that’ll leave zombie-lovers hungry for so much more. There’s nothing fun about what should have been a zany zombie rodeo, which, besides some flamboyant costuming, certainly isn’t Larger Than Life (I HAD TO DO ONE, SORRY).
Given the eclectic cast, Fatone, through gruff mumbling, remains my favorite apocalyptic cowpoke of the bunch. A.J. McLean gets to sample his best Joker impression, playing a clown-faced murderer whose cackling laugh makes him more of a deadly jester, and Erik-Michael Estrada gets to play an Assassin’s Creed knockoff wearing sweats, but no one else stands out in their genre rolls. Keagan checks in as the token “large-chested female badass,” Carter broods, and Lauren Kitt Carter plays a sexy Native American. Hollow, empty genre representations.
Dead 7 draws people in with casted names, but doesn’t do much justice in the way of performances – especially when characters start dying in wholly forgettable, non-genre excitable ways. It’s a good thing that Debra Wilson has enough energy to overpower half the cast, something we already knew from her MAD TV days (seriously, what year is it?).
Touching on yet another atrocious CGI clusterf*ck presented by The Asylum, carnage pales in comparison to brutal, more committed indie features. When one of the main characters suffers an untimely death, their zombie form stands up, as pixelated intestines dangle from an open wound. We’re talking horribly rendered, disproportionate animations that barely fit in the foreground, which is like a moldy cherry on this sandy sundae. The blood and guts are mostly post-production effects, but the few times red-dyed corn syrup gets splattered about, there are glimmers of the exploitation flick we truly deserve. It’s just a shame these moments are very few and far between.
There’s a Young Guns-like story here, where legends of the frontier challenge a common enemy (like, pretty much any other Western), but Dead 7 never hits its humorously gruesome stride, which seems impossible given how Joey Fatone has a major role. It’s a repetitive genre formula where characters find trouble, an alt-hardcore guitar riff revs up, and headshots start flying (besides Komodo’s spinning decapitations).
Yet, once again, The Asylum tries to squeak by on concept alone, which genre fans will immediately sniff out due to the constantly-changing definition of their zombie scourge (chest-shots take a zombie down?). You’ll laugh, most likely whenever Nick Carter tries to be a badass, but an overly ham-fisted attempt to be more than direct-to-TV forgettable is killed by pop stars who are chosen on prestige alone – not skill.
Is it fun? Sure, at times. But a cult classic Dead 7 is not.
Dead 7 is another SyFy attempt at wacky genre fun that's completely mucked up by The Asylum's ham-fisted, grimy, low-cost approach to filmmaking.