Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Calling Chris Seaver's 2001 shot-on-video production MULVA: ZOMBIE ASS KICKER! a horror-comedy would be a gross misinterpretation of the term since it operates in its own demented mindframe, a movie so gleefully and relentlessly stupid it borders on the surreal. How stupid is the level of humor, you ask? Well, it makes AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE look like a Shakespearean comedy of errors. (That's a compliment. I think.)

Missy Donatuti stars as the titular Mulva, a fugly, chocolate-addicted uber-geek who's anxious to go trick-or-treating, despite being haunted by a past Halloween trauma (the flashback to Mulva's "trauma" is one of the film's delirious highlights, recalling something out of a KIDS IN THE HALL-induced fever dream). Along with her "morbidly obese" galpal Cassie, played by Callie the Hut (sic), the intentionally-grating Mulva hits the streets of Tromaville (although Lloyd Kaufman makes a quick, and asinine, cameo as the mayor, this has no direct relation to Troma Films) for a big ol' candy haul, unaware that zombies are running rampant through town; perhaps they missed Naked Cowboy's Greek chorus-like warning before they headed out. Not to worry, though, since they've got Bonejack--a crossbreed between Bill Cosby and Don King--to help (played by Seaver in surprisingly non-offensive blackface, though anyone sensitive to his make-up will have bailed long before he makes his appearance, if they bother at all).

Clocking in at just under an hour, MULVA packs more homages and pop-culture references than two full-length flicks (everything from Benny Hill to THE GOONIES, Lucio Fulci to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 gets a nod), and the abundant, exaggerated gore is enough to spin the Black Knight's head. And while the humor is decidedly of the non-sophisticated variety, it's still a far cry better than the DATE/EPIC/SHITTY MOVIE parodies that've polluted multiplexes of late. What makes me curious is how much of the intentional stupidity is a result of the limitations imposed by DIY filmmaking--"with our microscopic budget, there's no way it can be good, so let's make it really, really dumb!"-- and how much is artistic intent (yes, I used the word artistic, and I'm standing by that). Equally mind-boggling is the number of strong performances Seaver managed to wrangle, especially from Troma stalwarts Debbie Rochon and Trent Haaga, who not only steal their scene but take it to a dark alleyway and do unspeakable things to it.

Make no mistake, this is some fucking stupid, stupid shit, but with the right frame of mind (and perhaps the proper chemical enhancement) MULVA: ZOMBIE ASS KICKER! is easy to enjoy.


It's another short zombie film from Ireland, 2004's STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT from writer/director James Cotter, but this time around it's for laughs as Cotter sends up the many cliches that have plagued both zombie films and low-budget horror/sci-fi cinema in general. And despite overstaying its welcome just a little, the film's amusing enough to make it worth ten minutes of your time.

After a brief "disclaimer," we follow the misadventures of a young security guard at a top-secret laboratory as the facilities are overrun with the living dead. Broken into bite-size chunks by FRASER-esque chapter cards, STRANGERS covers all the bases including the old duffer looking forward to his retirement just before buying the farm, the gun-wielding action babe, the third act "twist," and an uplifting happy ending. Cotter throws in a lot of humorous details (such as the many helpful uses of a severed arm) and the gags flow freely without coming off as forced; some jokes work better than others, and there is one bit spoofing gratuitous product placement that chafes almost as much as the real thing, but by and large the movie's quite funny and avoids the crotch-centric frat humor that mars so many amateur comedies. My only real gripe is that at one point Cotter plays his zombies for laughs (which even a horror-comedy should never, ever do) but it's a throwaway gag and doesn't detract much from the overall picture.

Sort of a CLERKS by way of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT is a love letter to B-grade films and should get a chuckle or two out of zombie fans.


I can't extend much criticism to a movie called FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, since I once contemplated writing a screenplay with the exact same title. I will say, though, that the film's subtitle (OUTBREAK ON A PLANE) is just plain ridiculous. This 2007 production from director Scott Thomas makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's a generic B zombie picture, trading on the success of other B pictures, and going in with the right frame of mind will make watching it a lot more bearable.

Even the premise itself is straight out of Hack Sci-Fi/Horror 101; a group of scientists (including Dale Midkiff, who hasn't learned much about acting since PET SEMATARY) on the lam from the CIA are on a flight from L.A. to Paris, along with a cadaver infected with their genetically-modified virus--a modified strain of malaria that somehow resurrects the dead; I don't buy it, either, but the zombies have to come from somewhere, people. After introducing the passengers--which include a Tiger Woods-ish pro golfer, a soon-to-be extradited convict (LORD OF ILLUSION's Kevin J. O'Connor), and a handful of cookie-cutter obnoxious teens--the cadaver awakens and escapes, turning its victims into bright-eyed, screeching zombies.

None of this is to be taken seriously, and director Thomas never asks us to. FLIGHT's primary concern is braindead fun, as the zombie outbreak gradually spreads and those that aren't transformed are devoured in frenzied bursts of CGI-rendered gore. (The film's reliance of computer-generated effects tempers much its excitement, giving them an artificial and bland quality that takes viewers out of the moment.) After a rather slow first half the action picks up and glides along at a rapid clip, moving us from one splattery sequences to the next without giving us a chance to think about just how stupid it all is (if you're the type of person who nitpicks when it comes to scientific accuracy in movies, this movie will frustrate you immensely). The ride would've been a lot more fun if I'd given a rat's ass about anyone in the cast (characters here are based more on looks than personality, though Derek Webster as the golf phenom does get a chance to stand out), but I'll admit I enjoyed the zombie action, especially its climax as the hull is damaged and the ravenous undead are sucked into the stratosphere. I also liked the movie's final scene, which is no great shakes in the originality department, but is nicely done and ends on the right doom-inducing note.

FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's philosophy is that of most straight-to-disc releases, give 'em what they want and screw the rest. A fun way to kill a slow evening without investing any brain cells, but I doubt I'll be giving this one a second look.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Ed Wood collides head-on with the History Channel in 1982's CURSE OF THE CANNIBAL CONFEDERATES, a not-very-good regional production from director Tony Malanowski which Troma picked up for distribution (and who presumably also slapped on the kick-me sign of a title; the end credits say CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD, though Troma's moniker is a tad more accurate). And while nobody goes into a movie like this expecting RICHARD III, CURSE falls far below even the lowest of expectations, frustrating and annoying more often than it entertains.

An RV filled with zombie fodder--er, I mean people--travels through the Maryland countryside for either sightseeing or a hunting trip (their itinerary seems to shift from scene to scene). The characters include a trio of skeevy biker-looking guys (yet who whine as much as the cast of MY SWEET 16), a blind girl who's remarkably adept at finding her way through unfamiliar woods, the blind girl's bitchy sister, and an annoying "feminist." (Quotes added because I don't think Malanowski ever really met one, and is going strictly on hearsay.) In other words, six people we'll want to see dead roughly by the fifteen-minute mark. When one of them finds a Civil War chest in the crumbling ruins of a church, they steal the diary of a Confederate general found inside and jump-start the zombie vengeance.

Griping over acting and screenplay deficiencies are rather pointless in a film like this, so I'll let them slide (CURSE does manage some admirably bleak atmosphere in the starkly-photographed ruins of the church, though this is probably due to the setting rather than any skill on the crew's part). Too bad Malanowski also bungles his zombie scenes as well, shooting them in what feels like slow motion (the zombie scenes were obviously shot separately from those of the human characters, giving them a disconnected feeling that terminates any tension that may have happened). A shot to the head is the standard form of zombie-killing here, too, but instead of a meaty burst of brains and skull the zombies' heads explode in a mass of smoke and sparks that'll have bad-movie buffs rolling. The final twenty minutes has some surprisingly graphic gore, mostly the entrail-spilling variety, though poor craftsmanship mars these scenes as well (like a guy's shirt staying closed as he's disemboweled, the zombies tugging intestines from in between the buttons).

Fans of grade-Z cinema might get a chuckle of two out of CURSE--though be forewarned, this movie moves along at MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE speed--but at least the third act rewards the more patient, indiscriminate viewer. If low-grade Civil War gore is what you crave, you'd be better off with 2000 MANIACS again.


If you're familiar at all with the cinematic output of crapmeister Jerry Warren, then I don't need to tell you just how wretched TEENAGE ZOMBIES is, a 71-minute bowel movement Warren pinched off in 1957 (and if you're not familiar, check out Warren's THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN, which is just as boring and moronic, but at least has a smidgeon of camp value to it).

Four teens, led by THE GIANT GILA MONSTER's Don Sullivan, on a waterskiing outing find themselves on an island where nefarious experiments (not as nefarious as Warren behind a camera, but pretty nefarious nonetheless) are taking place that will turn the United States population into zombies.

I, on the other hand, was turned into a zombie fifteen minutes into this godawful mess. For such a short movie it feels like a David Lean epic, thanks to scenes that relentlessly unspool without any sense of rhythm or pacing. Even when the end of the film mercifully comes it refuses to stop and let you free, as if it were some kind of psychological torture device (and who knows, in some third-world hellhole, it probably is).

Rather than watching TEENAGE ZOMBIES try repeatedly stabbing yourself in the face with a rusty fork. It's less punishing on the eyes and will be far more worth the time you invest.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


There are a surprising number of short films about zombies out there, far more than I would've expected, which has made it a lot easier to find movies for a project of this scope. One thing I've noticed (and it's a big one) is that they're all frustratingly one-note; even the ones that are well-made on a technical level come up woefully short story-wise. Today's selection--David Pope's GASOLINE BLOOD, from 2007--is no exception.

