Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead


In a future America that’s been devastated in the aftermath of World War 3, a young woman will be introduced to a horror she never knew existed, the L.U.P.s, or Lifeless Undead Phenomenon. Part of the Masters of Horror anthology series by Mick Garris.

Ah, the L.U.P.s, a chemical creation wherein a dead body gets up and starts dancing around like it’s having an epileptic fit. A lot of the undead get a little touchy on the subject, if not outright worked up about the whole thing. Not because it’s real mind you, at least as far as I know it’s not real, but who knows what the powers that be have hidden away for a rainy day. No, zombies just get upset over the idea of a bunch of meatsacks creating “kinda” zombies to dance around on stage for their own amusement, the creation of phenomenal author Richard Matheson in his short story of the same name as our Masters of Horror episode by Tobe Hooper. Personally, I just let it go. I mean, it was written by one of the greats, an author so amazing I’d probably forgive him if he punched my mother. Well, maybe not mom, that’d be a bit harsh (and lord only knows how many teeth Matheson would lose in the process, not from me mind you, mom isn’t one to mess with), but like a close friend. Okay, probably not a close friend either, but at the very least my next door neighbor. That guy’s an asshole. I don’t think we’re here to discuss who I’d let Richard Matheson punch in the face though, so let’s take a look at Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead.

America is a shadow of what it once was, the advent of World War 3 and constant terrorist attacks have crippled the county, leaving millions dead and America’s eventual collapse all but certain. In this world we find Peggy, a naïve young woman whose over protective mother has sheltered her from the worst life has to offer, minus a terrorist attack when she was a small child, but Peggy is about to be introduced to the world outside her mother’s small diner by Jak, an introspective, but ultimately destructive man from the nearby town of Muskeet. Muskeet is a crime infested haven for those looking to escape the harsh reality of life, a place fueled by debauchery and full of a population that have given up on life. Jak and his partner Boxx spend their days searching for fresh blood to deliver to the owner of Muskeet hot spot The Doom Room, and their nights partying at said hot spot. Things begin to take a turn for both Peggy and Jak when, after a successful blood run, Jak and his plasma stealing partner stop into Peggy’s diner. An instant attraction develops between the two, much to the consternation of Peggy’s mother who kicks out Jak, Boxx, and their female companions. This does little to quell young Peggy though. She sneaks out later that night to meet up with Jak, accompanying him to the infamous Muskeet where she becomes aware of an entirely different side of life, a much darker side, and in that darkness she’ll learn not only about herself, but secrets some in her life have chosen to hide from her.


{Love at first sight?}

Richard Matheson has become one of my favorite authors, but I have to admit to starting to read his stories a bit late in life. I knew of the man, no doubt, but I didn’t start reading his stories until that Will Smith atrocity came out. I’m of course talking about I Am Legend, a movie that actually managed to make both The Last Man on Earth and Omega Man look like decent adaptions. As much as I hate the movie, I’m at least grateful for the push to read up on Matheson, quickly falling in love with not only the original novella, but his short stories as well, including Mad House, The Funeral, and Dance of the Dead. There was something about the tale that hooked me, the way I was given little bits of a possible future as told by the newest generation of that future. The definitions of future terms, the small future history lessons, and glimpse into a world that could be were all packed up into such a short but wonderful tale that I couldn’t help but count Dance of the Dead as among my favorite of his stories, making me all that much more hesitant to watch Tobe Hooper’s addition to Masters of Horror. I Am Legend spawned three cinematic adaptions, and the only one to actually use the same title was the worst of them all, it made me a tad nervous watching this, to say the least. What I didn’t know going in was that Richard Matheson’s son was the one who had adapted his father’s short story for the small screen, and he created a near perfect adaption.


{A darker adaption mind you}

What’s great is that a parson doesn’t have to be a fan of the original tale to enjoy Dance of the Dead, but if you are, you’re going to enjoy it that much more. The original tale is essentially a car ride the ends with said car’s occupants enjoying a “loopy dance.” The titular dance of the dead is the result of a chemical compound that causes dead bodies to spasmodically jerk around as if they were dancing, something discovered during the third world war when, after chemical attacks, some dead soldiers were found on their feet and moving around. Though not exactly a legal practice, a loophole allows for this spectacle to be presented as long as it’s presented as a scientific presentation, and it’s a loophole many places now exploit in order to give patrons a shocking show. This is true in both the short story and the episode, but the episode expands on it a bit with the explanation that in order to dance around after death, a body needs to have both the chemical present in their bloodstream and a small transfusion of fresh blood, thus why Jak and Boxx spend their days hunting for the stuff. This small addition allows for a greater depth in the story, having us follow Jak as he and his partner search for people they can steal blood from, all the way to their delivering said blood to The Doom Room’s owner (played by Robert Englund). Along the way, he meets Peggy, the only character who seemed, more or less, exactly like her counterpart in the story as the other three, Jak, Boxx, and Boxx’s girlfriend Celia, are particular to the episode versus the story (in the story the other three with Peggy were all high school chums). As much as I enjoy the story, I think the episode managed to take things further and create something that surpassed its inspiration.


