Memento Not So Mori
By J.B. Rockwell
Why did I watch this? Well… I was having a hard time settling on a bad movie to watch—unheard of, I know! I actually road tested a few minutes of a couple others that were just too, too bad (believe it or not, this category does exist—case in point, a little stink bomb that suspect might’ve eventually turned into a porno called Thankskilling) before eventually settling on Dead Still.
Side note: I really wish the title was Dead… Still. I feel like they missed an opportunity by omitting that ellipse.
All that aside, why did I really pick this movie? Well, kinda, sorta, happened to be on. I’m a big fan of Bad Movies offered up for free and conveniently showing at the time I’m looking for one. Also, I like Ben Browder from Farscape who plays the main character.
Yes, I am one of those people who will watch a movie purely because and actor or actress they like is in it.
Deal with it.
Also, also, I hadn’t done a Bad Movie Review for a horror movie—I think this classifies as horror? Not really slasher horror, or body mutilation horror, more creepy-weird stuff paranormal/supernatural type horror—so, why the hell not. Dead Still—a movie I’d never even heard of—it is.
The Dead Still Plot
Upon the death of his great grandfather, Brandon Davis, a wedding photographer, inherits an antique camera famous for taking Victorian death photography. After photographing his subjects they start to die from horrible, bizarre deaths.
Not bad, eh? Solid concept, promises of death? Yeah, not so much. I mean, this movie wasn’t exactly bad, but it wasn’t exactly good either—what it was, despite the presence of Ben Browder from Farscape, was solid and distinctly meh. As I shall eventually explain. But first…
Ben Browder (Best known as John Crichton from Farscape) as Brandon Davis: Father, photographer, idiot. Possibly dates a porn star.
Ray Wise (Best known for so many things! But especially playing daughter slaughter Leland Palmer in the original Twin Peaks) as Wenton Davis: Brandon’s grandfather and well-known Victoria death picture photographer. Secretly a psychopath who gets his jollies posing almost-corpses.
Elle LaMonter (Best known for… uhh…. Uhhh…apparently she had a small recurring role in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn the series) as Ivy Monroe: Brandon’s girlfriend. Fan of spiked bracelets and tight leather clothes. Secretly wants to be Velma. Possibly financing her amateur sleuthing career with roles in smut films.
Gavin Casalegno (Best known for... this?) as Bobby Davis: Brandon’s wee Sonny Boy. Also, reluctant speaker, follower of phantom bells, and finder of possibly-dead-but-insist-they’re-not-dead girls. Also, also, meat suit.
Budget & Box Office Info:
- Release Date: 6 October 2014
- Budget: $2M
- Box Office Sales: N/A—this one went to straight to SyFy
Sequels & Crossovers:
Mercifully, no one’s attempted to continue this long yawn into (not-quite-scary) horror, though if you read through this to the end, you’ll see whoever wrote the script obviously hoped there’d be more…
The Story (in a Nutshell)
Brandon, a photographer, owns an old camera that used to belong to his long-dead father (something happened, it was weird, much, much, much later they tie this into the plot). Soon after we meet Brandon and his extra special camera, he receives a letter notifying him that he’s the executor of his great grandfather’s estate.
Side bar (yeah, I know it’s early): The Victorian era, by definition, covers the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (that’s 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901 if you can’t be bothered to google). Based on the flashbacks of Great Grandpa the movie offers, he was well into his fifties when he was busy taking said death photos, and given the movie (made in 2014) is supposed to reflect present day… yeah, either this isn’t working or the Post Office lost that letter for an awful damn long time.
Okay, ignoring all that and cutting back to Brandon, in addition to his Dad’s camera and Great Grandpa’s executor letter, our boy B’s got himself an ex-wife (who predictably hates him and who he also predictably still loves) and a son who can’t speak. Or won’t speak, I guess. Honestly, they aren’t exactly clear on this point, but Baby B (named Bobby) has iPad with an app that speaks for him—in an ‘if Stephen Hawking was an axe murderer’ electronic voice—so it won’t be painful at all to watch him nod and shake his head and do all sorts of other overly exaggerated, non-verbal things instead of dialogue in this movie. No, sir. This is gonna be fine.
Reader, it was annoying. So, so annoying.