Three filmmakers show up at an abandoned warehouse for a location scout. In the inkling of character development we get, we learn that the director plans on becoming the next Scorsese, though after he describes his artistic vision he'll be lucky to be the next Ed Wood. But before his cinematic dreams can be realized, they're beseiged by a handful of zombies (some of whom, in a nod to Tarantino, come dressed RESERVOIR DOGS-style); you can guess what happens next.

Pope does show a nice visual flair and could probably produce a solid feature if given the chance; he also does a good job of artificially aging his film, giving it the appearance of a well-worn print from the '70s (though unlike some of his GRINDHOUSE-inspired peers, he thankfully doesn't overdo this). Pope does toss in a kinda-neat "twist" at the end, but he really ought to invest a little more time in his screenplay for his next directorial outing.

Perhaps it's a constraint of the form, but I can't help but feel there's more to do in a zombie short than shot them in the head or get eaten. Brevity and depth aren't contradictory terms; let's see something a little more thought-provoking, huh, guys?

Friday, December 21, 2007


When I first laid out the ground rules for the blog, I debated whether or not I should include mummies. They were, after all, dead bodies who now moved and more often than not preyed upon the living. Though I ultimately decided that mummy films and zombie films were two distinct camps with their own separate rules and should probably be kept apart (I may change my mind if I start running out of zombie flicks), I still wanted to include Frank Agrama's DAWN OF THE MUMMY, an Italian/Egyptian co-production from 1981 that's merely a zombie movie wrapped in moldy bandages.

If the title wasn't enough of a tip-off, MUMMY was one of the myriad pictures coming out of Italy in the early '80s trying to capitalize on the success of DAWN OF THE DEAD. The prologue shows a spark of potential as an ancient pharaoh is entombed along with his slaves in a crumbling pyramid, and a curse is placed so that anyone who disturbs his resting place will be killed. At first I thought this would be a juicier version of the Universal mummy pictures with Lon Chaney Jr., since up to this point it follows the blueprint exactly, but as the movie proper begins it soon became clear that I'd set my sights far too high.

Flash forward to the present day, when a group of models and fashion photographers from New York happen upon the mummy's tomb and decide it'd be the perfect place for a photo shoot. The pharaoh and his slaves (who look much like the zombies from Fulci's ZOMBIE, itself an international moneymaker) soon rise up to wreak havoc--i.e., stalk people and munch on them--to avenge their disturbed sleep.

It takes a long time (and when I say long time I mean ninety percent of the movie) to get to the good stuff, since the vast majority of the movie consists of talk, talk, talk with a little exposition thrown in to mix things up a bit. When the mummies/zombies finally get to do their thing in the last reel, there is some gory antics that fans enjoy--throats are bitten, entrails are spilled and slurped--but it's too little too late. Most viewers will have bailed before the gruesome climax gets underway, since the preceeding eighty minutes are drier than the Sahara. Needless to say, if you have the chapter-skipping abilities of a DVD handy (or maybe a half-rewound VHS tape) you might want to simply jump to the end and enjoy the twenty or so minutes DAWN OF THE MUMMY is actually interesting.


One of the last entries in the classic era of Italian zombie films, Umberto Lenzi's BLACK DEMONS (its title meant to suggest a continuation of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS series, though the movie bears as much resemblance to Bava's films as it does to GONE WITH THE WIND) suffered the same fate of just about every movie of its kind in the early '90s: that is to say, dull and interminable, with shoddy production values and disappointing gore, capped with the lack of a legitimate U.S. release (Shriek Show's DVD marks the film's official stateside, English-language debut; strange, considering the film's dialogue appears to have been originally recorded in English).

The lightweight story has to do with a trio of unlikeable American teenagers vacationing in Brazil, one of whom uses the recording of a macumba (a variation of voodoo) ritual to resurrect a group of slaves that'd been killed one hundred years ago. Not only are the zombies in remarkably good shape for being in the ground a whole century, they apparently didn't gain much of an appetite either, preferring to dispatch their victims slasher-style with a variety of farm implements (highlights include a couple of gouged eyeballs and an ax-split skull, though the gore scenes are few and far between). The majority of the film consists of dry, drawn-out conversations that serve no purpose other than getting this film to an acceptable length--and, presumably, to bridge the kill scenes.

BLACK DEMONS may be required viewing for Italian zombie completists, but there are other, better films out there (like Fulci's ZOMBIE, which this movie repeatedly brings to mind) that do a much more effective job of providing the thrills zombie fans require.

(Special thanks to Donna Williams for providing a copy of this film.)


George Romero had originally envisioned DAY OF THE DEAD as the jewel in his undead crown, a large-scale epic that was once described by FX guru Tom Savini as "BEN-HUR with zombies." Unfortunately, once it became clear that his concept wasn't going to meet the standards of an R rating (required to make a project of such scope profitable), Romero opted for the unrated route; it granted him the artistic freedom he desired, but it cost him dearly, budget-wise. The scaled-down final version disappointed the majority of fans when it appeared in 1985, and for many years was considered the least of the trilogy (and you could've counted me among those who felt that way). However, in the past few years the film has gotten a second chance with both critics and fans, who've come to appreciate DAY on its own considerable merits.

I think much of the initial let-down was due to the lack of zombie-action in DAY. After the wall-to-wall mayhem of DAWN, the more human-oriented DAY no doubt felt anti-climactic. I don't know how much was dictated by finances, but Romero opted to stay underground and study the interactions of his military and civilian characters (not to mention Bub, the next step in Romero's evolution of the undead, played by Howard Sherman in a remarkable performance). That focus is the cause of a drawn-out second act that I'm sure helped seal DAY's early fate, though time has benefited the strength of the cast, particularly Joseph Pilato as asshole-in-charge Rhodes and the quietly strong portrayal by Lori Cardille (daughter of Pittsburgh icon Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille, a late-night horror host who a bit role in the original NIGHT).

And though they're kept in check for most of the film, Tom Savini's make-up effects really shine when they're finally unleashed; the zombies' climactic assault on the heroes' bunker showcases some of Savini's best work, including Pilato's memorable comeuppance, and is probably the best FX out of Romero's films (DAWN's helicopter-zombie sequence a possible exception).

It's good to see DAY finally getting the recognition it deserves, though I can't help but wonder how much LAND OF THE DEAD had to do with it. Romero's newest film, DIARY OF THE DEAD, has received some positive buzz on the festival circuit, but I can't help but feel that DAY OF THE DEAD was his last word on the subject, and that any other zombie movie he makes is just a commercially-viable vehicle to tell the other stories he's got within him.


Tetsuro Takeuchi's WILD ZERO garnered a cult following almost immediately upon its release, and with its flamboyant style and insanely surreal plot it would've been impossible not to. Takeuchi honed his directorial skills helming music videos, and like his American counterparts, his foray into features is a definite exercise in style over substance.

The ADD-afflicted plot concerns (for the most part) Ace, a young rock-and-roller and his devotion to the (real-life) Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf. When he unexpectedly saved his band from a maniacal club owner (who favors odd wigs and and short-shorts no grown man should ever be caught dead in--really, they're the scariest thing about him), they vow to come to his aid, superhero-style, should he ever need it. Ace soon finds himself falling for Tobio, a mysterious girl he meets in a botched gas station robbery; but before true love can blossom, they must first deal with the multitudes of zombies threatening to take over their town.

Despite its frenetic pace, WILD ZERO suffers from a rambling, unfocused sense throughout most of its length, due in no small part to the constant flipping between multiple storylines (which remain unrelated for the film's first two acts). Even when its many subplots finally collide--to no additional effect, other than igniting a chaos-riddled climax--it still fails to be fully engaging. I probably would've enjoyed Ace and Tobio's love-among-the-zombies story, had Takeuchi not insisted on jumping away from it at every opportunity. The film frequently tries hard, a little too hard at times, to be quirky and strange, bombarding the viewer with oddity after oddity until it inevitably culminates in ridiculousness (such as when Guitar Wolf fells a UFO with his six-string). There's also a fair amount of humor to be found, most of which translates well to Western culture, though there is one brief gag where the characters learn that none of them have seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Yeah, I know it's not to be taken seriously, but such a joke in a zombie film is damn near blasphemous.

I really wanted to like WILD ZERO, which seems as though its sole raison d'etre is to have a good time (the Synapse DVD even includes rules for a drinking game). A little more restraint in both plotting and camerawork (the latter comes off as gimmicky more often than not) and a focus on quality over quantity would've helped.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Earlier in this project--I'm pretty sure it was in the review for MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, you can correct me if I'm wrong--I stated that zombie comedies can't rely on subtlety to be effective, that they need to reach new heights of outrageousness in order to succeed. Well, now I'm happily eating those words, having seen Andrew Currie's FIDO, a Canadian zombie comedy from 2006 that not only treads familiar undead territory, but does it within the carefully reserved trappings of the LEAVE IT TO BEAVER era.

