Sunday, November 16, 2008


First of all, I would like to thank a few people:

Michael Anthony, Dustin Stewart, and especially Donna Williams for providing copies of many of the films reviewed here.

Filmmakers Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions, John Demars, Marshaa Robinson, Srguijarro Srguijarro, Matthew Hatchard, and Marius Penczner for their feedback, support, and enthusiasm.

Dave Marks at Blog of the Living Dead, Trioxin, and the Zombie Notes Newsgroup for spreading the love. Not to mention a shout-out to Myrrym Davies for her continued support for the cause.

Of course all of you who took the time to read a review, post a comment, or tell a friend about the blog. 365 Days took up a good chunk of the past year--more than I'd anticipated--and it was quite a relief knowing that somebody was making it worth the effort.

But most importantly I'd like to thank my patient, understanding, and supporting wife Kathleen for encouraging me, enabling me, and not holding it against me when I spent more time with shitty DVDs than with her. I love you, sweetie!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Although the films have watched and all the reviews posted--sniff, sniff--stay tuned in the days to come, as I'll be posting some follow-up notes for the completion of 365 Days of the Dead.

Thanks to all who've been reading.


And so we bring 365 Days of the Dead to a close with, ironically enough, the very first zombie film (or at least the first to use the word "zombie" in its title), the 1932 semi-classic WHITE ZOMBIE. Directed by Victor Halpern, this film offers little significance aside from being first, and stands today as a curio at best. Or maybe a treat for Bela Lugosi fans.

Rewatching the movie I surprised to discover how steadily WHITE ZOMBIE comes close to being great yet never does. I'm sure that can be ascribed to Halpern, who was making a Poverty Row quickie to capitalize on the box-office of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA; it takes only a casual glance to realize that the film's strongest visuals are aping James Whale and Tod Browning. (One exception, of course, is the establishing scene in the sugar mill as the zombies toil into the night, unmindful as one of their own falls into the machinery; had there been more eerie set-pieces like this, it might've claimed a spot in the same league as those other terror titans.)

Though the films' considerable atmosphere still holds up well, even in the poorly-restored public domain prints available today, the same cannot be said for its story, which falls squarely into rickety melodrama. It's up to Lugosi with his Mephistophelean countenance and cadre of living dead to carry the picture, and the former doesn't exactly pull his fair share (then again, he was making $800 for a starring role, do you blame him?). And Halpern's direction is enough to make one a zombie, with his somnambulant pacing and long gaps between lines; even at 66 minutes, this thing could've been compressed by a third and not lost a thing.

Still, as low-budget films from the '30s go, it's not that bad. Perhaps anathema to today's zombie fans weaned on Romero's gut-chomping ghouls, it's an essential entry to the living dead cannon, and those who haven't seen it yet should check it out.


An adventure-horror hybrid from 1973, Amando de Ossorio's NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS boils down to a jungle-bound version of his famous BLIND DEAD series, replacing the monk-robed Knights Templar with bikini-clad panther women. It's an intriguing idea, though the execution leaves a little to be desired.

An African expedition studying the disappearance of local elephants (headed by Eurofave Jack Taylor) discovers a voodoo cult that raises zombies and has a habit of turning white ladies into the aforementioned panther women (not sure how chopping off their heads causes the transformation--and although they're ostensibly shape-shifters, they tend to appear mostly in fur bikinis, not that I'm complaining). Did I mention the panther women were also vampires? And that they never bite anyone on the neck, but like to stab and drown people?

Okay, so logic never was de Ossorio's strong suit, but when it comes to lurid thrills he usually delivers (as he does in the film's prologue, a racially insensitive bit in which the dark-skinned tribe ravages and sacrifices a Caucasian woman). There's some goofy violence to be found, not to mention a plethora of bare female flesh, but SORCERERS never really hits its mark, as though de Ossorio was uncomfortable with the material.

The director employs the same slow pace that he used in the BLIND DEAD films, though without the Gothic trappings and eerie chanting soundtrack the tempo feels dull instead of atmospheric. De Ossorio also uses the slow-motion techniques for the predatory panther women that he worked to great effect with the Templars, but whereas the latter benefited from that trick, it just looks silly in SORCERERS (looking at times like a bad BAYWATCH parody). Even the rising of the dead--always a highlight in the BLIND DEAD series--looks cheap and cobbled together, without the accoutrements that made the earlier sequences so effective.

And without that same element of fun and ambience, NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS fails to justify its existence, especially when the threadbare plot has so little going for it. Fans of Eurotrash will undoubtedly enjoy it--and make no mistake, it's not a total waste--but if you could never get into TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD or GHOST GALLEON, you are not going to like this.


Gregg Bishop's 2008 high school zombie movie DANCE OF THE DEAD (part of the Ghost House collective) was supposedly written ten years prior, before the recent undead boom. Maybe that's why it feels so tired and familiar, because I know I've seen this plot before.

In a concept we've seen in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS and BOY EATS GIRL (with the same results), the living dead have risen to feed upon high school students at the prom. And wouldn't you know, the only ones who can save the day are the unpopular geeks that couldn't get a date--had this happened to me when I was in school, I'd have let the zombies eat the motherfuckers, but I'm an anti-social sort. And while I liked the semi-twist of having the phys ed instructor helping the boys, the plot still reeks of desperate wish-fulfillment.

Bishop's directorial style is superficial gloss and flash, but it's never strong or distinctive enough to distract from the well-worn storyline--though there might be enough gore to keep people interested. Instead of trying too hard to be funny, Bishop should've focused on a sense of anarchy, a balls-to-the-wall mentality that would've complemented this picture so much better.

Occupying that gray area between not-bad and not-good, DANCE OF THE DEAD is the type of high-school tripe where you know upfront exactly who'll live and who'll die. Maybe if I'd encountered this earlier in the project I might've been a little more charitable, but by this point I'm simply tired of seeing this plot.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 was scarier.


Like many of you who read this blog, I'm a sucker for a bad movies (otherwise I'd have sucked the business end of a shotgun sometime around February), but I appreciate it when a movie lets me know up front that it's going to be a stinker; say what you will about MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, but you know from frame one what you're in for. But when a movie appears at first glance to be decent and then turns sour--like Jeremy Kasten's 2005 thriller ALL SOULS DAY--I feel like the victim of a cinematic game of three-card monty.

It starts out like a better-than-average horror film with a '50s-set flashback as a vacationing family--led by Jeffrey Combs, clearly having a ball playing against type--encounters supernatural goings-on in a mysterious Mexican hotel. But just as it really starts to grow on you, Kasten flash-forwards to the present for the story proper, which isn't nearly as atmospheric, intriguing, or interesting as what came before it. (There's also a matter of a double prologue, as the film sets up its central backstory fifty or so years before Combs and family show up, causing the viewer to reinvest interest each time.)

The meat of the story, in which the dead return during the annual Day of the Dead celebration to exact their revenge (and prey on any handy tourists), might not've been too bad, even with the Romero-esque approach. But the protagonists are so bland and unappealing, including a male lead as hyperactive and annoying as a sugar-addled child, and flat, no-frills direction dampen any fun that may be had. Characters act with a vague humor that may be intentional (I wouldn't be surprised if many of the actors knew they were in a dud and decided to have some fun with it), and there's plenty of dead air throughout the plot as the cast muddles from one familiar situation to another. It's almost as if the Combs prologue was from a different film altogether, as none of the mood or ambience finds its way into the rest of the picture.

If ALL SOULS DAY had stuck with that opening sequence it could've been a so-so but enjoyable film, but instead it shovels out more of the same, giving us a mediocre would-be thriller involving whitebread schmucks in peril. Just what I needed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


The gods be praised, this is the last micro-budget shot-on-video hack-job I'll have to review for this project. Hopefully, it'll be the last one I'll ever see, but that's probably too much to ask. Regardless, this 2005 feature from director William Victor Schotten--who also delivered the slightly better SABBATH--is the same uninspired, unoriginal schlock we've seen time and again, complete with muffled audio and murky, snuff-flick quality videography.

Like a lot of these movies, DEAD LIFE chronicles the boring small-town life of a group of slackers (a thuddingly appropriate illustration of "Write what you know") whose world gets shaken up when yet another virus-borne zombie rampage hits their community. And while others have taken this same tired premise and juiced it up, DEAD LIFE opts to intercut long, aimless scenes of wandering zombies with one pointless conversation after another.

Sloppily edited with clumsy direction (even a scene involving a bitten-off dick registers no impact) and a meaningless, redundant death metal soundtrack, DEAD LIFE is a home movie masquerading as a feature. There's some decent gore to be found, as well as some black-and-white nightmare footage that's a desperate stylistic ploy, but it's just as poorly handled as the rest, and you have to wade through the snail-paced "story" to get to it.

Lacking energy, skill, or rhythm, DEAD LIFE is not worth the trouble. At least Schotten showed a little improvement with his follow-up; perhaps by movie #5 he can show some real strength.


