Die-ner (Get It?)
Director and Writer: Patrick Horvath
Here's some food for thought: what's a whimsically charismatic psychopath to do when the people he kills just won't stay dead?
This is the problem that troubles Ken (Josh Grote) in Die-ner (Get It?), a satisfying if slow-to-boil zombie comedy from writer/director Patrick Horvath. In the film, husband and wife Rob (Parker Quinn) and Kathy (Liesel Kopp) stop over at a secluded diner to talk out their marital problems. Little do they know that a charming killer has infiltrated the diner and plans to kill them next. Add to this mix a work-a-day Sheriff, Duke (Larry Purtell), and you have a recipe for a tense, dramatic game of cat-and-mouse. But that's not Die-ner. If the winking pun in the title of film didn't clue you in, this movie is not a straight horror film. The sudden appearance of the zombies throws together Ken, Rob, Kathy, and Duke into a very quirky life-or-death situation that offers its fair share of death and horrific elements but always with a smirk and a grin.
From the cast, it's Josh Grote who carries the film in the role of Ken, a memorable character in a long line of charming cinematic murderers. His actions are brutal and sadistic, but his tone is always cordial and chummy. He's a cold-blooded murderer but rarely appears to show any actual hatred or even satisfaction in his actions. When others are astonished at his murderous tendencies (such as keeping a bag full of rope and duct tape), he brushes them off in a matter-of-fact way. Lesser actors would ham it up, but Grote appears to know when to restrain his character and when to let him quip. Actors Parker Quinn and Liesel Kopp also do admirable jobs in the film, especially in its opening sequences where they establish themselves as a genuine couple whose relationship is degrading. They are less convincing when shifting into their humourous responses to Ken's homicidal actions, but thankfully they are used more often to ground the film's final acts (even if this is at the expense of their character development).
The zombies are your standard grey/white-faced variety found in lower-budget zombie films, but they're used to particular effect. Rather than being the focus of the film, the zombies are background elements used to further accentuate the ludicrous nature of the situation. They are also used to illustrate the usefulness and danger of associating with psychopaths in times of zombie apocalypse. A man with no qualms about killing a diner's staff will certainly have no prohibitions when mutilating a zombie. On the other hand, those severed zombie limbs on the floor could just as easily be yours next time.
Sometimes when you make a meal with a varied combination of ingredients, they don't always blend; some elements float to the surface while others sink to the bottom.. Die-ner (Get It?) is not without its flaws Although the opening scene of Die-Ner (Get It?) had me instantly hooked, the rest of the film did not always live up to my expectations for the camera work, acting, and writing. Some scenes of gore effects draw too much attention to their low budget origins (such as extreme close-up shots of severed heads to hide the fact they're not severed at all). Also, the pacing drags in places, especially during the dream sequences that seem to pad out the running time without offering much insight into the character associated with them. With that being said, the majority of the film is well-shot, well-edited, and effective. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, nor is it intending to be. The humour in Die-ner (Get It?) is a subtle, under-the-table gesture. Although some parts of this film may be under-cooked, it's not an experience I'd send back to the kitchen for a refund. At the most, I'd ask it to be cooked a bit longer. Then I'd leave a very generous tip.
If for nothing else, Die-ner (Get It?) is worth watching for Grote's performance; thankfully, the film has a lot of other talent and production quality to recommend it further. There are not a lot of films out there like Die-ner (Get It?). It defies easy comparisons.
Die-ner (Get It?) is still making festival circuits. It just played at the Hollywood Film Fest and Big Bear Horror Fest. To keep up to date on future screenings, check out the film's Facebook page or the official Die-ner website.
Also, you can hope over to Mail Order Zombie and listen to episode #79 for their interview with Die-ner actor Larry Purtell.
If Die-ner (Get It?) were food, it would be a deep-fried Mars bar. The combination of ingredients might take some getting used to, but at its heart it's sweet and satisfying.