Monday, March 31, 2008


Right from the start, Damon LeMay's 2007 picture ZOMBIE TOWN seems dedicated to giving zombie fans a good time, getting underway fast with a zombie-inflicted throat-ripping within the first four minutes and a hard-hitting metal soundtrack over its opening credits. ZOMBIE TOWN has a by-fans-for-fans mentality, but fortunately displays better craftsmanship than a typical camcorder-toting fanboy.

Unlike most geek-friendly movies that merely slather on the gore without little else of substance (though it's no slouch when it comes to getting gruesome), ZOMBIE TOWN does more with its story than just construct a framework of cheap grue scenes, even taking the time to establish its plain but likable leads; owing more to the nature/science amok genre than George Romero, the menace behind the zombies are a breed of mutant slug-like parasites that infect their hosts' spinal column, turning them into relentless killing machines.

The no-frills production is no doubt a result of the film's limited resources, though LeMay does what he can with lighting, atmosphere, etc.; thankfully, he's more concerned with telling a story than showing off how flashy he can tell it, so most of the film's strengths are from its solid performances, crude but effective gore fx, and low-key humor. Yet LeMay's not afraid to dabble in outrageousness, throwing in a zombie-infected bingo hall (complete with raving grannies), an emergency chainsaw amputation, even some gratuitous nudity--though none of these come close to pushing any sort of envelope and are used to punch up the sagging moments in the script.

If ZOMBIE TOWN has any serious fault, it'd be its overt similarity to films like SLITHER, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, and any other film involving slug-like parasites (y'ever notice how they're always slug-like? Why is that?). This familiarity quickly sucks much of the fun out of the proceedings, as it rapidly becomes apparent that the film's going to play like so many others before it. Still, it remains enjoyable, if only by virtue of being better than most of the brain-rotting swill that constitutes indie horror these days.


Opening with a none-too-convincing digital effects shot, RAIDERS OF THE DAMNED reveals its threadbare nature within its first few frames, an unintentional warning that the subsequent film is nothing more than a badly made popcorn flick. In fact, this 2005 release from director Milko Davis is so bad I could hear the derisive snickering of Sci-Fi Channel original movies faintly in the background.

In the midst of a planet-wide biochemical war between humans and zombies (zombies that not only talk, but show absolutely no signs of being walking corpses, save for some badly caked-on makeup), a helicopter carrying scientists--who're working on an anti-zombie formula that'd bring an end to the conflict--crashes into zombie territory. It's up to a crack special-ops team to infiltrate Zombieland (which would be the most awesomest theme park ever but, alas, is just where the enemy's located) and bring 'em back alive.

More of a sci-fi-tinged action movie than outright horror--the only treat for fright fans are a few skeletal zombie warriors and a single gore scene involving a scooped-out eyeball--the zombie elements in RAIDERS OF THE DAMNED are simply wallpaper, a marketable twist on the war-movie villain. (Could this be a PC tactic to create a foreign enemy without offending another country or culture? Given Davis's unimaginative direction, which offers little in the way of skill let alone style, I may be reading too much into this.) Even as a combat/action pic, the movie's a failure, with its crack rescue unit composed of a blonde ponytailed "hero" complete with tragic past, the obligatory action babe, and some dude that looks more like a truck-stop fry cook than an ass-kicking soldier--but the sorriest among them is their leader Richard Greico as an effeminette, rainbow-shoelaced scientist channelling Brad Dourif and light years away from his days as a '90s heartthrob.

Way too dull for an action-oriented movie, RAIDERS is filled to the brim with terrible dialogue, cutrate effects, and ham-fisted performances; even the tastelessly gratuitous love scene between the zombified Col. Crow and his human prisoner fails to produce an unintended chuckle, much less a genuine response. This is one slice of brain-rotting swill that couldn't have ended fast enough.