A much better take on the Western zombie concept is Andre Albrecht's 2006 short film WASTED WEST. A tribute to George Romero and Sergios Leone and Corbucci, this should appeal to both fans of the living dead and spaghetti westerns.

While it's a little on the slow side, without a solid narrative, Albrecht still delivers a fun ride thanks to his strong filmmaking chops. With a more developed screenplay, I'd really like to see this as a feature; hopefully Albrecht can use this to drum up enough capital to make that a reality.

Though hopefully he leaves out the cheesy CGI dog.


This 2006 short film's subtitle--"A Zombie Western"--tips you off to the filmmakers' idea of humor, but it's so misleading it might as well be called "A Zombie Cooking Show." If you're looking for cowpokes and their six-shooters squaring off against the living dead, look elsewhere; what you get here is just another amateurish zombie-attack scenario (as pointless and arbitrary as any other reviewed here, although this one's supposedly not made by bored high school students) with Ennio Morricone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY score slapped over it.

If you'd like to see a much better zombie Western (and I'd have reviewed it myself, had time permitted), check out IT CAME FROM THE WEST, a short Western-zombie film from Denmark. Starring puppets.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


With a title like that you were maybe expecting A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE?

This 2006 standard-issue B-picture has a doozy of a concept: while on a mission in Cambodia, a US soldier (played by Dean Cain, wholly inappropriate for this kind of tough-guy role) is bitten by a radioactive scorpion; but instead of becoming a scorpion-like superhero--and believe me, that would've been an improvement--he dies, only to come back to life as a "half zombie." (Excuse me, but isn't that sort of like being half pregnant?) While the other officers in his platoon have reawakened as full-blown zombies--the vicious, flesh-eating kind, rather than Cain's type with the aw-shucks grin and puppy-dog eyes), Cain finds himself at war with his former brothers-in-arms.

Aided by the obligatory black sidekick and sexy love interest, Cain embarks on a new mission, one that feels like a fourth-rate cable cop show, complete with the requisite snappy repartee and watered-down romance (and I've always found Cain's persona as a heart-throb questionable--here, all pasty-white and suffering from rigor mortis, it's downright improbable, to say nothing of his Sonny Crockett wardrobe).

Director Patrick Dinhut keeps things as technically competent as a good workhorse should, but his ham-fisted handling of the action sequences rob them of any excitement. He also has a tendency to play to the movie's dumber aspects, favoring lunkheaded humor over horror or gore. It's a generic zombie movie that really wants to be a generic buddy-cop movie, but fails to be good as either.

Devoid of charm, energy, or laughs, DEAD AND DEADER is the kind of schedule-filling garbage the Sci-Fi Channel thrives on. A more accurate title would be DULL AND DULLER. Skip it.


Proving that NIGHT OF THE LEPUS is not the worst rabbit-related horror film ever made, Christine Parker's 2007 video-bound stink-bomb FOREVER DEAD also breaks the gender barrier in crappy micro-budget filmmaking, illustrating that women can make 'em just as badly as men.

Saving its only shred of originality for its premise--an escaped rabbit, used as part of unorthodox scientific experiments, is the carrier of the zombie plague--FOREVER DEAD is another example of the talentless, by-the-numbers dross that makes up a solid third of this project's reviews. Boring and dumb, with pitiful performances, lame attempts at humor, and negligible gore effects, I might've overlooked its unoriginality if the direction hadn't been so flat. But Parker shoots her film with such a lack of energy and verve that it lays on the screen, limp as a damp paper towel.

Remember, just because you really love zombie films, that doesn't qualify you to make one. FOREVER DEAD is a shining example of that fact.


The first 45 seconds of DEAD COUNTRY--a 2008 amateur-night production from director Andrew Merkelbach--features enough atrocious acting, lazy camerawork, and ghastly CGI for an entire movie. A craftless, dunderheaded shot-on-video mess, this is the sort of fanboy love letter I can do without.

A spaceship explodes over the town of Romero--gee, what a subtle and innovative reference, the likes of which I've never seen--infecting the populace with an alien virus that turns them into zombies. And into that rivetingly fresh scenario steps director Merkelbach, the extra-terrestrial responsible, who tries to keep the plague from spreading before it's too late.

DEAD COUNTRY is the kind of DIY ineptitude that throws in fully-clothed sex scenes, meaningless title cards (do we really need to be reminded that December 25 is Christmas Day?), and enough slow-mo tit shots to satisfy a junior-varsity basketball team. In addition to being an unconscionably bad actor, Merkelbach flails as a filmmakers as well, bearing an inconsistent visual style that alternates between cheap video-based sloppiness or the intentionally-scratched look that went stale twenty minutes after GRINDHOUSE hit theaters. Stupid, unfunny, with zombie makeup so bad Andreas Schnaas would balk--life's too short for crap like this, even with the abundant female flesh on display (though I don't think any amount of skin could save this tripe). Even a rare cameo by drive-in legend Ted V. Mikels, and a not-so-rare cameo by Lloyd Kaufman, can't keep this afloat.

For self-loathers only.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


If, like me, you find the idea of a zombie hamburger delightfully stupid, then you may be inclined to check out THE MAD, a seriously flawed but fun 2007 release from director Johnny Kalangis that often teeters on the brink of genius.

A white-bread suburban family (led by venerable character actor Billy Zane, totally out of place as a straight-laced dad, even with the David Cross hipster glasses) vacationing in a bucolic farm community soon finds their itinerary disrupted when trouble brews at the local restaurant. It seems the ranch that supplies their beef has been infected with a strain of Mad Cow disease, transferring to the people who consume it and making them marauding, rampaging zombies.

As horror-comedy set-ups go, Kalangis has the makings of a winner, but his comedy is too uneven to really work. The humor works best when it's subtle, but the broad slapstick, which constitutes most of the laughs, doesn't fare quite so well and degenerates to sloppy silliness as the film wears on.

THE MAD also suffers from several narrative missteps, including a too-familiar plotline, some very predictable characters arcs, and an indulgent, self-referential zombie discussion, not to mention a third act that grinds the story to a halt when it should be hitting full-throttle (even at 82 minutes, it's still 20 minutes too long). Kalangis has a penchant for stylistic flourishes involving quick editing and skewed camera angles that add nothing, which leads to one of the worst blowjob-related scenes in recent memory.

Yet despite these significant faults, THE MAD entertains for the most part thanks to a couple of genuine surprises (as in the people who don't survive) and an incredibly game cast. Zane keeps up his dependable-but-bland persona (leaving behind the smarminess that creeps into many of his roles), and supporting females Maggie Castle and Shauna MacDonald breathe life and charisma into potenitally cardboard characters--especially the latter, who channels Annette Benning's manic perfection from AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Though it could've done more in the gore department--the scenario was perfect for an over-the-top bloodbath, though I doubt Kalangis is really the director for one--THE MAD is still worth a look-see. Prepare yourself for a little frustration and you'll be all set.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Equally obnoxious is the short film, RETURN OF THE DASTARDLY ZOMBIE VAMPIRE MUMMY FROM PLANET X, which Brian Singleton made in 1998, and serves as a bonus feature on the FOREST OF THE DEAD DVD. In many ways it serves as a dry run for the inanity that constitutes FOREST--lame-brain comedy, ghastly performances (which are essentially "actors" speaking in the most annoying accents possible), and crappy effects, it's a punishing 17-minute "homage" to bad horror flicks of yesteryear.

Too bad it forgot to be as entertaining as those schlocky B pictures.

There's little plot to speak of, so I won't, but I will say it's the first time I've ever seen a monster dispatched by a suit-and-sombrero-wearing pistolero. (It's utterly stupid, to be sure, but original nonetheless). Certainly not worth checking out on its own--and barely worth seeing if you rent the FOREST DVD--it's a slice of chuckleheaded nonsense that's easily forgotten.


Thank God it will all be over soon.

In just a few more days I won't have to subject myself to movies like FOREST OF THE DEAD, a 2007 production from Canadian director Brian Singleton. On the surface a laudable example of the micro-budget DIY ethic--not only did he finance the project wholly out of his own pocket, but Singleton acted as a one-man crew, filming and recording sound with solely the assistance of off-screen actors--it soon buries any goodwill beneath a toppling mound of obnoxious characters, numbskull humor, and thin plotting.

Taking its cue from the "dumb teenagers dying the woods" school of '80s filmmaking, DEAD involves a carload of insufferable assholes on a road trip who make a detour into the forest. Loud, asinine, and not the least bit amusing, these so-called protagonists are the perfect target for the flesh-eating zombies that await them, which would've made for a trying, but potentially gory, teen-kill flick. But in a shocking-in-a-bad-way plot twist, Singleton quickly does away with them so he can introduce another group of characters even more noisome than the first. What did I do to deserve these people?

