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Dead Meat is a highly entertaining comedy gore film from 2004 which I had the good fortune to see at the 2005 Cambridge Film Festival. Following the popularity of such genre-crossing comedy zombie films as Shaun of the Dead comes this much lower budget effort from Ireland. I present you with Dead Meat: an Irish arthouse comedy mad cow zombie film. Running to a little under 80 minutes, the film was written and directed by Conor McMahon, Ireland's answer to Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi.
With an agricultural concept much like the premise of the Kiwi comedy were-sheep zombie film Black Sheep (reviewed separately), this film pushes the boundaries of our expectations by questioning what happens when we farm a little too intensively. In this case, a mutant strain of Mad Cow disease turns the local cows into killer zombies who then infect humans. Plus madcap capers of course. Or possibly it's just a flimsy excuse for a low budget splatfest, who knows? And frankly, who cares when you can just sit back and hide behind a cushion and enjoy it?
This film has all the makings of a cult classic. If you like the Evil Dead, Bad Taste, Brain Dead and 28 days later then you'll love this; if you hate that kind of mindless gorefest then stay well clear. I've found it a great film to give horror film enthusiasts, since it's so little known that they probably won't have heard of it, but will love it. Expect buckets of blood, mangled bodies, and massive doses of political incorrectness as they send up practically every Irish stereotype in existence. Filled with a cast of unknown (to me) actors, it's genuinely hard to tell how much of the acting is done for comedic effect, particularly of the more extremely stereotypically Irish characters. Overall I found it fun and would say that the characterizations portrayed by the actors added to the film's appeal for me. I can practically guarantee there'll be a few moments where you cry at the screen "What?! They surely can't get away with that! That's just too offensive and is taking it too far!", whether it's the Irish stereotyping or the fate of the wheelchair-enabled zombie or what happens to the mandatory cute child. The ending is bittersweet and poignant and does have a fairly serious message amidst the mirth and the mayhem.
It's a little hard to describe the film without giving away too much of the plot, but the basic premise, which doesn't give away any more than the first five minutes is as follows:
There are strange goings on following a farmer breaking waste and feeding laws which causes a breakout of mad cow disease. This is mad cow disease with a difference: it turns people into mindless zombies with a lust for flesh, preferably human. A farmer goes to investigate a mysterious noise in the dead of the night with predictably bad consequences (well this is a horror film!). Cut to the next day, where Helena, the heroine, and her boyfriend Martin are driving through the implausibly green Irish countryside near the aforementioned farm rowing about her bad navigation. They accidentally knock down and apparently kill someone. Of course, as is always the way in this type of film, this corpse turns out to be a zombie and Helena must flee for her life or be torn apart by flesh-hungry killers.
On her way, she encounters Desmond, the local grave digger, and together they battle the hordes of undead, generally with a variety of household and agricultural implements for maximum comedic but really viscerally nasty effect. Will they survive to reach safety? Obviously, you'll have to watch the film to find out. See if you can figure out whether you're supposed to take the foul-mouthed Cathal Cheunt (the "first half-normal person they've come across") and his missus Lisa seriously. I certainly couldn't even work out if they were supposed to be playing themselves or not - an extra level of parody perhaps? If you are unused to broad Irish accents, then you'll struggle to understand a word they say, but I assure you that most of it is very rude.
It's hard to believe with the amount of senseless violence that it contains that this film was issued with a 15 certificate on release. It was reminiscent of the Evil Dead or Brain Dead in its hyperbolic use of gore. The number of eye squick moments (e.g. applying a hoover to the eye socket of a zombie, sharp implement through the keyhole) alone should have rated it an 18, never mind the parts where zombies are graphically hacked to pieces complete with spurting blood. However, from looking for the film on Amazon and Play, it appears that there may be a newer, 18-rated version of the DVD (which wasn't available when I got my copy) with extra material such a documentary. Being a low budget affair, the DVD was quite hard to come by when I bought my copy back in 2005 and my copy did not feature extras that I can review.
In conclusion, I would heartily recommend this film to horror film enthusiasts - you know what you're getting and you get it by the bucketload. As the film is only 80 minutes long, it would make a good film to have as a double bill of video nasties. I recommend pairing it with the aforementioned Black Sheep.