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Dead Is the Present Tense in ‘Make-Out with Violence’

Make-Out with Violence is a lot of things: a drama, a comedy, a tender, John Hughes style coming of age film, a zombie movie, and a horror tale of sorts. There is gore, humor, and a score that references Morricone as often as it cites Brian Eno. Multiple love stories, some more traditional than others, come together to provide a twist on the one-summer-can-change-everything story.

Everyone loves Wendy Hearst (Shellie Marie Schartzer)—loves her as a friend, loves her as a lover, loves her from afar. The problem is that Wendy is dead, sort of. First she disappears shortly after graduation. Her friends are sad, and Beetle (Brett Miller), her nine-year-old neighbor, introduces the key players in a maudlin voice over. Initially Make-Out with Violence appears to be the story of a quirky, tight-knit group dealing with growing up, moving on, and losing one of their own.

After a memorial service with an empty coffin, Beetle’s brothers, twins Patrick and Carol (co-writers Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos) discover Wendy’s reanimated corpse wandering around the woods, and the story takes off in a different direction. To keep her safe and hidden, the pair stashes the Wendy-zombie in the empty house of a friend. Her corpse writhes and twitches with a unique gait that is informed equally by modern dance and George Romero.

Patrick has carried an unrequited torch for Wendy for as long as anyone can remember, and as he cares for her, his obsession deepens and grows until it becomes all-consuming and creepy. Cody has a love interest of his own, Wendy’s best friend Addy (Leah High), a spunky redhead with a penchant for wacky t-shirts.

Make-Out with Violence is like the college radio of independent horror films, every frame screams ‘indie’. Both the story and characters are full of idiosyncrasies, borrowing a little from this genre, and a little from this genre. It owes as much to Wes Anderson as it does to Lucio Fulci. This is a love story, or more accurately, love stories, that just happen to involve a zombie. Somehow this mish-mash of styles and influences, most seemingly incongruous, comes together and works pretty well. While not perfect, and at times overly precious, Make-Out with Violence is alternately sweet and twisted, surreal and compelling.

Almost as interesting as the movie itself is the story of how it came to be. Production was a saga all it’s own. Directed by the Deagol Brothers, a collective name adopted by a group of friends from the suburbs of Nashville (though the “collective” dwindled to two people), Make-Out with Violence was filmed over the span of three summer vacations, with three directors of photography.

Everyone did everything. Lehning and DeVos wrote the script and play the leads, and Lehning collaborated on the score with his brother Jordan, who also appears in the film. When Schartzer wasn’t lurching about onscreen, she served as the key grip.

Like in the film, friendships were tested. Some survived, others did not. In order to get even the most minimal amount of funding, the cast and crew formed a band, the Non-Commissioned Officers, and played the soundtrack at benefit shows. The entire history of the film is chronicled in elaborate detail in a 35-minute behind the scenes feature.

The intricate DVD packaging is in line with the overall aesthetic of the film. An embossed cardboard vessel slips into a sleeve with a ghostly pink and black cover design, and it comes with a booklet that features credits, acknowledgements, and a pair of essays about the film. One of the extras is an interview with Ed O’Brien, who handled all of the graphic design duties, much more than he originally signed on for.

There are 13 deleted or extended scenes (the original cut of Make-Out with Violence was over three hours long), and a collection of live videos of the Non-Commissioned Officers, and the Glibs, another band included on the soundtrack. Unused songs, half-a-dozen radio spots, and a commentary track, round out the bonus material.

Like the film, the commentary track takes an unusual approach. Instead of the directors, the track features their little brothers. Since the cast and crew are comprised of friends and family, the younger brothers both performed multiple duties, and offer an unusual and entertaining angle on the film. The result is one of the better commentary tracks in recent memory.

RATING 7 / 10