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Dead Serious Joe Sullivan 2005

And You Thought YOUR Local Gay Bar was Scary...

One of the most bizarre hybrids I’ve ever seen, Dead Serious somehow manages to smash the action, horror, comedy, queer, romance, satire, and political thriller genres together into a tight, bloody little package. Gory, hilarious, goofy, and politically brash, Serious almost seems like what might happen if you took every potential “an X walks into a bar” joke victim and - well, make them all actually walk into a bar. And I guess the point that is made here is that when those Xs range from religious fanatics to aspiring Broadway dancers to vampire militias, you’re going to have a slightly more colorful evening on your hands than your standard happy hour at the neighboring watering hole.

The film begins at your standard, run-of-the-mill neighborhood homo bar - if your neighborhood homo bar is owned by the vampire mafia, that is. We get the idea pretty quickly that strange things are afoot at the joint when a customer asking to see the owner is swiftly drained in a stairwell (and that’s not a euphemism – he’s literally devoured). We then jump to a scenic New York City park, where young couple Michael (Michael Weingartner) and Susan (Sleepaway Camp’s luminous Felissa Rose) sit on a bench, discussing junk food. He’s an accountant on his way to a client meeting, and she’s got a stick up her ass, as evidenced by her neuroses about meat, smoking, and just about anything else enjoyable. They plan on meeting up at the bar that his client owns, after which they’ll go out for a nice, romantic accountant-and-control-freak dinner.

Meanwhile, things are brewing at the bar we saw earlier. Now, this is where things get veeeery complicated, so forgive me if I start babbling incoherently like I’ve just taken a dose of Glint and tried to fly through a keyhole. Apparently, people have been quietly disappearing from the neighborhood for quite some time, and the bar has something to do with it. The manager of the bar, Maxwell (Paul Coughlan) is apparently running some type of pseudo-guerrilla operation out of the joint that may or may not have something to do with the owner, a Dr. Bruno Gant (Tom Cahill), who also happens to be a vampire. The two are in leagues with a renowned evangelist, Rev. Bob Rivington (the wonderfully slippery Carson Grant), and are arranging a sort of “homosexual cleansing” program to be broadcast live from the bar onto Christian television, in exchange for a shipment of arms. I think.

But what the assorted baddies don’t know is that there’s a gay mercenary named Troy (the infinitely lickable Brian Gianci) who’s onto the scheme and is right now skulking through the upper floors of the bar trying to uncover their plot while his jilted boyfriend Richard (Patrick Swearingen) drowns his sorrows down below (it’s not easy to date an emotionally unavailable secret agent, after all). When Troy runs into Michael on the upper levels, Richard and Susan bond down in the bar – that is, until the Christian television crew arrives, goons with automatic weapons turn the place into a bloodbath, and people start sprouting fangs.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this flick is packed tighter than an underage caterer at a Kevin Spacey pool party. It’s basically what would walk out of the wreckage if an episode of 24 got into a head-on with an episode of Angel and caught an unfortunate Queer as Folk in the crosswalk. Do I have any idea if the plot actually made sense? No. Do I care? Not really – there are so many balls in the air here (ahem!) that you don’t really have much time to think about it. New characters are constantly being introduced, the power shifts from scene to scene, and the likeable, smart characters are a pleasure to watch as they navigate their way out of the bloodiest happy hour in Brooklyn. Considering the fact that the entire movie takes place in one building, this is downright amazing.

First props go to writer/director Joe Sullivan, whose script – essentially a social satire – manages to pass quite convincingly as a horror comedy. The jokes are legitimately funny (there’s one line regarding Richard potentially being a secret agent that still makes me laugh) – and the lampooning of every social group involved (the gays, the straights, the mob, the Christians, the vamps) is decidedly, gleefully equal-opportunity. After a bit of setup, things roll along at a nice, brisk clip, building toward an impressive bit of chaos and a satisfying finale.

Which brings me to the gore quotient, which is quite impressive as well. Thank GOD we’re not suffering through a prolonged “artistic, classy gay horror film” purgatory as the subgenre finds its footing – like Hellbent before it, Dead Serious is as gory, violent, and anarchic as they come (let’s pretend the bland Red Shoe Diaries episode that was Eternal never happened). The vampire effects are delightful (there’s some great neck-ripping) and there’s quite a bit of gunplay involved. And really: is there anything better than seeing a right-wing broadcaster’s brains getting splattered against a Kool cigarette machine?

While the cinematography, sound, and effects are top-notch for an HD production, Dead Serious does still bear the earmarks of a low-budget film (low-end credits, limited scope), which may prevent it from reaching a wide audience – which would be a shame, as the level of professionalism here is miles beyond your usual shot-on-video fare. Certain scenes in the stairwell became quite confusing – it seemed like they might have been using one hallway to stand in for 3 or 4 different floors, but it doesn’t read that way – at several points I was thinking, “wait – why didn’t the good guys just run into the bad guys – aren’t they 5 feet away from one another?”. The overriding scheme could have been made a little clearer, as I lost track of who was dogging whom a few times – but again, a minor complaint considering that I was busy laughing most of the time anyway.

And there’s plenty to laugh at. Look for I’ll Bury You Tomorrow writer/director/star Alan Rowe Kelly as one of the bar’s patrons who “volunteers” to be re-aligned by the Reverend. And make sure to stay for the hilarious music at the end, which cleverly lays some of the choicest lines of dialogue over a techno beat for the closing credits. Overall, Dead Serious succeeds because it is exactly the opposite – while it may take on serious issues like gay marriage, fundamentalism, terrorism, media manipulation, and more, it does so with a devilish but refreshingly sweet-natured sense of humor. For smart, frothy, bloody fun, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better time.

Rating (out of 5):