I've long had a fascination with zombies. Neither completely dead nor completely alive, they terrify and intrigue in countless ways, consciously and subconsciously. George A. Romero's series of movies about a contemporary attack of the living dead has been going strong for forty years now but I felt his latest, an attempt at a "reboot" entitled Diary of the Dead, was lifeless (pardon the pun).
It's time for a new approach to the zombie mythos, and gay filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (Hustler White, Super 8½) has answered the call with his outrageous Otto; or, Up with Dead People. An official entry at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it also screens this week at Outfest.
Otto (charmingly portrayed by Jey Crisfar), recently risen from the dead, is discovered by underground filmmaker Medea Yarn (the very funny Katharina Klewinghaus). She has been long at work on her magnum opus, a pornographic attack on the political establishment that has defeated past zombie insurrections entitled Up with Dead People. As one character says, "Medea's underground movies put her on the map ... if the underground has a map."
Medea is taken with Otto, even though she refuses to believe he is an actual zombie, and turns her camera on him in an effort to uncover his past. In the process, she details the emergence of "a new wave of gay zombies" which the horrified populace terms "the Purple Peril."
Otto; or Up with Dead People is a movie within a movie within a movie that takes the zombie genre in welcome new directions. It is a clever satire, a sexy gay romance, and a traditionally gory horror flick all at once. There's also a theological critique of the religious right's response to the AIDS crisis thrown in. LaBruce employs what could be termed "zombie vision" and "zombie audio" in what is, to my knowledge, the first cinematic attempt to gain a zombie's literal point of view.
I loved Otto, even though (or perhaps because) it is one of the stranger films to be shown at Outfest this year. It's likely too graphic to receive a wide theatrical release but it definitely has the ingredients to make it a cult success. Something tells me Otto's rise is just beginning. (Watch the NSFW trailer here.)
UPDATE: Otto; or, Up with Dead People is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.