Politics

We Watched Tudor Dixon’s Horror Movie So You Don’t Have To

Here’s everything you need to know about Buddy BeBop vs. the Living Dead, a 2009 horror movie that features Michigan’s Republican candidate for governor.

A photo illustration of the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, Tudor Dixon, in front of a mass of green zombies.
Spoooooky! Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Dieu-Nalio Chery/Reuters and Getty Images Plus.

If you didn’t know who Tudor Dixon was before August, few would blame you. A former steel factory executive and right-wing cable news host, Dixon was a little-known candidate in a crowded field for Michigan’s Republican primary race for governor when she announced her bid in May 2021.

But after several of her competitors were disqualified (for including fake signatures on nominating petitions, mostly) and after she secured some coveted endorsements (including Donald Trump’s), Dixon surged ahead to win the primary, setting her up to go head-to-head with incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. The race between the two is expected to be close.

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A breast cancer survivor who has said vaccination should be a “personal choice,” Dixon has said her choice to run was motivated by her anger at Whitmer’s strict COVID shutdown policies. She has run on firmly right-wing stances on issues such as abortion (she’s against it), education about gender identity in schools (she’s called it “indoctrination”), and the 2020 presidential election (she’s challenged the results).

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But long before her foray into conservative politics, Dixon was briefly an actress. Between 2008 and 2012, Dixon acted in several low-budget horror productions made in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Much of it has now been scrubbed from the Internet (or was never available online in the first place), but the easiest one to find in full is the gloriously raunchy, deeply unserious teen-sex-horror-comedy-zombie film, Buddy BeBop vs. the Living Dead.

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What exactly this movie is about is unclear, even after two full watches. The film—released in 2009 and available on Roku and Amazon Prime Video (where I watched it)—takes place in a 1950s Americana town populated solely by greasers and teenage girls in poodle skirts. It opens typically enough for a horror movie—with two teens hooking up in a car. But things quickly take a turn for the bizarre when the couple is attacked by a group of zombies immediately after the greaser gets a blow job. (“If I was a smoking man, now would be the time” will forever be that teenage boy’s last words.) What follows is essentially a Marilyn Manson fan cam, with slow panning black-and-white shots of zombies in heavily rimmed eyeliner shoving guts into their mouths as heavy metal blares in the background.

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For a horror movie, it’s not that scary, and for a comedy, it’s not very funny. And for some reason, the whole thing is shot in black and white. That might have come across as a nod to the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead were it not for the bizarre choice to colorize random objects like a main character’s bright red shirt, the ketchup-and-mustard paint scheme of a roller skating rink, and the garish yellow car the teens are canoodling in at the beginning of the film.

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Cue the intro credits, and we smash cut to Buddy BeBop, an uncool high schooler with dreams of becoming a rock ’n’ roll musician. When we first meet him, Buddy is getting ready for a musical performance at the town roller rink. But when the zombies descend upon the town, the roller rink quickly turns into a battleground, forcing Buddy and the teeny boppers to fight for their lives.

It’s in a field outside this roller rink where Dixon’s character has her brief but dramatic moment in the spotlight. Clad in a sweater vest and Mary Janes, Dixon’s character has no lines and only appears for a few seconds before she is tackled to the ground and brutally devoured by two zombies. The camera pushes in on her screaming face as blood pours around her eyes and down her ankle, putting a swift end to the now-gubernatorial-candidate’s sole appearance in the film. (In the credits, her character is referred to only as “Tag Teamed Bopper.”)

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Elvis shows up in the film’s final act, sent by the vice president of the United States to protect Buddy’s town. Elvis has apparently brought with him some kind of cure for zombie-fication — except he only has one dose. How was Elvis supposed to save an entire town from being eaten alive with one dose of zombie cure? That is not clear. He also fails miserably at it.

