If the Lifetime cable channel decided to make a zombie movie, it would be this low-budget attempt at grafting Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie film 28 Days Later (2002) with Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio (1998).
“Hey, wait a minute . . . dude, I know this movie . . . but Dead Air? Is this an alternate title for the Canadian horror film Pontypool (2008)?
That film—and if you’re into radio station zombies, it is clearly the better film (and not by much, to be honest)—starred Steven McHattie (Crown and Anchor, Watchmen). This one reteams Bill Moseley and Patricia Tallman from Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake—which was used as a major selling point to sucker us into renting this dead bore. (They’re a bickering divorced couple who still work together as a host and producer team.)
As with Pontypool, a Los Angeles late-night talk show host, Logan Burnhardt (Bill Moseley), and his production team are trapped inside a radio station during a zombie outbreak—this one instigated by a terrorist attack of “dirty bombs” ignited at major sporting events across the United States. Burnhardt’s crew stays on the air and takes calls and feeds information to listeners as the chaos unfolds. Then the terrorist responsible for the L.A bomb hijacks Burnhardt’s show to feed false information to the listeners and “stoke the fires of hatred.”
Lost somewhere in the dead boredom is a “message” about mob mentality and xenophobia, but by that point in the film, you just don’t care about the political propaganda Dead Air is selling. There’s no suspense or thrills. No threat of terror. No fear of violence. Not even a soupçon of horror. The “zombies” are nothing more than a bunch of flailing, petulant children from Central Casting, utterly devoid of violence and gore, with a splash of stage blood on their kissers sent on their way to run and growl. They’re actually not even zombies; they’re just human versions of rabid dogs prone to violence from the bomb’s toxins.
And the equipment in that radio studio! Logan Burnhardt is supposedly the #1 syndicated late-night talk host in the nation broadcasting from Los Angeles, the #2 rated media market in the country—and the studio is equipped with a recording studio audio mixing board as an on-air board? A reel-to-reel deck set on a counter top? This is 2009! All radio stations—especially in the major markets—converted to digital platforms and ditched analog recording over 15 years ago.
Seriously. The awesome Bill friggin’ Moseley—the Eric Roberts of horror—is in this and he can’t sell this zom-romp. And Moseley’s the man who sold us on Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out (1989). And Bill’s the lone reason we pushed the PPV “buy” button on Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge and 3 From Hell.
But it’s cool, Bill. We know it’s not your fault and we still love you.
Dead Air isn’t incompetent. It’s not awful in a George Romero Italian-green grease paint rip-off zombie kind of way. All of the various film disciplines have checked off all the right boxes. But that’s just it. It’s just “box checking” and everything is flat. It just lays there—and zombies can’t rest. They can never rest. They need to be on the move. But, one must consider that $500,000 budget the film was up against—and you can only do so much with a half million. So the question is: Will your passion for Bill’s work or your passion for cheesy, b-horror films from the video fringe give this a pass. But it’s Bill, right? You can check it out for free on You Tube.