The Rest of It
Right. So. Big B packs up Little B and together they head to Great Grandpas house. There, in a touching father-son moment, Big B warns his son not to tell his Mom about any of ‘this’ (whatever this is—obviously BB knows bad things are coming) and also presents him with his very own camera. Which also happens to be his dead Dad’s camera.
So, as it turns out, Great Grandpa’s house is both huge and derelict and obviously hasn’t been lived in for a while, but BB and his boy are gonna stay there anyway, creepy-ass shack-mansion or not. On the walls are many disturbing photos taken by creepy Great Grandpa, no doubt. There’s also a bell on the floor (for no apparent reason) that Lil’ Bobby-son rings (of course, should be fine, right, right?) and gains some sort of sixth sight, whamma-jamma superpower gives him a flash of something weird from the past that every time Pops takes a picture of an object in the house.
Oh, and they uncover his Great Grandfather’s really old camera. Aaand the iPad Type and Say app blurts out the word ‘Destiny’ ALL ON ITS OWN MWAHAHAHA—
Later, in Dad-and-Son moment #2, Dad and Son bond over the found bell. ‘Take it wherever you go,” BB says. “And no matter where you are, I will find you, and save you.”
Oh yeah. Totally normal. My dad said things like that to me all the time. *rolls eyes so hard*
Ok, so now we find out that Great Granddad used the camera to take Victorian death pictures (a form of memento mori) OMG GREAT GRANDDAD IS RAY WISE YES!
An object serving as a warning or reminder of death.
Typical of roles Ray Wise gets cast in (seriously, I love this guy, he plays crack-pot deranged like nobody’s business) Great Granddad is a bit of a psychopath. I mean, he did some majorly creepy shit with the dead bodies he photographed. We’ve got some skull-tapping, some lip sewing, something unmentionable involving leeches.
Wow, Great Granddad. You are one fucked up camera jockey.
So, despite all indications that he should just bail out of Crap Town Mansion, brun the place down behind him and grab an ice cream cone with his doesn’t-feel-like-speaking progeny, BB decides to haul Great Granddad’s probably-cursed camera back to his studio and show it off to his girlfriend.
Her name’s Ivy. Ivy Monroe. Gotta say, sounds like a porn name. Gotta wonder if this script didn’t original go in a whole other weird-ass direction at some point.
Anywho, BB announces his plans to use his Great Granddad’s camera at their wedding—which is a bad idea all around—I mean, who play photographer at their own wedding?—and then hauls it and properly-primped girlfriend off to someone else’s wedding to take the camera for a test run. Well, second test run. See, he already tried it out on some poor homeless guy who later mysteriously and somewhat gruesomely end up dead.
Blissful obviously to Hobo Joe’s demise, Brandon sets about flickety-clicking his pictures at the wedding, dooming even more innocent people to horrible, horrible deaths.
By the way, they used a lot of fake blood in this movie. Buckets of it. Vats of it. Must’ve had a huge budget to cover all that faux body juice.
Elsewhere, and related, we meet Professor Mcklaren (also creepy) who teaches photography courses in college and once had a Brandon as a student. As a side gig, he’s also writing a book about Great Granddad Wenton Davis.
Yes, his name is Wenton. No doubt Where’s Waldo was his son.
Prof Mac is most creepily interested in Great Granddad’s death camera–Most. Creepily—and BB not to not to use it, and of course, gets ignored.
Meanwhile, Brandon gets the bright idea to dress up Sonny Boy and Ex-wife in old timey clothes for a photo session, and girlfriend Ivy goes snooping around his dark room, finds some weirdo pictures, does some googling, and soon realizes everyone Brandon photographs with Great Granddad’s camera ends up dead.
Well. That didn’t take that long. Tension? Slow build? Pffft. We don’t need none of that. Sledgehammer between the eyeballs, that’s the way to go with creepy camera tales.
Later, Ivy goes to see Prof MacCreepy and picks the big old padlock on his apartment to get in. Turns out College Boy is even creepier in his personal life than in public—which is saying something because, woah, actor way over did it with the voice and the eyeballs and the caterpillar eyebrows wigglety-wigglety-wiggling. The walls of Prof’s place are covered in newspaper clippings and memento mori pictures and I’m pretty sure he’s cookin’ sausages right next to his sway-backed cot bed which is just… eww. Despite that, Ivy stays for a chat, and when she shows MacCreepy some pictures, and he gets all worked up. Starts asking if there was a journal with that camera, goes all pyschopathic weird when she says no, kicks her butt out and starts chopping off his fingers.
