Wednesday, January 30, 2008


1985 was a good year for zombies. Not only were we bestowed such bona fide classics as RE-ANIMATOR and DAY OF THE DEAD, but also today's entry, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film's notable for quite a few firsts: in addition to being the first movie to directly play off Romero's original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (and using it for comedic, non-parodic effect), RETURN also marks the first zombies hungry specifically for brains. It's also the first film directed by screenwriter Dan O' Bannon, who replaced Tobe Hooper (who's originally wanted to film in 3-D--now that would've been cool!), who took over the project from John Russo (in his first attempt to sodomize the movie that made his career). Hey, it's also the first movie Linnea Quigley made that wasn't crap!

I'm sure the specifics are well-familiar to the readers of this blog so I won't go into detail here. I do however think the film's opening scenes are its best, establishing an underlying sense of doom as it introduces its setting and characters; that is maintains this feeling even as it dabbles in comedy is all the more impressive. O'Bannon deserves credit for deftly handling this tone, but it's James Karen's performance that really sells the humor; even as his condition spirals out of control and he gets more and more hysterical he never gets to that dangerous, over-the-top realm that hinders so many actors in horror-comedies. Actually, the cast is uniformly excellent, imbuing their characters with a sense of credibility and personality, if not true depth. (Don Calfa also bears mentioning in a quieter, more subtle performance.)

Another pitfall that RETURN manages to sidestep is when it transitions from grim humor to focus more on horror; sometimes the tonal shift can derail a film's momentum, but O'Bannon's script is better constructed than the average zombie flick. As the situation worsens, he simply lets the events dictate the mood, and that transition is barely noticeable (though when you do notice, the film's already gearing up for its downbeat, inevitable finale).

I also have to give O'Bannon props for not playing the zombies for laughs--or rather, using them as the butt of any jokes; the "send more paramedics" line is not only funny, but nails the underlying dark humor that runs throughout the film. And we can't forget the memorably kick-ass zombies that populate the film, like the female torso that explains the undead's motivation (note to screenwriters: when laying down backstory for your film, having half of a living cadaver deliver your exposition is a good way to keep the viewers' attention) and the Tar Man.

Of course, like all great horror flicks--hell, like all great flicks that aren't directed by guys like Scorsese and Lynch--RETURN begat a number of sequels of varying degrees of shittiness (and which will all get their due attention here), but fortunately none of them were able to tarnish the original's reputation.

Oh, and one more thing: THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD gave us "fast" zombies almost twenty years before 28 DAYS LATER and the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. So there.


THE LAUGHING DEAD is the first feature from writer/director S.P. Somtow, perhaps best known as the author of such novels as VAMPIRE JUNCTION and the Stoker-nominated DARKER ANGELS. Filmed in 1989, the movie never garnered a legitimate release, though it's quite easy to find through "alternative" markets. Far from an unappreciated masterpiece, DEAD at least offers up a worthwhile experience for the adventurous viewer.

The somewhat jumbled story involves Father O'Sullivan (Tim Sullivan, in one of the most anemic performances I've ever seen by a lead actor), a clergyman suffering from a crisis of faith, as well as a series of mysterious dreams involving a former lover (a nun) and the illegitimate son they had. As a way to solve both his problems Sullivan heads up an archaeological trip to Mexico, bringing along what has to be the most obnoxious cast of characters ever assembled, including an annoying New Age couple, a greasy disco rat, and Sullivan's old flame and bastard son (an insufferable little shit with the foulest mouth I've heard on a child actor). Once they arrive south of the border, Sullivan finds himself cursed by a mad doctor, who's performing a series of rites that will eventually transform him into the incarnation of the Mayan god of death.

Though it's riddled with lousy performances, stilted dialogue, and feeble attempts at black humor that fall hopelessly flat, I'm surprised this movie never found a home on cassette, since it's no worse than the dreck that clogged video shelves in the late-eighties. What probably probed to be DEAD's undoing is the fact that child sacrifice plays a large part in the plot; there's even a sequence in which a line of young boys is slaughtered in procession--implied, mostly, though Somtow frequently cuts to a plateful of tiny, still-beating hearts throughout the scene. There's also a fair amount of gore which may have proved problematic, though I wouldn't call it excessive.

THE LAUGHING DEAD works best with a group of friends (preferably those with a MST3K-style film scholarship) and your chemical of choice, though Somtow sprinkles a few weird, surrealistic moments throughout--including a kinda-disturbing dream sequence involving the li'l bastard's birth--so hallucinogens may not be neccesary. There's plenty of ludicrous FX on display (courtesy of John Carl Buechler's MMI Inc.) such as shoddy opticals, a neat but stupid hand-down-the-throat gag (sorry), and a climactic showdown between two "giant" (re: miniature) rubber monsters.

Oh, and the zombies? They're in the mess somewhere, popping up late in the movie as the mad doctor's minions and don't do much outside of playing the dumbest basketball game in cinematic history (Forry Ackerman also appears in a cameo, but I missed him).

If you can get your hands on a copy, THE LAUGHING DEAD is worth a glance, though I wouldn't suggest going out of your way for it. It's still an entertaining flick, just not in the sense that I bet Somtow intended it to be.


Eurocine, that French production company that could've taught Kraft a thing or two in the cheese-making department, knocked out a double-dose of brain-racking zombie lameness in 1981--ZOMBIE LAKE and OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES. Both films have several common elements: both were directed by filmmakers who frequently worked as hired guns in between more artistically-driven projects (Jean Rollin in the former, Jess Franco in today's entry under the pseudonym A.M. Frank), both are living dead films that feature reanimated Nazis, and both really, really suck.

The plot of OASIS deals with a German treasure hunter in the African desert searching for a cache of Nazi gold, only to find that the prize is guarded by undead members of the Third Reich. There's not much more to the story than that, the running time padded with scene after scene of conversation set against a suitably bleak desert landscape--if you absolutely must see this, try to pick up the remastered print released by Image, rather than the eye-strainingly grainy version floating around on public domain labels--that's almost as dry as the script. Franco keeps the zombies offscreen for much of the film, which is almost a favor considering the laughably inept makeup slapped upon the zombied extras, though when he lets them loose in the final reel for the climactic undead assault the movie at least becomes watchable. Not quite interesting and far from good, but by this point watchable is a-okay.

With the fast-forward button close at hand, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES should provide some minor entertainment for crap-film enthusiasts and zombie completists, and at least gives you the chance to use the bathroom (or make a sandwich, or do the Times's Sunday crossword) without having to stop the, ahem, action.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Emphasizing science fiction (or fictional science, to be more accurate) over horror, 1955's CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN is one of the many films during the Cold War era that played on the country's fear of the atom and featured foreign villains at work in the US. This time around, it's a former Nazi scientist--mad, of course--and his bid to return an American gangster to power, using an army of dead criminals reanimated by atomic energy.

Written by THE WOLF MAN's Curt Siodmak and directed by Edward L. Cahn, CREATURE plays like most sci-fi thrillers of the 1950's, though there's little action on hand and what we do get is rather stiff and unexciting. Like most of Cahn's output, there are a few brief moments of interest but the overall effect in pretty unmemorable. How unmemorable, you ask? Well, see how short this review is?

Monday, January 28, 2008


One of the nice things about doing a genre-specific project like this is that it gives me an opportunity to catch films I missed the first time around. Such is the case with Edgar Wright's SHAUN OF THE DEAD from 2004, which somehow eluded me despite the rave reviews it garnered upon release. I was almost guilty about letting this one slip past, until I finally got a chance to watch it a found myself surprisingly underaffected. Too-lofty expectations, maybe, but as I thought about it I really don't think that was the case.

What lies at the heart of my disappointment is the fact that in spite of the classic zombie-movie trappings, SHAUN is really about a young man getting his shit together. And that's fine, it is an homage/spoof rather than an out-and-out horror film, but so much of the film's throughline feels tired and too-familiar--the unfulfilled girlfriend and her disapproving friends, or the loutish buddy who holds Shaun back from fully developing into an adult--that it takes more than zombified window dressing to make them fresh. (It also doesn't help that the movie's allusions are limited mostly to Romero's original trilogy, THE EVIL DEAD, and Fulci--references themselves that have gotten a bit long in the tooth.) Making matters worse is that these FRIENDS-friendly elements are are resolved in too sentimental a manner for my taste; nothing ruins a good zombie-fest than a dose of the "awwww"s.