Singleton offers up an adequate smorgasbord of splatter towards the end--juvenile, uninventive splatter, but still--yet in order to get to it you've got to sift through a lot of talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. Boring and uneventful barely describe it, and the screenplay--penned by Singleton and his brother Mark--helps little with the ever-present bad amateur dialogue. Trying to be edgy and hip, passing off one-dimensional stereotypes, they come off not as envelope-pushing comedians but alarmingly antisocial bastards.

Narratively weak (once Final Girl bites it, the movie's over, as there's no more plot motivation) and self-indulgent (bearing not only an unnecessary director introduction--dammit, if Kubrick and Scorcese never felt the need why do amateur filmmakers always do?--and nearly nine minutes of "wacky" outtakes), FOREST OF THE DEAD is a typical representation of the the headache-inducing dross that litters micro-budget cinema.


Another hunk of Akron-lensed hooey from director J.R. Bookwalter, 1993's OZONE isn't quite as bad as some of his other shot-on-video work (sort of like how a broken finger isn't as bad as a severed hand), but it's still a far cry from THE DEAD NEXT DOOR. A mishmash of the cop and horror genres, OZONE displays a little ambition, though its low budget and shaky craftsmanship prevent it from really taking off.

James Black--who almost has the chops to be above dreck like this--stars as a police detective on the trail of a dealer pushing a new drug called Ozone that turns its users into zombies. When his partner is abducted by Ozone addicts, Black picks up the search, a journey that takes some strange--but not strange enough--turns once he becomes injected with the drug himself.

Though it boasts some fairly solid production values (considering its budget and year of its release), OZONE suffers from so many avoidable pitfalls. Poor performances from the supporting cast don't help, particularly the unconvincing bad guys, but the biggest flaw lies in its plot. Dream sequences exist solely to showcase gratuitous effects (including the then-prevalent use of morphing technology), an overabundance of cop-movie cliches such as the maverick detective getting bawled out by the chief (some of these scenes feel intentional, but regardless they make watching the movie a chore), and some oddball subplots (such as the underground fighting ring where combatants fight each other with oversized pizza cutters). Throw in a drug kingpin that resembles one of Jabba the Hutt's Gammorrhean guards, and you've got a flick that tries too hard and delivers too little.

Filled with continuity errors--a half-naked Black escapes the fight club, only to round a corner fully dressed or zombies with makeup that never goes past their jawline--and other amateurish hallmarks, OZONE is a slow-paced, unintentionally humorous mess. I'm sure there are bad-movie completists who'll want to add this to their must-see lists, but I'd advise them to steer clear.


A would-be blockbuster, Tobe Hooper's 1985 film LIFEFORCE was an attempt on the part of producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to replicate the cash-cow success of STAR WARS. To say they failed is putting it mildly, and at first glance you might be surprised--the film is exceptionally crafted, with a rousing Henry Mancini score, opticals by visual fx guru John Dykstra, and great cinematography by Alan Hume--but once you really look at it, it's a wonder it made any money at all.

Working with a screenplay by ALIEN's Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on Colin Wilson's novel THE SPACE VAMPIRES (yes, I know this is technically a vampire movie, but give me a chance to explain in a bit), LIFEFORCE is purportedly a science fiction story, but its plot shifts gears so often that any potential audience is repeatedly, ahem, alienated.

It's not that the central concept is a bad one--vampiric creatures discovered in space are brought to Earth, who quickly spread a plague of the living dead throughout London--but after starting out like an erotic variant of ALIEN (in the form of Mathilda May, easily the film's best visual) with a healthy dose of mystery and tension, it loses its momentum once it returns to terra firma and becomes a slick, sf-tinged vampire tale (witness the dream sequence in which May visits a slumbering Steve Railsback, a classic succubus scenario if there ever was one).

The vampire element is probably the strongest plot thread, yet its most intriguing aspects are left unexplored. While obviously needing to set up May's spreading of the plague (funny--every single scene of the lovely Ms. May waltzing around nude runs much longer than the rhythm of said scene requires, yet I never really complained), Hooper and his screenwriters concentrate instead on the investigative portion of the event; it gives the film a meandering, dry second act that it never fully recovers from.

Once it finally kicks gears into apocalyptic-horror mode, I was ready to call it quits (as I do every time I watch this film). It's also at this point that Golan and Globus's blockbuster-envy shines through, as it strains itself toward a GHOSTBUSTERS-styled climax--without the demonic dogs, of course. By then the faint heart of its emotional core, the quasi-spiritual/sexual relationship between May and Railsback, is lost beneath an orgy of gee-whiz optical effects. (And I can't help but wonder what this movie would look like in today's CGI wonderland, especially the scene in which blood from Patrick Stewart's unbelievably fake-looking head creates a vision of May.)

As for the zombies . . . while I can't entirely hate a movie that shoehorns them into the story, it's very plainly stated that these creatures are vampires; they're referred to as such, fer cryin' out loud. Yet the monsters running around London, feasting on any available victim, appear to be zombies. They certainly behave like them, and the film presents them in a similar fashion (even foreshadowing films like 28 WEEKS LATER). It's confusing, to say the least, but it's probably part of the producers' need to appeal to every single movie-going demographic.

LIFEFORCE is a wildly uneven film that offers the occasional pay-off, but--at the risk of sounding like a sexist pig--its greatest asset is the inclusion of one of the best naked performances in genre history.

Monday, October 27, 2008


RABID GRANNIES, a 1988 Belgian production from director Emmanuel Kervyn, is a gore film that takes out all the gore. Picked up for domestic distribution by Troma--who included the truncated splatter in a separate reel, which isn't quite as fun when taken out of context--it's more about demonic possession rather than zombies, but like Lamberto Bava's DEMONS films, which it frequently echoes, it hews very close to the established zombie formula.

A pair of kind elderly women host a birthday party, in which all of their greedy, rude, and self-absorbed relatives are invited. When the ladies are infected by a demonic presence--as part of a present from their Satan-worshipping nephew Christopher--they transform into rampaging monsters equipped with Krueger-esque claws, slaughtering their way through their ungrateful family.

The fun of a movie like RABID GRANNIES is the lowbrow thrill of non-stop grue, broad slapstick humor, and maybe a little skin. By removing all the gore (which also ruins the impact of a rather ballsy scene involving a dismembered child) it also removes its reason for being, leaving behind a film that isn't very enjoyable without it. The little mayhem that remains is often interrupted by long, pointless stretches of conversation, and the humor that could've tied these scenes together isn't nearly as funny as it should be.

The cast is comprised of such ugly, amoral people that there's no one to root for, and their comeuppances are so restrained that we can't even revel when they're mowed down. Bereft of creativity, RABID GRANNIES coasts on its premise without the energy or excitement that's crucial to a good splatter film.


All I'm going to say is, Thank God I work at a movie theater; otherwise I'd have had to pay my own money to see this dreck.

As part of Hollywood's continued obsession with remaking well-made foreign films, the 2008 picture QUARANTINE is, as I'm sure you're aware, a redo of the Spanish release [REC] (which I'll be unable to view by the end of this project--a shame, since it's supposed to be far superior). Since this crap-sandwich is still playing in theaters, at least until the equally execrable SAW V draws its core demographic away, I'll spare the usual synopsis and get right to the lambasting.

I've never been a big fan of the hand-held style of filmmaking. I didn't mind it in, say, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, mostly because the technique was never a distraction. But its recent use in movies like CLOVERFIELD, 28 WEEKS LATER, and the BOURNE sequels, it ceases to enhance the story and becomes irritating, confusing, and (in this case) nauseating. Note to director John Erick Dowdle: if you're going to place subtle visual clues in your story, steady the goddamn camera long enough for us to fucking see them, okay?

Plot-wise, QUARANTINE does a decent job of setting up its premise, and the the mounting sense of danger is handled well. But once we get to the meat of the story, and its rabid zombie-like creatures are revealed, the film becomes a dull, repetitive cinematic funhouse ride as the characters face monsters in one uninspired scene after another. That in of itself wouldn't be so bad if the movie didn't feel so much like a 28 WEEKS LATER/DAWN OF THE DEAD clone. There isn't anything fresh or unique to be found here, and as soon as the realization settles in, QUARANTINE becomes quite a slog.

Which leads into the film's problematic third act, a blurry, night-vision sequence as star Jennifer Carpenter makes her way through the darkened corridors of the sealed building. What could've been a taut, knuckle-busting segment is reduced to shrill, never-ending boredom, and at the heart of it lies Carpenter's performance. Now, I got the idea she was a fluff-reporter thrust in over her head, so I could forgive her being somewhat weak, but listening to her shriek and cry for twenty-some minutes was interminable. Was her reaction believable and realistic? Certainly, but this is a narrative, not a documentary, and having your protagonist carry on like a five-year-old with a skinned knee is disappointing and annoying.

QUARANTINE is the kind of movie that makes the current genre scene so disheartening. Knowing that a brilliant and frightening film like Michael Dougherty's TRICK R TREAT remains unreleased while the remake-and-SAW sausage factory rolls on just makes me sad, and more than a little angry. And judging from the reaction I saw at work the last couple of weekends, I don't see it changing soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Funny, I was thinking the same thing.


