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)

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