'The Neon Dead' Has More Neon Demons Than 'The Neon Demon'

By James Jay Edwards
Released: September 13, 2016
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An unemployed recent college grad hires two freelance paranormal exterminators to combat a monster infestation in her new home.

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Film Review
Earlier this year, Nicolas Winding Refn's strangely hypnotic The Neon Demon was released to receptive-yet-confused audiences. To add to the confusion, there is now a movie called The Neon Dead that has found its way to American horror fans. Luckily, the two movies could not be more different.

The Neon Dead is about a recent college graduate named Allison Hillstead (Marie Barker from "Horror Hotel: The Webseries") who, while getting ready for a job interview, discovers a zombie woman living in her home. She gets a hold of Desmond (Greg Garrison from Dekiru: The Three Stones) and Jake (Evolution Creek's Dylan Schettina), a pair of department store workers who moonlight as "The Premier Paranormal Extermination Service in the Entire World." Jake soon deduces that Allison's problem is more than just a zombie infestation; her home is overrun with Sons of Z'athax, a bunch of creatures who are summoning their demon leader, a grinning ghoul whom the ghost hunters nickname Guy Smiley. Allison, Desmond, and Jake have to figure out a way to stop the Sons of Z'athax before they take over the world.

The Neon Dead, photo courtesy Monsterbuster Entertainment/Wild Eye Releasing, 2016 All rights reserved.

Originally known as Invasion of the Undead, The Neon Dead is the brainchild of writer/director Torey Haas (a visual effects artist whose best-known credit is the "Dante the Great" segment of V/H/S: Viral). It's got the feel of a low-budget indie, maybe even a student film, but the production values are much slicker. There's nothing much to it that hasn't been done before, but boy-oh-boy, is it a fun ride. Think of it as a cool throwback to the vintage cheapies of the eighties, movies like The Video Dead or TerrorVision, only with more modern digital effects. For better or worse, that's The Neon Dead in a nutshell.

Whereas The Neon Demon is artsy and disjointed, The Neon Dead is straightforward and linear, almost to a fault. It's got a hip and with-it vibe that lends punch to the typical kids-versus-monsters plotline, however, and that, in turn, makes it light and amusing. Basically, The Neon Dead is the opposite of The Neon Demon.
Shot by Nick Lauinger (who seems to be Torey Haas' go-to director of photography), The Neon Dead earns its radiant name with its cinematography. The picture is full of bright, Creepshow-style comic book lighting that is made even more vibrant by the presence of blacklights which make the undead zombies glow as if they were, well, bathed in neon. It's a creative effect (not to mention cheap) that gives The Neon Dead a retro vibe while still letting it look relatively modern. It's quite a unique looking film.

The Neon Dead, photo courtesy Monsterbuster Entertainment/Wild Eye Releasing, 2016 All rights reserved.
The musical score in The Neon Dead is pretty awesome. It was composed by Hsiang-Ming Wen who, when not scoring short films, can be found writing and performing with his art-rock band Pillage & Plunder. Most of the instrumentation in the score for The Neon Dead is built around multi-tracked and layered guitars, so the ethereal music still has a definite rock and roll feel to it. There are even a couple of places where the processed strumming and volume swelling give way to some serious shredding, and as a result, the whole movie starts banging its head. In a climate of horror movie soundtracks that are hacked out on nostalgic eighties-era synthesizers, it's a breath of fresh air to hear some wailing guitars. The music in The Neon Dead rocks harder than a typical horror movie score, but that's just fine, because the movie has the attitude and energy to match.
Scary Factor
Considering it's a movie about demons or zombies or whatever, there aren't a lot of scares in The Neon Dead. As a horror film, it's a pretty tame affair. The good news is that it doesn't matter too much; it's still an enjoyable movie. There are some interesting makeup effects that give way to a handful of fun gore gags. This, in turn, helps to give the film a little bit of horror credibility, so fright-flick fans can still appreciate it. The monsters are cool and the heroes are hip, but as far as genuine fear goes, there's not too much in The Neon Dead that's going to scare anyone.

The Neon Dead, photo courtesy Monsterbuster Entertainment/Wild Eye Releasing, 2016 All rights reserved.

Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Release Date
September 13, 2016
Music Score