Friday, March 28, 2008


RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, the last of the runners-up in the DIARY OF THE DEAD short film contest, really confounds me. Out of all the entrants--I can’t remember exactly how many there were, but there were at least a few dozen--the judges couldn’t find another more deserving film? There’s nothing here, no story, no character, simply a couple of joggers running from the living dead as a godawful pseudo-Johnny Cash tune grates away on the soundtrack. While a decent starting point for a short, it simply lays out its premise, throws in a couple of really fucking stupid CGI moments, suggests the barest hint of unexplored dark humor, and ends. This is indicative of Romero’s influence? Shit, I found myself thinking more of the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, which (not to knock Zack Snyder’s version) is quite an insult to the man. And yet it’s making its way to the DIARY OF THE DEAD DVD? What the fuck, people?

Regardless of what I may think, congratulations to the winners. (Once again, see it at


The normally silent half of the magician duo Penn and Teller gets to indulge in the spotlight a little in this DIARY OF THE DEAD finalist. (A few people were understandably upset by seeing this short make the list, given Teller's "professional" status, but given the rampant amateurism of many of the contestants, I think a little professionalism was needed to balance the scales.) The scenario--written and directed by Teller, along with Ezekiel Zabrowksi--documents the showman's final days as the last entertainer alive in Las Vegas (Penn having already turned into a zombie and shot--a bit I would've loved to have seen dramatized).

While certainly well made, the short is surprisingly bland, failing to mine the same quirky black humor Teller has become famous for. (There's a funny sequence as he tries to perform a magic trick for a zombie, but this fleeting moment is the only part that lives up to its potential.) Instead, it's more of a lone survivor type of story, with Teller making an unlikely protagonist, building to an unexpected, and unsatisfying, melancholy end note.

(See it at


Are you kidding me? Apparently the judges of the DIARY OF THE DEAD contest can be easily swayed by competent photography, since that's the only thing that doesn't suck in this allegedly humorous runner-up. (The previous film in the top five, DEADER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY, got its own write-up earlier on Day 122.) I've never been fond of talking zombies, since they rarely work, but if you really need your undead to speak, do they have to talk like Tonto and Tarzan? They're dead, not newly-arrived foreigners.

A trio of zombies head to the local bijou--Monroeville Cinemas, to be exact--for the premiere of the new living dead opus DUSK OF THE DEAD, with hilarious results. The concessionist asks if they want peanut or brain--I mean plain--candy! One zombies spills his candy all over the floor! They comedically shiver in fear as their cinematic brother gets shot in the head! And let's not forget the hilarious fourth wall-shattering conclusion, as we find out the zombies are watching a film in a film! Oh, I think my side just split!

As somebody who works in a movie theater, I can attest with due authority that a big-screen multiplex is the perfect setting for a zombie satire, as endless hordes of bodies blindly stumble through the lobby on their way to feast on brainless entertainment. This, however, ain't satire. It's not funny, poorly acted, and while I begrudgingly concede its technical strength, it's not nearly enough to make this three-minute loser worth watching.

(As with the other DIARY OF THE DEAD shorts, you can see this at


Winner of the DIARY OF THE DEAD short film competition, THE FINAL DAY (I'd tell you who directed it, so I could offer congratulations, but there either weren't any on the film, or the version I saw hacked them off) is well deserving of the honor. I say this even though my personal favorite, DEMONSTRATION OF THE DEAD, didn't make the final cut (go ahead and blame Keene, Mike, everyone else does!). Unlike most of the entries who merely parroted Romero's films without really understanding what made them click, THE FINAL DAY embodies the spirit and feel of the DEAD trilogy, avoiding an out-and-out rip-off of Romero.

Boasting clean, fluid photography and frenetic yet restrained editing, THE FINAL DAY is pretty light on story, condensing a great deal of standard zombie-film action into a brief series of cuts before ending on a budget-conscious but still effective apocalyptic ending (which, ironically, echoes RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD than anything directly made by Romero). I wish the main actor in the piece was credited so I can refer to him by name, but I thought he did a great job of emoting the mounting horror of a zombie outbreak without dissolving into either schtick or unintentional parody, as most of the other "actors" in the contest succumb to.

Can't include this one directly on the blog, but you can see this film and the runners-up (which will be reviewed in turn) at www.


Bad films are usually pretty unimaginative affairs, trotting out one cliche after another as it rehashes what other movies have done before; it's a given, it's what makes them bad. Which is what made watching Matthew Leutwyler's 2004 film DEAD AND BREAKFAST even more disappointing, a stylishly-directed movie with reasonably well-drawn characters and a generous helping of gore that still fails to come alive.