Back at the Photo Hut, Ivy finds more pictures.
And one of them… IS HER!
RIP Ivy who might be a porn star. *sniff*
When Brandon returns home he finally learns the truth: all the people he’s photographed with Great Granddad’s camera are horribly mutilated and dead. Worse, they’re killed and posed in ways that mirror Great Granddad’s old pics. So, off he goes to find the journal MacCreepy mentioned because we assume that’s somehow important. This, of course, requires a return to Dilapidated Manor and leaving his son behind with the ding-a-ling death bell that hasn’t been mentioned once since the start of the movie. When he actually finds the journal he also uncovers some weird Satanist, voodoo, black magic shit on the floor and a whacked-out woman with an eyeball carved into her forehead, a double-toned devil voice and a knife she uses to try and kill him.
Not sure about you, but this sounds like true love.
Or not. Turns out Great Granddad killed Knife Lady’s Grandma and for that crime, some other relative of hers—Great Grandma? Aunt Hagrid? Spinster Cousin Margaret?— cursed him, transferring Great Grandpa Wenton’s life essence into his camera.
Also, they mention something about innocent souls trapped in Crap Manor—presumably of the people Great Granddad photographed, though I suppose he might’ve killed the milk man and few other people as well.
Back home, the ghosts of said innocents start speaking to Sonny Boy through his iPad app and the bell he retrieved from CobbleCrap Manor starts ringing, so off Lil’ B goes to find it. Also, Brandon decides to destroy the camera by repeatedly running it over but he never manages to break the lens, and since he doesn’t bother to check the carcass after he’s run it over, it’s hardly surprising he finds it reincorporated relocated back to the living room of his house.
LONG LIVE EVIL HAUNTED CAMERA!
Meanwhile, Ex-wife dies in a bathtub having been sucked dry by a thousand leeches, and Sonny boy is still trying to find that damn bell.
Oh wait. He found it.
He also finds Great Granddad in the camera and unwittingly gets his picture taken, at which point he too is sucked into the camera and some weird-ass Roger Rabbit camera sewer world. Also, Lil’ B can suddenly talk in this low budget version of the Upside Down, and meets a blue-skinned girl who tells him this is the ‘Negative World’: a realm inhabited by all the ghosts of the people Great Granddad photographed/killed.
Except her. She’s not dead. Or so she claims…
That’s her over there, by the way? See that blue skin? Yeah, sister’s lookin’ pretty dead.
Luckily, Bobby brought his bell with him to the Negative World, and when he rings it, Brandon finds him in the camera. To save him, BB takes a picture of himself and gets transported to the Negative World as well. There he learns that Great Granddad plans to use Lil’ B as a vessel so he can return to the real world and continue his ‘work’.
Aww, hell no. Nobody uses Sonny Boy as a meat suit!
With the help of dead-not-dead girl, Brandon tracks down Great Granddad and Lil’ B, only to have Great Elder Davis stooge-knock him into unconsciousness, at which point he’s hogtied on a table with whack-a-doodle Great Granddad approaching with a syringe. In a grand reveal, we learn that one of the chemicals used for Great Granddad’s photography can also be injected to cause respiratory paralysis in the living. So he wasn’t photographing dead people, he was killing them to take the perfect picture. And just how, you ask, does recently-knocked-out Brandon know this? Well, he read it in that journal, of course! Right before he gave it to Prof MacCreepy with the no fingered hand.
To end Great Granddad’s shenanigans for good, Brandon feeds escape his fetters and feeds his batshit crazy ancestor to the souls in the Negative World. After that, he sacrifices himself to those self-same ghosties so Bobby and dead-not-dead girl can escape the Negative World and live happily ever after.
Except, surprise! Great Granddad hijacked Bobby’s meat suit after all, and 20 years later is still taking pictures.
Despite this movies generalized mediocrity, I still love Ben Browder from Farscape dearly. I will always love Ben Browder from Farscape because dearly I love Farscape. Dearly. So there.
- Bad Moving Rating: 3 (out of 5)
- Regular Movie Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)
There’s—There’s a typo in the opening credits? Yeah, let’s go with that…
BTW: There really is a typo in the opening credits. Unless, of course, ‘enteratainment’ is now a word.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.