This doesn't mean that I hated the movie, far from it. There's quite a bit to like, from the all-around solid performances (especially Simon Pegg as the endlessly likeable Shaun) and clever gags (including probably my favorite riff on "They're coming to get you, Barbara") to the respectful tone of the movie's in-jokes. I particularly liked the story's slow build, with Pegg being so absorbed by his mundane troubles that the zombie epidemic is in full swing before he even realizes it. Fans of British humor will probably get more out of this, since many of its elements--namely, the significance of the pub-as-sanctuary--have more resonance on the other side of the pond (though I must say that when Dylan Moran buys the farm in a nod to Joe Pilato in DAY OF THE DEAD the tone, and the gore, aren't quite outrageous enough to translate into humor, and this scenes comes off as uncharacteristically grim). Wright and Pegg also give their supporting players a little more depth than usual, though I wish they'd delved a little further into Shaun's relationship with his stepfather, one of the film's more non-traditional aspects.

A reverent tribute to the classics in the zombie-film cannon, SHAUN OF THE DEAD may have more of an impact if it hadn't come out during the recent undead boom. Not a bad film by any means, it still wasn't good enough to leave the mark of a truly enjoyable film.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Have you ever sat through a movie, paying close attention to the events at hand, only to find yourself without a clue as to what's going on? Whether it's a needlessly complicated plot, vague dialogue, or just plain ol' shoddy sound or picture quality that renders the goings-on incomprehensible, there are certain movies that reward your investment of time and money with a resounding "WTF?" I have a certain contempt for movies like this--usually it's a vain attempt to mask the fact that the film itself is an utter turd--and although I didn't out-and-out hate 1973's MESSIAH OF EVIL, I sure as hell didn't enjoy my time spent watching it, either.

Before penning big-budget studio fare like INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and the true horror that is HOWARD THE DUCK, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz collaborated on this muddled thriller, also known as DEAD PEOPLE (she produced, he directed). The film is the kind of scuzzy obscurity that proliferated in drive-ins during the '70s, and its low-rent veneer actually holds the film together despite its fractured storyline.

Waxen-faced Mariana Hill visits the sleepy coastal town of Point Dune, searching for information about her absentee artist father (Royal Dano, who pops up near the end in one of the movie's many eyebrow-crinkling moments). As the story unfolds in fragmented, unfocused segments it soon becomes extremely unclear as to what's going on and why, but it has to do with something that happened a hundred years ago and the moon turning red. Why this causes people to become bloody-eyed zombies, or what purpose it serves, is beyond me; there's an awful lot of exposition delivered in hollow, booming voice-overs, but it didn't help much.

Although they don't make much sense, there are quite a few eerily effective scenes to be found, especially a late-night trip to a deserted supermarket where one of the supporting characters makes a grisly discovery. This sequence, complimented by the film's stark, no-frills style, is unnerving in a manner similar to CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Moments like this help sustain interest, but they'd be better served by a more coherent plot.

Ultimately, MESSIAH OF EVIL reeks of wasted opportunity, which is a shame because it shows hints of a being a hidden jewel. In addition to its SOULS-like atmosphere many of its elements predate other films like Carpenter's THE FOG and DEAD AND BURIED, but aren't allowed to bloom into anything special. I don't know if Huyck and Katz were trying to be artistic, or were simply churning out a movie to make a buck in the horror market, but they let some really interesting concepts wither on the vine.

(Here's a brief clip including the supermarket scene. It might not be as creepy out of context, but watch this and you'll save yourself the trouble of seeing the entire film.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava followed up the success of DEMONS with, duh, DEMONS 2 in 1986, a direct sequel (a rarity in the realm of Italian horror) that follows the first film so closely it's practically a duplication (which is not such a rarity in the realm of Italian horror). And though it captures the first DEMONS' aura of stylized excess, with emphasis on the latter, it fails to include its sense of crowd-pleasing excitement.

Bava gets underway with a cheap fake scare (what appears to be a blood-spattered butcher is really a pastry chef with a mess of strawberry glaze) before rehashing the same set-up as before, this time switching the locale to an apartment building but keeping his characters the same personality-barren spear-carriers. TV is the vessel of evil in this one, as various tenants (including a debuting Asia Argento) watch a movie about demons; strangely, the sequel ignores the first film's ending, which implied a widespread demon infestation, yet the events of that movie are referenced in 2's film-within-a-film. Like DEMONS, this build-up is the best part, the highlight being teenage Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) watching in horror as the on-screen demon emerges into reality through the television screen, a la VIDEODROME.

Despite the almost identical approach, DEMONS 2 disintegrates into unbearable tedium after its somewhat impressive set-up, with a handful of grody transformation scenes thrown in to relieve the boredom (oddly enough, the one special effect that gets the most screen time is the worst--a hilariously stupid-looking puppet that at least livens up the action with its sheer ridiculousness). In his attempt to recreate the success of his previous hit Bava not only replicates what worked before (again we're treated to a scene in which the demons scurry through the dark, their eyes aglow) but also what didn't--again leaving the central location to focus on a group of teenage degenerates, though instead of incorporating them into the action like the first time, Bava seems content to let them grind the movie to a halt. Nor does Bava seem interested in recreating the atmospheric use of lighting, opting to concentrate on gore and forced mayhem (but at least he kept a euro-cheese synth soundtrack).

Perhaps Bava and Argento were aware their sequel would have the tarnished reputation it would soon earn, since they don't aim for a third installment by ending 2 on a more upbeat note. Our heroes (a young married couple expecting their first child) are trapped in a television studio surrounded by monitors, each one featuring a demonized Tassoni rushing toward the screen. The husband smashes each one in turn as his wife gives birth, reversing the demons' intent by delivering something good and innocent into the world.

If you must see DEMONS 2, I highly recommend renting a DVD so you can bypass the tedium and enjoy the transformation sequences. There is a few interesting tidbits here, but for a more productive viewing experience you'll be better off sticking with the original.


It's no big secret that the Italian film industry is based on imitating popular American releases--in fact, that's a significant part of their charm, especially when they fail to measure up to the originals that've inspired them. A notable exception is 1985's DEMONS, produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, which attempted to cash in on both the lucrative horror and action markets. What makes it notable is that it succeeded, while still displaying many of the traits that made 80's Italian horror so enjoyable.

Although the film refers to its creatures as demons (hence the title), it plays out closer to the zombie genre than the quasi-satanic demons that were the rage in the mid-eighties; not only is the demonic infection spread by bites and scratches, but the action is confined to a single, restrictive location--here, a Berlin moviehouse where patrons have been given tickets to a new horror film by a mysterious stranger in a metallic mask (played by future CEMETERY MAN director Michele Soavi). The film is perhaps best known for the unconventional way it introduces its monsters, as the film-within-a-film (ostensibly about the prophecies of Nostradamus, with plenty of lip service paid to the then-prevalent slasher film craze) parallels with one of the characters, who's cut herself on a demonic mask in the theater's lobby. As the cinematic demons make their appearance, the girl begins her transformation into a scaly, frothing creature. This early sequence is done so well that it almost renders the rest of the story, which follows the usual set-'em-up-and-knock-'em-down approach, anti-climactic; in fact, when I first watched this one many moons ago, I watched the initial reveal of the demons through my fingers (though if I told you exactly how old I was at the time, you'd surely make fun of me).

DEMONS, like so many films of its decade, is an exercise of style and excess, from its distinctly 80's synthesized score (punctuated with an odd assortment of commercial rock) and evocative lighting, to its non-stop barrage of violence and gore. The action moves at too brisk a pace to really milk the claustrophobic potential of its setting, but Argento and Bava are more concerned with attitude than mood, throwing on one demonic confrontation after another until it teeters on the brink of ridiculousness (i.e. the helicopter crashing through the theater's roof for no discernable reason). DEMONS also betrays its affiliation with Italian zombie cinema with its apocalyptic ending, as the two surviving audience members find the infection has (somehow) spread throughout the city--and the world, we're to believe.

Shakespeare it ain't, but this fun, grisly thrill ride is a nice change of pace from all the hockey-masked momma's boys that dominated much of Reagan-era horror.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


When selecting movies for the blog I don't really plan too far in advance, trying an almost random assortment of films from varying countries, decades, or genres to keep from watching the same thing too many times in a row. Sometimes a subtle pattern will emerge, such as the one I found this week. Today's entry, 2007's UNDEAD OR ALIVE, marks the third film in a row in which a solid premise is undermined by lousy direction (this is doubly frustrating, with the plethora or remakes and repackaged TV series flooding multiplexes it'd be nice to see someone actually pull off a clever premise).