{Something that was also a lot angrier than its inspiration}

Much of what was in the story transfers over into the episode in extremely clever ways. One of the things the story is known for is its use of future slang, which is quickly defined, and snippets of songs from a post-World War 3 America. You’ll find those in the episode as well, usually uttered and then defined by Boxx during the trip to Muskeet. I was happy to see them included. Other than the previously mentioned differences in characters, the entire story is transferred from the page to the television smoothly and with finesse, but it’s also greatly expanded upon with a greater depth given to the characters and the environment. We don’t need that depth with the story, but it’s nice to see in the episode. Jak, for all his faults, is a rather tragic character, a product of his violent and hopeless environment that struggles to maintain some semblance of heart in a world that’s become completely heartless. He’s played by actor Jonathan Tucker, who plays pretty much the exact same character type in everything he’s in, but it works perfectly here. Boxx doesn’t have the heart, but his character is no less tragic. Him and his girlfriend Celia have both given into their new world, having lost all hope for a better tomorrow, the pair figure they might as well enjoy things as much as they can before their time comes. There’s a very depressing scene where Celia makes an apathetic statement about becoming a loopy dancer once she’s dead since it’s what girls like her are destined for anyway. Rounding out the group is Peggy, the complete opposite of the other three. She still has hope for a better tomorrow and believes in the best from people, her naïve nature a result of her sheltered life. It’s through her that we’ll experience the most from this world since it’s just as new to her as it is to us. Lastly, there’s the Doom Room’s owner and MC, a foul man with a penchant for theatrics and little to no sense of morality. Robert Englund takes the reins for the character and runs with it, seemingly having a bit of fun with just how awful the man is.


{He’s also creepy as hell, but that’s just Englund}

So what about the loopy dance? How well was that aspect handled? It was great. They do an amazing job creating something that is as creepy as it is depressing. There is an immense sadness in these poor unfortunate creatures as they jerk and spasm on stage for the twisted amusement of others. These are people who died not that long ago, so they look more or less normal, with only their nearly all white eyes and greyish, dead looking skin separating them from any member sitting in the audience. They came across as tortured individuals whose deaths were being exploited for profit. You couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything left of the person they used to be. The actors portraying these unfortunates do a wonderful job with them as well, creating some truly haunting characters.


{Picture this as one of your loved ones for full effect}

Dance of the Dead is a great example of how amazing a show Master of Horror was, one that took a short story and created something amazing with it. The characters, the bleak atmosphere, the play between Peggy’s hometown (it’s St. Louis in the story but not mentioned in the episode) where people cling to how thins use to be and Muskeet where everyone has given up, all of it comes together to become one of the better episodes of the anthology series.


The Undead Review


Directed By: Tobe Hooper (Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce)

Starring: Jessica Lowndes (Altitude, 90210), Ryan McDonald (2012, Kick Me Down), Jonathon Tucker (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre {2003}, Pulse), and Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street, 2001 Maniacs)

Written By: Richard Matheson (original story), Mick Garris (Critters 2, Hocus Pocus), and Richard Christian Matheson (It Waits, Loose Cannons)

Released By: Showtime Networks, Anchor Bay Entertainment, IDT Entertainment, and Reunion Pictures

Release Year: 2005

Release Type: Television

Channel: Showtime

Rating: TV MA

Rotten Heads: Four Heads Out of Five

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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2 Responses to Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead

  1. Nice review. I think this was a very underrated MoH episode and Tobe Hooper is a very underappreciated director. He’s contributed a lot more to horror than just Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think he suffers a lot of criticisms just because he never started making slick, polished commercial horror films, like Wes Craven did. Though Wes is great too, of course.


    • Thanks so much for the comment, and my sincere apologies for such a late reply. Zombie family issues are a huge pain to deal with. Tobe Hooper is an amazing director in my opinion, and you’re right, he’s very underappreciated. I think a lot of people forget how many other movies he’s done besides Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars are two of my favorite Scifi Horror flicks, and they don’t get nearly the praise they should. It’s quite a shame.


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