What combination of things makes even less sense than a tornado made of sharks? How about a post-apocalyptic zombie Western made by and starring boy bands? Sheer absurd randomness (and its attendant clickbait) seems to be the well from which Syfy’s Dead 7 was sprung, the latest original movie from the network that has brought us such single-serving classics as Sharknado, Dinocroc vs. Supergator and Titanic II. Like many that have come before it, this genre mash-up walks the crooked line between knowing how bad it is and taking itself just a tad too seriously.
With a cast made up of members of late-Nineties locker pinup groups including the Backstreet Boys, ‘ ‘NSync, 98 Degrees and O-Town, you’d think there would be a sick dance-off in there somewhere, or at least a little falsetto crooning. Nope! Instead, we’re subjected to two hours of Nick Carter, Joey Fatone, AJ McLean & co. “acting” and “doing action scenes,” neither of which any of them have any skill at. Backstreet’s not quite back, all right?
As written by Carter (!) and Sawyer Perry, whose combined past screenwriting credits include — well, nothing — Dead 7 is a Frankensteined-together collection of diluted tropes that recall everything from The Magnificent Seven to The Walking Dead to Inglourious Basterds, only terrible. We took the liberty of plucking out the most groan-inducing morsels from the whole bloody mess. And yeah, that blood looks real fake.
1. Too Much Exposition, but Also Way Too Little
“After the epidemic, the world fell while the dead rose,” Carter narrates in the opening moments. He continues to tell us the necessary details over a series of weirdly color-saturated footage of shambling zombies and desert desolation, all of which are meant to explain why, in the wake of an undead plague, everyone decided it was a good idea to start acting like 19th-century cowboys with motorcycles. Oh, and we call the zombies “copperheads.” Got it? We’d almost buy the concept, if not for…
2. Apocolypta, the Worst Super Villain Ever?
So there was an epidemic, right? But then there’s this creepy witch lady who lives in a giant Virgin Mary–looking statue on top of a mountain that is also somehow responsible for making the copperheads? In this role, MADtv alum Debra Wilson doesn’t so much chew the scenery as devour it, spit it back out, scream at it and then devour it again. Slathered in quasi-tribal makeup, she roars incoherently at her minions in what may or may not be a Jamaican accent. Who can say? Her hobbies include randomly cutting the fingers off her own henchmen and licking blood off the decaying faces of zombies (yuck).
3. A.J. McLean Sics the Shambling Hordes on Harper’s Junction
Vying with Wilson for the title of loudest person in this movie is A.J. “The Backstreet Boy With the Beard” McLean as Johnny Vermillion, Apocolypta’s right-hand stooge — who, with his freaky face paint and Joker-esque cackle, is like a Juggalo who’s never come down from his Faygo high. He leads a herd of copperheads into Harper’s Junction, one of the two towns that exist, and unleashes them on the dozen or so extras the production budget allowed for. The gore is as gratuitous as it is repetitive; we’re pretty sure they used the exact same CGI effect for every zombie head that explodes in a hail of bullets. Fortunately, Jeff “The 98 Degrees Guy With the Biceps” Timmons is there to save the day by looking sexy and riding his motorcycle over absurdly short distances.
4. The Mayor vs. Johnny Vermillion
Billy (Timmons) and his girlfriend, Daisy Jane (Carrie Keagan) capture Johnny — who will simply not stop cackling — and bring him to the other town, Desert Springs. Johnny is put under the inept charge of Mayor Shelby, played with middle-school levels of acting chops by Chris “The NYSNC Dude with the Dreads” Kirkpatrick. He’s only got one eye, ’cause Apocolypta done poked it out with her thumb. Which leads to this amazing line: “She took my eye, but she’s got your balls.” This guy sucks so much at his job that Johnny fully steals his wallet while he’s behind bars. Oh and by the way, that prison is made of cardboard.
5. The Poor Orphan Boy With the Backstory
Johnny escapes his unguarded cardboard cell super duper easily, and makes it his mission to have a really long conversation with a child playing trucks on some stairs. We find out a lot about this kid: He’s the sheriff’s foster child, he’s an orphan, and he’s really gullible. Alas, poor Georgie: Johnny takes out a syringe, which apparently can turn you into a zombie? Listen, there’s a bunch of random ways to turn into a zombie in Boybandland. “I gotta check on my foster kid, Georgie,” the sheriff announces, like, two days later. Maybe check on him more often?