In a set-up recalling the glory days of '80s teens-in-peril flicks, a RV of chemically-indulgent youths (among them Ever Carradine and a less annoying than usual Jeremy Sisto) get waylaid in the Texas countryside en route to a friend's wedding. Staying at a run-down bed and breakfast run by Ever's uncle David, they find themselves in a bind when the elder Carradine dies of a heart attack and somebody murders the b&b's chef (the criminally underused Diedrich Bader) during the night. Exactly what type of bind is hard to explain--though we've got a mysterious drifter on hand to help--but it's involves some hokum about spirit possession and raising/controlling the dead.

DEAD AND BREAKFAST seems to want to be a good movie--it least aspires to be something other than a cookie-cutter gore flick--yet for some reason lacks the spark that powers an entertaining film. Much of the blame can be put on a needlessly convoluted story littered with far too many dead spots and relies on comedy that's too strained to be funny. (Having said that, Erik Palladino gives one of the greatest double-takes ever during a key moment.) Leutwyler shows off a little directorial flair to keep things moving, like the comic-style drawings that serve as transitions (which didn't bring much to the picture, but I liked anyway) and a Greek chorus/narrator in the form of a rockabilly singer (which starts off unobtrusive, then quickly grows tiresome). Like most teen-centric horror films, the characters aren't particularly endearing yet Leuwyler manages to make this unlikeable cast tolerable, though I would've preferred he gave lead actress Carradine a little more depth and charisma.

The film's second half has plenty of the red stuff, though many of the kill-scenes either lack tension or echo other films too much (like a hedge-clipper scene ripped off from THE BURNING) to be wholly satisfying; the film's climax really wants to be an operatic display of over-the-top bloodshed like DEAD ALIVE or THE EVIL DEAD 2 but just doesn't have the oomph to pull it off. (I will say I liked Palladino's self-decapitation by chainsaw.) And though I can forgive Leutwyler for not making his film particularly scary--though Oz Perkins as the leader of the recently reanimated is admirably creepy, despite coming off as a third-rate Jim Carrey--he deserves to be flogged in public for making his zombies linedance during the climactic showdown.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Todd Sheets has been pumping out shot-on-video features since 1985, usually mind-numbing fare with titles like PREHISTORIC BIMBOS IN ARMAGEDDON CITY, though I've managed to avoid his work until now, when I got stuck watching his 1991 opus ZOMBIE RAMPAGE. (A quick check of my movies-to-be-reviewed list shows that I've got his ZOMBIE BLOODBATH trilogy coming up--Lord help me.) If there was a Wikipedia entry for wretched homemade videos--and there probably is--this turdburger should serve as the perfect template.

Between the shitty photography (a harsh reminder of the advances home video technology has made in the last fifteen years), the atrocious sound quality, and hacksaw editing, it was pretty damned difficult to figure out just what the hell this movie was supposed to be about, but what I was able to figure out--that is, when the actors weren't mumbling their lines or the wind wasn't blowing into the boom mike--is that the rampage is initiated when two rival gangs raise the dead as part of their ongoing war. Or they may have been avenging/paying tribute to a fallen member; it wasn't clear, and I really, really didn't care enough to go back to make sure. (Sheets also throws in a serial killer who stabs hookers with the elan of a minimum wage-slave and has absolutely no purpose in the story.)

I don't know where Sheets grew up, or what kind of upbringing he had, but I can safely assume that it was far, far away from the gang-ravaged inner city. Just about every aspect of this production is laughable, but this group of supposed badasses with their howl-inducing dialogue and thrift-shop wardrobe wouldn't stand a chance against the Jets and the Sharks, much less the living dead. There should, however, be some sort of prize for most miscast actor awarded to the leader of one of the gangs, a whiny little bitch in a suit and tie (?) who couldn't run a Taco Bell efficiently, let alone a street gang. Too bad this motley crew of losers doesn't provide enough lulz to make them watchable.

