Horror fans are a devoted bunch. Their fanaticism is on par with Trekkies and Star Wars fans who camped out on the sidewalk for months in order to be horribly disappointed by The Phantom Menace. The obsessives in these subcultures are fascinating. Often marginalized and pushed to the sides of society, these individuals cling to specific elements of pop culture where they feel accepted in a way they don’t anywhere else in the world. Trekkies is a great example of a documentary that delves into the culture of compulsive Star Trek fans. Through interviews, the film gives audiences a glimpse into a sprawling underground nation of hardcore fans, their lives, emotions, and motivations.
While Trekkies sets the bar high, Fan of the Dead falls flat. It sounds like such a good concept, a horror nerd road tripping around the countryside, looking for obscure locations from classic films. That is an idea I can get behind. The problem isn’t with the plan. The plan is solid; the problem is with the execution.
Nicolas Garreau is a French fan of George Romero’s Dead trilogy — Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Camera in hand, he crosses the Atlantic to visit Pittsburgh of all places, a city that just happens to be the birthplace of one George A. Romero, and is where many of his movies are set and filmed.
Along his way, Garreau attends the Pittsburgh ComiCon, where he meets many actors, mostly bit players, from Romero’s movies, and interacts with an international cast of fellow horror fanatics. Through the convention, he goes on a tour of the Monroeville Mall, where the majority of the action from Dawn of the Dead was set and filmed, guided by a collection of cast members, including stars Ken Foree and David Emge. On his own, he visits locations from other Romero movies, including the cemetery from the original Night of the Living Dead, the house from the 1990 remake (directed by Tom Savini, who did the makeup and effects for the first three, with Romero’s blessing), and an abandoned military site that may or may not have been used in Day of the Dead.
Aside from Garreau’s obvious enthusiasm for these movies, Fan of the Dead has little to offer. The film comes across as nothing more than a video of a sequence of events. It doesn’t go any deeper than being a fan. While a movie like Trekkies explores the nature of the fans and the culture they have created, Fan of the Dead never even attempts to explore anything.
I’m not saying that every movie has to have a grand purpose to reveal and explore some hidden truth – they don’t – but Fan of the Dead feels like nothing more than a vacation video. I’m sure that for Garreau this was the trip of a lifetime and a dream come true (I would personally love to go on this exact trip), but watching it is about as interesting as watching a video of your buddy’s trip to the beach.
Fan of the Dead is disappointing primarily because it has the potential to be something really intriguing. The surface level is there, the fanaticism is apparent, but there is no substance beneath it. When Garreau finally does get to meet and interact with the stars of the movies he so loves, he doesn’t ask them anything interesting. The questions don’t go any deeper than “Was it fun to be in Dawn of the Dead?”, and “Did you ever think that people would love these movies like they do?” The answers are “Yes” and “No” respectively.
At the convention, Garreau meets other fans from Europe, fans who have traveled thousands of miles to Pittsburgh, just for the chance to meet some people who were extras in low-budget horror movies. The film misses a prime opportunity to dig into this aspect of the culture. What drove these people halfway around the world just to shake hands and share a few words with a guy most people have never heard of, and then go to a mall? What connection do these people have to these movies? Why do these films inspire such rabid devotion even decades later? The answers to these questions are interesting. Watching a group of people wander up and down an escalator, and some French kid filming headstones in a cemetery, is not. I’ve seen the movies, I know what the cemetery looks like, and I know what the mall looks like. Fan of the Dead could have done so much more, especially considering the run time is barely 52 minutes.
Unless you are a fan of Romero’s movies, don’t watchFan of the Dead. Seeing the present day state of the locations is mildly amusing for a few minutes, and there are one or two anecdotes from actors that are almost interesting, but if you’re not a fan of the films, you won’t have much idea what’s going on. At one point, Garreau spends almost a minute of screen time filming “The Most Famous Streetlamp in the World”, but neglects to say why it is “The Most Famous Streetlamp in the World”. I know the significance of said streetlamp, but if you haven’t seen Dawn of the Dead repeatedly, it won’t mean anything to you. You’ll be able to tell that it plays a role of some significance in one of the films (or else why would this kid spend so much time filming it), but beyond that there is no context.
The most annoying thing about the American version of Fan of the Dead is the translator. Since Garreau is French, it stands to reason that his narration would be in French. No surprise there. Problems arise with the translator. Garreau’s words are neither dubbed, nor subtitled for the English speaking audience. zthey are translated in the style of an interview with a political figure on 60 Minutes. Garreau says something, then the translator translates it into English. Fine, except that the translator reads everything in a flat monotone as if there is no punctuation, and with no inflection or hint of emotion in his voice.
The second issue is that the translation is very very literal, like word-for-word literal. Imagine plugging a paragraph of dialogue into one of those free online translators, like Babblefish. While the word-for-word exchange may be technically correct, the dialogue comes across as awkward and stilted. The times when Garreau speaks English on his own are fine. He obviously has a solid grasp of the language, enough so that he can converse with people, ask for directions, and ask about the movies. However, when the translator is translating, you wind up with phrases like, “Owner of the home told me that each time friends came to her they manage as me to leave before the night falls.” I’m sure it didn’t sound that awkward in French. There is no attempt to contextualize the translation, or to make it flow naturally.
The bonus features are minimal. To be more accurate, the DVD contains a bonus feature, not features. There is a collection of still photos from the various locations that Garreau visited. Photos of the same places that you just saw. That’s it.