I’ll level with you. German humour tends to fly over my head. It’s broad and offbeat, and I understand how it appeals to some, but I’m reminded of the time my sweetheart Fräulein Flauschiges Häschen and I were walking with her brother, trying to decide how to spend our Saturday evening. “We don’t know where we’re going!” he exclaimed, so I said, “That’s just part of the human condition.” Blank stares surrounded me. My girlfriend then suggested we go bowling, to which he replied, “Why not, coconut?” and they both laughed, repeating the rhyme over and over on our way to the alley. I never told this to Fräulein Flauschiges Häschen, but our love died a little that day.
Anyway, Night of the Living Dorks, also known as Die Nacht der Lebenden Loser, can best be described as a cross between Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and Chud II: Bud the Chud (1989) or, if you don’t have any particular attachment to eighties exploitation cinema, between American Pie (1999) and Zombie Strippers (2008). It’s worth noting I don’t like any of the four flicks I just mentioned, so the casual charm of Mathias Dinter’s zom-com came as a bit of a surprise to me.
The film tells of three high school dweebs on whom befalls the zombie curse after a failed voodoo ritual. Actually, it may have been a satanic ceremony, as Dinter can’t seem to tell the difference and assumes, like a Fox News correspondent, that all non-white denominations lead to Armageddon. At any rate, you’ve got your Angry Dweeb (Thomas Schmieder), your Pervy Nerd (Manuel Cortez), and, of course, your Protagonist Dweeb (Tino Mewes), who could take the world by storm if only he believed in himself the way his Gorgeous Neighbour (Collien Fernandes) does. Why Pervy Dweeb, who’ll hit on anything with boobies, doesn’t come on to Gorgeous Neighbour is never explained.
Perhaps the production team worried we might root for him instead of Protagonist Dweeb, otherwise known as Philip, who strikes me as a bit of a pushover even by the standards of Roger Ebert’s idiot plot. Half the movie is dedicated to the device, in which the heroes could solve all their problems if they just talked to each other, except here the characters are presented as idiots and the story takes deliberately idiotic turns, so to call the plot idiotic would make me the idiot, not the idiot plot itself.
Just the same, I find it difficult to root for Philip, who fails to display any of the virtues his love interest sees in him and, in fact, spends an inordinate amount of time treating her like crap. As a result, I got much more invested in Wurst the Pervy Dweeb’s attempts at seducing Frau Niedermacher (Patricia Thielemann), a not-so-repressed humanities teacher who systematically violates every rule in her profession. The two are the funniest characters in the picture.
As you might expect, Night of the Living Dorks dishes out its share of gross-out humour, most of which falls a bit flat, owing to genre conceits. Simply put, people going to see a comedy named after the horror classic that pioneered midnight screenings in America aren’t likely to find exploding limbs and unhinged organs all that impressive. That the latter turn out to be testicles instead of the usual finger or eyeball may shock some viewers, I suppose, but the taboo pertains to sex and nudity, not gore. I don’t know. To me, rubber dead flesh is rubber dead flesh is rubber dead flesh.
The slapstick tends to falter as well because the movie keeps telegraphing its punch lines, such as when it cuts half a dozen times to characters goofing around with a precious item before the inevitable drop. Of course, it doesn’t help the gags feel tired to begin with. I’ll give you three guesses what happens when a plate of human purée is left in the microwave at a party or when Frau Niedermacher shows up with a bottle shaped and coloured exactly the same as the one containing a magic elixir.
What does work, however, is the absurdly understated way characters, in particular Wurst, react to the zaniness surrounding them. Consider the early scene in which three goth kids try their hand at sorcery. A Hollywood farce would’ve ramped up the melodrama, parodying the earnest theatricality of early horror cinema, but here the teenagers show nothing but deadpan apathy as they improvise missing ingredients and constantly undercut one another, sort of like Kevin Smith characters uttering goofy German puns (or generic pop culture references in English) instead of cuss words.
By all accounts, I shouldn’t like Night of the Living Dorks, which ventures well outside my usual range in spite of its adorable title. Still, I find it difficult to resist the film’s shameless enthusiasm and unassuming quirkiness. Once again I’m reminded of Fräulein Flauschiges Häschen, who charmed me many moons ago by knowing exactly who she was and making no apologies for it.