The zombie action is your typical Romero-inspired hijinx, shot with the same short-winded anti-intensity as the rest of the picture. (I'm not sure, but at one point I thought I saw a zombie mime--now there's a movie I'd like to review!) Sheets adds a "shocking" sequence in which a mother and her baby are accosted by the undead, who devour the infant in its carriage; when will filmmakers learn that killing a baby is probably the most desperate plea for notoriety possible, and you might as well wear a bright red cape that says I REALLY WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS A TABOO-BREAKING AUTEUR. (For the record, that I know of, only J.F. Gonzalez has pulled off this conceit, in his novel SURVIVOR, and I pity the director who attempts to adapt it to film.) It's a cheap, easy ploy to get an extreme reaction from the audience without earning it, is what I'm taking forever to say.

ZOMBIE RAMPAGE announces its shittiness literally within its first few frames, which at least will save viewers the trouble of wasting their time with this crap, but even cine-masochists will find little here to have fun with.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


From the depths of shot-on-video obscurity surfaces REANIMATOR ACADEMY, a 1992 feature from the late, unlamented Cinema Home Video, who spawned oodles of crappy horror tapes in the early nineties, each with the shelf life of a Hostess Pudding Pie. This one, directed by Judith Priest (in all likelihood a pseudonym for executive producer David DeCoteau), attempts to recreate Stuart Gordon's classic on a hundred-dollar budget, filtering it through a sub-PORKY's college/party flick sensibility. The resulting film, unsurprisingly, is a certified disaster.

Jeffrey Combs-lookalike Edgar Allan Lovecraft (puh-leeze!) is a member of the Delta Epsilon Delta frat house (that's DED, by the way, as in Ded Heads, the nickname for all the frat brothers). Instead of explaining how a labcoat-wearing nerd got into the party-heartiest frat on campus--an initiation that had to've made collegiate history, no doubt--Edgar develops a reanimation serum that he uses on the decapitated head of a car accident victim, transforming it into a barely-articulate dummy named Fred the Head. A stand-up comedian before he died--get it? A stand-up comic who can't stand up! Ha!--Fred's a huge hit at the frat parties, knockin' 'em dead with his barrage of sub-vaudevillian one-liners. (Now, fraternities are not especially well known for their refined senses of humor, but I doubt even they would enjoy Fred's cornball jokes.) But the fun comes to an abrupt halt when a pair of cartoonish gangsters recruit Edgar against his will to revive the corpse of their favorite working girl, Hot Lips.

As I'm sure you can tell, REANIMATOR ACADEMY is anemic and ludicrous, a film that's almost funny in its unfunnyness. Yet despite its dimestore production values and slapdash direction, there's something vaguely engaging about it. Not in a so-bad-it's-good way, but more from a fascination that a movie can be this monumentally terrible and still be watchable. The humor, lousy as it often is, is relatively harmless, braindead trifle that doesn't take itself seriously; though when Edgar reanimates Hot Lips she suffers from Shrew Syndrome, a condition that turns any undead female into a raving, screeching bitch. Equally unfunny as the rest of the picture, this running gag has a faint whiff of misogyny that makes the last half rather unpleasant and stamps out the tiny iota of fun it has going for it. Shifting into a FRANKENHOOKER steal, Hot Lips embarks on a penny-saver killing spree, decapitating every man(nequin) that crosses her path.

Obviously, there's very little about REANIMATOR ACADEMY worth recommending (how can you, with a film so cheap its end credits are a reprise of the opening titles?), but I do want to point out Benton Jennings as the dimwitted mob henchman; a glimmer of acting talent shines through the crappy material he 's forced to work with, and the fact that he went on to a decent career in Hollywood proves that handheld video garbage isn't always a career black hole.


Films from the micro-budgeted, shot-on-video camp usually fall into viewers' disdain, and for good reason. While most of us--at least I can, anyway--overlook such pitfalls as shoddy production values or non-professional actors in the hopes of finding an unearthed gem, too many of them fail due to a lack of imagination and creative thrust. So when an indie movie comes along that tries to be more than just a backyard flick I try to cut it some slack--which makes watching George Bonilla's ZOMBIE PLANET doubly frustrating, since it believes an overextended running time is all that's required in making an epic.

