[Review] One Cut of the Dead – A Celebration of Genre Films, Those Who Make Them and Those Who Love Them

There are a lot of words used to describe horror movies: Scary, thrilling, terrifying, gruesome and gory just to name a few. But when was the last time you described a horror movie as “joyous?” Watching One Cut of the Dead is a joyous experience, one that will make you hit play as soon as the final credits are over so you can watch it again.

Written, directed, and edited by Shinichiro Ueda, starts out as a zombie movie, and a pretty bad zombie movie at that. The actors look confused, the props and effects look cheap and the whole thing is shot in a shaky handheld camera style that makes The Blair Witch Project look like it was filmed on a movie set with a steady cam. It’s a bad movie, albeit oddly compelling to watch. You mind switches back and forth from what will happen next to how did this get released in the first place. After about half an hour, even the most forgiving of genre fans will be tempted to switch it off and chalk it up as just another low budget failure.

But don’t stop it. You won’t know it until the end, but the first 37 minutes of One Cut of the Dead are setting you up for an entirely different movie, one that not only delightfully answers all the questions building up in your brain during the first third, but that treats you to an insiders look at how this, and just about every horror movie you can think of, got made.

As for details about what happens in One Cut of the Dead, the best we can offer is a reprint of the official synopsis:

While shooting a low-budget zombie film in an abandoned warehouse, the crew finds themselves caught between actual zombies and a mad director who won’t stop rolling. If you think you know what happens next, think again. Filmmaker Shinichiro Ueda turns the film on its head more than once for one of the wildest, funniest, and most surprising zombie movies of all time.

The cast of One Cut of the Dead does a fabulous job giving us several seemingly disparate characters who eventually all fit snugly together into one complete picture. Takayuki Hamatsu is particularly delightful as Director Higurashi, the ‘average’ man put in charge of creating the flagship live television show for a new zombie television network. Harumi Shuhama is also good as the director’s wife, a woman so bored with domestic life that she tries and abandons hobbies the way most other people change socks. In fact, the entire cast of One Cut of the Dead are spectacular and the best part is that while you may come to love — or hate — one of the characters in those first 37 minutes, the rest of the film will give you plenty of chances to reassess your opinions of those characters.

And that’s another great reason to push play at the end of the movie — and only at the very end after all the credits are over — the screen goes completely black. There’s something magical — and, yes, joyous — about the way One Cut of the Dead celebrates the passion of the people who make films that underscores the passion of the people who watch them. For genre fans, it’s like suddenly waking up in a world where you no longer have to defend your love of all things horror.

And so you can go back and watch those first 37 minutes with new eyes and fresh insights as you head fills with questions, not about what happens next (because you know not only what, but how and why) but about why there aren’t more movies as good as One Cut of the Dead being made and released today.

  • John Black, One Cut of the Dead
John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.