Opening with a clever newsreel parody establishing the film's backstory (nailing perfectly the details that the WHAT DO DO IN A ZOMBIE ATTACK shorts mishandled). Set in an alternate 1950's suburbia, FIDO's zombies have been domesticated (thanks to a combination of behavior-modification collars and the safety efforts of Zomcon, the corporate entity behind those propaganda-like newsreels) and function as crossing guards, paperboys, etc. The story centers around the Robinsons, a Cleaver-ish family who've finally gotten their first zombie, which son Timmy names Fido. When Fido eats the mean old lady next door, he triggers a chain of events that could get Timmy and his family banished to the Wild Zone, the area beyond the community's barrier where hungry zombies roam free.

Director Currie, along with fellow screenwriter Robert Chomiak, have crafted an absorbing, multi-layered boy-and-his-zombie tale that tends to lag a bit as it nears its third act, but the engaging characters and admirably-nuanced setting keep it engrossing throughout. Stand-out performances include K'Sun Ray as Timmy, Tim Blake Nelson as a former Zomcon employee with a zombie girlfriend, and Dylan Baker as Timmy's zombie-phobic dad, but top honors go to Billy Connolly who portrays the title role as a warm-hearted Bub from DAY OF THE DEAD. Currie gets plenty of humor out of both zombie tropes (such as schoolchildren practicing their head-shots during "outdoor exercises") and 1950's imagery (like rear-projection backgrounds in cars, or Timmy's parents' separate beds), which also nullifies my theory that flesh-eating ghouls can't work within a McCarthy-era backdrop.

Funny and original, FIDO is a shining example of just how versatile the zombie subgenre can be.


Roughly twelve seconds into BERSERKERS, a 2003 short film from director Kevin Lindenmuth, I started singing to myself the song of the same name (you know, Olaf the Russian metal singer's chart-topper from CLERKS). After sitting through the actual film, I'd recommend you watch that scene from Kevin Smith's classic--hell, watch the whole thing again--instead of this misbegotten zombie flick.

The Michigan-shot opus begins with a mother and her two sons encountering a horde of rotting zombies in the forest (the film is a pretty blatant homage to the Italian-zombie genre, though the make-ups on display are so amateurish that they bring to mind a third-grade Halloween party rather than Lucio Fulci). After one of the boys gets turned into a zombie and munches on Mom, we flash forward twelve years to a (presumed) undead apocalypse. (Did I mention is has something to do with a Viking curse, hence the title? Where Vikings fit in with Italian zombie flicks I have no idea.) The older brother--traumatized by the prologue's events, we're led to believe--has grown up to be a skinhead survivalist-type, living in the same forest and doing . . . well, Lindenmuth never really gets around to explaining. Surviving, I suppose. When he encounters a trio of fellow survivors, two gals and a guy, he serves the man to the zombies so he can have the females all to himself (it may or may not have been an unspoken irony, but I got the impression that the girls were a lesbian couple, but again Lindenmuth never clarifies). Standard zombie hijinx ensue for the remainder of the flick's brief running time.

BERSERKERS was originally released as part of GOREGOYLES, a two-part horror anthology film, where it was paired with THE HOLY TERROR (a so-so film about demonic possession) and hosted by a skeevy metalhead Crypt Keeper-wannabe. Perhaps Lindenmuth made this film as a way to bulk GOREGOYLES up to feature length. There's plenty of material here for a ninety-minute story that can be developed instead of being skimmed over and crammed into a truncated form. This was also the first project Lindenmuth made in Michigan following his relocation from New York, and judging from the performances on hand I'd say he didn't get much chance to scout for local talent.

If it's Italian-style zombie action you're craving, you'd be far better off picking up an actual Italian zombie film (BURIAL GROUND, anyone?). Attempting to glean any thrills from this bare carcass of a film would be meaningless and futile.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


It's a double menace of zombies and Nazis in KING OF THE ZOMBIES, an enjoyable (if outdated) 1941 cheapie from Jean Yarbrough, who also directed my personal Poverty Row favorite THE DEVIL BAT. And while I'd recommend giving this one a watch, I would also suggest you not invite your politically-correct friends over.

The story mines the same OLD DARK HOUSE vein, as a pair of crash-landed pilots (Dick Purcell and John Archer) and their manservant (Mantan Moreland) find themselves stranded in the island home of an ex-patriate German scientist (Henry Victor, perhaps best known as the strongman from FREAKS) who uses zombies as workers on his estate. Of course, the zombies are part of Victor's complicated (and very impractical) scheme to use voodoo and hypnotism to steal secret information from Allied forces.

The pace is brisk, and what the film lacks in tension it makes up for in atmopshere and (albeit muted) mystery. But the film hasn't aged well, particularly in its portrayal of its African-American characters, all of whom are afflicted with the same stereotypes of the minstrel-show era. Moreland takes the brunt of these in a Steppin Fetchit-type role with bug-eyed expressions and jokes that most would find questionable today (i.e., after learning he wasn't killed in the opening plane crash he checks his hand and observes, "I thought I was a little off-color to be a ghost!"), yet his performance is so good-natured and likeable it's hard to be truly offended. In fact, most of the material that would be found objectionable now is Victor's treatment of his dark-skinned servants, such as in the drawn-out scene in which he opposes Moreland sleeping in the same room as Purcell and Asher; take a look at some of the other portrayals of blacks in this period--like Sleep 'N Eat from THE MONSTER WALKS, who's shown to be uneducated and lazy--and the cast of KING gets off fairly easy (I also found it rather ironic that, despite their treatment in the story, the African-American actors are the most talented of the cast). And to be fair, Purcell's Irish protagonist gets his share of cliches as well.

Still, despite it's decidedly un-p.c. tone, KING OF THE ZOMBIES delivers enough humor and low-budget thrills to invest an hour of your time. And though it may not be held in the same esteem as, say, WHITE ZOMBIE, I still find myself putting this one on a couple of times a year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


There are bad films, and then there are films like 2005's ZOMBIE NATION, an aggressively stupid, pointless, and unbelievable stool sample from Ulli Lommel, a director who once showed great promise with films like TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES and THE BOOGEYMAN, but now seems content to churn out straight-to-DVD rotgut like this.

The wafer-thin plot concerns an L.A. cop (Gunter Ziegler) who prowls the city for female victims, indiscriminately abducting, killing, and dumping them as his clueless rookie partner looks on--TRAINING DAY, this ain't. (Ziegler, by the way, is the product of a Puritanical minister--David Hess, in a wasted cameo--and a domineering, overbearing mother--a plot device I haven't seen, I dunno, only half a million times.) Of course, Rookie can't go to his superiors for help, since they give Ziegler a free pass on his shenanigans, the lot of them being buddies in Iraq and all (a cheap and insulting anti-war "message" that's out of place here). I don't know which was harder to swallow, that an entire department would willingly overlook a serial killer's practices (going so far as to frame a random felon to shift the blame), or the threadbare police station, which looks like a couple of desks jammed into the corner of an empty storage shed.

Way into the movie's meager running time (so far that I was checking the disc's sleeve to be sure it actually had "Zombie" on it), we learn that one of Ziegler's victims received a pseudo-voodooish spell that would reanimate her, should she fall prey to the killer (a rather misguided preemptive strike, isn't it? Why not cast a spell that kept you from getting killed in the first place?). Apparently the hoodoo was retroactive, since it brings back all of Ziegler's victims as raccoon-eyed zombies, who return to serve Ziegler his comeuppance (and provide the only real gore in the flick).

Brain-numbingly asinine, ZOMBIE NATION seems at times to be working as a comedy, though any humor is so ineptly handled it's tough to be sure. The horror elements get the short shrift as well, unless you're scared of repeated shots of a portly middle-aged guy getting his bare ass whipped bloody (and here, that's fairly easy to do), leaving the end result a limp, one-note morality play.

A movie so heinous I can't imagine why Lommel would lend his name to it, much less place it above the title, ZOMBIE NATION is the kind of gore-raising garbage that makes me wonder why I wanted to start this blog in the first place.


I've never been a fan of Mary Lambert's 1989 adaptation of Stephen King's novel--in fact, it'd be more accurate to say I flat-out hate it. Most of my animosity comes from the changes King made in condensing his 400-page novel into a feature length screenplay, as well as lightening many of the novel's more macabre elements for the mainstream. In reviewing the film for this blog I wanted to judge it as its own entity, rather than putting it through the (often unfair) book-is-better-than-the-movie wringer; however, it's within those book-to-film changes that most of the film's many flaws lie.

King's script is faithful to its source material in that it follows the same narrative arc; all the major plot points are included, yet the entire film lacks the depth and thematic richness that made the novel great. Our fear of death (both its certainty and its ability to rob us of our loved ones) is what drove the novel's sequence of events. Here, all of that's glossed over in favor of the genre tropes that adorned the story. This is especially true of its "monstrous" characters; Victor Pascow stalks around like a creature in a bad Vincent Price flick, as does Zelda (the embodiment of Rachel Creed's near-hysterical fear of death), played here for cheap scares, a standard-issue boogeyman (sorry, boogeyperson).

Compounding this dearth of resonance is the uniformly weak performances, whether it's Fred Gwynne's Forrest Gump-by-way-of-New-England turn as Jud Crandall or Denise Crosby (sporting a Hillary Clinton-esque 'do), who retains Rachel's bitchiness from the novel but forgets to add the deep-rooted fear that spurs it. But it's Dale Midkiff's bland, single-faceted take as Louis Creed that sinks the whole enterprise; never does Midkiff register the tortured, grief-stricken motivation the story needs to work, instead going for an exaggerated, unintentionally humorous display of "emotion" (it's as if he were auditioning to be the poor man's William Shatner, were such a thing neccesary).