UNDEAD OR ALIVE is the debut feature from director Glasgow Phillips, who honed his comedic chops working on later seasons of SOUTH PARK (which you'd never suspect, since precious little of that show's sharp eye for satire--or toilet humor, for that matter--makes its way here). Phillips doesn't inspire much confidence in the film's prologue--my eyes were rolling before the opening credits--by introducing his zombie early on and immediately playing it for tired, dumb "laughs" (I've said it before, and I'll keep saying until someone listens, even when you're doing a horror-comedy ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS play your monsters straight). In fact, in the movie's earliest scenes I soon found myself preparing for a looong ninety minutes, as stock Western tropes are introduced and lamely poked fun of, scenes that consists mostly of bad dialogue badly delivered (such as the villainous Sheriff, who's supposed to sound sinister but instead comes off like an effeminitte shopkeeper who doesn't want to be bothered). Chris Kattan carries the bulk of the comedic material as a heartbroken cowboy (sadly, the only thing funny about his performance is the pitiable way he handles his six-shooters) who teams up with a lone gunslinger (James Denton) on the run from the aforementioned sissy Sheriff. After this questionable build-up, the film offers a glimmer of hope, as the Sheriff and his possee are infected with a zombie bite just before the manhunt begins. (Phillips, ever the consciencious comedy director, remembers to add fart sounds to his transformation scenes.)

Once you get accustomed to the movie's level of sucktitude, it's surprisingly easy to get swept along with the story. Phillips, along with Scott Pourroy, actually brings some novel twists to the zombie tale. This time, instead of viruses or voodoo, zombieism is a curse inflicted upon the white man in the last moments of Geronimo's life, a concept that's laudably explored instead of being wasted as a gimmick. And despite the occasional pointless subplot--Phillips spends a little too much time with a drunken priest with no real connection to the plot and a measly payoff--the screenplay is well-paced, offering quite a few interesting turns, culminating in an Old West variation on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in an Army fort and featuring what I must say is one of the most unexpected and satisfying endings in recent memory.

In addition to piling on one unfunny joke after another, Phillips squanders this refreshing script by punctuating every single action sequence with awful, inappropriate, and often anachronistic music (seriously, keep that mute button handy whenever anything of interest happens). This consistently wrong-headed direction had me banging my forehead in frustration, especially since the movie had so much going for it, story-wise.

UNDEAD OR ALIVE is worth checking out, at least for its considerable strengths, and maybe you'll get a bigger kick out of the humor than I did, but be forewarned: there is a generic rock-country soundtrack waiting for you that'll haunt your dreams for days.


FEEDING THE MASSES, a 2004 indie production from director Richard Griffin, takes a satirical approach with his zombies, using them--theoretically, anyways--to criticize the media and its tendency to manipulate reality. Metaphorically speaking, it's a rich vein to mine for zombie-oriented thrills, but a tag team of weak script and indifferent direction keeps it from achieving more than burning ninety-odd minutes.

The story, hatched by actor Trent Haaga (who's quickly becoming a regular here, having appeared in almost half a dozen or so prior entries), tells of a looming undead apocalypse that's being kept quiet by news officials and military personnel, lest the general public be driven to panic by the truth. We follow an intrepid reporter named Torch (Billy Garberina) as he and his motley news crew travels about, manufacturing fluff pieces to lull the public into false security, but when Torch records footage of the spreading zombie plague (as well as learning the situation is far worse than originally feared), he finds himself being silenced by various gatekeepers of the truth.

Haaga arms himself with plenty of material to use, then decides to ignore it all, not allowing his premise to evolve past the initial set-up. Little attention is given to the office politics that dictates what makes it on the air and what is censored, which I suppose makes sense since we as the audience doesn't really get to see just how far-reaching the zombie epidemic is. I would've much preferred seeing how reality is compromised in the editing bay to a soothing, palatable balm instead of the standard low-budget zombie "action" scenes we're shown. Nor do we see the effect the manipulated news has on the public; you'd think that by twisting the facts, there'd be some dire consequences for somebody--such as telling shoppers it's safe to visit the zombie-ridden business district--yet we don't see the aftereffects of the higher-up's decisions.

MASSES also tries to enrich its universe with various commercials and news clips on such topics as the dead-rights movement, local anti-zombie militias (represented by a pitifully stereotypical redneck), and reburial services, but these segments have a cutesy, in-joke feel to them that works against the movie as a whole, particularly the Duck-and-Cover-inspired propoganda newsreel, demonstrating an equally ludicrous method of surviving a zombie attack, which is so poorly executed it's laughable.

The film's low-grade production values don't help either, giving what is supposedly a national (or global) phenomenon an uncomfortably cramped, restrained feel. The cinematography looks cheap, with a quality not unlike a high school video project (which at least keeps things consistent, as many of the scenes are blocked in the same manner as a hastily-assembled student play). Griffin has assembled a cast that isn't horrible, yet their performances have a strange, hard-to-pin-down hollowness to them that prevents them from being engaging.

For all of its lofty intentions, FEEDING THE MASSES just doesn't have the oomph behind it--creatively or technically--to pull off its desired effect. Its heart is in the right place, but it seems like the only part of the film that founds its way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Obstacles abound in the paths of filmmakers outside the Hollywood system, and it's no surprise that these obstacles--time and money, or lack thereof, being the two favorites--often compromise the finished product. So it makes a certain degree of sense that directors will make their movies deliberately "bad," thus utilizing what are normally liabilities for fringe filmmakers. Such is the case with today's entry, 2003's ZOMBIEGEDDON.

A Baltimore-based production from writer/director Chris Watson, the film (one of Troma's many pick-ups) opens with a warning from Uwe Boll, who proclaims it to be a piece of shit best kept away from. An admonition not to be taken lightly for sure, but then the intro segues to news reporter Trent Haaga, who further hammers home the fact that ZOMBIEGEDDON is indeed a piece of shit, turning a simple self-deprecating gag into a desperate, transparent plea for cult-movie notoriety. Yes, the movie is bad, but unfortunately not bad in the fun-spirited manner that many low-budget horror flicks often are; it's almost as if by declaring his movie a shitbomb from the start Watson felt relieved of the obligation to deliver a somewhat watchable pic.

And that's a shame, because his script shows several flashes of creativity and imagination that it isn't much of a stretch to see this as a viable, serious movie. The premise--that zombies are Satan's version of humans and sent to Earth to interfere with God's creation--isn't half-bad, but instead of exploring its potential Watson saddles the movie down with dumb, sub-Troma humor, cult film references standing in as jokes (a practice I really wish would go away), and lazy filmmaking technique. Even the opportunity for feverish lunacy, the saving grace of the bad B movie, goes unplumbed, like using Tom Savini in a cameo as Jesus--an inspired casting choice but is ultimately wasted in favor of a few limp chuckles. Nor does Watson go all out with the gore, a conceit that made a howler like BONE SICKNESS tolerable.

Also, for an idea with a fair amount of originality, Watson does a good job of botching the execution. Told as a secondhand flashback (Brinke Stevens relates this as a post-coital tale by Savini-as-Christ), the plot is complicated enough to have a lot going on--switching between the hilariously somber William Smith as Satan and his sidekick Joe Estevez, a trio of goth/punk college students, and a pair of cops so corrupt they'd make Vic Mackey blanch--yet still feels as though nothing is happening. Most of the "action" that does occur is performed and filmed without much energy, making even its supposedly exciting moments unbearably sluggish. The story's climax is also astonishingly weak, with the all-powerful Satan felled by a single blow to the chest (something tells me that Smith's paycheck wasn't quite substantial enough to get him to actually move, since he sits in the same position throughout the whole film), and the movie's final payoff is overextended, muting its admirably grim tone.

Watson achieved a rather dubious honor with ZOMBIEGEDDON, failing to make his intentionally bad movie sufficiently atrocious. Perhaps when he was filming Boll's cameo he should've asked for a little advice on the proper technique of movie-fucking.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Short films are a crap shoot. Sometimes you'll find something charming and entertaining, but often (as previous entries in this blog will attest) you get stuck with a shallow slice of non-story from an amateur with a camcorder. Guess which category BITTEN falls into. This 2007 offering from writer/producer/director/editor/cameraman Jaime Lucero Jr. is more a snippet from a bigger (crappier) movie than a genuine standalone short, and even at a mere three minutes manages to overstay its welcome.

The "plot" centers around three dudes with guns--soldiers? survivalists? who knows, I sure don't care enough to figure out--running from an unseen army of zombies (we know because we're told this is a zombie film) pause in a clearing to deal with the bite inflicted upon one of the men. The "conflict" is what to do: take the motherfucker to a hospital, or shoot the motherfucker? (Ah, it warms my heart to see that the notion of excessive f-bombs will instantly transform any dialogue into edgy, Tarantino-worthy patois is alive and well among beginner filmmakers). Apparently, neither of the non-bitten motherfuckers have seen a motherfucking zombie movie, since the bitten motherfucker rises to bite the motherfucking friend who wanted to fucking help him. The last motherfucker standing whips out a handy samurai sword to supposedly stab the zombified motherfucker (we're not privy to the actual killing), proving that maybe he's never seen a zombie flick after all (hint: you have to shoot them in the head).

