For the passionate and dedicated horror fan, documentaries can be familiar-territory gold. Like a worn-in blanket or a busted up ballcap, these films deal primarily in retread information and narrative that is already well-known to their target audience.
That doesn’t suggest, however, that they aren’t produced well or aren’t good films – rather that you aren’t going to get a lot of information you didn’t know already. Films like His Name Was Jason, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, and Nightmares in Red, White and Blue are all great examples: expertly made and really enjoyable but not uncovering new ground. Documentaries like Fog Of War or Narco Cultura are ones I often think of as being bold, demanding films that open the eyes of even the familiar viewer.
In the case of Doc Of The Dead, director Alexandre Philippe (People vs George Lucas) places his film somewhere right in the middle of familiar and welcoming to those in the know and expansive and detailed to those who may not be. This is a good decision because ultimately you have to try to balance that out, lest you leave a lot of folks out. The film spends narrative time dealing with the all-important ‘slow versus fast’ debate, the history of zombies in film (touching smartly on one of my all time favorites, White Zombie), the turning points of the genre and the non-film related aspects of the subculture specifically targeting zombie walks and real life end-of-the-world preparers as examples.
What is most enjoyable about this film is the constant dependence on the subjects to direct the narrative. There are wonderful clips from everyone you can think of that matter at the top of this world: George A. Romero, Max Brooks, Simon Pegg, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini and Robert Kirkman to name a few. There are amusing toss-ins from folks like Bruce Campbell (who comes across like everyone’s cool uncle in his bits) that add some humor to the affair. Had Philippe not depended on the data from these folks to shape the film, it would have felt more lecture-y and ultimately flat. But instead, the flair and joy that comes from nearly everyone that appears in the film keeps it bopping along without getting stale or dull.
It should be noted that there are moments in the film that skirt the edge of judgement or mocking of those who are ‘really into’ zombie culture. These moments feel, for better or worse, the product of some of the non-film folks that contribute. An apocalypse shelter builder, for example, comes across like a bit of a nut and his parts are uncomfortable. Another moment with a British ‘zombie immersion’ company feels (inexplicably) out-of-place in context of the rest of the film.
Those minor complaints aside, Doc Of The Dead overall is a dense, fun and mostly fast-paced film that rewards those who love this stuff with a lot of relatable red meat to chew on and enjoy. But more than that, it is a celebration of liking things and caring passionately about them and how inevitably that might seem strange to outsiders. This film doesn’t treat outsiders with disdain though, and through a balanced approach and expert editing by Chad Herchberger, becomes a film with a broader appeal. That might be wishful thinking on my part, but, the joy and excitement do feel universal in this film. Kudos to all involved for stepping in and out of comfort zones to deliver a solid, reliable and relatable documentary.