Lambert's directorial choices don't help much, either, placing emphasis on trite horror trappings rather than the human elements beneath them. It's a sign of a pretty unsteady hand when a child gets mown down by a tanker truck and one is more inclined to chuckle; even worse is the scene in which Midkiff kills the re-animated Gage, a thoroughly unpleasant moment that brings to mind the gasoline-injection from Villaronga's IN A GLASS CAGE. (And that's another thing that annoyed me, playing the arrival of the undead Gage as a flesh-and-blood CHILD'S PLAY, taking a truly horrifying climax and reducing it to slasher-era dreck).

Shockingly, despite previous adaptations by John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and some guy named Kubrick, PET SEMATARY was the highest-grossing King film upon its release, a detail far more disturbing than anything the film itself has to offer (after myriad CHILDREN OF THE CORN and SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK sequels, that fact gets a little easier to process). A far better adaptation is the three-hour presentation by BBC Radio, which captures the feel of the novel so perfectly it renders this version obsolete.

But the title track by The Ramones is still pretty sweet.


Although Shriek Show's DVD adds ZOMBIE 4 to the title, as did several bootleg copies making the rounds in the early '90s, both the trailer and the film itself simply go by AFTER DEATH. Under any moniker, this 1990 Italian production from Claudio Fragasso (using his Americanized pseudonym Clyde Anderson) is an uninspired, strictly by-the-numbers affair.

The movie shows quite a bit of potential with its prologue, as a satanic/voodoo priest transforms his wife into a zombie, which he then sics on a group of research scientists; with a look reminiscent of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS, the zombie priestess makes short work of the white devils in a splattery FX display (complete with an awesome face-ripping scene). This extended sequence sets the gory bar pretty high; so high, in fact, that the movie doesn't even attempt to raise it.

The plot quickly loses steam as it shifts to the story proper, as a group of mercenaries, accompanied by a couple of random party girls, and another group of researchers/explorers (led by porn star Jeff Stryker, billed here as Chuck Peyton) land on an uncharted tropical island. From there it becomes a surprisingly generic zombie outing, with very little to differentiate itself from other films; people are bitten and become zombies, many head-shots are fired upon the swarming dead, etc. The zombie make-ups themselves devolve into simple green face-paint, and the grue level steadily drops.

Fans of Italian zombie films will probably want to take this one for a spin, though there isn't much under the hood. Good for a slow night with a pizza and a few beers, AFTER DEATH delivers the bare minimum of lowest-common-denominator goods.

(Special thanks to Donna Williams for providing a copy of this film.)

Monday, December 10, 2007


Writing a critique of the 2006 "production" BEN OF THE DEAD, a film as stupid and uninspired as its title, seems like a pointless affair, since it's obviously an amateur-hour, hey-I-have-a-camera-let's-make-a-movie offering. But still, I'm watching 365 of these things, so what the hell.

It took two directors--Matt Ricacho and Adam Lee--to concoct this story about a young boy whose late-night trip to the kitchen ends in a zombie attack. Clearly this kid (Ben Kaplan-Good, hence the movie's lame-ass title) is no professional, but even so he manages to occupy his semi-dimensional character with zero substance; even the discovery of a bloodied handprint on the window is greeted with slack-jawed amazement rather than genuine horror. The movie shows a flicker of promise when the zombies show up, displaying a decent sense of homemade atmosphere with the use of shadows and the zombie make-ups aren't terrible, even passable given the limitations of the project. But Ricacho and Lee decided to utilize the worn-out "It was all a dream--or was it?" ending, stamping out any charity or good will one might have for this thing. (They also spent roughly a third of the short's running time on credits and outtakes, which is pretty damn superfluous since the movie has a one-take feel to it.)

Do I feel mean pissing on what was most likely a bunch of kids whiling away a couple of slow evenings? A little, since they obviously love the zombie genre and show a slight glimmer of filmmaking prowess (very slight, mind you, but it's there), but putting out their movie in a public forum--even if it's YouTube--makes them fair game. And besides, even within the home-movie parameters they're working, they still could've come up with something better than this.


Zombies get the outer space treatment again in THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH, Harry Thomason's 1977 picture that's so stupefyingly bad I'm amazed Joel and the Bots never got their mitts on it. Despite being thoroughly wretched, cinematic masochists will find much to celebrate here.

This Arkansas-based sci-fi/horror hybrid gets underway with a brief, film noir-wannabe prologue where a mob informant is shot, shackled, and sank into a nearby lake, only to be re-animated as a skull-faced zombie when a flaming meteor (the IT of the title, and a marvel of no-budget special FX) crashes into the very same lake. Whereas most movies may be content to set an entire plot around the mob guys getting their comeuppance at the zombie's hands, Thomason decides to let his monster get his vengeance early, so he can focus his attention on scaring a handful of picnicking college co-eds (including the future Mrs. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson).

Sort of a cross between SCOOBY-DOO and AMERICAN GRAFFITI by way of Al Adamson, the movie plays like a winking homage to the science fiction films of the 1950's. However, Thomason is such an incompetent filmmaker that his movie ends up being more ludicrous than the movies he's spoofing (or perhaps I'm giving him too much credit and he's simply way out of touch with '70's youth). Fans of Z-grade cinema will enjoy the film's erratic plot, which includes the most dunderheaded police investigation I've seen in ages, a subplot involving the meteor that revived the zombie (which it apparently controls it, though nothing is ever explained), and a laff-filled sorority-initiation prank. Acting here comes in two varities, Over and Non, with a special award going to star Wink Roberts as teen hero Eddie, in a performance so over-the-top and whiny you'd want to bitch-slap him (could you refrain from laughing long enough to do so). Even Wilson succumbs to the artifical-acting bug, though she does get to sneak in a few glimpses of talent (wonder if she and hubby ever had a double-bill with this and Hanks's HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE).

A treasure trove of bad-movie gold, THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH should be required viewing for the Ed Wood set (really, as terrible as it is, I'm surprised it isn't mentioned with the likes of PLAN 9 or THE CRAWLING HAND), but I must warn you, the film's godawful theme song will haunt your brain for days.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I really wanted to like THEY CAME BACK, a 2004 French film from director Robin Campillo. On the surface it appears to be a cerebral and philosophical take on the zombie story, but in actuality it's a tedious, endlessly frustrating series of vignettes masquerading as an arthouse film.

The premise of the movie involves a great number of deceased citizens inexplicably returning to life and attempting to reintegrate into society. Local government tries to deal with the situation, finding shelter for the returnees, as well as replacing the jobs they held in life. We also meet a handful of people who find themselves reunited with lost loved ones--husbands, wives, children, etc.

All of which sounds like it would make for fascinating viewing, even if it wasn't going for a visceral, horrifically-minded approach (which it clearly isn't, treating the zombies more as refugees than as objects of fear). However, the film prefers to pose questions instead of answering them; the returnees conveniently have no memory of being dead, so any notion of the afterlife goes unaddressed. No one on either end of return seems dramatically changed by the event (I'd image the psychological impact of suddenly being alive again would make for compelling drama), and we spent most of our time watching characters interact in slow, meaningless conversations, or sitting in on city council-like meetings as various issues are discussed. Toward the end one of the returnees starts to remember an argument with his wife before his death, but if the movie's message is simply to not let conflicts go unresolved, it's chosen the wrong medium.

The story implies a dark turn as it progresses, though the worst the situation gets is the returnees suffer from insomnia and start to wander at night (they do eventually turn "aggressive," blowing up a couple of buildings without hurting anyone before retreating en masse to an underground network of tunnels for an unsatisfying ending).

Slow and unengaging, THEY CAME BACK wastes the potential of its premise. If we're supposed to question what it means to be mortal, or understand when it's time it's time to let go of a loved one, then the film fails on a philosophical level as well. (The least Campillo could've done was echo Jean Rollin's approach with THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, which mixed equal parts gore and introspection.)

The arthouse crowd may get something out of this, but horror geeks should stay the hell away.


Lucio Fulci returns to zombies in this 1989 film, and though it's a far cry from the movies that made him a cult film icon, it's still a decent little thriller that's worth a look.

A wealthy old couple lives in an isolated country estate filled with hundreds of clocks, which they refer to as their children. Like most rich folk, they're prone to eccentricities, such as disemboweling the maid after she discovers the corpses locked away in the chapel (the couple's niece and nephew, an ungrateful pair concerned only with their money). Before they can find replacement help, a trio of boneheaded thieves make their way inside for a home invasion-style robbery. Of course, things go awry very quickly and robbers accidentally end up killing the old couple, causing every single clock in the house to stop (including the sand in the hourglass). As the thieves ransack the place, the clocks begin to run backwards, not only enabling the past to relive itself but also setting the stage for revenge.

An interesting wrinkle in both the home-invasion and zombie genres, THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS moves at a slower pace but avoids being completely dull, with a story that won't hold up under much scrutiny but still entertains (the epilogue in which just desserts are served is a bad-film hoot). Gorehounds expecting a bloody spectacle on the scale of ZOMBIE or THE BEYOND will come away disappointed, though Fulci does sneak in a little grue to satisfy fans. More consistent with Fulci's past works are the performances (i.e. laughable dialogue poorly dubbed) and a nice Gothic atmosphere which Fulci lets go largely to waste.

Yeah, maybe it's not as fun as THE GATES OF HELL (or THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, for that matter), it's still a watchable entry in the cannon of one of the all-time zombie-film greats.