With a synopsis like that, do I really need to go further? The actors aren't completely horrible (sorry about the backhanded compliment, fellas, maybe if you'd had some real dialogue I could better gauge your skill), and Lucero doesn't give himself much of a chance to showcase whatever talents he may possess, though it's a safe bet that he's not a film school prodigy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I found myself disappointed by BIO-ZOMBIE, the 1998 Japanese cult favorite from director Wilson Yip. Maybe it was simply a case of heightened expectations, but throughout the film's running time I couldn't help but feel a continued sense of unfulfilled potential.

Proudly declaring itself as the Asian counterpart of DAWN OF THE DEAD, with a healthy influence of RESIDENT EVIL for good measure, BIO-ZOMBIE takes place almost entirely in a Tokyo mall (I realize that at the time of its release the mall-setting was fairly fresh for a homage, but this conceit has cropped up so many times in the two and a half months this blog's been around that I'm quickly--very quickly--growing tired with it). Our heroes are a pair of obnoxious slacker-types, Woody and Bee, who run the mall's video store and come off in the film's first act as a brash, Far East version of Kevin Smith characters--recalling more the lowbrow slapstick of MALLRATS than CLERKS' kinetic verbiage. Woody and Bee accidentally unleash a zombie plague into their place of work when they hit a pedestrian (infected with a zombie virus hidden inside a soda bottle) and stash him in their trunk. Among the others along for the ride are a pair of nail salon girls and Kui, the proprietor of a cell-phone store who could give Ben Affleck's Shannon Hamilton a few lessons in mall-management assholery.

For a zombie movie--not to mention one that draws its inspiration from a film notorious for its splatter quotient--BIO-ZOMBIE is surprisingly restrained. Even after a forgivably slow start, which often feels like the proverbial calm before the storm, the film keeps its zombies offscreen for far too long, focusing instead on the bantering back-and-forth of its principles--which would be fine, if there'd been anything of substance to warrant it--and keeping the gore level astonishingly low. The backstory of the zombies themselves--the virus in the bottle is a biochemical weapon developed by the Iraqis and sold to shady businessmen--also goes unexplored; weren't these guys concerned that their dead-reviving product got loose into the general populace? I kept wondering about their absence in the many pockets of downtime that spotted the last half of the movie.

Yip does devote a fair amount of time to one of his "sympathetic" zombies, a sushi chef that maintains his human compassion, thanks to his crush on one of the nail girls. Why he's the only one who stays somewhat human is never explained, since it's really just a plot device to save the heroes at the end before setting up the movie's unexpectedly downbeat ending. It's that dark third act shift that did me in. Though it wasn't a left-field attempt to be shocking or felt tacked-on, it still felt like a bummer after the zombie-happy chicanery that came before it. I was expecting something a little more triumphant.

Although it didn't let its obvious limited budget get in the way of a well-rendered look and a few stylistic touches, BIO-ZOMBIE needed to push the envelope a little bit more, whether comedicly or viscerally it really doesn't matter, since a more aggressive approach would've helped both. Call me cynical, but I credit this film's underground following to its goody dub-job that anything else.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I'm sure when Jim Larsen thought up a title for his 1998 picture, he envisioned lots of people chuckling when they talked about seeing "Jim Larsen's BUTTCRACK." Actually, you'll get more laughs out of devising various remarks--"I just suffered through Jim Larsen's BUTTCRACK" and "Jim Larsen's BUTTCRACK was twice as long as it needed to be" are two examples--than you will from the film itself.

This Virginia-lensed horror-comedy deals with a young man named Brian (Doug Ciskowski) and his roommate Wade (Caleb Kreischer), an obnoxious, corpulent nerd sporting a perpetual display of butt-cleavage. Brian wants to propose to his girlfriend Annie (Kathy Wittes), which is damn near impossible with Wade constantly interrupting their romantic interludes with his vomit-inducing crack. When Brian accidentally electrocutes Wade by dropping a radio into the bathtub it appears that the two lovebirds can finally have their privacy, but Wade's voodoo-practicing sister (Cynthia Geary, who also co-produced) has other plans; she's cast a spell that will bring Wade from the dead and get his revenge on those who've wronged him--but only if someone says "buttcrack" twelve times in a single breath.

The problem with Jim Larsen's BUTTCRACK (there, are you happy, Jim?) is that it fails as both a comedy and a zombie film. The flimsy screenplay--probably cranked out over a slow weekend--has the same one-two set-up as an old EC Comics tale, but doesn't have nearly enough story to fill its 67-minute running time. This would be fine if Larsen had plenty of laughs or chills to compensate, but he never delivers either. Wade doesn't even make for an interesting zombie, not only is he not interested in getting revenge (which is understandable--it really was an accident), he doesn't even bother to eat anyone, he simply transforms others into zombies when they see his buttcrack. Now, any premise can be made funny with the right execution, but Larsen merely lets the camera roll as if the concept was inherently funny. Even simple gags fall flat, when they do appear, thanks to a combination of poor writing and even poorer acting (most of the cast delivers their lines with the same passion as calling in an order to Pizza Hut).

The only time Jim Larsen's BUTTCRACK shows any promise (okay, last one, I swear) is when Mojo Nixon shows up as Preacherman Bob to inject some sorely-needed energy to the proceedings. Even with given little more to do than jump around and howl his inane dialogue, Nixon constantly threatens to run away with the film--and much to my disappointment he doesn't, though I'd like to see his character get his own movie. If the other actors in the film had taken the same over-the-top approach the film might've had a chance, instead of dragging along to an unmemorable climax.

According to IMDB Larsen hasn't made another film since BUTTCRACK, and while I don't want to gloat over the failure of a filmmaker, I'm at least glad he never got the chance to pollute the video shelves with one badly-made film after another (yes, Rolf Kanefsky, I'm talking to you). But who knows, maybe he could've learned from his mistakes and made an indie feature worth checking out. I'm guess we'll have to wait and see.

(No trailer this time, but it's interesting what you'll find when you search for BUTTCRACK on YouTube.)


Poor li'l NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Thanks to both its phenomenal success and its public-domain status, filmmakers looking to make a quick buck in the horror market came to this venerated classic with the same dispassionate eagerness of a football squad visiting that certain cheerleader--you knew you'd get what you wanted, with a minimum of effort.

If that wasn't bad enough, the worst offenders were those involved with the 1968 original. While nothing can top the sheer balls-n-gall spectacle that was John Russo's 30th Anniversary "special edition," Bill Hinzman (who found himself still recognized as NIGHT's original ghoul) decided to carve out a little piece of sure-fire success for himself with 1988's FLESH EATER: REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD, which had a video shelf life roughly as long as a box of Twinkies.

Shot in the same region where Romero made horror history, FLESH EATER acts as sort of an alternate version of NIGHT. The premise is simple: A farmer uprooting a stump in his field finds Hinzman's resting place, which is guarded by a vague warning of the evil underneath (Hinzman opts for a supernatural explanation, though he allows it to go completely unexplored). Apparently the warnings weren't effective enough, since the farmer finds himself face-to-face with the re-animated Hinzman--made up to resemble his role in NIGHT, unmindful that's been twenty years--and unleashes the dead upon western Pennsylvania once again.

The film, which has the same workmanlike visual style as most straight-to-tape horror flicks of the late '80s, is basically a three-part story. Part one deals with a group of partygoing teens--devoid of any personality save their obnoxiousness--head out to the woods for the standard beer and sex-fueled shenanigans. This first act plays out much like the then-lucrative slasher films, where teenagers pair off to secluded spots to make out, show a little breast, and wind up Hinzman's victims, before turning into a condensed, tension-free version of NIGHT as the teens lock themselves in a ramshackle farmhouse to defend themselves; there's quite a bit of gore on display, as Hinzman more often than not unreels a little intestine or munches on a freshly-plucked heart when doing away with his prey (and was probably the movie's ultimate downfall, coming at the height of the video-violence controversy).

Once all the teenagers have been killed and transformed into zombies (even the one Hinzman impaled with a pitchfork instead of biting), the movie segues into part two, a series of loosely-related vignettes in which people are introduced only to be killed minutes later by the zombified cast. This of course sets up part three, where the police come in and gun down the marauding dead; if you've seen NIGHT then you'll know exactly how this is going to end, even if Hinzman didn't telegraph it from a mile away (oh, by the way, Bill: having your two survivors pledge their undying love to each other and declare just how wonderful their lives are going to be when we know damn well they're going to get shot by a redneck sheriff doesn't heighten the tragedy, it's just makes the ending even more stupid). And though the zombies are killed off in this one, Hinzman allows himself to live, to either act as an unauthorized prologue to NIGHT or just as another example of the script's lack of ingenuity.

