EZMM 2020 Day 7.2: Bong of the Living Dead (2017)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Here there be spoilers.

There was a time when I loved stoner comedies, going all the way back to the classics from Cheech and Chong. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was smoking on a regular basis at the time. However, once I stopped, I kind of lost interest in comedies about getting high. I think the last time I had any interest in a stoner comedy was the first few seasons of Trailer Park Boys or maybe Pineapple Express (although I did love This is the End, too). Despite this, I was curious when I first heard about Bong of the Living Dead back in 2017, when our very own Nate Zoebl reviewed it.

It was also intriguing because in was filmed in my backyard. I live in West Virginia and Bong was shot next door in Columbus, Ohio. It also featured one of my Facebook friends, Dan Nye. I’ve never met Dan in person, but I love the movie review podcast he and Eric Muller produce, Ramble on About Movies. I mention all of this for full disclosure. Although I know some of the people involved with this production I will try to be as objective as possible.

Bong of the Living Dead is pretty good. It’s not the best zombie comedy I’ve ever seen, but it’s nowhere near the worst (that honor goes to Zombie Spring Breakers, a film now referenced in both of today’s EZMM reviews!). The story is pretty familiar, a group of friends find themselves holed up in their home during the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. But director Max Groah has a lot of fun with the concept.

Our main characters, Hal Rockwood (Daniel Alan Kiely), Christ Moser (Eric Boso), Jon Lance (Dan Nye), and Tara Callahan (Laura E. Mock) are childhood friends, as we discover through a series of always entertaining flashbacks to their child actor alter egos. Aside from their love of weed, they also have a long-standing obsession with zombie films, which allows for a wonderful meta quality as they have long, pot-fueled arguments and discussions about the varieties of zombies and how to destroy them. Also trapped in the house with them is Dr. Kate Mitchell (Tiffany Kiely) and Christ’s new girlfriend Danielle DeWitt (Cat Taylor).

When, after a night of sitting on the porch getting high, they discover that zombies are indeed real and starting to swarm the neighborhood, the friends find themselves excited about the prospect of living in the zombie apocalypse. There’s a lot of potential in this concept, especially given the zombie genre’s history of social criticism and satire. The script, by Groah and Tim Mayo, touches on this a bit, but never really dives into the material, instead preferring to focus on the stoner comedy elements.

The gore effects are serviceable, but not really the focus of the film. We’re really just here for the characters, the comedy, and the pot. At least until the final act of the film rolls around, but more on that later. The dialogue is all quick and clever, recalling vintage Kevin Smith, and each actor finds something real and entertaining in what could be clichéd characters. An early high point being when the whole group excitedly decides to get up at the crack of dawn and clean out the neighborhood of the zombie menace.

But then they oversleep and discover that the rest of the neighborhood had already gotten that task taken care of. It’s a funny moment that puts you off-guard about just where the film was going to be heading. Because the zombies aren’t done, despite the zombie-themed bikini car wash going on outside.

The developing relationship between Dr. Mitchell and Hal serves as a bit of a signal about the more serious turn the film eventually takes, especially once a potentially tragic accident occurs. Suddenly, one of the group is in serious danger and this bunch of potheads have some real trouble dealing with it. Christ also takes a dark turn as the film goes on, leaning into a nihilistic attitude that isn’t least inspired by their potential running out of drugs. Jon and Tara’s relationship stays the most stable, although they’re not without their problems either.

Another extremely entertaining creative choice was to incorporate a variety of satirical elements like over-the-top news broadcasters, a disturbing exercise host, a simply hilarious political commercial, a Spanish shopping channel host, and a series of cheesy barbarian movie spoofs involving a beefy Schwarzenegger clone, a wizard, and a Spider Queen (Briane Jeanette).  

If there was a questionable creative decision in this later part of the film, it was the filmmakers’ slipping an nude shower scene for Taylor while a lot of heavy shit was going on. It felt out of place and exploitative in a film that while embracing that attitude earlier, had seemed to be moving into a different type of storytelling.

It just wasn’t necessary at that point in the film.

The conclusion of the film stays true to the tradition of zombie films, completing the dark turn the final act has taken, but still allowing for a sense of hope. Not everybody dies, but it still feels like the emotional stakes and what successes there are, were earned. It’s surprisingly powerful and not what I was expecting at all.

So Bong of the Living Dead ends up starting out as a traditional stoner comedy, with the zombie elements used for comedic effect, transitions into a middle section that incorporates media satire as they find themselves locked inside watching TV all day, and then wraps with a darkly emotional traditional zombie ending. It’s a mixed bag and doesn’t always land its comedic punches, but overall, Bong of the Living Dead isn’t a bad way to spend the evening.

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