Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
January 16th, 2005

Dead Above Ground

Directed by Chuck Bowman
Written by Stephen J. Cannell
90 mins
Oh, I'm scared from the very beginning on this one.

I'm not scared because of the quality of the script, or the skill of the actors. I'm scared right before I even took the video out of the box.

I'm scared because of five little words at the bottom of the box, in very small print, that you need to strain to see. And not "Lions Gate Home Entertainment production," either, scary as that usually is.

I'm scared because of this:

"Written by Stephen J. Cannell."

That's right...the guy who brought us fifty billion hackneyed crime dramas decided that, somehow, he just wasn't hitting his stride on stuff like Hardcastle and McCormick, so why not take a crack at horror?

Even worse, the select cursor on the title screen is a pentagram. That automatically loses points with me. Anyone dumb enough to use this tired, hackneyed plot device in a menu select screen just doesn't merit much respect from me. Stop using the pentagrams-puerile, pointless blasphemy like that is like a four year old running around screaming the opening rap from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back at the top of his lungs. It's just plain disrespect to the audience.

Even ignoring these obvious problems, you know we've got a real winner on our hands, though what it wins is a big plaque laden with profanities.

So what we have here is the story of Jeff Lucas, a future Columbine Award winner from somewhere called Bay City. Jeff isn't what you'd call a popular kid, and the local popular kids seem to have forgotten the numerous lessons of school shootings and have marked Jeff for all the torment they can dish out. Things get even worse for Jeff after he makes a horror movie instead of a documentary in his Communications class.

The popular kids decide to take matters into their own hands for reasons that defy the logic of anyone with more firing brain cells than your average jar of mayonnaise, and engage Jeff in a little vehicular homicide, running him off the road in the midst of a high-speed chase.

And if you think Jeff is taking his flaming death amidst twisted metal lying down, well, you don't watch very many horror movies, now do you?

I can't believe, genuinely, that bullying of this stripe keeps going on in schools. Does nobody catch on? Does no one stop and think, "Hey, today's picked-on no-name is tomorrow's mass murderer, with me on the bad end of their daddy's gun barrel?" Okay, never mind that Jeffy's got a head like Pinhead in hair.

Never mind that Jeffy's entire personality seems to waver wildly between "nihilism" and "gleeful in a Dungeons and Dragons sort of sense."

Never mind that Jeffy really does need a severe beating rather desperately, and this is from a fellow movie geek and high school popular kid target.

Never mind that Jeffy's movie, what little I saw of it, would get precisely zero stars from me. In fact, my review of his schlocktacular title would involve choice phraseology like "the worst of low-budget crap" and "patently idiotic."

Never mind even more that the incredible doofus they hired to do Jeffy acts roughly the same way Richard Horvitz does when doing Invader Zim, except this isn't supposed to be a parody. Jeffy's over-the-top delivery of stale, overblown lines like "You will all taste the axe of reckoning!" and "You're totally unacceptable! You...are...about nothing. Mr. Haddon. Your end is nigh! You will die on the seventh equinox of maven!" just shows me how truly desperate Cannell was to drive this particular point home:

"Jeffy is a dark and sinister little goon who will be trying to kill a whole bunch of people before the end of the movie, if he doesn't get his ass kicked and sent home to his mommy with a really horrific wedgie first."

In fact, just never mind this entire movie, unless you're really interested in laughing your way through the most hackneyed of dialogues and infantile of acting, if it can even be called acting. And check him out at the twenty five minute mark--he sounds like he's lip-synching to a Danzig soundtrack--screaming gutturally for a full minute.

The ending is exactly what you'd expect from a movie like this, no more, no less.

The special features are nonexistent. There's not so much as a subtitle or deleted scene to be had in the whole mess.

All in all, as a comedy, Dead Above Ground satisfies immensely thanks to Cannell's fantastically overblown dialogue and the virtually utterly no-name cast's incredible ability for puerile acting. As a horror movie, however, this wouldn't scare a nun. Look elsewhere to get your heart pounding.