Hinzman keeps the action moving, even if it's not terribly interesting, with a steady stream of female flesh in between disembowelings. The cast, judging from their level of acting ability, is made up of family members and friends willing to work cheap and the gore FX aren't bad, given that they're there to spice up an otherwise dull plot.

In the end, though, FLESH EATER feels more like a movie made to cash in on the success of not only Romero's classic but the horror craze in general, and as such can't even generate much in the way of entertainment. Instead of simply taking pride in that he was once part of something great, Hinzman has added yet another batch of sticky fingerprints to the tarnished legacy of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Scooter McCrae's SHATTER DEAD gained a quiet cult reputation upon its release in 1994, due no doubt to its subversive, often shocking take on zombies. It also had the distinction of eschewing the shoddy production values that marked the majority of shot-on-video titles at the time (or today, for that matter). Unfortunately, sporting a few well-shot shock tactics can only take a movie so far.

The movie begins on an intriguingly promising note, with a pair of women engaged in a sexual act, their expressions dazed and detached, when one of them sprouts angelic wings. This simple prologue implies a level of imagination and semi-sacrilegious daring that goes unfulfilled almost from the get-go (McCrae reveals on one of the DVD's many commentary tracks that this scene was added after the film was in production, from a friend's chance remark that compared the movie to "being raped by angels"). Instead, the movie picks up 17 months after this encounter to show a bleak, depressing world populated by the roaming dead (who live an existence not unlike the homeless) and those still living scraping by. McCrae doesn't give an backstory, and we normally wouldn't neccesarily need one, but since one's to assume it has to do with the lesbian-raping angel it would've nice to some kind of explanation.

The story centers around Susan (played by Stark Raven, an unpleasant and incompetent actress who mumbles her way through most of her dialogue) and her attempts to get home to her boyfriend. Judging by the slow, episodic way the plot unfolds I assume McCrae was interested in a more character-driven piece, though if that was the case he should've given his cast a little more depth. We know squat about Susan, or anyone else really, and since she has no sense of urgency in getting home her entire story lacks any dramatic thrust. McCrae does offer a potentially engrossing sequence in which Susan is sent to a private home turned halfway house populated by several strange individuals, including the rapee from the beginning of the picture. But McCrae does little with this vignette (which has enough material to sustain an entire film) other than offer up some female nudity and tell us that soap is very valuable to the dead. He missteps further by ending this scene with a tonally out of place massacre perpetrated by a trio of New Order fanatics (among them REDNECK ZOMBIES director Pericles Lewnes) that seem to have stumbled in from a Troma flick. (McCrae does add a somewhat disturbing tidbit in here, in which the angel-rapee--now pregnant and having taken a blow from a shotgun--plucks the fetus from her ruined womb and nurses it at her breast).

Susan eventually makes it home, only to find her boyfriend is now a zombie thanks to a successful suicide attempt while she was away. This doesn't prevent them from indulging in some long-awaited lovemaking, setting up the scene that earned SHATTER DEAD its "shocking" status: because of a lack of blood flow to his groin, Susan's boyfriend uses her pistol as a surrogate penis, strapping it to his flaccid member and going to work. McCrae goes so far as to film the barrel disappearing into Susan's vagina in close-up (perhaps explaining why such an inferior actress like Raven was cast in the role--what, was Lydia Lunch unavailable?). To his credit, McCrae avoids milking this for gratuitous thrills, but it's hardly a bold artistic statement that justifies the preceeding boredom, either.

SHATTER DEAD may have been a revelatory experience back in '94, before the days when jaded souls such as myself could pick up PORNO HOLOCAUST or the insert-happy version on THRILLER--A CRUEL PICTURE at the local F.Y.E., but I found it as lifeless as its undead inhabitants. Maybe if McCrae had gone a little deeper into his premise, and his characters, his film may have maintained its impact. How much of it was dictated by a miniscule budget I can't say, but SHATTER DEAD remains little more than a time capsule of Clinton-era indie cinema.

(No trailer again, but I did locate a clip of the aforementioned massacre scene--which unfortunately cuts off right before the fetus sequence)

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Most DIY films make an early impression and spend the remainder of their running time living up--or down, as the case generally is--to it. Occasionally you'll luck out with something like Scott Phillips's THE STINK OF FLESH, which told you up front you were on to something different, but usually micro-budget films land with a resounding thud within the first few minutes and lie on the screen like a flattened raccoon on the highway (for an example, see roughly every third movie on this blog). BONE SICKNESS, a 2004 shot-on-video production from writer/director Brian Paulin, gets underway with such a thud, but eventually won me over by its gore-happy moxie. (Note: This is the first time I've ever used the word "moxie" in a review, or ever for that matter. Please don't let me use it again.)

The feeble-minded story revolves around a young man dying of an unspecified bone disease (Rich George, who barely acts like he's got a mild headache, much less a terminal illness). Thanks to a lack of insurance, his wife (Darya Zabinski) is forced to take unorthodox measures to help him, such as visiting her pal Paulin (looking more like a roadie for Foghat than the morgue attendant he's supposed to be) for one of his "cures." Paulin helpfully mashes up the bones of several corpses from the local cemetery for George to eat, yet everyone seems pretty surprised that not only does this not work, but it also turns George into a flesh-hungry zombie--or, in his words, a "fucking necro-junkie." (Okay, for the sake of your premise I'll go along with this, as I'm sure eating the long-buried remains of the dead will have adverse effects on a person, but how does this cause the other corpses in the cemetery to crawl out of the graves and wreak havoc?)

On pretty much every level BONE SICKNESS falls flat. Its first half is incredibly slow, and without any interesting characters (or convincing actors portraying them), ennui settles quickly over the proceedings, nearly begging for a little fast-forward manipulation. Towards the end, George has a brief soliloquy in which he talks about hearing the voices of his victims in his brain, and the overall horrid state of his corpse addiction; why not base a story around that, instead of tossing it into some throwaway dialogue and concentrating on a series of boring scenes that go nowhere? Once Paulin unleashes his zombies, he still has plenty of story problems on his hands, but those concerns are soon lost under a wave of red corn syrup. See, BONE SICKNESS gets gory at its midpoint, and by that I don't mean there's some blood and guts strewn about. Paulin embarks on a splattery game of one-upmanship with the likes of Romero, Fulci, and H.G. Lewis, and what he lacks in style he more than compensates for in quantity.

Things start getting good and wet with a zombie assault on a responding police squad. As I watched the carnage unfold, I began scribbling notes. "Zombie assault on cops is jam-packed with gore, but lacks rhythm and focus--where was this action in the first half?" sums up what I wrote, and it's true, but I soon set the notepad aside; the film progresses as such an audacious cavalcade of gore that I couldn't help but be won over. You want entrail-munching? You got it. Heads split in half, or split with various sharp instruments? Right here. In fact, I'd say it's a safe bet that Paulin--responsible for the majority of the special FX--put more thought and energy into the myriad ways the human body can be destroyed than giving his characters a genuine plot to muck through, but at least the effort he did put forth paid off in spades.

I will give Paulin props for adding a neat little twist near the end; I won't spoil it here, but I did like how he added some competition for the zombies. But one novel wrinkle in the overall texture of a movie doesn't negate its numerous flaws. After killing off his cast, Paulin lets his story continue into apocalypse mode as the rampaging dead overtake the townspeople in an epilogue that exists only to continue the relentless onslaught of gore. There is some impressive stuntwork (impressive by DIY standards) on display, and it's nice to see the Romero tribute extend to THE CRAZIES as well as the DEAD, but was the end-of-the-world finish really neccesary? I know, I know, by paying homage to the Italian zombie genre you pretty much have to, but it'd be nice to see a different ending now and then.

Bear in mind, this is still an ineptly-made film, but it stands out as one of the best bad movies of this project.

(Couldn't find the trailer, but some helpful wag on YouTube compiled some of the gore scenes, which I'm sure you'll enjoy more.)

Monday, January 7, 2008


With a title like ZOMBIE IN THE WOODS, I was expecting an unimaginative shitfest, the kind of amateurish production that expends all of its creativity on its moniker. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that this 2007 short film from director Sam Casserly actually shows some legitimate talent.

Running a scant five minutes, a quarter of which is devoted to credits, this British production is woefully thin story-wise, a usual complaint for films of this type. I normally shrug it off as being part and parcel of amateur filmmaking, but Casserly displays an impressive visual style that makes such a shortcoming rather disappointing; it would've been intriguing to see what he could've done with a genuine plot.