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Questions abound after the final credits roll. Why did they colorize the blood on one victim’s face, but not any blood on the zombies? Why do only some characters have deep Southern accents? Why did the vice president entrust Elvis to save a town from zombies? Like the Loch Ness monster or the Easter Island statues, these are just life’s unanswered mysteries.

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​​”Is it a good movie? We know the answer to that. No, it’s not,” said Chad Ream, a producer of Buddy BeBop, in an interview with the Detroit News in May. “Does it have some funny parts? It depends how you find humor.”

That wasn’t the end of Dixon’s acting career, by the way. Her most substantial role was in a web series called Transitions, an online vampire TV show released in 2010 with some very 2000s-era flat-ironed hair and eyeliner. Dixon played a vampire named Claire who is, amazingly, British. Little evidence remains for us to assess her accent, however, since the show’s creators took almost every episode down from YouTube in early May. Now all that’s left exists in clips and screengrabs—Dixon whirling a sword, buttoning up her shirt, applying dark lipstick suggestively in a mirror, and shouting “Do I have your attention now?” in what kind of sounds like a British accent.

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Dixon’s past life as a low-budget actress went largely unnoticed by voters until May. But as her campaign started to pick up steam, clips of her appearances on Transitions took off on Twitter and were weaponized by her opponents almost immediately. “Vampire porn actress,” one pundit called her. “They were almost as scary as her dangerous agenda,” the Michigan Democratic Party declared of her movies in an attack ad against her. Critics called her hypocritical for promoting family values and a hardline stance against “sexually explicit” education—she has said she would criminalize adults who allow minors to see drag shows and that schools should not “normalize” discussions about gender identity or sexuality—when she had clearly participated in projects that were both violent and sexually suggestive. (Buddy BeBop, while not exactly explicit, does have a lot of horny teenagers getting it on in weird ways. At one point, two teens literally foam at the mouth doing it doggy style while shouting “Put it in my butt!” in the bathroom of a roller rink.) And Buddy BeBop’s zombies are deliberately over-the-top gruesome, biting into a pregnant woman’s belly, tearing into teenagers’ entrails at the roller rink, licking blood off linoleum floors, and—my personal favorite—biting a pervy middle-aged man’s dick off.

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Her 2008 film LexiBaby—about which the Kalamazoo Gazette said, “There is a good movie somewhere” in it, adding that scenes with cocaine were distracting because they were “too obviously grains of sugar”—also prompted accusations of hypocrisy. Dixon plays a character named Emma, described on the film’s website as “attractive” and someone who “comes off as a nice person,” but who is apparently also “self-centered,” with destructive behavior. In the only clips left online, which are from the trailer, the viewer sees shots of Dixon’s character watching as her boyfriend does lines of cocaine before she straddles him and lifts her shirt.

Dixon has said she has never seen Buddy BeBop and never seriously considered acting as a career. She’s also rejected suggestions that her old film projects undermine her public platforms, telling Michigan news outlets that her work was made for adults and was different from something children could access—though clips of her work are still easily accessible online, and Buddy BeBop is still available to anyone with internet and $5 to spare.

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A random stint in low-budget B-movies is unlikely to derail Dixon’s run. But the revelation of her acting past is just another reflection of how strange Michigan’s gubernatorial race has become and how poisonous primary election campaigns can get—as well as a reminder that several political hopefuls this election cycle have had career stints as performers, including on daytime TV.

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It remains to be seen whether Buddy BeBop and his horny zombies will feature in future campaigns against Dixon, or whether all this will just become a footnote in the story of yet another messy, petty political campaign for a battleground state in the post-Trump years.

Still, not everyone knows Dixon as a politician. When I reached out to Jon Petro, one of the producers on LexiBaby, in early August, he was unaware Dixon was running for governor and was confused as to why a reporter would be calling about her.

“Oh yeah, that’s right, how’s she doing?” Petro said, once I explained. “I just saw a sign about that.”

This was nine days after she had won the Republican primary. I told him this.

“Holy—wow,” Petro said, pausing. “I had no idea she had gotten that far.”

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