There’s nothing quite like a helping of Mayan madness, especially when it involves blood sacrifices, hotel hijinx, a head being tossed around à la hot potato, heart swapping, zombified locals, surreal situations, macabre merriment, and a priest getting mixed up with the god of death, all of which are present in The Laughing Dead. Odd title considering the content, isn’t it? Well, if the dead keeping tourists on their toes is your idea of a good time, I can guarantee you’ll be enthralled. And boy, is there plenty to sink your teeth into, so much so that you will find yourself glued to the screen, what with creatures of all shapes and sizes rearing their ugly heads, a distorted sense of reality, and splatter up the wazoo. It is a smorgasbord of mayhem and as much nonsense as there is, you will find that the film is quite a ride, provided possessed policemen don’t take control of the tour bus. Now, wouldn’t that ruin the trip?
There is, as I mentioned, quite a bit of nonsense that takes place. I don’t know what else to call it, nor do I see it as detrimental. If anything, it enhances what is already an off-the-wall production, whether Ivan is swearing like a sailor or the hippie couple is engaging in banter. It’s character traits such as these that not only stand out but make for some amusing bits, and you can tell that the cast and crew were enjoying themselves. For a film of this ilk, that’s always a plus, and even if the performances range in quality, the time spent with the tourists doesn’t go to waste.
I like that there are moments in which reality is distorted, particularly during the scene in which the tourists and a group of zombies toss around a severed head only for it to turn into a basketball. It’s one of the few bits that happens out of nowhere, and so it has its charm; it has a sense of otherworldliness to it that, because it is so prominent, it illustrates how powerful the supernatural influence is. In that regard, there is a strong sense of danger; there are moments in which the control that Dr. Um-tzec has over Father O’Sullivan is so severe that he has no choice but to give in and abandon his faith even further.
At times, the score has an eerie sound to it, particularly during the atmospheric scenes. With that in mind, your mileage will vary in terms of how immersed you are, mainly due to the tonal changes. This is a blessing and a curse; however, I can see how having a constantly eerie tone would hurt the film given how bizarre it is, and on that note, there’s no denying that the score has variety. Even if the ethereal pieces stand out more than the contemplative ones, I’d be lying if I said that I’m not a fan of the score. In fact, I found it simple but effective, and I must say that I was all the more engaged as a result.
The Laughing Dead has a lot going on, more than you would expect, which for a genre film is very much a throw stuff at the wall and see-what-sticks approach. Does it always work? No, but the fact that the director didn’t limit himself can’t be denied.