Casserly presents his film in black and white, digitally accentuating the splashes of red that occur throughout. This technique is somewhat overdone, but it nonetheless comes off as striking under the limited means. There's also some multiframe work going on that demonstrates more Casserly's available technology than any dramatic effect, but it's good to see an effort to be visually exciting being made.

Too bad Casserly's acumen doesn't extend to the audio portion of his film. The sparse dialogue spoken at the film's climax is so muddled that it's incomprehensible, and what I didn't have to strain to hear was stilted and unconvincing (thanks to actress Jenny Pearman's feeble performance). Considering that this is billed as a "psychological" zombie thriller, I get the impression I may have missed something important. The climax also contains some pretty weak CGI that helps end the movie--which had easily earned my good graces--on an unintentionally humorous note.

Hopefully Casserly can use this as a stepping stone to other projects. He's got great potential, and I'm curious to see what he'll do in the future (but make sure you've got an honest-to-God script, okay, Sam?)


Rip-offs are prevalent in every genre, as money-conscious producers are eager to cash in on proven commodities, and horror films are especially prone to this trend. But there are rip-offs and then there are movies like 1981's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, which wants so desperately to ape the success of DAWN OF THE DEAD that it not only carbon-copies many of its plot elements, but cribs Goblin's score as well.

Known in various incarnations as VIRUS, ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH, and NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (under which it received most of its domestic video exposure), HELL aims for the same socio-political commentary that underlined DAWN's zombie action. This time, the subtextual theme is starvation in the Third World. The zombies arise as the result of an experiment that was intended to solve the world's hunger, though I don't see the practical applications of feeding people to the living dead. The main plot deals with a SWAT team--modeled so closely on Ken Foree and company that they wear identical uniforms--and pair of journalists in New Guinea dealing with the initial stages of the zombie outbreak. The action is sporadic, it takes a while for things to gear up and there are dreadfully long stretches that scream for the fast-forward button (no surprise, since the film's a collaboration between tedium maestros Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso), but when it finally serves up the mayhem it really heaps it on. The gore is what you'd expect from an Italian zombie picture, and Mattei manages to cobble together a couple of interesting sequences; most effective is the scene involving a re-animated child, who seems to enjoy taking off-camera direction, and his parental snack. Oh, and the dubbing is terrible, so that should keep you entertained in between gut-spillings.

Where HELL really reveals it's no-budget status is its frequent use of stock footage to "enhance" many of its scenes. Culled from Barbet Schroeder's LA VALLEE and the documentary OF THE DEAD, it consists of jungle animals and various tribal rites of the people of New Guinea. But it's the way that the footage gets edited in that's most entertaining, especially the scene where a native woman in stock scenes plucks maggots from a corpse and, thanks to a little post-production trickery, eats them.

In spite of its numerous shortcomings, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD stands as the quintessential Italian zombie picture: slavishly copying an international hit, with generous gore, and all the bad-movie trimmings (though its pacing is so terrible that sometimes it feels as though the movie is never going to end). Worth at least a cursory viewing, but keep the remote control handy.


1982's CREEPSHOW marked George Romero's first, and really best, collaboration with Stephen King (though technically, the author did pop up in a cameo in the underrated KNIGHTRIDERS), as well as his first venture into zombies outside of his DEAD films. Though it isn't a zombie film per se, the living dead do play a pivotal role in two of the film's stories, as King and Romero pay tribute to the EC Comics stable of horror books.

For purposes of this blog, we're going to focus our attention on CREEPSHOW's two zombie stories, "Father's Day" and "Something to Tide You Over." Ironically, these are the weakest stories of the lot, though none of the tales herein would be considered deep, in keeping faithful to the source material.

"Father's Day," about an annual family gathering that coincides with the anniversary of an earlier tragedy, is particularly shallow even considering the film's intent, which is surely the reason it launches the movie. Though its Point A to Point B progression is no more developed than the dozen or so student films reviewed here lately, Romero at least spices the proceedings with a keen visual style--the comic-esque transitions are especially well-done, and the lighting scheme at the end of the segment is superb--and an interesting backstory that's admirably handled by the cast (among them, future Oscar-night luminary Ed Harris). Tom Savini's makeup expertise doesn't get much of the spotlight in this one, but his work on the revived Nathan Grantham (that's MARTIN's John Amplas under that laytex) is great, recalling the maggoty goodness of Fulci's ZOMBIE, and King displays a rare, restrained story economy; my only beef is the unexplained telepathy Grantham uses to pull the massive headstone on poor Ed. What is this guy, Carrie's grandpap?

The other dead-oriented story, "Something to Tide You Over," works as one of the more unsettling tales, despite the presence of Ted Danson (who can benchpress 300 pounds, he informs us ominously) and Leslie Nielsen as the murderous husband of Danson's lover (DAWN's Gaylen Ross, criminally underused here). Again, the storytelling style isn't exactly profound, but Nielsen's method of revenge is unique and visually interesting, if a little impractical. Watching this segment after myriad NAKED GUN sequels and misfires like MR. MAGOO, it's a little strange to see Nielsen as a cold-blooded villain, yet his recent funnyman persona doesn't compromise the story; it also helps to remember he played a fair amount of heavies in the past. Savini gets to show off his skills a little better, and the resultant makeup is rather disturbing. Like all EC morality plays, Nielsen gets his just desserts, but again I gotta ask: what's up with the powers of the dead? After locking himself in the bathroom to get away from the zombified Danson and Ross, Nielsen turns around to discover--they're in the bathroom! Startling, maybe (at least it was before the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels co-opted this technique to death), but hard to swallow. As a whole, "Tide" isn't as fun as watching King turn into a six-foot weed, but still a worthwhile piece of the anthology.

For the record, I enjoyed the remaining stories in CREEPSHOW, especially the superior "The Crate," though I've always been curious why Romero chose not to end on this one, preferring to close with "They're Creeping Up on You," an overlong segment that feels anti-climactic after seeing Fluffy take care of business. And though it never seems to get the acclaim that NIGHT or DAWN always receives, CREEPSHOW ranks as one of Romero's best works. It's still a personal favorite, and usually gets heavy rotation when the leaves begin to change.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


In 1964, the same year he graced the world with ingenue Roy Schieder in THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE and the rubber-suit gem THE HORRORS OF PARTY BEACH, writer-producer-director Del Tenney made a wooden black-and-white zombie opus called VOODOO BLOODBATH, which languished unseen for several years until grindhouse guru Jerry Gross changed its title to the far-catchier (and less accurate) I EAT YOUR SKIN and slapped it on the bottom half of a now-classic double bill with David Durston's I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. Easily the lesser of the two films--I'm sure drive-in audiences of the early seventies found its bone-dry antics a sharp letdown after the lurid gore of BLOOD--SKIN barely registers as a blip on the bad-movie radar, but I've found that as time goes by I've come to enjoy this snoozefest quite a bit.

Nostalgia, I'm sure, plays a pivotal role, since it was one of my earliest forays into classic "bad" cinema (I can even tell you when: October 1991, when my aunt picked up Rhino Video's version of both this and Richard E. Cunha's SHE DEMONS, hosted by Elvira, for me for Halloween), though the film itself is not without its charms. Bestselling author Thomas Harris--believe me, this tidbit isn't quite as amusing in the wake of HANNIBAL RISING--spends his days poolside at swank Miami resorts, spouting off endless passages of his half-baked softcore prose to legions of fawning groupies. He's dragged by his editor to Voodoo Island--ostensibly to gather research for his latest book, though I suspect it was preemptive action to keep him from impregnating half of Miami's desperate housewives (seriously, I realize it was the sixties, and Harris is supposed to be a James Bond-ish type of charming rogue, but he's really a fucking pig)--luring him with promises of poisonous snakes, zombies and a ratio of five girls to every guy, which our Jonny Quest with a hard-on is eager to partake.

Harris and co. find themselves at the tropical home of Dr. Biladeau and his virginal daughter Jeanine, who Harris actually waits until late in the second act before boning. Dr. Biladeau initially began experimenting with snake venom as a means to cure cancer, but inadvertently created a small army of oatmeal-faced, bug-eyed zombies (I'll say this for B-movie scientists, when they make mistakes they certainly manage to fuck things up royally).

What little action I EAT YOUR SKIN has consists mostly of long dinner conversations, a couple of repetitive native voodoo rituals (a few critics have complained that Tenney treated his African-American characters with the usual racial insensitivity, but I didn't see that), and Harris shmoozing with every female in sight with the sleazy tenacity of a pedophile on Facebook. The zombies are admittedly kinda cool, for the three minutes of screen time Tenney grants them, and the cheesy-spooky soundtrack accentuates them nicely.