HYSTERICAL is a 1983 AIRPLANE-style comedy showcasing the Hudson Brothers, a '70s-era comedy troupe now relegated to obscurity (and if this movie's any indication, obscurity couldn't have come quick enough). Astonishingly low on laughs, it's notable only for the respectable character actors roped into it (including Murray Hamilton, Bud Cort, and Julie Newmar).

Bill Hudson stars as a Harold Robbins-esque bestselling author who takes a soul-searching vacation to a coastal Oregon town. His relaxation is cut short by the appearance of a vengeful spirit who appears in the lighthouse home he's renting 100 years after her suicide; as part of her plan, she raises the corpse of her long-dead lover Captain Howdy (Richard Kiel, cast only to justify a vague JAWS reference), who turns the townsfolk into zombies so . . . actually, I have no idea why.

Even if the plot didn't jump around like a caffeine-addled child, or had made a lick of sense, HYSTERICAL still would appeal strictly to undiscriminating ten-year-olds, thanks to its abysmal joke-to-laugh ratio. I would say most of the gags are tremendously dated, since it mines early-eighties pop culture for much of its comedy, but it sticks to high-profile mainstream material--RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EXORCIST, THE SHINING, etc.--so what little jokes there are somewhat hold up. (And should give you an idea of what EPIC MOVIE will look like in twenty years.) Only a brief bit involving John Larroquette as a pot-smoking boat-tour guide--Bob's Big Buoy, ho-ho)--got any real laughs out of me.

With production values giving it the look of a '70s TV movie, HYSTERICAL is little more than a curio. The Hudson Brothers, along with co-writer and director Chris Bearde, made a movie that might've been funny at a Catskills comedy club circa 1952, but remains relatively worthless in the harsh reality of the new millennium.

It's still better than MEET THE SPARTANS, though.

(Special thanks--I think--to Michael Anthony for providing a copy of this film.)


I'm a big fan of anthology films, so I was really looking forward to Brian Clement's EXHUMED, a three-part feature released in 2003 that deals with the resurrection of the dead. Thematically ambitious, it nonetheless disappoints not only by being a mediocre picture, but it also never dares to fulfill the challenge it sets for itself.

After a brief, and needless, introduction by a cadaverous Serling surrogate we get into the first story, "The Forest of Death." Set during feudal Japan, it's a novel backdrop for a zombie tale, but the segment is hamstrung by poor acting and a thin plot with a weak resolution. Still, it's well-photographed, and it's nice to see a domestic DIY film shot in another language.

Faring about as well is the next installment, "Shadow of Tomorrow," a 1940's-set science fiction/detective mash-up that creates a great film-noir atmosphere but has an equally flimsy cast to go with it (especially its lead, a would-be hardboiled dame that delivers an awful performance). It too is a lightweight, disposable story, featuring one of the worst nightclub scenes in recent memory; it also has very little to do with the living dead, and capped with an abrupt ending, leading into . . .

"Last Rumble," the final segment, a post-apocalyptic juvenile delinquent tale that chronicles a war between vampires and werewolves, orchestrated for the government's enjoyment. Besides having absolutely nothing to do with zombies, it's easily the weakest portion of the film. Brimming with oodles of cut-rate gore, it plays like every other micro-budget action/splatter flick, with lame fight sequences and desperate, crass scenes of lesbian sex. It's also the least interesting of the three visually, looking cheap and tawdry instead of end-of-the-world bleak and gritty.

Clement ends EXHUMED with a weird epilogue that ties all three stories together, saddled with exposition as if were going out of style, but it adds nothing to the overall movie. If anything, it makes it even more confusing.

EXHUMED would've been more successful if it hadn't used its structure and various settings as window dressing, and actually explored them with some manner of depth. Hell, any one of these could've justified their own feature-length treatment. But by being as superficial as possible, Clement sabotages his chance of creating something unique.


The problem with this 2003 shot-on-video production is that it gets the revolting part right, the dead not so much. Directed by Michael Su--who, you might remember, also made the turd-in-disc-form known as DOOMED that I ripped a few weeks back--this wannabe screwball zombie flick too silly and nonsensical to be worth watching. Or reviewing.

The Tehachapi Flats mortuary has long been guilty of unscrupulous business practices, among them graverobbing and casket recycling (though they've got nothing on Ray Dannis is THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS, the king of shady morticians), but when they target the grave of a Druid priest, his sister uses her otherworldly powers to get revenge.

Loaded with terrible acting and sloppily assembled, THE REVOLTING DEAD's as funny as a groin injury. The only thing it does well is its gratuitous nudity; the rest is pitiful DIY filmmaking at its worst, livened only by a last-minute appearance by a laughably bad, barely articulate zombie "puppet" that entertains by virtue of its shoddiness.

There's a smidgeon of gore to be found, but doubtless you'll be asleep by the time it comes. A punishing excuse for a movie.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Horror-comedies are the proverbial dime a dozen, and a particularly ubiquitous stripe is the slacker-doofus comedy, which more often than not aims to be as cult-friendly as SHAUN OF THE DEAD or CLERKS, yet never bothers to bring anything new to the table (or is too thoroughly obnoxious to be watchable). The filmmakers behind this 2007 shot-on-video production, Billy Garberina and Richard Griffin, have the same goal in sight, but their feeble execution leaves much to be desired.

Attempting to be a micro-budget version of GHOSTBUSTERS, NECROVILLE stars Garberina and co-writer Adam Jarmon Brown as two likable knuckleheads who can't seem to hold a job. When Garberina's bitch-on-wheels girlfriend (Brandy Bluejacket, who's almost hot enough to get away with being so deplorable) rides him about his employment prospects, as well as her own financial needs, he and his hetero life-mate sign up at Zom-B-Gone, an extermination company of sorts that specializes in the removal of zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

NECROVILLE is good for a couple of chuckles, but the humor is never as clever, perverse, or sharp as it should be. It tries to be "edgy," but usually ends up being juvenile and crass. The leads are likable enough, though Bluejacket's performance is the wrong kind of over-the-top and hard to sit through. Garberina isn't quite as good here as he was in THE STINK OF FLESH (speaking of which, look for that film's star Kurly Tlapoyawa and director Scott Phillips in small roles), but he's got the lovable goofball bit down pat.

Though its inspiration clearly owes a debt to GHOSTBUSTERS, as would any film involving blue-collar fighters of the supernatural, but NECROVILLE follows Ivan Reitman's picture a little too closely, mirroring not only its plot (a vampire uprising unfolds very similar to the way Gozer comes to power) and incidental scenes (a comparable wet-dream gag that doesn't work). It's one thing when a film fails to achieve what it sets out to do, but when it does so while aping another movie it feels like a double waste.

Ultimately I suggest bypassing this one in favor of the aforementioned THE STINK OF FLESH, one of the best zombie flicks in the last few years and an underappreciated little gem.


This review is going to be easier to write than I expected, as my feelings toward 28 WEEKS LATER--director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 2007 follow-up to 28 DAYS LATER--are exactly like the first: a well-made movie that left me cold.

Credit belongs to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland for remaining as executive producers and ensuring not only a sense of continuity, but integrity as well; so often once a major horror film makes money it's quickly franchised and morphed into a clone factory (or what the suits like to call "a guaranteed revenue stream"), but WEEKS wisely avoids that trap. Watching the story unfold, I was often reminded of superhero series, and how they can fully develop once the origin story's out of the way. It's not entirely an apt comparison, but Fresnadillo and his screenwriters explore an area we don't really get to see: the emotional toil and societal rebuilding after the virus has been contained.

Much like DAYS, WEEKS has an incredible opening (though I can't express enough how much I hate, hate, hate the use of shaky, hand-held camerawork and rapid-fire editing that makes the action incomprehensible--yet it's interesting to note how it can "graphically" show something without making it clear what's happening) and a greater dramatic resonance, even if it's exhausted early. It's technically amazing, too, with great photography, etc.

However, WEEKS has a somewhat longer build-up than is really necessary, and its lackluster midsection doesn't quite make up for it. Once the virus is reawakened--in a bravura moment, by the way--is quickly falls into the same formulaic storyline, hewing closely to the established when it ought to be cutting its own swath. Fresnadillo creates several potentially intriguing set-pieces, but often undermines them with poor CGI (such as the mass-decapitation by helicopter, featuring fx that have no business in a mainstream motion pciture) or timing (the night-vision stadium sequence, which grows tedious rather than suspenseful). And while it has a more character-driven plot at its heart, its story arc doesn't quite support the overall film, throwing off the emotional momentum of key moments.

Although 28 WEEKS LATER ends on a more downbeat note than its predecessor, I doubt I'll make time for any additional sequels. Although I'm sure it'd be an extremely well-made movie.


A 16mm student film shot at UC Berkley, KEG OF THE DEAD sounds like a good idea for a college-based horror comedy, but director Paul Schilens plays this 2007 short decidedly one-note, and a pretty sour note at that.

