A Cadaver Christmas - 4-out-of-5 Headshots

I didn't quite know what to expect going into A Cadaver Christmas (dir. Joe Zerull). On the podcast, I've reviewed movies like Silent Night, Zombie Night (dir. Sean Cain) and Santa Claus Versus the Zombies (dir. George Bonilla) back in Episode 151 of Mail Order Zombie (which you can find here - http://tinyurl.com/mozep151). Christmas-themed horror movies are a definite subgenre, and throwing zombies into the mix seems like a natural extension of that. But, let's be honest - and this isn't meant to sound overly disparaging - sometimes the zombie movies that ping my radar are . . . um . . . sometimes a little rough. I love giving them all a chance, to be sure, but with Mail Order Zombie being on hiatus, my guerilla-zombie-movie-watching tolerance may not be as high as it was earlier this year.

With The Cadaver Christmas, I needn't have worried.

It's Christmas time. The local university is closed for the holidays, but that doesn't mean there's no one on campus. A janitor (Daniel Rairdin-Hale) is cleaning the buildings while the students are away, and because I'm writing about this at mailorderzombie.com, you KNOW what he finds while he's cleaning up, right?

The story begins with the janitor finding his way to a local bar to unwind after having dealt with a number of zomb. . . er . . . cadavers. Of course, he's covered in blood and doesn't want much to do with the barkeep (Ben Hopkins) or the other customer in the bar (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey), but he's convinced to stay after an offer a festive holiday drink. The barkeep uses the delay to call his cop friend Sam (Yosh Hayashi) who reports to the bar with a prisoner in the back of his car (Andrew Harvey).

And then more zomb . . . um, cadavers show up.

It doesn't take long for the group to find their way back to the college campus, and once locked inside a building with the zomb . . . cadavers, the story is off-and-running.

A Cadaver Christmas is built as a horror comedy with grindhouse trappings. Director Joe Serull and company present their movie with the artificial lines and scratches one has come to expect of movies designed to tap into that forced nostalgia even though the movie's setting was implied to be modern day. In the case of A Cadaver Christmas, though, it wasn't distracting. It worked. It still had better sound than a film supposedly run through a movie projector thousands of times (as is typical of most modern movies designed as a pseudo-grindhouse flick), but this was a good thing because the score by William Campbell was fantastic, and quite frankly, I would have been disappointed if Campbell's music was distorted with pops and clicks.

The story is fairly straight-forward, but because the characters are fun to watch, A Cadaver Christmas has become my favorite Christmas-themed zombie movie. It's not just a movie that takes place during Christmas. The characters' actions are tied directly into the holiday season . . . and we get to see Christmas decorations used as weapons against the zomb . . . cadavers.

Performance-wise, Rairdin-Hale as the janitor is one of the stand outs, as is Ben Hopkins as functioning alcoholic Tom. Their scenes together generously gave me the most laughs, and while it took a little while to get these two together, once they stand back-to-back against the zomb . . . cadaver horde, the movie refused to let my attention drift . . . even when one of them was unconscious.

The other performances are just as solid, but that's not to say I wouldn't have minded seeing less of one and more of another. This isn't a criticism aimed at Harvey as "the perp," but what he does when he wanders off alone in the college building seemed a bit extraneous. I understand wanting to maintain that grindhouse feel by including a nude scene/sex scene, but it really tipped A Cadaver Christmas over the edge for me, especially since the only other female character in the movie - a campus security officer/student played by Jessica Denney - doesn't have very much screen time either. I do wonder how having a more equal female character thrown into the mix would have added to the chemistry between the group, but as it is, A Cadaver Christmas is a fairly testosterone-heavy movie. Outside of some of the activities of "the perp"/"the perv," however, the movie doesn't get too exploitive and allows us to spend more time laughing along during the Christmas zomb . . . cadaver action than anything else.

There are some solid zombie kills, the stakes are always high and the script was tight. The storytelling was smart - situations were set up casually and paid off when appropriate. I'm not going to spoil the moment, but this movie showed me something (non-nude) I've never seen a zombie movie, and it MADE SENSE in terms of how it was set up and played off of later. After watching the movie by myself, I bought a copy to give to someone as a Christmas gift - I enjoyed A Cadaver Christmas enough to share the zomb . . . cadaver love with someone else this holiday season.

A Cadaver Christmas can be purchased online at http://cadaverchristmas.com/. The score is also available for sale.