Saturday, February 16, 2008


TOXIC ZOMBIES--perhaps better known under the far cooler title BLOODEATERS or in its Video Nasty incarnation as FOREST OF FEAR--is the sole cinematic contribution of writer/producer/director Charles McCrann. This 1980 effort attempts to cover the same territory as George Romero, both thematically (well, it has zombies, anyway) and geographically, having been shot in western Pennsylvania. As someone who's grown up in the same region, I've always been fond of movies that've been filmed there, even if they're not particularly successful (case in point: John Russo's MIDNIGHT, which didn't work much as a horror film, except where it captured the bleak serenity of the area). But despite the familiar terrain, TOXIC ZOMBIES did little to engage or sustain my interest, thanks to an unbelievably amateurish cast and a general lack of filmmaking savvy.

The movie's premise is simple: a band of hippies gets doused in pesticide when their marijuana crop is dusted by a vaguely-defined federal agency (led by MARTIN's John Amplas, who's wasted here in a generic bad guy role). Turned into zombie-like maniacs, the toxic hippies roam the wilderness of the Keystone State looking for victims, which the screenplay is all too happy to provide. What promises to be a backyard version of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD never gets a chance to materialize; McCrann never gives us an opportunity to get to know the hippies, sketching them in the same broad strokes as your average slasher-film fodder, lessening any impact of their transformation (BLOOD at least tried to wring some tragedy, albeit exploitive, out of its situation). Once the hippies have started hunting humans, they're rendered as one-dimensional as possible, a vehicle to set up shallow scenes of gore. The victims, intended and otherwise, don't fare much better, as they're either unlikable (like the husband and father who dashes into the woods at the first glimpse of a zombie attack, leaving his wife behind) or just not credible as real human beings, due to a mixture of poor dialogue and equally subpar acting.

And although McCrann manages to work in a few gruesome scenes, the movie trudges along at too slowly a pace for them to have much of an effect. There's no energy, no tension, either within the story or between characters, so there's nothing that really propels the film other than the numbers in the corners of the screenplay's pages. Most viewers will probably fast-forward through most of the ennui to get to those one or two interesting gore scenes, if not shut it off altogether.

From what I could gather about McCrann, he was a financial executive and film buff who made TOXIC ZOMBIES presumably for his own amusement. Since he never made another film, it's hard to say if he hadn't enjoyed the experience, or felt the film was a failure (from a business end I don't think so, since it had a healthy run on cable), or had simply achieved his dream and that was that. Sadly, McCrann perished during the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th, so we'll never know if his directorial chops ever got the chance to develop.

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