A put-upon pizza delivery boy runs afoul of asshole frat guys (is there any other kind?) while making a drop; not only does he not get paid, but Pizza Dude discovers that zombies are descending upon the Alpha Master Beta house. (Like that joke? Hope so, 'cause it's the only one, and boy does it get some mileage.) Fortunately, he gets to save the day once he learns the living dead are destroyed by beer.

Had it displayed even an iota of creativity and humor, KEG OF THE DEAD might've been worth a chuckle-headed laugh or two, but it's too lame to be any fun. It doesn't even make a good doofus wish-fulfillment, as it's characters are drawn in the broadest possible strokes (and I won't even mention the excruciating acting on hand).

I'd rather pledge the Alpha Betas in REVENGE OF THE NERDS than sit through this one again.


Also known as THE FACELESS MONSTER (whose video box art gives away the surprise at its ending), this 1965 Italian production from director Mario Caiano will appeal to fans of black-and-white Gothic thrillers--being a black-and-white Gothic thriller, I guess that's a given--and the lush, atmospheric work of Mario Bava, to say nothing of the admirers of its star, Barbara Steele.

Steele plays the adulterous wife of a sadistic doctor. When her affair is discovered, she and her lover are tortured to death and, in true Poe-like fashion, sealed within a wall of their castle. Years later, Steele's husband marries her twin sister so he can get to the inheritance he lost. But the spirits of the murdered lovers have remained behind, biding their time to get their revenge.

NIGHTMARE CASTLE--the edited version most commonly found on budget DVD labels--is pretty slow going, and will probably be useless to viewers weaned on more visceral films. Those who appreciate is ambience and mood might still be left restless by its emphasis over melodrama, but in its final reel as Steele and her lover exact their revenge it becomes much more watchable. Perhaps not entirely worth the time it takes getting there, but nonetheless a great example of old-school spook-show horror.


Have you noticed that I've waited rather late in this project to review a film as well-known and -received as 28 DAYS LATER? I'll let you in on a little secret: I put it off for so long because I never really cared for it, and was waiting until the proverbial last minute.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think Danny Boyle's 2002 film is bad; it's undeniably extremely well-crafted, sporting excellent cinematography--which captures a harsh, gritty feel that such a scenario might invoke--and score. When I first watched it, my initial reaction was that it was too sedate for a film about a rage virus, and perhaps that disappointment colored my viewpoint. Seeing it again, however, I'm left with the same feeling as before.

28 DAYS LATER has quite a following, not to mention a surprisingly warm critical reception (thanks to its filmmakers' pedigree), and I wouldn't want to "sway" people to my way of thinking, even if that were possible. Many of you dig this movie, and I've got no problem with that.

So let's call it personal preference, shall we? I think what ultimately did the film in for me the second time around was a consciousness of its similarity to previous films. (Okay, and maybe because the Infected aren't really the "living dead"--I'm an old-school purist, what can I say?) What seemed relatively fresh upon its release--especially to audiences not familiar with the films of Romero, or similar end of the world pictures like, say, THE OMEGA MAN--feels retread and tiresome at this point (then again, I've watched this plot unravel roughly 300 times in the last year). DAYS never strays far from the established apocalyptic formula--a rag-tag group of survivors, set-pieces involving run-ins with the Infected, and an oppressive military presence--though Alex Garland's screenplay takes an intelligent and credible approach.

What did I like about it? I thought the prologue set up a good n' bleak end-of-the-world feel, though the sequence implies a darkness (thematically and narratively) that it never quite fulfills. The tunnel sequence, easily the highlight of the movie, is another good scene, though I wish it had maintained the same style and tension throughout. (My, aren't I all about the backhanded compliments today?) Oh, and Cillian Murphy's first encounter with the Infected--in a church, no less--was great as well. I also thought Boyle handled the violence and gore admirably, getting rougher than a "respectable" director might go, yet exercising the right aesthetic restraint.

Yet despite Boyle's strong directorial eye DAYS never reeled me in, especially once the military steps in. Borrowing heavily from Captain Rhodes and crew from DAY OF THE DEAD, but without their toxic charisma, their portion of the film ground the story to a halt for me. (I'd also seen this type of army occupation done better in Brian Keene's THE RISING, though that novel came after Boyle's film.) Maybe I'd already anticipated the reveal that the soldiers weren't as altruistic as they first seemed, but I found myself growing steadily antsy. And the climax, in which the Infected are let in the compound to aid their escape, has nothing on the similar finale of Romero's DAY.

So, the verdict? 28 DAYS LATER is a good film that just didn't do it for me. Probably not something I'll watch very often, but a cerebral and skillful entry into the neo-zombie cannon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


You want stiff odds? How about making it past the fifteen-minute mark of this noisome shot-on-video pseudo-comedy without ejecting the DVD in disgust. This 2004 feature from director Caleb Allen is the cinematic equivalent of a blaring car alarm that won't shut off. As stupid as it is obnoxious, STIFF ODDS is an enticing as a trip to a crowded Wal-Mart on a busy weekend.

Any movie that kicks off with a three-minute static two-shot of nimrod buddies blathering is going to be trouble, and STIFF ODDS lives up to its promise. Not much about the movie is clear--something about the Grim Reaper reviving three zombies to help settle a gambling debt--because the movie flits about like a depraved hyperactive child, hoping that if it moves frantically enough it'll be mistaken for a real story. This dumb, dumb, dumb film falls prey to the ever-present DIY pitfall of setting WAY too much of the movie in unending, boring conversation, though the alternative is hardly better; replacing genuine action with juvenile flailing and comedy with asinine behavior, it quickly becomes an exhausting experience. (Allen tries livening things up with cheap, "trippy" special effects, but abandons this technique early on--the only irritating thing he gives up.) Considering the out-putting soundtrack of grating music and sound effects, such as a baby crying, I wonder if Allen was deliberately making an annoying film, and if so, why?

Performances consist of actors out-screeching each other, so we'll ignore them, but Gabe Strachota stands out as a fairly creepy, red-skinned Reaper (so what if he's something out of Marilyn Manson's wet dreams, at least he's not your standard Hooded Dude with a Scythe); with better execution or a different film he might've worked, but he's as shrill and piercing as the rest of the cast.

I'd rather have a couple of casino goons work on my kneecaps than subject myself to STIFF ODDS again.


Definitely filed under "Special Interest," this 1990 straight-to-tape novelty from director Kenneth J. Hall (hiding under the pseudonym Hal Kennedy) is part horror-comedy, part softcore porn, and all an unabashed celebration of the ultimate '80s scream queen.

Beginning with the requisite shower scene (whaddya expect--it's a Linnea Quigley movie!), it's almost a video diary of sorts as Ms. Quigley, decked out in the eightiest of fashions, discusses her filmic career before getting into her workout. Don't bother with the sweatsuit for this one, fellas, since the only thing you're supposed to be working out--judging from Linnea's exercise apparel consisting of a studded bra and fishnet stockings--is your johnson. Linnea also encounters some out-of-shape zombies while jogging--and the result is what Michael Jackson's THRILLER would look like if it starred Richard Simmons--and invites some girlfriends over for a slumber party/exercise session. Have you gotten the idea this thing really isn't meant to be taken seriously?

With all the production value of a cable access program, this hour-long lark looks as if it was slapped together in a single day. Obviously, no one really gives a shit about that, but even as an excuse to ogle Linnea's goodies it's not nearly as titillating as it should be; there's very little nudity, and most of the routines are either too silly, too repetitive, or too conservative to be of any interest save for curiosity. (I've seen legitimate workout videos more erotic than this--anyone remember BODY BY KIANA?) Fans of Linnea might still be inclined, but too often she seems either bored or stoned, which doesn't exactly make it sexy.

LINNEA QUIGLEY'S HORROR WORKOUT is best appreciated by us Gen-Xers who stayed up to watch Linnea on USA's UP ALL NIGHT (and promptly headed for the bathroom during commercial breaks). Not funny enough to be a comedy, and not hot enough to be jerk-off material, it occupies a weird in-between that'll disappoint all but the most loyal (or desperate) fans.


The one thing this not-bad 2008 homemade short doesn't do is answer the burning question: Just what does death bring? A Bundt cake?

Seriously, though, director Alex Joyce has made a pretty decent housebound zombie film, though I would've preferred to see him strike out with his own creative endeavor and not slavishly copy Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. Though DEATH BRINGS is as unimaginative as a lot of these types of shorts are--though Joyce does employ a nice use of creative lighting--it at least lacks the insufferable forced humor and showboating that tends to accompany them. (To be fair, Joyce attempts a dramatic ending, but orchestral music choice makes it unintentionally humorous.)

Technically, you get what you expect from a non-professional crew (though I've seen worse), and the cast has an annoying habit of mumbling their lines--bad move from a movie this talky.
And I'll (very begrudgingly) give you your fast zombies, Alex, but next time can you at least make them look like dead people?


