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Within / The Dead and the Damned



In “Within,” the premise is that grade-school girl Rachel (Mia Ford, a veteran of TV’s “Barney”) sees dead people — or, rather, the evil spirits that lurk in the heart of man. Moving to a new city with her dad (Sam Jaegar, “Lucky Number Slevin”) following the senseless murder of her mother (Elaine Hendrix, TV’s “90210”), Rachel is having trouble adjusting to a new school.

Then she makes friends with exactly one girl, Michelle (Sammi Hanratty, “A Christmas Carol”), who is one spoiled brat, hateful to everybody around her: kids, parents, even Rachel. Michelle says things like, “Apartments are for poor people.” She also delights in minor crimes and causing bodily harm to others. As Rachel says, "She has a bad person inside of her."

The feature debut of director Hanelle Culpepper, it’s like “The Bad Seed,” but with children in both lead roles. It might work if Ford and Hanratty were on the top tier of child performers, à la Chloe Moretz and Elle Fanning. They’re just a little too wooden to get the viewer invested; combined with a lumbering script and sleepy pacing, they make for an uninspired time.

Worse is “Dead & The Damned.” I suppose the producers got wind of this summer’s upcoming “Cowboys & Aliens” and thought, “Why not do ‘Cowboys & Zombies’?” That’s exactly what they’ve done, yet it doesn’t work at all. It would — and has — in the medium of comic books, but is poorly executed with amateur talent in writer/director Rene Perez’s debut.

In 1849 California, the meteor from the second segment of “Creepshow” lands in an Old West town, glows green, breaks open and turns the resident coots into zombies that kinda just look like really hungry Juggalos. Fighting them are a bounty hunter (David Lockhart, who apparently is doing an impression of Luke Perry, circa 1991), a whore he uses as bait (Camille Montgomery) and an Indian he reluctantly befriends (Rick Mora, “Twilight”).

Our bounty hunter growls action-hero lines like "Spirit world, my ass!,” while our Indian says things that sound like one-liners, but aren’t meant as such: "This is bad medicine!" For his part, Perez finds an excuse to get three women to strip off their corsets, and with such low production values, it feels icky, voyeuristic and utterly gratuitous, which it is.

Ironically, the part that should be the movie’s best — the zombie attacks — are miserably tiresome. Perez’s work is proof that bargain-basement zombie flicks, which are dime-a-dozen these days, shouldn’t be made, pardner. You’re “Damned” if you give 85 minutes of your life to this one. —Rod Lott

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