So if you’re like me, feeling a little blue these days and looking for some solace in cinema to pick you up, I recommend checking out this gory, gooey, giant ball of cheesy 80’s horror goodness, 1989’s ‘The Laughing Dead’ a whirl. I’m always out searching the Golden Era of horror for forgotten gems, and have had plenty of misses throughout the years- but this offering from the Thailand born S.P. Somtow pretty much brings everything that I love about the genre and mashes it into one big package. Somtow’s debut film, which he also wrote, directed, scored and executive-produced is an ambitious project from someone who was first and foremost known for several standout horror novels during the 1980s and 90s. I guess this’d be his ‘Maximum Overdrive’ (Stephen King’s first shot behind the camera).
So he finally took a stab at filmmaking here with the Laughing dead and though the movie was panned way back when, I think it’s time that it finally gets the respect it deserves. The plot is quite a doosie: Father O’Sullivan is a Catholic priest who has recently lost his faith and has arranged a bus trip to the Mayan ruins of Mexico, bringing along a cast of truly hilarious characters for the adventure. However lurking around the ruins is an evil doctor who seeks to transform himself into the Mayan Lord of Death by kidnapping innocent children & ripping out their hearts. Yeah the guy is one evil son of a bitch with major ass maniacal plans for himself and the unsuspecting locals.
Well Father O’Sullivan leaves Tucson, AZ in a cool beat up tour bus and picks up a sweet cast of characters including hilarious new age couple and most importantly an ex-nun whom he had a most scandalous affair with. Oh yeah and her and his unsuspecting son, who’s got the most incredibly filthy mouth you’ve EVER heard on a kid! This kid’s droppin’ f-bombs like nobody’s fucking business making it quite clear from the start that the tone here isn’t to be taken too incredibly serious. Yeah I really enjoyed the characters in this one, the new age couple are a great addition, as I’ve never seen characters quite like this in a horror flick that work so well. They bicker and argue but also dabble with fancy ass crystals and weird-ass meditation techniques and actually add something to the story. Charming characters can make a super low budget movie legit and it’s got some pretty charming ones at it’s heart to root for.
Another thing that’s great about it is every damn thing that’s jam packed into this sweet little production. Firstly the unique plot and setting in 80’s Mexico separates this one from the usual genre fare of the time and when the shit begins to hit the fan you’re definitely in for a spooky unpredictable treat. Exorcisms, zombies, gore, mystical magic and radically cheezy monsters are all on the table here. There’s even a beheading scene that sends said head flying straight into a basketball hoop mid game! Though the tone is quite playful, it for the most part plays the horror and weird ass plot points pretty straight and even manages to give all the characters their moments to shine, at least those who make it out alive! If you dig something like ‘Evil Dead 2’ or say ‘Re-animator’ you’re bound to be charmed by the Laughing dead and all the ridiculous scenarios sprinkled throughout.
They also pull out a trove of sweet 80’s practical fx too, throw it on the wall and most of it sticks. So there’s lot’s of eye candy to behold as well as some great attempts at drama. Nope it’s not all just monster nonsense either, I love how Sumtow manages to give the movie some real heart, even if it’s done with some seriously subpar acting skills, it’s just a giant ball of cheezy fun that hit’s all the right beats and imo has all the right moves. It was never officially released in the USA so I really hope that someone like Vinegar Syndrome or Arrow pick this little comedic horror gem up and give it a proper release. It desperately needs one. The director’s career pretty much ends right here but damn I wish he’d have given it another shot behind the freakin’ camera. I found a decent copy of it on dvd on Ebay or it’s also up on Youtube but it doesn’t look quite as good. Check it out if Covid’s got you down, by the time the movie ends you’re bound to have a smile on your face if you like 80’s cheez as much as I do.