Originally titled LAST RITES, this 2006 video-based production from director Duane Stinnett proved to be a pleasant surprise, much better than its obscurity suggests it to be. Far from a perfect film, it offers a degree of craftsmanship and skill not readily found in shot-on-video cinema.

An amalgam of DAWN OF THE DEAD and RESERVOIR DOGS, GANGS OF THE DEAD details the uneasy transactions of two rival gangs in an abandoned Los Angeles warehouse (overseen by the always-awesome Reggie Bannister) just as a meteor hits the city, turning those who come into contact into flesh-eating zombies. The gang-bangers soon find themselves having to make peace with the LAPD, if only to escape the undead that've infiltrated the warehouse.

An impressively solid micro-budget film, GANGS gets underway with a very well-executed prologue involving the meteor's landing that boasts much better CGI than we normally see (owing to Stinnett's background in the video-game industry, no doubt). As I stated earlier, Stinnett's got some definite directorial chops, and it's a shame his movie hasn't gotten a bigger, or better, reception; however, as strong a filmmaker as he is, GANGS is missing a few intangible elements that prevents it from being a no-budget classic.

It boils down to the two biggies, story and characterization. While most likely a budgetary decision, the conceit of fighting zombies trapped in a single location is a mighty stale one, and Stinnett never makes the setting fresh. And though he does an excellent job whenever the zombies are on-screen--capturing well-shot sequences of chaos that a lesser director would fumble--the movie suffers whenever the dead aren't around, as his characters just aren't vivid enough to sustain interest (with the notable exception of Bannister; unfortunately, once he's killed off the cast can't compensate for his absence). The performances are by and large quite good, largely avoiding stereotypes (except for the ineffectual white guy who exists solely to illustrate just how ineffectual white guys can be).

Some excellent gore and a nice downbeat ending ultimately makes GANGS OF THE DEAD worth the investment, and most die-hard zombie fans might even enjoy some of those standard tropes. Stinnett hasn't directed a feature since, but I'm very much interested in seeing what he does next.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


A weak action/horror hybrid, HUNTING CREATURES is a German shot-on-video production from writer-directors Andreas Pape and Oliver Kellisch. Apparently part of an underground-film collective in their native country, these filmmakers illustrate that flavorless, Tarantino-derivative films are not exclusive to U.S. soil.

An unoriginal gangsters-vs.-monsters movie, CREATURES offers nothing new; it's another example of directors imitating their favorite movies without an innate understanding of how those films work. What we get are slimy monsters facing off against a group of wannabe tough-guys who're wholly unconvincing as badasses, muddily edited and shot on horrible-quality video that's difficult to watch. Stuffed to bursting with faux-cool dialogue, which plays a bigger part in the proceedings than zombie-fighting, it's a transparent attempt on the actors' part to be bad and impress girls that fools no one.

There's a helping of cheesy gore, but not enough to make it worth the effort. The kind of movie that puts more thought into the posters on the wall than characterization (no need to impress us with your FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN one-sheet, fellas--we knew you were unabashed fanboys from minute one).

Let these CREATURES go.


This weird little flick, made by director Rusty Nails in 2005, will definitely appeal to offbeat sensibilities, even if the overall film is a little weak. On the surface it appears to be a send-up of vintage science fiction flicks, and is to a degree, but ACNE is rooted deeper in the underground art scene than with the likes of Roger Corman.

Two siblings--Franny and Zooey, played by Tracey Hayes and Nails, respectively--drink contaminated water and find themselves as zit-headed "zombies." (Though the zombie angle is aggravatingly inconsistent; they're not the living dead, nor are they in a trance-like state, or anything else commonly known as zombies, yet Nails evokes undead films often, using bleak exteriors that could've been outtakes from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.) Oozing pus from their pustule-crowned heads, the two teenagers spread the infection, causing the local youth population to sprout zit-heads and crave chocolate.

ACNE will be best appreciated by fans of transgressive or surreal cinema. Nails does a pretty good job replicating the '50s sci-fi look, but his black-and-white cinematography bears greater influence from Luis Bunuel or early Lynch. A frequently compelling and well-conceived piece, this film works best as a nontraditional visual fabric. (Nails's inventiveness really shines in a great bit involving a fire-and-brimstone preacher at his pulpit that features no real dialogue.) It's when it tries to approach a standard narrative that ACNE falters, as Nails gives his story too many talkative digressions and silly subplots, with humor that falls flat.

Like most experimental films, ACNE isn't for everyone, but fans of arthouse cinema and the open-minded may find the experience rewarding. Nails is a breath of anarchic air, the perfect antidote to mainstream stagnation.


Okay, I've featured plenty of student/homemade short films in the past, and though I try to give them slack for what they are, they're still usually hard to sit through, of interest mostly to friends and immediate family of the filmmakers (and sometimes even that's debatable). And while THE DEAD, a 200 short from directors Marten Oravas and Urmas Salu, is in many ways no different, but something about it really got to me and I found really fun.

Made by kids who are probably still looking forward to junior-high orientation, and as simple-minded as a zombie movie made in one afternoon, THE DEAD possesses a childish enthusiasm that overcomes the obvious humor and awkward performances (hell, you should watch it just to hear the lead kid scream).

Yes, it's just children playing pretend, but the photography and editing are surprisingly solid, and the cribbed soundtrack (including Godsmack over the fight sequences) isn't as jarring as it usually is when used this way. (And hey, for someone who's just grown their pubes, this kid can kick some zombie ass.) It even has a story of sorts, though its Pied Piperish ending had me scratching my head.


Can you tell I've been scraping the bottom of the zombie barrel?

INSANE IN THE BRAIN is a reprehensible in-name-only comedy directed by Chad Hendricks in 2007. A would-be spoof of blaxploitation and zombie films, INSANE bears closer resemblance to a third-rate IN LIVING COLOR sketch. The concept, in which pheromones from an inner-city whorehouse awaken the dead to become horny zombies, has definite potential for a raunchy horror-comedy, but Hendrick's oh-so-tedious execution renders the film as enjoyable as a water-boarding session.

If the embarrassingly bad zombie make-up and annoyingly repetitive dialogue isn't enough to drive you from the room--and it should be--Hendricks offers up a buddy-cop subplot that strives to be a pimped-out STARSKY AND HUTCH spoof but remains a desperate assemblage of ghetto stereotypes. (Tip: afros and pimp suits do not a blaxploitation parody make.) That the film is far from the spirit and style of '70s soul cinema (much the same way a dead-baby joke is far from the wit of Oscar Wilde) can be overlooked if it delivers the gory goods, but wouldn't you know it, Hendricks fumbles this ball too. Most of the "horror" seems to involve blow-jobs gone bad--in fact, so much of the film's supposed humor is dick-centric I can't help but wonder about the director's intention--and besides, it takes a backseat to the "comedy," so zombie fans will get the shortest shrift of all here.

A monumental failure at everything it attempts, INSANE IN THE BRAIN made me want to rip out my eyes so I could stuff them in my ears. Easily among the worst movies reviewed for 365 Days.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


DORM OF THE DEAD, a 2006 video-bound feature, was directed by Donald F. Farmer. If you're familiar with the cinematic atrocities Mr. Farmer has committed (Exhibit A: the spectacularly awful rape-revenge pic SAVAGE VENGEANCE), then feel free to skip this review. Trust me, I won't be saying anything you don't already know.

Sort of a LIVING DEAD MEAN GIRL, taking place at Arkham University (is there a cheaper in-joke than a Lovecraft reference?), DORM's threadbare scenario involves a rivalry between bitchy campus queens Jackie Hall and Andrea Ownby and Goth chicks Adrianna Eder and Ciara Richards. When a zombie outbreak infects the university, the Goth girls finally find a way to settle the score, but find themselves way over their heads.

There's no way to sugar-coat it, so I'll just say it: WORST ACTING EVER. Even with the lovely Tiffany Shepis gracing this film (a credit that DORM does not deserve) this has got to be the most incompetent assemblage of actors this side of gonzo porn. At least the crappy performances suit the lousy writing, direction, photography, gore effects (Herschell Gordon Lewis never would've tried to pass off these fx), etc.--over two decades of filmmaking experience, and Farmer still doesn't have a clue about making movies. But what do you expect from a director who ruins a perfectly good lesbian sex scene with ghastly techno music?

Yikes. Just yikes.


You certainly are, if you dare to put this 2007 shot-on-video crapfest into your DVD player. Directed by Michael Su, DOOMED is ostensibly a parody of SURVIVOR with an undead twist, but the overall execution is done so poorly that fans of both reality TV and zombies will be utterly bored and disappointed. (If you want to see this type of thing done right, check out Brian Keene's novel CASTAWAYS, about an island-bound reality show beset by monsters, due in bookstores this January.)

