Arriving on the heels of America’s torture-porn wave, “Deadgirl” takes a disturbing adolescent male fantasy and glosses it up just enough to pass for a legitimate horror movie. The plot, which concerns two friends who discover a naked woman tied up in an abandoned mental hospital and decide to make her their personal sex object, is extreme enough that few distribs would dream of touching it. Still, pic the skirts the edge without going over, and judging from the raucous reception during its Midnight Madness preem at Toronto, twisted auds clearly do exist for such blatantly “wrong” material.

The titular corpse more accurately qualifies as a “living deadgirl,” with the pic joining the recent trend of zombie movies that never identify themselves as such. Instead, tyro horror helmers Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel focus on the script’s more “River’s Edge”-like aspects.

Both J.T. (Noah Segan) and Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) can relate to rejection, which explains not only why they’d be lurking around a shuttered nuthouse but also why they’d be inclined to find their own depraved use for a Playmate-quality zombie chick.

The best scenes are the early ones, as the directors maximize their location choice for some ominous haunted-house antics. Shooting on a Viper FilmStream camera at Linda Vista Hospital in East Los Angeles, the helmers capture every glint and shadow as they track the teens through creepy underground passages, matching the action with nerve-jangling sound design. Not since “Session 9” has an abandoned asylum been used to such unsettling effect.

But things take a nasty turn once the deadgirl shows up, with screenwriter Trent Haaga injecting tasteless humor (after the boys exhaust the zombie girl’s every orifice, they move on to her bullet wounds) into an already absurd situation. Sarmiento and Harel may hide behind the defense that this tongue-in-cheek dark comedy serves as an allegory for adolescent insecurity, but rape is one of those subjects few people find funny, regardless of whether the victim happens to be alive, dead or undead.

The two leads show promise, with Fernandez sporting the pinch-faced sneer of a young Joaquin Phoenix. Jenny Spain’s a good sport as the deadgirl, flashing her grease-smeared breasts and blackened gums on command (a cult starlet in the making, even if she never works again). Digital footage looks better than the material deserves.


  • Production: A Hollywoodmade production, in association with Sartistic. (International sales: the Collective, Los Angeles.) Produced by Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel. Executive producers, Chris Webster, Rob Hickman. Co-producer, Cynthia Graner. Directed by Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel. Screenplay, Trent Haaga.
  • Crew: Camera (widescreen, HD), Harris Charalambous; editor, Phillip Blackford; music supervisor, Kim Randall; production designer, Diana Zeng; costume designer, Lynh Haaga; sound (Dolby), Will Hansen; sound designer, Blackford; special makeup effects, Jim Ojala; assistant director, Paul Bogh. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 7, 2008. Running time: 101 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Candice Accola, Eric Podnar, Jenny Spain, Andrew DiPalma, Nolan Gerard Funk.
  • Music By: