Friday, November 2, 2007


Marius Penczner's I WAS A ZOMBIE FOR THE FBI was a favorite in the early days of cable television, and it's not difficult to see why. This 1982 cult classic jams so many wild plot twists and sci-fi homages into its 75-minute running time that it's hard not to get swept up by its manic charm.

Structured like the classic Republic serials (complete with chapter breaks), ZOMBIE'S everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot kicks off when a pair of Strangers (Anthony Isbell and Rick Crowe, a great pair of villains who deliver their lines in soft, eerie monologues) crash their UFO on the outskirts of Central City. They recruit a pair of human criminals as their henchmen, the Brazzo brothers (co-writer John Gillick and Laurence Hall), to help carry out their scheme--infiltrate the Uni-Cola soda company and doctor the formula of their famous Health Cola so that it turns its drinkers into mindless, slave-like zombies. Unfortunately for them, Federal Agents Rex Armstrong and Ace Evans (James Rasberry and Larry Rasberry, respectively) are on the case, and will stop at nothing to foil their fiendish plan.

From its opening scene, the movie rolls along at a brisk pace, delivering far more thrills and livelier dialogue than the serials that served as their inspiration. (One minor quibble: I would've loved a scene in which the fedora-wearing Feds mix it up with the aliens without losing their hats.) The story barely stops to rest as it hurls one gleefully kitschy turn after another, alternating between humor, action, and mild suspense.

Because of its subject matter, ZOMBIE has the ability to use its low budget and limited resources to its advantage. Several times primitive computer-generated effects are used to create backgrounds and embellish action sequences; these crude visuals help enhance the engagingly surreal feel of the picture. (The same can also be said of the climactic scene involving the ZBeast, a stop-motion minion of the Strangers that should please fans of Harryhausen-era FX).

Even if you're not familiar with the sci-fi and G-Men films of the 1950's, I WAS A ZOMBIE FOR THE FBI is a flat-out fun experience.

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