In a premise that sounds awfully similar to THE RUNNING MAN, a near-future competition-based reality show pits teams of convicted felons against each other for the chance of early release, as well as a $50 million prize. The contestants are dropped on the Isola de Romero (sigh), unaware--though they should be, given the glaring zombie-flick reference--that the island's living dead population will be their biggest challenge.

DOOMED might've worked if it had attempted to satirize the conventions of reality TV or voyeuristic entertainment, but all it does is simply replicate an ordinary episode of SURVIVOR; I've never been fond of the show, which increased my tedium tenfold, but even a die-hard fan would be put off by this. Instead of drama or tension, the flimsy screenplay gives us scripted recreations of reality-TV bickering, and substitutes types for characters. And when Su finally gives us an action sequence, it's punctuated with annoying video-game "hit points" that tally up the damage, a detail that gets increasingly exhausting each time it's employed.

Laughably inept, boring beyond belief, DOOMED keeps its zombies off-screen much of the time, breaking them out only when it's time to thin the cast. (If I told you their appearances were edited so quickly as to be incomprehensible, would you be surprised?) At a meager 76 minutes it's still stretched to the snapping point, finished off with a stupid cop-out ending that would've enraged me, if I hadn't already hated this movie from the get-go.

I'd rather be stranded on a desert island, eating a fried rat off Richard Hatch's bare ass than watch this thing again.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


When I caught the charming British short I RAN FROM A ZOMBIE on Day 316 I felt like I'd discovered something special; at least I knew not every student zombie short was destined to be awful. My good fortune, however, was short-lived, having run smack into UNIVERSITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a Swedish-produced short from 2008 that embraces everything that makes amateur productions so hard to sit through.

The version I watched, and available below, fails to include credits, so I'm not sure who's responsible for this thing (and I don't have the inclination to look it up--but feel free if you'd like), and it is in untranslated Swedish, but the dialogue is minimal and the simplistic story is easy to follow.

Bottom line, UNIVERSITY is boring. As boring as a ten-minute short could possibly be (perhaps if the filmmakers didn't wait until the six-minute mark to bring out the zombies it wouldn't have been so bad). Granted, the zombies' introduction was pretty well done, and almost generated the right amount of thrills, but . . . what's up with the living dead? They're not quite fast zombies, yet they don't shuffle. They kind of look like someone racing to the toilet after a long night of Corona and cheap tacos.

Getting back to the tedium, mundane action is given far too much screen time. If you or I were trapped in a public restroom, or stuck without cell phone service, we'd try to remedy the situation for more than a few seconds. But, if we were characters in a movie--especially one ten friggin' minutes long--we'd do it just long enough to establish we're stuck in the john with no bars on our phone, okay?

So UNIVERSITY ends like every other cheap student short: heroine runs from the zombies a while before falling victim. Sheesh, not exactly an M. Night Shamalyan twist, is it? It's kinda well-executed, though not well enough to overlook the "they got me and now I'm one of them!" closing.

Oh, and the zombie plumber-crack at 9:43 was totally unwarranted.


Writer/director Jake Kennedy's 2007 shot-on-video opus DAYS OF DARKNESS has popped up in several conversations since 365 Days of the Dead began; I've heard, "Hey, check that one out, it's not your typical zombie flick," as often as I've gotten, "Dude, don't waste your time, it sucks!" Since divisive movies intrigue me, I decided to see for myself, and although the movie is definitely a mixed bag, it is certainly not your typical zombie flick.

It starts out as one, as a passing comet covers the earth in a toxic dust that turns people into zombies, forcing survivors to seek shelter at an abandoned microwave station. Kennedy seems none too interested in doing something different with the living dead--at least not at first--but manages to establish a good build-up with just enough characterization and well-timed action. Yet just when you think the film will remain a mere Romero pastiche, it starts to veer into strange new directions.

I won't go into too much detail, since these variations are what makes DAYS OF DARKNESS worth checking out, but I will say I can't think of very many movies that feature zombified genitalia. (There's even a quite memorable "crotch exam" sequence.) The plot twists get steadily loopier, leading to one helluva "Eureka!" moment as the main character figures out just what's going on, but I gotta give props to Kennedy for audacity, even if his execution leaves something to be desired.

Kennedy tries to assemble a more outre roster of characters--such as the former porn star who uses her extensive anal experience to explain why she can't kill zombies--but too often they come off as gimmicky and unintentionally humorous (I still don't know if this was supposed to be a comedy or not), and they still resort to the same pointless bickering that can be found in any post-apocalypse zombie film. (Though there are quite a few novel character types, I really could've done without the queer-bashing fanatical preacher.)

DAYS OF DARKNESS is in many ways like a lot of micro-budget films--boasting lame CGI effects that instill little confidence in the audience--but it's what it does differently that gives it that edge (Kennedy even throws in a happy ending--awww.) Not to be confused with great cinema, it at least offers something different than the usual Romero-esque gut-munching.

Monday, October 6, 2008


WICKED LITTLE THINGS was among the initial batch of After Dark's Horrorfest productions, and generally considered the worst of the lot. Having not seen all of the entries I'll reserve judgment, but I will say this 2006 film is the cinematic equivalent of an '80s horror paperback--all that's missing is the Zebra logo on the DVD sleeve. Derivative and trite, it hits all the prerequisite horror bases, director J.S. Cardone doling out the cliches with clockwork timing.

Sort of a combination ghost/zombie tale (a variation I've been noticing a lot lately), WICKED LITTLE THINGS concerns a single mother and her two daughters moving into a ramshackle house in the Pennsylvania mountains following her husband's death. The house, they'll come to discover, is located near an abandoned mine, where several child-workers were buried alive in a long-ago accident. And with the developments of a local real estate baron--a sinister, greedy real estate baron, as if there were no other kind--tearing up the nearby earth it isn't long before the spirits/undead bodies of (the film never makes it clear which) are out and about, feeding messily on secondary characters.

The film is steeped in rustic atmosphere, making a good setting for a ghost yarn, but the screenplay is too riddled with well-worn tropes; it's the kind of movie where the local handyman is a convenient source of exposition, as if the ability to identify people in old photographs and relate dormant legends are part of a plumber's job description. It also asks us to be divinely patient with the older daughter--as always an unrelenting bitch--as if we're suddenly going to care and be so happy once she finally settles down after her encounter with the supernatural. (Um, how about she gets eaten by zombie moppets in the first reel and save us all some misery?) Of course, the younger daughter is friendly with the ghost-zombie kids, and helps them back to the other side--you know how this is going to end before it even begins.

A few familiar faces pop up in the cast, including HALLOWEEN's Scout Taylor-Compton and veteran character actor Geoffrey Lewis . . . but who did Ben Cross piss off to get stuck in this mess? He should bring a little class to the picture, hut his overwrought performance drags him down with the others.

If Dickensian-looking zombie kids give you nightmares, by all means watch this one with the lights out. If you're a little more hardened to the conventions of the genre, you've already seen this movie before, why repeat yourself?


Waaaaay back in the early weeks of this project (i.e. I'm too lazy to scroll back and figure out exactly when) I skewered a rotten piece of shot-on-video tripe called ZOMBIES GONE WILD. Look it up, if you haven't read it, it's one of the most virulent reviews I've ever written, and was it ever deserved; almost at the end of this blog it's still one of the worst movies I've ever seen, zombie or otherwise.

I mention this only because the Cohen Brothers (yes, you read that correctly) have returned with another shot-on-tape zombie flick called MOTOCROSS ZOMBIES FROM HELL, and while this 2007 production is better than WILD it's far from watchable. Director "G.R.", whoever he may be, learned a thing or two about the technical aspects of film-making since making WILD; maybe in 2010 he'll be able to tell a decent story.

MOTOCROSS is about, duh, a motocross racer, his mechanic/best pal, and their feisty gal pal (there's actually a love triangle introduced at the beginning, as the girl switches affections from one to the other, a "conflict" that smooths over remarkably well) who head out to the desert for an important weekend race. Unbeknownst to them, an unbeatable team is gearing up for the race as well, a team invincible because they're zombies (from hell--remember the title?). It's going to be a long weekend as our heroes must race not for a title or trophy, but their very souls. (Sorry about the overwrought description, it's very late and I'm typing like a madman.)

MOTOCROSS almost plays like a two-wheeled version of DUEL, as the zombie racers remain hidden behind helmets throughout their chase, though it certainly lacks the tension or craftsmanship of Spielberg's film. The desert pursuit eventually gives way to yet another NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-inspired trapped-in-a-house finale, ruining the one thing that set this turkey apart.

The film's shot competently enough, although it's got the production values of a local car-dealership commercial that give it an unusually fake-looking veneer. The acting's not too bad, but the screenplay is saddled with "realistic" dialogue that stops the movie cold. (Dialogue in a film does not need to sound exactly like genuine conversation to be realistic; it's a plot device, so when one character conveys information to another, we don't need them to repeat to anyone else.) Further bogging down the picture are overly-strained conversations and far too much attention devoted to motocross minutiae (though racing enthusiasts might not mind), and the horror elements are too cheesy to be scary.

