Arrow Heads Vol. 70: THE DEAD CENTER (2019)

Arrow’s stacked Blu-ray champions Billy Senese’s clinical and creepy new indie horror flick starring director Shane Carruth

The Dead Center follows the staff and patients of Metro General Hospital as they come into contact with a mysterious catatonic John Doe (Jeremy Childs) who appears in the hospital’s psych ward without explanation. The floor’s detrimentally dedicated lead psychiatrist Dr. Forrester (Shane Carruth) is determined to help his new patient recover his memories and mental state — despite increasing pushback from his superiors and a steadily rising mortality rate among the floor’s denizens. Much to his horror, Forrester slowly realizes just what powers his new charge possesses as a medical examiner several floors below investigates the sudden disappearance of the hospital morgue’s latest arrival…

With only the mind-bending Primer and Upstream Color to his credit over the course of fifteen years, I was immediately intrigued by notoriously selective director Shane Carruth making an unexpected turn as a leading actor in an indie horror film. It’s an expectation that pays off in just as unexpected ways — Carruth’s commanding presence as an actor feels similar to his previous films, yet he doesn’t overwhelm Senese’s sensibilities as a writer-director. Senese has a strong control over the film’s unease-ridden atmosphere, infusing hospital hallways designed to be devoid of personality with a clinical dread and discomfort. It’s an approach that plays well against universal fears of mortality and the unknown — giving a visceral, horrifying weight to a normally mundane, emotionally-sterile environment.

Senese’s cold visuals also lend greater heft to The Dead Center’s delirious sound design — as if the controlled absence of one led to the spine-tingling heightening of the other. Composer Jordan Lehning, Mixers J.T. Dekker and Jeremy Mazza, and Sound Effects Designer Russell Mehringer create a soundscape of blended voices and eldritch echoes that easily get under the audience’s skin as The Dead Center lurches towards its creepy near-apocalyptic finale.

As much as the film provides a wealth of atmosphere, The Dead Center can be a film light on clarity and straightforward answers. While its ambiguity is one of the film’s strongest points, preferring the dread and darkness of the unknown, The Dead Center also fails to go too in-depth with some of its more salient story points. A major subplot comes to an anticlimactic conclusion, and its interesting exploration of doctor-patient consent and ethics feels almost retroactively justified in its non-condemnation as Dr. Forrester’s horrific experiences spread beyond hospital walls.

Despite its occasional faults, though, The Dead Center still remains a creepy, clinical piece of horror, rich in dread and featuring compelling performances from Carruth and Childs. It’s always welcome to see an established genre label like Arrow champion a new wave of current independent horror, ensuring that smaller films like these find the die-hard fans they certainly deserve.


Arrow presents The Dead Center in a 1080/60p HD Master. The film’s effective uses of light and shadow in dark, sterile hospital corridors are presented well in this transfer, as are The Dead Center’s spare moments of visual effects. The Dead Center is a deliberately color-drained film, yet the brief moments where colors play key visual elements pop accordingly–often in fleetingly gruesome fashion.


The Dead Center is presented in both 5.1 DTS-HD Master and 2.0 Lossless Stereo Audio tracks. English SDH subtitles are included for the main feature, but the special features go unsubtitled. As shown in-depth in the special features, The Dead Center features sound design that’s haunting and richly-textured, creating an unsettlingly immersive experience regardless of track selection.

Special Features:

  • 2 Audio Commentaries. One features writer-director Billy Senese with actor Jeremy Childs and producer-actor Shane Carruth. As a fan of Carruth’s efforts behind the camera, it’s interesting to hear him and Senese talk about Carruth’s experience being directed by someone else in a feature for the first time. The second commentary features Senese with cinematographer Andy Duensing and producers Denis Deck and Jonathan Rogers. This track is expectedly more tech-focused, and it’s entertaining listening to how Senese and crew pulled off some of the film’s more exceptional sequences on a very shoestring budget.
  • A Walk Through The Dead Center is a lengthy revisit of the film’s main locations by Senese and his cast and crew, intercut with footage of the film’s production and scoring process.
  • 9 Deleted and Alternate Scenes showcase short, one-off moments easily excised from the film, mostly featuring the day-to-day life of the psych ward’s patients and other creepy happenings to Dr. Forrester. An Alternate Ending is also included which provides a brief, but interesting change to the film’s coda.
  • Interviews with stars Shane Carruth and Poorna Jagannathan detail how the stars got involved with the project. Also included is a humorous “funny” version of Carruth’s interview where Carruth details how he accepted the lead role to spite his much more literate mother.
  • Head-Casting with Jeremy Childs features The Dead Center star in a time-lapse head casting for the film’s later makeup effects. Childs is a trooper here as he’s coated for hours in moulding and plaster to ensure a proper cast is made.
  • Intruder & The Suicide Tapes, two equally creepy short films by Senese starring Childs that provide an origin for The Dead Center’s subject matter.
  • Midnight Radio Theater: Six radio plays written and directed by Senese that provide some audio-only chills. Arrow thankfully presents these radio plays without imagery to prevent screen burn. Interestingly included here is a radio adaptation of Senese’s short The Suicide Tapes.
  • Theatrical Trailer and Teasers for The Dead Center.
  • Image Galleries of Production Stills, Behind-the-Scenes stills, and Poster Art.
  • Reversible Sleeve featuring new and original theatrical art.
  • Illustrated Collector’s Booklet features an essay by Total Film editor Jamie Graham. Not provided for review.

The Dead Center is now out in Theaters and on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Arrow Films.

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