6. Meet the Archetypes
The mayor tells the sheriff to go recruit a bunch of idiots to climb to the top of Lady Statue Murder Mountain and take down Apocolypta once and for all, leading to — you guessed it — a recruitment montage! First up is Whiskey Joe, whose only character trait is that he drinks whiskey. He’s played by ‘NSync’s Joey Fatone, who, to his credit, is the only person in Dead 7 who can kind of act a little tiny bit. He calls in the Vaquero (Backstreet’s Howie Dorough), who is the sharpshooter one. He calls in Komodo (O-Town’s Erik-Michael Estrada), who’s a, er, ninja and manages to be both an offensive Asian stereotype and not at all Asian. And they in turn link up with…
7. The Never-Explained Love Triangle Gang
Billy and Daisy Jane are so in love, you guys. They’re so in love that they hug and make out while killing zombies. But Billy’s got this brother, see? His name is Jack, like all badasses, and he’s off dealing with his screwed-up past somewhere. And this is where Nick Carter has been this whole time. Apparently Daisy Jane’s got a past with Jack and Billy is pissed at him, all because … something? Apparently, all we require from our brooding antiheroes these days is that they look broody — no backstory needed. “Don’t make the same mistake I did. I screwed up. I screwed up a lot. But I ain’t makin’ the same mistake twice,” Jack tells Billy after he inevitably shows up. Yes. That mistake we all know about.
8. The Costume Designer Got Really Confused
But judging by their outfits, Jack and Billy are from totally different worlds — literally. Jack and Whiskey Joe are in full old-timey cowboy garb, and Billy looks like he just stepped out of a Walmart. Daisy Jane has some kind of Resident Evil thing going on, Komodo has a samurai outfit but also sneakers, and Apocolypta looks like a background player from Mad Max. And don’t even get us started on the saloon prostitutes who wear straight-up corsets. The one thing everyone has in common, however: random leather accessories everywhere. Dead 7 hardly needs a soundtrack, because the background music is just the sound of crinkling cowhide.
8. The Currency Is … Teeth?
Seriously. In the future, we still have trucks, fuel, gold, electricity and plenty of bullets. But even with all this stuff, the brilliant world-building team behind this movie decided that the most sensible form of payment is teeth. Ostensibly it’s supposed to show what a copperhead-killing badass you are, but considering the zombies mostly die by having their heads exploded, that doesn’t leave much room for dental work. “That’s 50 teeth. Up front,” a shop owner tells Daisy Jane. We have so many questions. So many.
9. Sirene the Offensive Warrior Priestess
One of the perks of being a terrible-movie-writing Backstreet Boy is that you get to cast your wife in your terrible movie. Enter Lauren Kitt Carter, Nick’s main squeeze, to play Sirene, a “warrior priestess” who randomly decides to come to the aid of our heroes. And man, she is just the worst. Kitt Carter’s acting as wooden as a board, and she’s decked out in an absurd get-up that’s somewhere between Dothraki and actual Native American — naturally, she’s super white. She’s supposed to have some kind of mystical bond with the land, which translates into her staring blankly into the middle distance while Jack makes googly eyes at her.
10. Mayhem in a Brothel
At some point on the way to Lady Statue Murder Mountain, our trusty gang splits up. The Hot Ones go on a hike, and the Comic Relief Ones wind up a whorehouse in the middle of a wasteland that might as well have “THIS IS A TRAP” written on it in neon. “I smell it. It’s a brothel,” Whiskey Joe grossly announces. And then we’re treated to many, many shots of the Vaquero ogling scantily clad, dead-eyed women before he is inevitably eaten by a zombie in the basement because, again, this is so obviously a trap. Later, bro.
11. The Non-Climactic Climax
“Let’s get to the top of this mountain and do away with this psycho witch,” Billy growls. But boy, do they take their sweet time. After about a million scenes of the Love Triangle Gang waffling around in the wilderness, they arrive at the summit of Lady Statue Murder Mountain, where absolutely nothing happens. Who knows where Apocolypta even went at this point. Then they go down into some mines, where Billy gets kidnapped and — twist! — Daisy Jane gets murdered before she can pick her favorite side of the love triangle. Dang. We’d totally had her pegged as the final girl.
12. Everybody Dies and It’s Gross
Turns out the title is pretty literal; by the end of the movie, pretty much everyone has bitten the bullet in the yuckiest way possible. Our heroes finally square off with the bad guys and their copperhead army in Desert Springs, where those still standing meet grisly ends. Among the lowlights: Komodo makes out with his favorite prostitute while she’s dying from a zombie wound, and gets his own face partially bit off for the trouble. Whiskey Joe turns, and, intestines hanging out, blows himself up. Jack kills Apocolypta in a slappy knife fight, then gets bitten by an undead toddler and offs himself. The last idiot standing: Sirene. Ugh. Cue “In the End,” the song that the boys recorded for this movie as a sort of ragtag super group, playing over Jack’s dead body about to be eaten by vultures. So fun!