Like a lot of SOV flicks, MOTOCROSS ZOMBIES FROM HELL remains ignorant on the maintenance of suspense or plot-momentum, though it spares us a showcase for the filmmakers' egos. Perhaps beneficial to would-be directors as an example of what not to do, it's a lame-brained bore that's as dry and boring as the landscape it's set in.

DAY 325--DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)

When Zack Snyder's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD proved to be a hit (not to mention a pretty good movie), nobody was too surprised to find that DAY OF THE DEAD was getting the redux treatment as well. Nobody was too excited either, especially when uber-hack Steve Miner (known for fair-to-middling genre fare like LAKE PLACID and HALLOWEEN: H20) was announced as director, but Hollywood has a tendency to carry on despite the outcry of fans. We just have to suck it up and pray it's not too disastrous.

The verdict? Thanks to the lowest expectations imaginable, it wasn't too heinous, yet the 2008 incarnation still manages to stumble over itself once the living dead start popping up (this film should settle the fast-vs.-slow zombie debate once and for all). It's at least better than DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, though a shattered testicle would be preferable to that cinematic atrocity.

Opting to remain an in-name-only remake, Miner's DAY centers on a tiny Colorado town hit by a zombie epidemic, and the paramilitary squad that leads the quarantine. Ultimately it leads to two parallel trapped-in-a-box scenarios as the various survivors (which include Mr. Mariah Carey Nick Cannon, scream queen Christa Campbell, and a what-the-hell's-she-doing-here star turn from Mena Suvari) try to keep the plague from spreading. Thanks to Miner's not-bad-but-not-great directorial hand it's actually fairly entertaining, but a reliance of hyper-fast zombies (exactly why/how do they crawl spider-like on the ceiling?) and BOURNE-inspired hand-held camerawork keeps it well within the bounds of mediocrity.

There are a couple of novel touches (such as zombies who continue to feed on a body stuck in an electrified fence) and Ving Rhames, in a bullshit ploy to establish continuity to Snyder's DAWN, elevates the proceedings with his extended cameo (yes, he is the best thing about this movie). The plethora of gore should please grue fans, though I really would like to see less CGI splatter--I realize it's cost-effective, but it looks like shit and leaves me cold. Suvari makes for a surprisingly capable action babe, though she's the only actor, aside from Rhames, who imbues any sense of humanity to their character, and even then it's strictly the B-movie bare minimum. I could at least tolerate the human members of the cast; I can't same for the vegetarian zombie "Bud" (puh-leeze!), who I found pretty goddamn stupid.

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but the 2008 DAY OF THE DEAD fares better than most of recent zombie films/horror retreads. Hampered with heavy exposition and wrong-headed action that sinks its third act, as well as a stupid ending, it'll never be mistaken for a genre classic. The highly undiscriminating or very merciful might find this works in a pinch; it helps not to think of this as anything remotely related to Romero.


I'll be perfectly honest with you, I can't tell if ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING (also known as ZOMBIE BEACH PARTY) is a good movie or not, but I do know that it's a helluva fun little flick. Unlike most micro-budget productions, which try to make the best out of limited resources, ZOMBIE KING uses its financial restrictions to create its own cut-rate style, an aura of retro-kitsch cool that in of itself is worth the price of admission.

Packing an awful lot into 76 minutes, ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING is somewhat difficult to summarize, but imagine the classic lucha libre films of the '60s mashed into the living dead universe of George Romero (who, incidentally, was originally slated to play the titular king) and you're on the right track. Mexican wrestling superstar and part-time crime-fighter Ulysses (Jules Delorme) sets out to investigate an outbreak of zombies in a sleepy beach community--which inexplicably is experiencing heavy snowfall--suspecting his old cohort Tiki (El Fuego) is behind it, as the latter's been on the wrasslin' circuit with a zombie-grappling act. (And this is only the A-story, folks.) But as Ulysses and his fellow do-gooders Mercedes and the Blue Saint (Jennifer Thom and Raymond Carle) delve deeper, they find the mastermind is much more than a fellow wrestler.

ZOMBIE KING has its share of flaws, such as plot that likes to meander at its own pace and predilection for redundant dialogue, but director Bill Marks compensates with a rollicking second act that features plenty of zombie-wrestling, the quest for justice and revenge, and a bevy of pin-up worthy females, all backed with a groovy surf-rock soundtrack. As I said earlier, the low budget forces concessions upon the filmmakers--such as the climactic battle fought in a local playground--but this adds to the movie's lunacy, giving it a singular feel that will enamor bad-movie fans everywhere. (This is one of those rare examples that capture the spirit of Ed Wood beautifully without getting mired in intentional idiocy.)

ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING will probably turn away as many viewers as it turns on, but I had a damned good time and I won't hesitate to recommend it. The perfect centerpiece to your retro-themed Halloween party. (Oh, and I can't wait for the sequel, THE CURSE OF THE IRON MASK.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008


In the days before home video there were several filmmakers who were essentially regional moguls, folks like Charles B. Pierce, Earl Owensby and Worth Keeter, or today's director, Don Dohler, who financed, produced, and distributed motion pictures far from the Hollywood system. With the internet age and the ease of acquiring decent home-video equipment (not to mention studios like Lionsgate, who'll dump any amateur production on DVD regardless of competence), I'm surprised there aren't more of them today; maybe there are, and are simply toiling in obscurity, justified or otherwise.

Dohler, a Maryland-based filmmaker, made no-budget pictures until his death in 2006, but he's best known for his horror/sci-fi offerings of the early '80s. FIEND was only his second picture, and boy does it show. Though the 1980 production possesses the same low-rent charm that graced (if that's the word) similar early works by Fred Olen Ray and Larry Buchanan, its mind-bogglingly inept story ruins any chance of a fun, horrific romp.

The story gets underway when a shoddy optical effect--really, what the hell is that supposed to be? It looks like a large, disembodied eyeball--resurrects a corpse in a local cemetery, turning him into a lumbering zombie with glowing red hands. (Yeah, I know Dohler couldn't have afforded Industrial Light and Magic, but at least the poor photographic effects give it a fleeting bad-movie energy.) Now, this could've been a good starting point for a movie, even one as financially-challenged as this one, but Dohler allows too many questions to pop up.

Like, who is this guy, and what is he really supposed to be? What is he after, and how does killing innocent women help accomplish his goal? And most importantly, how does a reanimated corpse buy a house and establish a music school?

I suppose with the right verve and tempo a film could make me forget those questions, but FIEND doesn't have it. A crashing bore of a picture, it spends more time with the dead guy poring over sales records with his lackey or grooving to New Age tunes than . . . whatever it is undead music teachers do. Seriously, Dohler films this guy feeding his cat with the same intensity as the murders.

Now that I've written this review, I think I know why there aren't that many regional producers anymore.


This 2004 micro-budget production might've been worth checking out if it made a genuine attempt to bring the horrors of the living dead into an inner-city environment; using zombies as a metaphor for, say, the drug epidemic or the hopelessness many of its residents feel would've been a rich vein to tap, even with the atrocious acting and horrendous shot-on-video quality.

But directors Jose and Eduardo Quiroz decided instead to make RE-ANIMATOR IN THA HOOD, even throwing in the well-known Day-Glo green serum, and gladly trot out every ghetto stereotype imaginable. (That the filmmakers are minorities made me wonder why they didn't at least try to balance them out with three-dimensional characters.) The end result, which boasts "zombies" consisting of extras with mouthfuls of red dye, is too ridiculous to be taken seriously, much less be scary.


Keeping your minds out of the gutter for a second--and I know just how tough that can be sometimes--the title for this 2005 Irish production suggests not just an undead romantic comedy, but a fairly outrageous one at that. Maybe something on the level of Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, or Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY? That was the impression I got, which might explain why I was so disappointed in BOY EATS GIRL.

It wasn't because director Stephen Bradley didn't go over the top, but that he didn't bother to break any new ground. Practically every facet of this film has been taken directly from other movies, borrowing so heavily on teen-hijinx flicks and well-worn zombie classics that when it does offer something novel (such as zombie-slaughter-via-backhoe) it fails to generate much enthusiasm. It mirrors its influences the same way NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS did, so much so that I'm having trouble telling the two apart.

BOY EATS GIRL hews so close to the teen-zombie formula (and I hadn't realized there was one until now) that you can predict each scene right before it happens: our newly-zombified heroes experience hunger pangs that can't be sated until--oh, no!--they dine on human flesh, there's the obligatory scene in which characters discover they have no vital signs, etc. Had Bradley injected any genuine humor into these tired proceedings it might've made them more interesting, but instead lets the acute familiarity grind the film to a halt. And I might not go so far as to call the picture an idiot plot, but it relies enough on simple misunderstandings to come pretty damn close.

There are too many zombie comedies out there that do more to make BOY EATS GIRL worth your time. Although its solid, photogenic cast does what they can with the material, it's too weak to compete with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, etc.