There's little in the way of adventure and intrigue--God help you if you're actually looking for scares--and it's hard to recommend it (the old Just 4 the Hell Of It catalog flat-out called you an asshole if you ordered it), but I EAT YOUR SKIN still has a fond place in my fetid little heart. It's movies like this one that are the reason I could care less about more respectable fare like THERE WILL BE BLOOD.


I hesitated to include DYING DAY as part of the project, since it's essentially an alternate version of RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD, and I couldn't help but feel like I was cheating. However, watching Brett Piper's earlier version before Sam Sherman got his hack-director's mitts on it, I realized that not only were they were two entirely different films, but that Piper's original take was better--better as in interesting, since the production value is still rather sloppy.

Focused more on the supernatural than a man-made zombie menace, DYING DAY begins with a dual prologue--one in 1897 and another in 1935--that sets up the film's premise, that certain members of a family tree are being eliminated by the living dead; Robert Sacchetti, who was reduced to a minimal role in RAIDERS in large part to his poor acting skills, is behind the zombie uprising, thanks to a mysterious graveside rite.

Despite the extremely rough quality of the film (particularly the crappy lighting and unsynchronized sound--I can see why Sherman thought he had a dog on his hands), DYING DAY has a far richer mood than Sherman's more professional version, with a nice Gothic feel that offsets the amateurish nature of the production. Scenes have a tendency to drag, but this cut may not have been fully edited to Piper's liking; in either case, the central story is extraordinarily stiff with sequences that rely much too heavily on dialogue and "action" executed way too slowly. Performances range from adequate to you-must-be joking, though the best stuff was recycled into RAIDERS.

Perhaps I'm being generous, since I saw DAY shortly after the creaky tedium that is RAIDERS, but I found this version to be far more watchable.


A staple on late-night cable television back in the eighties, 1986's RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD began as an early feature from Brett Piper (who many of you may recall as the director of such memorable titles as THEY BITE and A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL) called DYING DAY. Piper sold his film to producer Sam Sherman, the veteran schlockmeister largely responsible for giving Al Adamson a film career, who was unimpressed with Piper's work. Sherman shot new footage, incorporating what he thought were Piper's choicest scenes and creating a movie that was absolutely no better that what he started with (worse, when you consider that Piper was an amateur when he shot his film).

After kicking off with a catchingly-cheesy title song, a terrorist (Robert Sacchetti, a holdover from Piper's cut) infiltrates a nuclear power plant and holds its employees hostage--all three!--before getting killed in the resulting stand-off. Sacchetti is brought back from the dead, presumably leading the undead that follow, but Sherman never makes it clear. The hero in this new version is child actor Scott Schwartz (in a career dead zone between sticking his tongue to the flagpole in A CHRISTMAS STORY and sticking his tongue in Juli Ashton in SCOTTY'S X-RATED ADVENTURE), who uses the laser from his grandpa's laserdisc player to craft a ray gun that zaps the marauding zombies (equally ludicrous as this concept is the "special" laser effects, which consist of scratching the film's negative).

Although DYING DAY has its share of flaws, which we'll get into with the following entry, RAIDERS comes off worse for being the more "professional" of the two versions. The patchwork nature of the plot shows through too often, which might not be such a big deal if it wasn't so boring (this movie lumbers along at the same speed of its rotting dead), with horrendous sound quality that at least makes the nonsensical dialogue tough to hear. Schwartz is the lone competent actor in the cast--and considering he just graduated from puberty when his scenes were shot, that's saying a lot--though none are quite as bad as his girlfriend with the New Joysey accent (Zita Johann from Karloff's THE MUMMY also makes a quick, exposition-heavy cameo as a librarian).

Dull and stupid, RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD has absolutely nothing going for it, except maybe for the misleading title that suggests a zombie-filled adventure tale. I'd say go with Piper's version, which you can find on the Special Edition DVD.

The trailer, courtesy of Meet Cleaver Theatre.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Proclaiming itself as the first animated zombie gorefest, 2005's CITY OF ROTT comes to us from Fred Sudol--literally, since he handled every single aspect of the production, from writing and directing to the animation, editing, and scoring. He even provided the multiple voices. And while that may give him the luxury of a self-congratulatory end credit sequence, his experimental animation style isn't enough to carry the lightweight story he offers.

Opening in true homage mode in a zombie-infested shopping mall, ROTT at least takes a different approach to its walking dead; here they're empty vessels occupied by parasitic worms that live in our water supply. The plot centers on an old man who's rapidly going insane as he totters around the city with his walker in search of a new pair of shoes, encountering a few human survivors amid the thousands of zombies roaming about.

It's not much of a story, and often it feels as though ROTT would've been better suited as a short film; even at 77 minutes, it spreads itself awfully thin. Sudol has created a non-traditional hero to say the least, though this old duffer is pretty agile for someone using a walker, not only wielding it as a weapon to bash in the heads of zombies, but he's always able to make a quick getaway, whether it's scrambling down a fire escape or hopping on a handy motorcycle (I got the impression Sudol was less concerned with credibility than he was with style). What I liked best was that Sudol treated the old man's insanity as another character, using it to convey information as well as giving him someone to interact with; it's a novel way to give him a little depth. With such an interesting protagonist, it's a shame that Sudol decided to put him in the backseat two-thirds into the movie--it's an intriguing twist how he shifts gears, doing something I don't recall another zombie movie doing before, but I won't reveal it here--leaving his story to float along with brand-new characters.

The animation is crude and inarticulate--it makes the early episodes of SOUTH PARK look like a Chuck Jones masterpiece--but I soon found myself getting drawn into--heh-heh, sorry--Sudol's style. He packs an impressive amount of detail into his backgrounds and even though he often betrays his limitations by repeating many of the same shots, he does pull off quite a few admirable setpieces (one in particular that stands out is when the old man hallucinates inside an abandoned shoe store).

I like what Sudol's doing, he's got a sharp directorial eye and his sense of humor doesn't distract from the horror. With a little more money and a better screenplay, he stands a good chance of making the TOY STORY of horror. And that, my friends, would be awesome.


Amateur hour befalls us again with GREENE ROAD, a 2007 short film from writer/director Brandon Blair. Like most backyard movies, it's too slight to be truly satisfying to anyone outside the filmmaker's immediate family.

In a scenario that makes the simplistic morality tales of EC comics look like THE USUAL SUSPECTS, a pair of teenagers walking down Greene Road (I'm presuming, since Blair doesn't bother to evoke or explain his title, though I suppose ONE-NOTE ZOMBIE FLICK I MADE WITH MY FRIENDS would've been too cumbersome) taunt a grass-cutting nerd played by Blair in an unconvincing turn; not that I don't buy him as a nerd, it's just that he plays him in such a manner I thought he was already a zombie. That doesn't happen until later, when a freak lawnmower accident enrages one of the teens and leads to Blair's murder (hope I didn't make that sound interesting, on either a storytelling or visual level, since it's not). The kids dump Blair in a shallow grave, who comes back for revenge in the most unimaginative manner possible.

For the first minute into the movie, Blair tricked me into believing he might've possessed a little skill. His opening shot suggests a low-tech but effective approach then quickly reveals the sloppy camerawork and abysmal sound quality. The latter is moot, since Blair decides to drown the soundtrack in unauthorized Rob Zombie songs--tossing in the GATES OF HELL score to break up the monotony--which hurts the movie's atmosphere a lot more than the uneven direction. When Blair rises from the dead to exact his vengeance things get a little more interesting--he at least shows a good sense of lighting to establish mood--but a feeling been-there, done-that rests over the whole thing.

A couple of pointers that I would like to throw out: one, killing a child to be "disturbing" only works if you've earned it, otherwise it's cheap shock tactics. And two, slowed-down dialogue during scare scenes, or any scenes for that matter, never ever works. Never. Ever.

Better luck next time, Brandon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


The late seventies/early eighties must've been an exciting time for Italian filmmakers with the rampant success of the zombie and cannibal genres, and when two types of movies are making money it's a sure bet that some enterprising producer is going to combine them--bringing us to 1980's ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, directed by Marino Girolami and featuring not only an army of the living dead but a bloodthirsty tribe of cannibal savages. In a movie like this, the two of them should've gone together like chocolate and peanut butter . . . and in a way they do, only it's kinda like a Reese's cup you might find under the couch, half-melted and with a funny taste.

Perhaps best known to genre fans in its alternate state as DR. BUTCHER M.D., when it was imported by Aquarius Releasing and given a different score, along with integrated footage from Roy Frumkes's unfinished anthology TALES THAT'LL RIP YOUR HEART OUT. It's been a long time since I've seen that version, so I won't be able to compare/contrast, but HOLOCAUST is widely considered the "better" version. It really doesn't matter, though, since both cuts deliver the exploitive goods yet remain curiously, sometimes frustratingly, muddled.