After suffering through the ineptitude of FLESH FREAKS, I decided to follow it up with NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, Fred Dekker's 1986 cult classic that mines the zombie/alien angle to far greater success. And though it's not CITIZEN KANE, Dekker knows how to assemble a solid sci-fi/horror B-movie.

A pair of dorky hipsters (Chris and J.C., who, following the unspoken tradition of most '80s duos, have an understated homoerotic relationship) have to steal a corpse as part of a fraternity prank. In the university morgue, they sneak past a dues-paying David Paymer (billed here as Young Scientist, though he still looks planted squarely in middle age) to find a cryogenically-frozen cadaver--which we know from the film's extended prologue was infected by alien parasites back in 1959. J.C.and Chris inadvertently thaw the corpse, allowing the slug-like parasites to swarm across campus, infecting humans and turning them into undead incubators until they're ready to burst out (from the head, of course). Fortunately for them, hard-boiled detective Tom Atkins, still affected by the events of the parasites' arrival in '59, is on hand to help kick a little alien ass.

Fast-paced and packed with plenty of gruesome thrills, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS hasn't aged particularly well, emitting a distinctly 1980's vibe with its hairstyles and fashions, characters known as the Bradster, and cornball humor (some of which is actually funny). This time-capsule feel just makes the movie more fun to watch, adding a layer of nostalgia to the B-movie hijinx. Dekker throws in plenty of shout-outs to genre directors--giving his characters names like Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero, etc.--and even tosses in a couple of amusing cameos by Dick Miller and Robert Kerman (rumor has it a young George Clooney has a walk-on as a janitor, but I missed him if he's there). The performances are adequate, if a little artificial, though Atkins steals his every scene as Det. Cameron.

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS has gained a slight notoriety for its alternate ending, which usually pops up on cable television broadcasts. I won't reveal either one here, but if you get a chance to compare I think you'll find the non-theatrical ending to be the most satisfying (the theatrical cut ends awkwardly and abruptly, leading one to suspect the cable ending didn't fare too well in test screenings).

Though the film doesn't have an official DVD release yet, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is pretty easy to find on the collectors' market, and with Dekker's THE MONSTER SQUAD getting the Special Edition treatment recently, it should only be a matter of time until this arrives at your local Best Buy.

Enjoy the trailer, in German.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Professional fighters know that when they step into the ring they're going to experience a considerable amount of pain; it's an unavoidable part of what they do and they accept it. Similarly, I knew going into this blog experiment that I'd be sitting through more than my share of painfully bad movies I'd never watch otherwise. Case in point, the 2000 Canadian release FLESH FREAKS, which will soften the ol' gray matter better than 12 rounds with Sonny Liston.

Written and directed by Conall Pendergast, this student film masquerading as a feature starts off with Barry (Pendergast, hiding behind the alias Ronny Varno), a college student from the Great White North returning from a traumatic experience in Belize (though thanks to his abominable acting, Barry hardly seems perturbed, much less traumatized). Barry was part of an archaeological expedition of a Mayan ruin and it seems Barry has somehow brought back . . . well, Pendergast never tells us, but it's causing zombies to pour out of the woodwork. (So I guess it doesn't matter that a university professor is experimenting with the effects of radiatiation on cadavers, since the undead were going to be crawling around campus anyway; seriously, pick a catalyst for your little zombie attack and stick with it.)

Watching this movie I got the impression that Pendergast's mother was the type of parent that would gush over every tiny thing li'l Conall did, like displaying his childhood doodles on the refrigerator as if they were works of art, leading him to believe that the film-going public will be just an enthused about his cinematic endeavor. The movie creeps along at an interminable pace, with very little action or interesting characters to hold any interest (Pendergast also falls prey to the belief that meaningless small talk constitutes realistic dialogue--did he go to the same film school as the ZOMBIE CAMPOUT people?). The "traumatic" Belize expedition looks more like an overgrown bike trail than a forbidding jungle--though sadly, it was actually filmed in Belize, as if Pendergast thought what the movie needed to work was stock footage of lizards and turkeys--yes, that's right, wild jungle turkeys--and not a genuine story or a cast with an iota of talent.

Hell, the movie can't even supply any decent gore, going for either a red fadeout or liberally-splattered food coloring during the zombie attack scenes (oh, and another thing: a cheap plastic fan won't shred someone's face, even if they are a zombie). The climactic assault is just as boring as the preceeding hour, with laughably bad puppets and extras in godawful make-up limping after the remaining actors. The plot also tries to throw in a last-ditch twist, explaining the undead as part of some kind of alien invasion, but this desperate contrivance is just as stupid and uninspiring as the rest of the film.

Not even bad enough to make fun of (at one point it tries to be clever by giving a character some modified dialogue from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which doesn't sound any worse than any other line in this movie), FLESH FREAKS is a horrible non-movie that's simply not worth sitting through.

But I betcha Mrs. Pendergast loved it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Movies based on video games are an iffy proposition at best; the interactive experience of playing a game usually translates poorly to the passive encounter of watching a film. You'd think that adapting a game with such a cinematic influence like RESIDENT EVIL might help hedge the filmmakers' bets, and maybe it could've worked, if they hadn't made copying the look of the game their first priority.

The screenplay (by director Paul W.S. Anderson) pretty much carries the video game's premise to the screen, forgetting one important aspect; that by doing so, the finished film is about as exciting as watching someone else play RE for an hour and forty-five minutes. Instead of an honest-to-God storyline, Anderson gives us a simple Point A to Point B scenario and cloaks it in a tangled mess of withheld information we're to believe is a complex plot. Aside from an intriguing opening sequence in which the Red Queen shuts down the Hive, killing everyone inside (the elevator bit is as close to entertaining as the action gets), RESIDENT EVIL is a string of one tedious scene after another, punctuated every now and then by shitty CGI-enhanced zombies. (I was frequently surprised by just how poorly the digital effects were rendered, particularly the zombified dogs, which--pardon the pun--neutered any chance of generating thrills. I'm sure the studio behind RE wanted to keep the budget cheap, but if you're going to make a zombie film, don't skimp on the damn zombies.)

You don't go into a video game-based film looking for Oscar-caliber performances, but even by RE's limited standards the acting rings false. Milla Jovovich is supposed to be an action babe, but her stuntwork is rather unconvincing. Michelle Rodriguez trades in the acting cred she earned with GIRLFIGHT for the best role, the tough but hollow Rain. Add in the leaden anti-presence of Eric Mabious and you have the most memorable of the characters; the rest are a bland, interchangeable group of generic soldiers I didn't even attempt to keep straight.

George Romero was once attached to this project and was eventually given the boot for "creative differences," which must've been doubly painful since it was his DEAD trilogy that inspired the game in the first place. (So what if Anderson made the MORTAL KOMBAT movie? Does that really qualify him to helm a zombie film more than Romero?) Though I'm ultimately glad Romero didn't sully his resume with this dreck, in his hands the movie would've at least had some depth to it.

Overlong, dull, and stupid, RESIDENT EVIL coasts on the reputation of its namesake game, not bothering to provide an iota of the visceral thrill and tension that made it a success. Proof once again that aggressive marketing and corporate synergy wins every time.

(Special thanks to Dustin Stewart for his assistance with this blog.)

Monday, December 3, 2007


Zombie films get educational in this 2006 production from writer Paul Scofield and director Joey Carrillo, which lampoons the instructional "mental hygiene" films from the 1950's. Presented as a three-part series of shorts, WHAT TO DO IN A ZOMBIE ATTACK does a decent job parodying the look of vintage educational films, but never completely succeeds in spoofing either them, or zombie films.

Narrated by a bad voice-over (who doesn't sound a thing like the monotonous, vaguely condescending narrators of educational films), WHAT TO DO shows us the Hendersons, a God-fearing, all-American family in the midst of a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-style zombie attack. The film tries hard to mock the McCarthy-era sensibilities behind these films (namely, that tax-paying Christian Americans can rise above any adversity with determination and drive--as well as not being a Communist), but the sledgehammer subtlety of the humor weakens most of the jokes. The filmmakers also miss potential satirical material in ZEMA, the Zombie Emergency Management Squad that's briefly mentioned but put to little use.

WHAT TO DO's humor also misses the mark when it comes to zombies. If you're going to poke fun at the era of conformity, why not use your undead to suit the time period, rather than employing the embodiment of the tumultuous '60s? I may be putting too fine a point on it, but the best parodies work when two elements blend naturally and play off each other in various unseen ways, and I didn't get that here.

Though often funny, WHAT TO DO IN A ZOMBIE ATTACK is little more than its one-joke premise. Worth a look for the curious, but hard to recommend.


BURIAL GROUND, Andrea Bianchi's 1981 zombiefest (which also went by THE NIGHTS OF TERROR and ZOMBIE 3, to capitalize on Fulci's film), knows what zombie fans want. Which is why the film's entire running time consists of people running from, destroying, or being eaten by zombies (ever the shrewd businessman, Bianchi even tosses in a little nudity in setting up the bare-bones premise of a group of vacationing jet-setters settling into a country estate for the weekend).

Sure, the script was probably written in an hour and the dubbed performances are entertaining more for their ineptitude than their effectiveness, but damn if this isn't a fun movie. The zombies are especially cool, rotting cadavers stumbling from one victim to the next, live maggots squirming within their make-up. Bianchi quite rightly assumes we want copious amounts of gore along with our zombies, so each death scene is particularly juicy (there's even a rip-off of ZOMBIE's splinter-in-the-eye sequences, recreated here almost exactly, though substituting broken glass for wood). And yes, this is the film that features the strange-looking little person playing a child, who gives new meaning to the phrase "breast feeding," a scene that would make BURIAL GROUND worthwhile all by itself.

Sure, it ain't John Ford's THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but what it lacks in . . . well, everything, it makes up for nonstop zombie mayhem. No conversations to pad out the plot, no sly social commentary, just zombies doing what zombies do. The perfect film for parties (there's got to be a cool drinking game here somewhere) or those times when you just want to relax and not be bothered by "good" cinema.

(Special thanks to Donna Williams for providing a copy of the film.)


I was very impressed by Chad Ferrin's debut feature UNSPEAKABLE, a disturbingly fascinating slice of indie dementia, so when I learned Ferrin had turned to the undead for his follow-up THE GHOULS, I leapt at the chance to include the film in the project. Unfortunately, it seems Ferrin fell prey to the sophomore slump.

Timothy Muskatel stars as Eric Hayes, a hard-drinking, crack-smoking tabloid photographer who makes his living filming various accidents and crime scenes, which he then sells to a sleazy news executive (DAY OF THE DEAD's Joseph Pilato, going incognito here as "Joseph Rhodes"--cute). During his latest bender, Hayes witnesses a woman being devoured by what appear to be three homeless men; with fellow cameraman Cliff in tow (a criminally underused Trent Haaga), Hayes hits the streets on a quest for the Holy Grail of sensationalistic footage.

Ferrin shows a knack for exposing the humanity within the squalid underbelly of humanity, and even does so with a fair amount of humor. He never lets Hayes be a simple caricature of an opportunistic merchant of human misery; coupled with a strong, understated performance by Muskatel (a far cry from his deranged persona in UNSPEAKABLE), he shows Hayes as a man deadened by the world, whose grisly profession is just a means to get the next soul-bandaging bottle of whiskey, the next line of coke. However, Ferrin lets both his protagonist and his premise go unexplored, since the movie flatlines after an intriguing first act.

We're never shown how Hayes got to such a low point, and since his investigation consists mostly of a series of boring non-events that raise more questions than they answer, we never really get to see him evolve as a character. (And speaking of unanswered questions, exactly what are Ferrin's ghouls? He first presents them as vampire-like creatures, then later they appear closer to zombies, without really delving into what they are, how they live, etc.) And I hate throwing this guy's first movie at him, but UNSPEAKABLE displayed a remarkable amount of storytelling skill, so to see THE GHOULS's storyline crumble is especially irritating. Also, the film obviously wants to satirize/demonize the "If it bleeds, it leads," mantra of modern media, but does very little with it; so little, that I wonder if perhaps Ferrin suddenly lost financing to do the film he really wanted, and was forced to make do with what he could.

Though it does have much going for it technically (the ghouls' underground lair is particularly well-shot) with a uniformly strong cast (watch for SLITHER director James Gunn in a brief cameo), they make the movie's failure all the more disappointing. Still, I can't wait to see what Ferrin does with his next film, and with a title like EASTER BUNNY, KILL! KILL!, neither should you.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Purportedly the first zombie film from Greece, EVIL (a 2005 release from writer/director Yorgos Noussias) shows a definite love for all things undead. Though it draws its inspiration from numerous zombie films, the only real novelty the film has to offer is subtitled Greek dialogue.

Using 28 DAYS LATER as its primary influence, the story kicks off with a trio of workers in an underground cave who discover . . . evil, I guess, since this brief prologue cuts away before establishing little more than three men in a cave discovering something. Before long Athens is overrun with the upgraded, hyper-speed zombies of recent years, who waste no time in slathering the city in blood, brains, and entrails (I'd be willing to bet Noussias has seen his share of Romero and Fulci movies). A band of survivors--including a lascivious cab driver, a teenage girl, and a bitchy drama queen--come together, searching for some type of sanctuary among the growing legion of the undead.

Though it unleashes its zombies early on, EVIL takes a while to become truly engaging. The characters are a little hard to warm up to, but that may be due to the lackluster dialogue that makes up a good portion of the first act (which, being subtitled, makes it a tad more difficult to invest in). While we wait for the story to find its footing, Noussias demonstrates some real visual flair, using rapid-fire editing, frequently kinetic camerawork, and the occasional 24-inspired multi-frame format (which more often than not works as a gimmick rather than a storytelling device). The first real setpiece occurs roughly at the film's mid-point when our heroes fight off a sudden zombie assault inside a restaurant, and it's here that Noussias loses his audiences' confidence. The action is fast and the gore plentiful in this sequence, yet Noussias tries too hard to make the scene memorable, and the result is far-fetched and ludicrous. Several times the characters kill zombies in ways that, although they are cool, are rather tough to believe (until this point the movie has maintained a plausible suspension of disbelief), and Noussias reveals the bitchy drama girl to suddenly be a karate babe (an attempt to curry the favor of drooling fanboys, to be sure, but a completely unestablished trait nonetheless). The picture soon gets back on track after this scene, leading to a somewhat disappointing but inevitable finale (the aerial shot that ends the film is quite impressive).

Though you're not going to find anything here you haven't seen before, EVIL works as one of those by-fans-for-fans entries that make up a fair portion of the subgenre, and at least has a better visual style than most of its ilk. I'd be interested to see what Noussias can do with a tighter script and a little more moola.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


In Wes Craven's career there were few bright spots between the peaks of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and SCREAM. 1988's THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is one of them, and though it's not Craven's finest hour, it still beats DEADLY FRIEND by a country mile.

Based on Wade Davis's factual account, SERPENT deals with Bill Pullman (years before he became a leading man in bland romantic comedies) investigating Haitian voodoo rituals on behalf of a pharmaceutical corporation; they believe the zombie power used in these ceremonies would make for a revolutionary new anesthetic (personally, I'd be a little freaked if my doctor used Zombinol during my procedure, but that's just me). Pullman's research comes across the radar of Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae, in a great sinister turn), an officer in Papa Doc Duvalier's regime who has some rather persuasive methods to ensure that Haiti's secrets remain that way.

Since the film's true focus is on mystery and intrigue, Craven (most likely at the behest of studio executives) squeezes in a few scare-laden dream sequences to maintain a "horror" element. Though the perception-skewering approach Craven uses here is done with a sharper visual flair than the similar tactics in ELM STREET--nor are they as disruptive as those in SHOCKER--these scenes undermine the story and threaten to reduce it to a mere shock show. The serious and dramatic aspects of the tale disintegrate completely into a carnival funhouse during the climactic showdown crammed with laughably-rendered visual effects (which feel like last-minute additions "suggested" by helpful test screenings).

THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW could've been a successful meditation on the connection between the scientific and spiritual worlds. Craven's reputation as a horror director may have been its ultimate undoing, since certain expectations on either side--a filmmaker who wants to create a serious, adult film, and a studio wanting something that would draw the profitable teen crowd--would have been tough to bring together. It's still a fascinating glimpse into a world that's frequently misunderstood, and worth at least a look.


When I started this project, I made an effort not to compare one movie to another; sure, I may point out if a film tries gamely, but doesn't quite reach a RE-ANIMATOR or DAWN OF THE DEAD level, but I try to take each entry on its own merits (or lack thereof). I've decided, though, to change all that. From now on, when determining just how bad a movie may be, I'll ask myself, "Is it as shitty as ZOMBIE CAMPOUT?"

The flick in question (I won't even deign to call it a movie) is a shot-on-video travesty from 2002, a horror-comedy from writer-director Joshua D. Smith that's neither scary nor funny. (That Smith's name appears 25 times in the end credits is either another example of the lame, unfunny humor that defines this turd, or Mr. Smith has got a grossly disproportinate sense of self-worth as an auteur.)

The plot-in-name-only concerns two young couples who embark on the dullest camping excursion in cinematic history. Everybody knows that the teen-party scenario is just an excuse to showcase drunken excesses and lots of skin, but Smith must've missed the memo. Aside from a little tentative kissing and watching a meteor shower (I'll go on a limb and say the effects probably weren't done by Industrial Light and Magic), these party animals do absolutely nothing. Hell, they even go to bed early so they can be sure and rent a boat in the morning. What responsible young individuals! Seriously, watching someone's actual vacation videos would be vastly more entertaining than this dreck, and that's including the zombie assault (which occurs when the radioactive meteors crash in the nearby cemetery). Also, and at the risk of sounding like a Neanderthal, why would you go through the trouble of having a scene in which the girls change into their bikinis and not show a little T&A? There's nothing else of value in the scene, so why have the girls awkwardly shove their swimsuits under their clothes as they discuss nothing at all?

That's another thing. There's a lot of dialogue in this movie, but Smith apparently also didn't get the memo that the purpose of dialogue is to convey information to the audience, build character, and advance the plot, not to replicate the boring, pointless banter that comprises regular human interaction. (And maybe it's just an unfortunate result of post-production editing, but I hated the lull that floated in between characters' lines, which destroyed any flow the dialogue may have had.) The aimless jabbering doesn't end once the zombies start attacking, either; every scene has at least one meaningless conversation. Even the "climax" (though in this case "the 80-minute mark" would be a more apt description) is bogged down with talk as the surviving members of the cast, trapped inside an SUV surrounded by zombies, debate committee-style what to do instead of actually doing something. Worse yet, it takes TEN FUCKING MINUTES to do it, until they discover that the keys were under the sun visor all along. Who would've thought of that!

