Trivia Eoin Whelan was listed as Cathal Ceaunt in Connor McMahon’s short film The Braineater, a name very similar to Eoin’s character Cathal Cheunt in Dead Meat.
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Dead Meat (2004)
6th Nov 05
Mad cows and zombie men go out in the midday sun.
'For Horror Fans By Horror Fans' says the blurb on the back of Dead Meat, the first title to be launched by the new DVD label FrightFest Presents, and whilst this actually refers to the ethos of the new horror label, it could equally be applied to the film itself, a fan-made Irish horror with zombies and mad cows, all filmed in the style of Night of the Living Evil Brain Dead (on digital).
Made with the help of The Irish Film Board, the first time the IFB have invested in a horror, Dead Meat came about when Connor McMahon’s short film called The Braineater (also included on the disc) was seen by Horrorthon organiser Ed King. Bonding over their shared love of the undead, they decided to raise some money and make a low-budget zombie film with a lot of friends in their local neighbourhood of Leitrim.
Helena (Marian Araujo) and her husband are driving across the rolling hills of the Irish countryside when they accidentally run someone over. The couple quickly bundle the dead body into the car but unfortunately, the victim soon rears up and takes a chunk out of Helena’s husband’s neck. Panicking, Helena escapes from the car and runs towards a cottage, where she encounters and dispatches some more of the undead with the aid of nails, a kettle and a vacuum cleaner on the eyeball.
She leaves the cottage, soon bumps into a local not-dead farmer, and together they bash more zombies on their travels (with a stick, spade and high heels) until they meet an old man (a film-stealing turn from Eoin Whelan), his ‘Norman Bates’ wife, Francis and a young girl. As the sun sets, and with friendlies finally established, the five of them speed off in the jeep hoping that they will all be able to make it through the night.
It’s a lean plot, but at only 78 minutes it’s a fairly lean film, and for all it’s enjoyable riffs and takes on horror films and horror film directors, Dead Meat rarely outstays its welcome. Visually, although freely aping the low-budget works of Raimi, Romero and Jackson (can we refer to Pete just by his surname now?), Conor McMahon has been able to make the film look stylish, even though he confesses on the commentary that he was disappointed to have to use digital photography as part of the film’s funding deal.
The cast are able (or in terms of the undead unable) enough to do the job well enough, although apart from the gorgeous Marian Araujo, only Eoin Whelan stands out as the uptight, Victor Meldrew-muttering Cathal Cheunt. His rapid-fire Irish terrier spit-speak will have many reaching for the subtitles (shock! Oops - there aren’t any), but it’s a great show-stealing cameo in a film that really should have more characters like this. Eoin also has the best scene in the film with a crowd-cheering head chop of a zombie with his Hurley stick whilst driving past in the car. “Not too far now from Mrs Bunny’s place.”
Gore-wise the film tries it’s hardest to please, and it’s nice to note that a fair bit of thought and planning has gone into the ideas and effects on the film. Yes, there are lots of plain old simple head (Raimi) decapitations, eye (Fulci) gouging shots and screwdrivers in the (Romero) ears, but there are one or two originals like the afore-mentioned vacuum cleaner on the eyeball and cow death by Hurley ball.
With a strong tension-building opening, and a relieving comedy filled middle, it’s a shame that Dead Meat doesn’t quite hold up to the end. Sure, there’s an interesting cow stalk around the car that recalls Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and a nice idea of the zombies all sleeping standing up in a field. But after the stop-for-breather campsite scene, the film begins to feel a bit step-and-repeat, with a final zombie siege at an Abbey never really coming across as frightening as it was probably intended. Sure we get The Crazies references and all that, but really despite all it’s tricksy camera shots, the film has given us very few characters to invest in, and ultimately smatters out to its rather downbeat ending. Not so much a weak story, as a script hung on a dozen gore-shot ideas - a bare-bones plot that simply hasn’t been fleshed out enough.
Having said that, Dead Meat is a promising (and more importantly) entertaining debut from Connor McMahon, and let’s hope he can keep his double act with Eoin Whelan for his next film and who knows, together they could emerge as the new Irish Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. A mostly successful home-grown horror film for horror fans by horror fans.
Extras The film’s Commentary by Conor McMahon, prodcuer Edward King and co-producer Michael Griffin is entertaining, with one or two low-budget camera tricks given away such as the mirror-hole shot on the zombie (at 27.29) and other such behind-the-scenes nuggets.
Best extra though is probably Conor McMahon’s 10-minute short film The Braineater which went a long way to helping Dead Meat secure funding in the first place. Interestingly it also features the great Eoin Whelan and some kid Hurley players who are eaten in the woods by a feral maniac. As much fun as the feature itself, with lots of very similar shots and set pieces, The Braineater is like a cross between an early Raimi and Jackson short. Oh, and it also features brain-eating!! Yay – we love that here.
As well as the usual original trailer and handful of production photos, there is also a 19-minute ‘making of’ called Mad Cows and Zombies, with behind-the-scenes footage of the five-week shoot in Leitrim in Ireland. Worth seeing, if only for the ‘always good value’ Eoin Whelan and the little girl made-up as a zombie (complete with dog face-paint) who cheerily informs us that she and her friends are playing “zombies coming home from a party and we’ve got bitten.” Aah. Cute.
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