Dead & Breakfast (2004) is the best undead horror movie you’ve probably never seen, full of entertaining bloodbaths, musical interludes, slapstick comedy, and redneck zombies.
Nowadays we expect a lot out of our horror movies, especially in this age of overexposure to shock value. And I’ll be honest with you: While I do love these modern-day, over-the-top horror techniques, I kind of miss the days of going into a horror movie not fully knowing what to expect simply because we’d not yet reached the age as a culture where we obliterated the proverbial line in the sand as far as boundaries go. That’s what I loved about Dead & Breakfast the first time I saw it: It hit me with much more than I expected for a movie with a tagline that reads, “It’s like a bad horror movie … only worse!”
In case you’re unfamiliar, Dead & Breakfast is a golden nugget of independent horror zom-com cheese released back in 2004, and it’s likely the best undead horror movie you’ve probably never seen. While it was named “Best Independent Movie of the Year” by Rue Morgue Magazine at the time, Dead & Breakfast flew straight under the radar because it was overshadowed by three other huge zombie releases at the time: Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (2004), and Edgar Wright’s zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead (2004). Yeah, so, you can see how Dead & Breakfast got lost in the zombie melee, even though it was made in 2003 and released six months prior to Shaun of the Dead.
While many critics heralded Zombieland as the United States’ answer to Shaun of the Dead (seriously, just Google it), I have to disagree. Ain’t It Cool News apparently did too at the time, claiming Dead & Breakfast could be the answer to Shaun of the Dead, as you’ll see in the trailer and on the DVD cover. While all three zom-coms are spectacularly funny and deliver in their own unique ways, in my opinion, Dead & Breakfast bears much more of a resemblance to the cult Brit classic than Zombieland, just in different ways—er, approaches, I must say.
Where Shaun of the Dead is subtle, breezy, and quite lackadaisical in its British approach to the zom-com formula, Dead & Breakfast goes for the very broad, no-holds-barred, in-your-face approach. It’s much gorier and bloodier than Shaun of the Dead and for a horror film, Dead & Breakfast certainly doesn’t skimp on effects or dumb anything down. Yes, it’s silly and ridiculous, but isn’t that what horror comedy is supposed to be?
So, let’s get down to it and talk Dead & Breakfast. With a tagline promoting itself as “a bad horror movie, only worse,” the filmmakers successfully set the tone for their ability to poke fun not just at a genre but at themselves as actors and filmmakers, who clearly are loads of fun. I bet working on this set was a non-stop laughter ride. I imagine the outtakes are quite righteous, too.
In an outrageous blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top gore, and musical interludes, this redneck zombie spoof is about six friends on a road trip gone very, very wrong … and, of course, the supernatural. While on their way to a wedding in Galveston, Texas, the group takes a wrong turn late at night and winds up lost in the sleepy, creepy town of Lovelock, where they decide to spend the night. Their only option is a sinister-looking bed and breakfast (with murder on the menu) owned and operated by local weirdo Mr. Wise (David Carradine, of Kill Bill).
It isn’t long before the group insults the inn’s French chef Henri (Diedrich Bader, of American Housewife), and a silly little argument ensues. Once the dust settles and everyone goes to bed, David (Erik Palladino, of NCIS: Los Angeles) sneaks back down to the kitchen for a snack. As he sits at the table digging into some pie, he’s totally oblivious to the fact that directly behind him in the corner sits a very dead Henri, propped up on a bar stool with a butcher knife lodged in his throat. Not only is Henri covered in blood, but so, too, are the walls and curtains—none of which David (Palladino) notices until Kate (Bianca Lawson, of Queen Sugar) turns on the light and screams.
Guys, I’m telling you, this is one of THE funniest horror-comedy scenes you’ll ever see. Kate screams, David screams, and everyone comes running to the kitchen as David attempts to get up from the table and away from the dead body but can’t because he keeps slipping in the copious amounts of blood pooled all over the floor. It. Is. Hysterical.
But Henri isn’t the only dead body in the house: Mr. Wise is also dead. Of course, the phone line is dead too, so the group has to wait until morning to summon the sheriff, who is played by bat-wielding Walking Dead villain-turned-hero Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Quick to suspect the group of the murders, the sheriff takes their keys away until he can investigate the murders.