Who, besides of course Smith, would find this shit watchable? As much as I hated DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS! (and God, did I hate it), it at least possessed a frenetic, unrelenting energy to its stupidity. ZOMBIE CAMPOUT is inert and lifeless, going for easy, unimaginative jokes instead of finding genuine humor within his story and characters. Only one bit--in which a zombie is repulsed by the prosthetic limb of one of her victims--had an iota of comedic potential, but Smith breezes past it in favor of self-referential, "ironic" humor, such people who know their fate because they've already read the script, or remarks like "This is just like a bad horror movie." There's a fair amount of gore on display, handled with the same skill as the jokes, for those who like seeing people slathered in Karo syrup.

A movie so wretched I literally got a headache watching it, ZOMBIE CAMPOUT makes the crap in the $5.50 bin at Wal-Mart seem like the work of Orson Welles. Avoid it.


I know that this 1971 release from director David Durston doesn't technically count as a zombie film, but I'm including it here because the film is clearly inspired by the success of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and Durston hews very close to that movie's style. (I also happen to think it's great.) What it lacks it social and political commentary, though, it more than makes up for it in sheer exploitive outrageousness.

A cult of Manson Family-inspired hippies, led by Indian dancer Bhaskar in a sublimely over-the-top performance, crash at a soon-to-be ghost town in upstate New York. When a local girl witnesses one of their LSD-fueled Satanic rituals, she's raped and beaten (sorry, deviants, it happens offscreen). This sets up an unlikely but oh-so entertaining revenge scenario as the girl's shotgun-toting grandpa heads out to settle the score, only to be handed a beating of his own (and also getting dosed with acid by the cult's resident skank). So it then falls to his grandson Pete (sort of a grindhouse Dennis the Menace) to avenge both grandpa and big sis; following reasoning only a schlock horror film can comprehend, Pete kills a rabid dog and injects its blood into a fresh batch of meat pies, which he then sells to the hippies the following morning for breakfast (you may wonder why anyone would eat something given to them by a person they've just victimized, but Durston sure doesn't).

Still with me? The hippies are then transformed into rabid, zombie-like creatures who froth at the mouth while committing various atrocities (and although the town is practically deserted, there's still plenty of victims on hand to mutilate, as well as a handy construction crew to spread their infection to). Sleaze fans will find plenty to feast upon here, with all the severed limbs, self-impalings, and spilled intestines on display, not to mention the gangbang of a rabid girl that causes the construction workers' infection (be sure to track down the original 83-minute cut that retains all the nasty goodness).

Despite its multiple liabilities--from the improbable script with its howl-inducing dialogue to its overwrought acting--I DRINK YOUR BLOOD operated by its own demented logic to be a singularly enjoyable experience. Somehow Durston has created his own universe where he can determine his own rules, kind of a low-rent David Lynch (yeah, I just compared Lynch to a movie called I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, wanna fight about it?) eager to please exploitation audiences, aided immeasurably by the stock sound effects and Clay Pitts's bizarre score.

I DRINK YOUR BLOOD probably doesn't qualify as a "good" movie, but I'd take it over THE GODFATHER or RAGING BULL anyday.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Following the success of their WHITE ZOMBIE, I'm sure Victor and Edward Halperin were eager to produce another living dead picture. Released in 1936 and directed by big brother Victor, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES may have been a crowd-pleasing second helping back in the day, but it sure hasn't held up against the rigors of time.

For a 62-minute movie, the plot is surprisingly complicated. The film begins with the legend of Angkor, a lost city in Asia built by the living dead. An international expedition is sent to learn Angkor's secrets, including the use of telepathy to create and control zombies. This sets up an archaeological race between the American soldiers in the expedition and a shameless Lugosi wannabe (embodying here the Yellow Peril caricature of the era), but don't expect any RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-style action, since the "race" is really two actors "wading" through a swamp set in front of a rear-projection screen. (One of two such hilarious scenes, the other being a ludicrously cut-rate battle sequence early in the film that bad movie fans will love.)

Dean Jagger is the all-American soldier who recovers the secret. A shy, soft-spoken fellow, Jagger learns to grow some cajones when he's jilted in a love triangle with fellow officer Robert Noland and Dorothy Stone. (Though Stone plays such a thoroughly unappealing woman, it's a wonder why Jagger cares at all; the scene in which she rebuffs his affections is priceless for its stilted, unnatural exchange--has anyone ever talked like this?) Jagger uses his newfound powers to not only mentally enslave every minority in the area--his will conveyed by superimposing Lugosi's eyes from WHITE ZOMBIE over the screen--but to win Stone's affections. Alas, true love can never be unless Jagger gives up his power, and so he does in a surprising return of his milquetoast behavior, setting up the revolt of the title (which is really more like a destructive temper tantrum with Jagger's death at the climax).

About that revolt. Can it really be considered a revolt when the zombies don't attack until after they've been released? And since they've been released, aren't they no longer zombies? (I think Linda Richman once posed a philosophical debate about this very subject.)

Confounding and dull, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES lacks the atmosphere and mystery that made WHITE ZOMBIE so enjoyable. Though it may amuse fans of the Poverty Row horrors (which do have their share of creaky charms), those weaned on the more visceral entries of the zombie cannon are going to be sorely disappointed. It wouldn't surprise me if a good number of you have seen this one; if you've ever bought one of those 50 Gazillion Movie DVD packs, you no doubt own this title.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


In the VHS glory days of the late 1980's, several low-budget video companies experimented with gimmick boxes to attract viewers' attention. Somewhere between the three-dimensional art for BLACK ROSES and FRANKENHOOKER'S talking sleeve was the box for THE DEAD PIT, which featured a 3-D image of Dr. Ramzi, the film's villain, whose eyes lit up when you pressed a button. That I remembered more about the video box than the film itself should tell you all you need to know.

Before pissing off Stephen King and Dean Koontz with mediocre adaptations of their work (THE LAWNMOWER MAN and HIDEAWAY, respectively), Brett Leonard directed this 1989 zombie variation on ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. The festivities kick off with Dr. Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer), a brain surgeon conducting unorthodox experiments on the patients of the State Institution for the Mentally Ill. When Ramzi's colleague Dr. Swan (Jeremy Slate) discovers his subterranean lab, as well as the titular pit where the botched attempts are dumped, Swan caps him with a shot to the head and seals him and his cadavers away in his underground lair.

Flash forward twenty years, when a lovely young amnesiac (Cheryl Lawson) is sent to the Institution to help regain the memory of her identity (she refers to herself as Jane Doe). Before she can learn what trauma caused her memory loss, an earthquake rocks the hospital, awakening Ramzi and his subjects. Soon Ramzi is resuming his experiments, roaming the hospital corridors at night to recruit an unwitting nurse or patient, his eyes aglow when he attacks.

Filmed in the abandoned violent ward of a real hospital, THE DEAD PIT makes the most of its location, showing an excellent use of lighting to establish mood. But the ominous atmosphere can only carry the film so far before the weaknesses in the script start showing. The film's first hour is largely uneventful, consisting mostly of Jane Doe's nightmares of Ramzi (it seems as though Leonard's trying for an ELM STREET-style vibe here, playing these scenes with a sense of ambiguity that doesn't quite work, since we know the proceedings are actually happening). These sequences soon grow repetitive, feeling more like plot padding than advancement (that Lawson wears her hospital-issue panties and baby doll-tee combo helps make these scenes watchable).

Things do start to pick up once the zombies arrive, preying on patients and staff and spilling plenty of the red stuff (a fair amount of which was cut for an R rating). In an interesting twist, holy water is used to dispatch the dead rather than the traditional bullet to the head, but for some reason this detail doesn't quite fit; perhaps it's because the quasi-scientific foundation the film's been built on doesn't mesh with the Judeo-Christian elements of good-vs-evil. But even after the brains start rolling inertia soon sets in as the film chugs toward its conclusion, where it answers the questions of Lawson's past long after we the viewing audience have figured it out. (Oh, and if anyone can explain the movie's final shot to me, I'd be eternally grateful.)

While far from perfect, THE DEAD PIT would probably please non-discriminating zombie fans looking for something a little different. Though the film has yet to be officially released on DVD, it shouldn't be too hard to locate a copy on the collector's market.


After giving a high-class update to vampires, werewolves, mummies, and mad scientists, Hammer Studios turned to the living dead for this 1966 outing from director John Gilling. I'm sure it'll come as no surprise when I say the film is long on mood, short on thrills (visceral or otherwise).

Esteemed doctor Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) and his daughter travel to the village of Cornwall to assist Peter Tompson (Brook Williams), a former pupil struggling to find a cure to a mysterious plague that's befallen the local populace. Because we've seen the opening sequence, we know that voodoo is to blame, yet the film insists on forging ahead as if it's all a mystery. (PLAGUE's pretty good at dispelling any air of suspense it creates by telegraphing information; for example, we know Squire Hamilton, with his voodoo-symboled ring and wicked sideburns, is behind it all the moment we see him.)