Somebody's stealing body parts from the morgue of a New York hospital, and it's up to nurse Alexandra Delli Colli and detective Ian McCullough (both of them Fulci veterans, featured in THE NEW YORK RIPPER and ZOMBIE, respectively) to figure out who. The first act of the film provides most of its entertainment, albeit at its own expense with laughable dialogue ineptly dubbed and continuity errors (the graphic heart removal helps matters nicely, too). When it's discovered that the organ thefts are connected to an obscure tribe in New Guinea, McCullough and Delli Colli (who conveniently dabbles in anthropology as well as medicine) travel to the jungle for some answers. This leads to the discovery of not only the aforementioned cannibals, but mad scientist Donald O'Brien, whose experiments on human longevity have spawned the aforementioned zombie army.

From the above synopsis, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST sounds like a sure-fire grindhouse hit, and with its generous gore and frequent glimpses of skin by the lovely Delli Colli, it's often quite enjoyable. However, the overall feature lacks a certain energy due to Girolami's generally apathetic direction (to be fair, just about everyone here seems to not give a shit--check out the native guide who maintains his whatever-dude expression as his throat is slashed). The gore effects, while plentiful, aren't too convincing--though fans of the red stuff will still enjoy the spilled entrails and gouged eyeballs the film has to offer--and the story tends to flag after reaching the mid-point when it should be rolling along on its own demented steam, leaving the second half of the film mostly inert with a few isolated pockets of excitement scattered throughout. The arrival of the zombies, when they interrupt a splattery cannibal attack, is the highlight of the film and rather scary (or as scary as something this ludicrous can be, though damned if I didn't get the shivers the first time I saw it).

Despite a lagging pace and utter lack of brain cells, fans of both zombie and cannibal films were probably still want to check ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST out, if they haven't already. Far from the heights of either ZOMBIE or CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, it's still a soothing balm for the addled mind of a gorehound.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


It's no secret that I hated the first RESIDENT EVIL, a film so devoid of character and story that even those who liked it could only use "But it's just like the game!" as a defense. And solely for purposes of this blog I've now seen 2004's RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE, which has a broader scope and bigger setpieces than its predecessor, yet still remains as engaging as a tampon commercial.

There's surprisingly little zombie action this time around, although the plot gets underway thanks to a breach in the Hive of the earlier movie that brings about an undead apocalypse (credit goes to director Alexander Witt for not blatantly running off with George Romero's concepts, though there is a nod to DAY OF THE DEAD using the newspaper headline "The Dead Walk" that in the context of this film feels more like an insult than an homage). The focus this time out revolves around survivors Milla Jovovich--returning from the first movie and just as unconvincing as an action heroine--Oded Fehr, Mike Epps as a jive-talking African-American stereotype, and Sienna Guillory as a Lara Croft look-alike among others (can I just interject with a question here? Why are the female leads in this movie dressed so skimpily? Yeah, I know they're being true to the game, which is designed to appeal to the vast number of boys who play it, but seriously, if you're going out to exterminate a horde of zombies would you really forgo covering yourself in favor of short-shorts and a bare midriff? Sure, it's pleasing to the eye, but that annoying analytical part of my brain just wouldn't let it go) as they deal with the mutated beast Nemesis, an admittedly cool-looking creature with an impressive arsenal on hand but all the marksmanship of an Imperial stormtrooper.

I realize it's based on a video game, but would it have been too much to ask to add a story, something to enhance the Raccoon City backdrop the production team painstakingly recreated? I suppose big action sequences are to be our compensation for the plot-light proceedings, but Witt offers up nothing new or exciting, no matter how many CGI squibs he fires off. The scene in which Jovovich and co. fend off a pack of reanimated dogs comes close to being interesting, until it dissolves into utter ridiculousness. And are we really supposed to believe that wimpy little Eric Mabius is now the mighty Nemesis?

Maybe the legions of undiscriminating video geeks who apparently value visual fidelity over basic storytelling will keep this franchise profitable, but APOCALYPSE is the kind of bland, one-note movie that's forgotten as soon as you hit the Eject button.

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


It's not a good sign when you go into a movie cold and the first thought that pops in your head is, "Was this supposed to be a comedy?" That's precisely what happened to me with CORPSES, a 2004 shot-on-video travesty from director Rolfe Kanefsky that's a horror-comedy in theory only.

The allegedly hilarious shenanigans revolve around a curmudgeony old mortician (Robert Donovan, rocking a daring scrubs and leather jacket combo), who's developed a means to revive the dead by injecting them with a bright green fluid (hmm, I seem to recall that plot from somewhere, but what movie?). Exactly what he plans on doing with them isn't entirely clear, though it's got something to do with his harpy of an ex-wife leveling his funeral home to make way for a new shopping mall. Donovan's scheme is soon discovered by his young assistant Stephen Williams and his girlfriend Tiffany Shepis (here playing the kind of girl who's not only extremely cute, but also likes making out in coffins and thinks being around dead bodies is cool--yeah, keep dreamin', guys). Jeff Fahey also appears as the local Sheriff, who plays Shepis's father as well as being married to Donovan's ex.

Kanefsky does throw in a novel wrinkle in the zombie tale, namely that Donovan's serum only lasts temporarily, and must be continually injected to sustain his zombie army, but it's buried in a sea of lame humor, weak performances, and the production value of a cable access program circa 1991. (To be fair, Shepis stands out among the crowd, and not just because of her looks; she's a very capable actress who could do far better than the crapola horror flicks she tends to do. Fahey also does what he can with what he's given, though when he goes into full-on Terminator mode--quite literally--at the end it's just plain embarassing. I can easily see him flashing back to this movie on the set of PLANET TERROR and weeping with gratitude to his agent.)

Exactly what audience was this movie intended for? The level of humor might be of interest to undemanding third-graders, but the sprinkling of nudity and violence suggests a somewhat more mature viewership (the term mature being used rather loosely). Maybe in the glory days of USA's UP ALL NIGHT Rhonda Shear might've given this one a whirl, but I can't honestly fathom any circumstances in which this would be a viable programming choice.


Many fans were understandably upset when it was announced that the two features that comprised GRINDHOUSE would be released separately on DVD; the biggest complaint was that by breaking them apart, as well as removing the fake trailers between them, you'd lose the vintage double-bill feel that the movie was supposed to recreate. However, PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez's half, which I enjoyed far more than Tarantino's unbearably talky DEATH PROOF) captures that tone just fine all by itself.

Most of you reading this have already seen it or are familiar with the movie's plot (which is rather simple and straightforward, in keeping with the films it's paying homage to), so I won't rehash it here. What sets PLANET TERROR apart from its lesser counterparts is that instead of simply rehashing the trappings of the drive-in/grindhouse era and calling it a day (witness the plethora of indie flicks coming out that ape the artificially-aged look, as if scratching the shit out of the negative was all that was neccesary), Rodriguez goes that extra mile, imbuing his film with a depth that most grindhouse directors could only dream of having. Sure, it's still lightweight entertainment, something to watch with your brain on autopilot, but Rodriguez understands that just because it's fluff doesn't mean it can't be good.

It's the characterization here that elevates the people of PLANET TERROR above the cardboard ciphers of other B-pics; from the crowd-pleasing presences of Rose McGowan (who I harbored a wicked crush on for days until I realized I was really in love with Cherry Darling) and Marley Shelton to the semi-comedic pairing of Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey (both of whom could've turned their roles as bickering siblings into parody, but instead manage to wring a little poignancy out of their relationship), the cast comes across as real people in a supremely fucked-up situation. Interestingly, we learn very little about mysterious bad-ass El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) yet he's still more three-dimensional than similar versions of the man without a past.

From its dirty-blues soundtrack to its spectacularly disgusting special effects (though I could've lived without the husky, bristly thighs of Quentin Tarantino, thank you very much), PLANET TERROR is just a flat-out fun movie to watch. I was a little disheartened by the reliance of digital effects--used primarily due to the breakneck pace of the shooting schedule--though it wasn't until I saw Rodriguez's Ten-Minute Film School that I realized just how much CGI trickery was used, most of it too subtle to detect (or distract).

I can't remember which, but some hoity-toity film critic had listed GRINDHOUSE among the best of 2007, and though I commend him for ranking a movie with a go-go dancer with a machine-gun leg alongside THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, said critic spouted some gibberish about its retro-cool look as a metaphor for the unforgettable nature of film. Whatever. You and I both know that Rodriguez and Tarantino have an unabashed love for cinematic black sheep, and when the directors of PULP FICTION and SIN CITY get together the end result is going to be not only worthwhile, but one for the ages.