Left with nothing to do, and not wanting to stay at the inn, some of the group decide to explore the town. While there, a mysterious drifter becomes the sheriff’s prime suspect, but not before this drifter warns Christian (Jeremy Sisto, of FBI) and Sara (Ever Carradine, of The Handmaid’s Tale) of an ancient exotic wooden box holding an unspeakable evil power that shouldn’t be opened—a box Sara realizes belongs to Mr. Wise. It is said by town locals that Mr. Wise was seen digging up the body of his dead son one night and performing black magic on the body, but no one knows if the deceased’s now-altered spirit is what’s in the box or not. All we know is that whatever is in there is called Kuman Thong.
Say that with a straight face: Kuman Thong. I have to give mad props to these actors for continuously saying “Kuman Thong” with a straight face throughout the movie.
Back at the inn, Johnny (Oz Perkins, of Nope) discovers the pandora’s box by accident and opens it, unleashing Kuman Thong, which possesses him and causes him to begin savagely murdering people, then using the box to turn the townsfolk into flesh-hungry, redneck zombies. I should mention that the undead in Dead & Breakfast can only be stopped, it seems, by Texas chainsaw or decapitation—”regular chainsaws” won’t work.
All of this happens, by the way, as the rest of the group is killing time at the local watering hole’s Ho-Down. Dead & Breakfast kicks into high gear when Johnny shows up and continues creating his undead army, who take the time to do a little line-dancing in between their feast o’ flesh. Their best moment comes when the undead bust out Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” performance. If you don’t giggle at a bunch of the undead line-dancing to “Thriller”, it might be time to loosen up a bit and stop taking everything so seriously, which is exactly the message Dead & Breakfast enforces.
Can the group of friends survive this undead attack? Can Johnny be saved? Will they ever uncover the mystery surrounding the wooden box? And can they find their RV keys and escape in time, or will they have to hole up in the B&B and engage in an even bloodier undead war?
Now look, there’s a lot of great things about Dead & Breakfast: its slapstick comedy, its practical effects, its brilliant amount of gore and effective—albeit ridiculous—storyline, and its fresh take on a zombie movie (remember, this was the early 2000s), though the undead wandering around in Dead & Breakfast deliver a side-splittingly funny Americanized demeanor that’s less “zombie” and more like a possessed cult of maniacal redneck savages thirsting for souls over blood.
But one of the best things about Dead & Breakfast is its musical interludes.
“Hold up. Its what? Musical interludes? Keeley, are you telling me Dead & Breakfast is a musical?” you ask.
Yes. Yes, I am. Dead & Breakfast is indeed a musical, just not in the way you’re thinking because trust me, if it was a typical musical, this sister right here wouldn’t be able to sit through it; musicals just aren’t my thing. But Writer/Director Matthew Leutwyler (Uncanny) makes super creative use of some of the movie’s most important scenes, which are narrated intermittently by the local gas station attendant/real-life musician, Randall Keith Randall (Zack Selwyn, of Sh*t No One Told You), whose twangy, comedic songs are performed very well and are catchy, hilarious, and perfect in plot description.
Although Dead & Breakfast starts off slow and perhaps a little dry, it picks up sharply and quickly for a low-budget B movie full of sophomoric gags. The film seems very aware of this though, as it intentionally pokes fun at itself through its own dialogue. Also, there are some plot holes. For instance, we never learn who killed Henri or the gardener, and what caused Mr. Wise’s heart attack?
Regardless, this bloodbath splatter comedy epitomizes what is so great about horror comedy: the ability not to take itself too seriously. So, keep that in mind as you sit down to watch Dead & Breakfast. Don’t look for it to be anything too serious because it’s not. It’s quality slapstick humor mixed with non-stop entertainment and gore, not a thriller, not a slasher flick, not a psychological mindf*ck—none of that. This is just good ole “stop taking everything so seriously” cinematic fun.
Dead & Breakfast was also made on a teeny tiny budget, which is impressive and worthy of much respect simply for its creative (and superfluous) use of blood, gore, and makeup, which just drench you in delight. While it could use more of the skit-style comic flair flagged by Diedrich Bader as an incongruous French Chef, the film moves along just fine after his death, thanks to those between-the-scenes musical interludes from Zach Selwyn.
Overall, Dead & Breakfast is an unpredictable, uniquely hilarious zom-com that’s a MUST SEE for horror/undead/zombie/effects fans equipped with a good sense of humor and a strong stomach.