Typical Hammer fare, PLAGUE uses period trappings to add a classy veneer to an otherwise lackluster tale. We're forced to suffer through a series of stiff, interminable conversations until the film's mid-point, when Sir James learns the culprit is voodoo, an "absolutely disgusting" version of witchcraft practiced by the people of Hi-ee-tee. (That James considers voodoo a form of savage witchcraft is one of the film's understated racist details; another is that though the population of Cornwall is Caucasian, Hamilton manages to have a few blacks in tribal headgear beating drums for his voodoo ceremonies.)

Late in the game we learn that Hamilton has been harvesting zombies to use as slaves in his tin mine, though the undead are such ineffectual workers that you wonder why he bothered in the first place (surely finding a handful of day laborers would be easier than resurrecting a horde of corpses and whipping them until they finally obey). Herein lies the film's biggest flaw, in that aside from a dream sequence in a mist-laden cemetery, the zombies aren't particularly scary (though Roy Ashton's makeups are effective).

The best Hammer productions have always benefitted from the commanding presences of actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and without their charisma to compensate for the leaden pace, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES remains a limp, boring pseudo-mystery that could only charitably qualify as a horror film.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Also known as NIGHT SHADOWS, 1984's MUTANT is a dud under either title. This slow-moving and unengaging sci-fi/horror hybrid was directed by B-movie veteran John "Bud" Cardos (I've always been leery of directors with nicknames; there's a reason you never see movies by Martin "Skip" Scorsese, or David "Butch" Lynch).

Two vacationing brothers (one of whom is Wings Hauser) find themselves stranded in a tiny hick town in the midst of a flu epidemic. It seems the townspeople are being mutated by chemical waste into zombie-like creatures with caustic blood, who kill their victims via slits in the palms of their hands (the toxic steam that rises when the mutants make contact with their prey is a nice visual). When Hauser's brother goes missing, he learns that there's more to the town than just drunken redneck assholes.

Like a lot of horror films that rely on "scientific" explanations, the characters of MUTANT babble a lot about things, but explain very little. Also like several films of this stripe, although the mutants are caused by a nearby chemical plant, nobody bothers to consider a connection; hell, even the script dwells on this detail for a whole five minutes. The story does pick up the pace in the final act, but by that point it's hard to work up any concern for anyone. Hauser is creepy and loutish when he's supposed to be charming, and Jody Medford (playing a bartending teacher and love interest) portrays the kind of girl who resents being left out of dangerous situations just because she's female, yet shrieks and cowers at the slightest provocation. (We also get Bo Hopkins, playing your standard Southern sheriff.) The film does get surprisingly mercenary when it kills off the sole child actor in the cast, but even that scene lacks any real impact.

Though the movie does have some better than average production value (notably its cinematography and orchestral score), MUTANT is your garden variety monster pic, the kind of movie that passes slow Saturday afternoons when there's nothing better to be had. However, if you're the kind of person committed to watching every single '80s horror film you can find, you'll still get a nostalgic kick from this one.


Zombie films get the Penthouse Forum treatment in this 2005 release from writer/director Scott Phillips. Taking the apocalypse-survival scenario and turning it on its, um, ear, FLESH seems on the surface just another slice of sleaze and gore. But the more exploitive elements are simply a mask to a surprisingly serious look at the complexities of human relationships.

Kurly Tlapoyawa is Matool (given the subject matter, a dirty pun as much as a Fulci reference), a bespectacled badass who prefers a hands-on approach to killing zombies. He's taken to a ranch house in the New Mexico wasteland by Nathan (Ross Kelly), as a playmate for his wife Dexy (full-figured beauty Diva). You see, Nathan and Dexy practice an "alternative lifestyle," something that's been rather difficult to do with the world being overrun with the living dead. It seems like the perfect situation for everyone; days are spent killing zombies, while at night Nathan watches as Matool services Dexy (accompanied by Dexy's sister Sassy, who's got a Belial-like "twin" attached to her side). Everybody's happy, until a trio of soldiers show up, one of them infected by a zombie bite, looking for shelter. And though it's Christmas for Dexy with a couple of extra studs on hand, Nathan starts to experience the first pangs of jealousy.

THE STINK OF FLESH rises head and shoulders above the usual ultra-low-budget fare, thanks mostly to the skill of director Phillips (it doesn't hurt that he's had extensive film experience, his resume starting with RED DAWN). He presents Nathan and Dexy as real people, treating their relationship as an honest expression of human sexuality; he does an admirable job with all of his characters, in fact, allowing their interpersonal relationships to develop and drive the story (the only exception is Sassy, who really isn't defined beyond her deformity, and is poorly-acted to boot). And though Phillips refrains from making a cheap T&A gore picture, he does throw in a few gruesome elements (such as the naked zombie girl Nathan keeps chained in the barn) and raunchy humor (most of which is actually funny). My only real gripe is the ending which leaves a couple of issues unresolved, but doesn't really detract from the unsettling conclusion the story's been building up to.

In a market deluged with shitbombs like DEAD CLOWNS and DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS!, THE STINK OF FLESH stands out as a shining example that a movie doesn't have to be unrelentingly stupid just because it has no money. I'm looking forward to seeing Phillips's follow-up, GIMME SKELTER.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


When I wrote last week's review of DETAINED, a short zombie film from Ireland, I heard about a similair movie called DEAD MEAT, which is also a short zombie film from the Emerald Isle. A quick trip to YouTube yielded the following film, but I couldn't find any info on it--the movie has no copyright date, nor did IMDB give me any clues. So if this is the same DEAD MEAT, it'd be news to me. What I do know about the film is that its directors, Miles Roper and Tuesday Bassen, made a slight vignette that lacks an actual story.

DEAD MEAT attempts to endear itself early by playing some (unauthorized?) classic Misfits songs as its soundtrack (since the movie has no dialogue, Glenn Danzig's voice is the only one we hear). The plot, so to speak, is simple. A man tooling around in a van sees a zombie shambling on the side of the road. He gets out, shoots it, and wanders around for the next eight minutes, killing additional zombies and stockpiling them in the van.

That's it. Nothing else happens during the meager running time. And though a day in the life of a janitor-like zombie killer would probably make for an interesting movie, a little interaction with, I dunno, something would've made it actually watchable. There's no suspense or drama, since we know nothing about our hero (who would rather toss his shotgun into the weeds when out of shells rather than walk back to his van for more). A brief tussle on the ground with one of the zombies is as close to conflict as the movie gets. (Also, the undead on hand here are rather disappointing.)

During the end credits the filmmakers thank several people, including George Romero, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, Akira Kurosawa, and Takashi Miike, yet not a single trace of any stylistic influence from these directors appears here. You'd think they'd have at least cribbed a couple of camera angles, or some dialogue . . . anything to help their movie resemble those of their idols'. Instead they gave us something that looks more like somebody's morbid home movie.


As we enter the holiday season many of you will undoubtedly be tuning in to watch the beloved film A CHRISTMAS STORY (most likely because the film's as hard to avoid as a tryptophene-induced coma), and some know-it-all will inform everyone that this delightful family movie was directed by the same guy who did PORKY'S. Well, if you really want to mess with your loved one's minds, after Ralphie shoots his eye out with his Red Ryder pop in this underappreciated 1972 gem, one of three low-budget horror films Bob Clark made to hone his movie-making skills.

Using NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a template, this horror-comedy deals with a theatrical troupe (led by co-writer and make-up chief Alan Ormsby as the egotistical, tyrannical director Alan, in the loudest pair of pants ever put before a camera) traveling to a burial island off the Florida coast to take part in a vaguely-defined performance. (Most of the cast shares the same name as the character; either for convenience or a deliberate stylistic touch I don't know, but it does help build a sense of camaraderie among them, and makes them appear more real.) Said performance, though, involves digging up a corpse named Orville and using it as a centerpiece for a quasi-satanic ritual, as Alan hams it up for his underlings (exactly why he's compelled to do this is never explained; does he truly believe in what he's doing, or merely stroking his own ego?) . However, the dead take offense at the disrespect, and rise en masse to voice their disapproval.

Horror and humor can work well together, but it takes a skillful hand to play one against the other to achieve success. Usually, the laughs wind up contradicting the scares and the finished film doesn't work on either level. Clark doesn't fall prey to this trap, though it seems he may in the film's beginning, as the cast trades various quips and one-liners. Surprisingly, the jokes don't detract from the classic Gothic atmosphere--with its fog-swept cemeteries and decrepit buildings--Clark establishes in the opening scenes. Even more is impressive is how seamlessly the humor segues into horror, as zombies rise from the ground (a well-executed sequence in its own right) to close in on the cast, now spilling guts instead of busting them.

The build-up to the zombie attack is rather slow, but the performances and scare-promising mood keep the proceedings from being boring, though the story does feel a little too padded around the mid-point as Alan retreats from the graveyard to indulge in some rude, vaguely-necrophilic hijinx with Orville. Clark lets his story turn unexpectedly dark as the dead close in on the cast, borrowing liberally from Romero's playbook for the uncompromising climactic assault; he then caps it off with Orville's revenge, a quietly effective epilogue that grows stronger after repeat viewings.

Sadly, Bob Clark was killed earlier this year in a collision with a drunk driver. Among the projects he had in development was a remake of CHILDREN, and though I'm sick to death (sorry) of retreads these days, I must admit to be somewhat fascinated by the possibilities; though much of the movie's strength comes from the low-budget, home movie-like atmosphere, revisiting the material after the mainstream success of, say, A CHRISTMAS STORY would make for an interesting film (maybe one of the zombies can get their eye shot out with a BB gun?). I guess now we'll never know.