Down Mexico way, it is largely believed the practices and culture of the Mayan civilisation have died out, but that may not be entirely true as there are rumours that human sacrifices continue in remote areas, such as those where this archaeological dig takes place. In the United States, there is a Father O'Sullivan (Tim Sullivan) who is planning one of his trips there for the benefit of tourists and more serious historians, but on the eve of his journey he is visited by a troubled young woman called Laurie (Premika Eaton) who confesses she has been beaten by her ailing father, and he tries to help her out by allowing her to stay over at his house. But the priest has a secret of his own that will come back to haunt him in Mexico...
The thing about movies that are made largely to amuse yourself and your friends is that they rarely translate effectively into entertainment for anyone else, even if your friends have attained a certain degree of celebrity. Horror and science fiction writer Somtow Sucharitkul, also known by his similar pen name S.P. Somtow, was a rising star in his field during the nineteen-eighties, notable because he was not American by a Thai author who started again in the United States and made a decent living at his chosen profession, so an interesting background that you might have expected him to channel into his film, which he wrote and starred in as well as directing, However, he chose to concentrate on a very individual reading of Mayan culture.
Fair enough, nobody says a writer, or even director, has to concentrate on his origins to craft a story, indeed a fresh eye regarding a foreign line in genre fiction can produce something genuinely intriguing, but here he settled on making what was more or less a stalk and slash flick with some eccentric trappings. It was obviously low budget, with the cash spent on the John Carl Beuchler makeup effects that spread out across the latter half rather than securing any actual stars to appear, as that aspect was left to the director's friends and relations who gamely showed up to speak their lines in enthusiastic but not exactly accomplished manner. Many of those performers were writers in the horror sphere, either as creators of fiction or critics or both.
If you're suspecting The Laughing Dead is one big in-joke for those participating, you would not be too far away from the truth, though that said Sucharitkul did appear to be at least attempting to craft a halfway serious shocker. The first half was a real slog to get through, as we were introduced to characters who were either colourless (such as the priest) or purposefully trying (such as the New Age couple obsessed with crystals), veering between the sincere in its exploration of faith to the absurd with what looked to be jokes, albeit both featuring those gore effects which rendered them much of a muchness when approached in exactly the same manner. If you were a fan of the rubbery, tactile, gungy effects work of the eighties before computer enhancement and indeed replacement dominated, there were diversions here.
Not that they looked remotely convincing, more of the "wouldn't it be cool if this happened?" variety, for example when a man had his arm torn off and thrust down his throat so you could see his still-grasping fingers moving beneath the flesh of his neck: that summed them up, illogical but ambitious. Nevertheless, too often they were required to depict characters having vital organs ripped out of their bodies, which was repetitive after a while, though this was probably the only horror flick to be so obsessed with basketball that the sport became a plot point. More than that, at the grand finale, after we had established how important it was in life and here, death (a man's head is removed and dunked into the net), an impromptu match broke out between the surviving heroes and their zombie adversaries, and (spoiler!) evil was vanquished by sending a large crystal through a hoop. Quite why anybody thought this was a good idea was a mystery - was it supposed to be funny? If so, what about all the serious material? The Laughing Dead was a mere curio.