As perhaps the most famous public-domain feature, George Romero’s original 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” has been excerpted innumerable times, not just in other horror movies but in everything from “Sid and Nancy” and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” to “That ’70s Show.” Adding itself to that long list, Douglas Schulze’s “Mimesis” finds a clever way to pay more elaborate homage by building suspense around strangers trapped in a meticulous, deadly re-creation of “Night.” Michigan-shot surefire fan fave should travel the genre fest circuit en route to solid home-format pickups.
After a prologue in which a farmer (“Children of the Corn’s” Courtney Gains) and his wife are slain by ghouls, the story proper begins at a fan convention to which horror geek Russell (Taylor Piedmonte) has dragged his girl-crazy pal, Duane (Allen Maldonato). They hear veteran director Alfonso Betz (Sid Haig) yammer about the alleged link between violence in movies and in real life, to Duane’s not-so-quiet derision. His attitude changes, however, when he and Russell are invited to an exclusive party that night by sexy goth chick Judith (Lauren Shafer).
Upon arriving at the remote farmhouse locale, they discover nearly all the other guests are standoffish and Halloween-masked. There’s nothing much to do but drink beer, which turns out to be spiked, as the two awaken the next morning in unfamiliar places, and in clothes not their own. Russ finds himself alongside blonde Karen (Jana Thompson) in a cemetery, where he is promptly bitten in the neck by an apparent zombie. Karen runs screaming back to the house, joining a similarly groggy, baffled Duane.
Signs of prior bloodshed, “Night of the Living Dead” clips on TV and lumbering zombies gathering in the yard hardly calm their nerves, or those of the other unnerved party guests found locked in the basement: a belligerent father (Gavin Grazer), his wife (Carol Ilku) and daughter (Bryana Dorfman), and Karen’s jockish friend Keith (David G.B. Brown). All bear general resemblances to characters trapped in “Night’s” near-identical house.
They soon realize that for whatever reason, their hosts are intent on re-creating that black-and-white blueprint’s gory events, which none of their role models survived. Soon they’re diverging from the script, however, killing a few not-so-dead “zombies” and eventually shaking loose some truths from semi-insider Judith.
All this ably holds attention, even if “Mimesis” tends to go a bit slack between crises, and some of the violence strains credulity. Schulze (of prior horror indies “Hellmaster,” “Dark Heaven” and “The Rain”) indulges the irksome, meaningless stylistic tic of briefly speeding up, then slowing down images; still, his otherwise straightforward approach can be applauded at the very least for eschewing any mock-doc pretense, despite a story that might’ve easily accommodated that overused conceit.
Nor does “Mimesis” cave in to excess genre in-joking, apart from one weak sequence that seems devised simply to feature original “Night” participant Bill Hinzman. Overall results are just sporadically scary, yet the plot’s twists and turns keep viewers hooked. Perfs are uneven but mostly decent, tech/design contributions solid.