This Kentucky-based 2004 effort reveals its limited budget in its opening shot, a cheesy digital effect introducing an unnamed southern city in flames, yet still makes a go of establishing the apocalyptic near-future of a society ravaged by disease. Bonilla does an adequate job of achieving an end-of-the-world setting on a tight budget, but chooses to populate it with a staggeringly bland and uninteresting cast (props to Bonilla for assembling a surprising number of actors, even if they're not exactly skilled thespians). Worse yet, the living dead take a backseat to the exploits of long-haired badass T.K. Kane (Frank Farhat, looking more like a Harlequin cover model than the Snake Plisken type the script believes him to be) who gets mixed up in a war between two camps of survivors. The end result plays like a third-rate WALKER, TEXAS RANGER episode tossed in with some MAD MAX-inspired misfits.

This neccesarily wouldn't be bad, except most of this film's two-hour length is devoted to long-winded expository speeches, peppered liberally with flashbacks that provide even more unneeded backstory and hallucinations that serve no purpose. Bonilla attempts to break up the talk with several fight sequences, though they're so laughably choreographed and lacking in immediacy that they quickly become just as tiresome. The zombies make for a better adversary than the pitiful band of human villains Bonilla's put together (a group of chuckleheads as fearsome as a playground bully), yet they're mishandled as well as they spew ridiculous dialogue and fist-fight (?); the few traditional zombie attack scenes Bonilla does provide are as limp and pedestrian as the rest of the film.

After dragging its feet for most of its duration, ZOMBIE PLANET ends with an open-ended climax, setting up the sequel (entitled ADAM'S REVENGE). While not intentionally a cheap ploy to double-dip the audience--the initial cut ran long enough that cutting into two parts seemed feasible--Bonilla would've been well advised to trim the excess fat that made the movie so long in the first place; though not without its flaws, it would've been at least a tighter mess, and had a better shot of capturing the viewer's attention.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


HALF LIFE, a 2005 short from writer/director Jeremy Breslau, is a well-shot but ultimately anemic film about a fraternity pledge who must procure a corpse's finger as part of his initiation. Nothing new there, but the setting--a forensic center's body farm in the middle of the woods--promises a few chills. Too bad the brightly-lit exteriors lack atmosphere, and the action too slow, to really be effective.

The story's climax also drops the ball, its potentially frightening situation dampened by the asshole frat members' bickering and its truncated, ambiguous conclusion. Maybe if Breslau would've gotten us a little closer to the zombies, or given them more to do, this short could've been better.


Horror fans generally get bent out of shape whenever mainstream culture co-opts our beloved tropes, like the recent glut of watered-down J-Horror remakes (how cheap are they making these things anyway, if the failures of ONE MISSED CALL, THE EYE, and SHUTTER aren't enough to deter Hollywood?). Arthouse and indie directors have been known to use the practice as well, and sometimes the results are fascinating (Michael Almereyda's NADJA comes to mind). Or, as in the case of Dave Gebroe's ZOMBIE HONEYMOON, it drags elements of the genre kicking and screaming into the realm of pretentious, navel-gazing cinema.

Presented by Showtime, this 2004 film opens with a newlywed couple (played by Tracy Coogan and Graham Sibley) bursting out of the chapel and hopping into their tin can-trailing car. We're supposed to feel exuberant over these two beautiful young people embarking on a new life together, but they're introduced as such obnoxious loudmouths that I was weary with their company within the first few minutes. It doesn't get better when we follow them to their honeymoon getaway--15 minutes with this pair and I was wishing I was back in that abandoned hospital with those jokers from THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING.

Their marital bliss is short-lived when hubby is attacked on the beach by a zombie (a scene which begins with much potential as the zombie slowly emerges from the sea, then fizzles out with no flair and no payoff, as arbitrary a plot-starter as I've ever seen), who pukes black bile into his throat and turns him into the living dead. From there it's an oh-so-tedious ordeal as Coogan tries to cope with her spouse's condition, as she watches him do really disgusting things like eat steak with gluttonous abandon--somebody tell Gebroe that vegan outrage makes for poor drama. Sibley hits all the required bases: he eats human flesh, yet we never see him actually procure his victims, nor do we see him wrestle with his affliction; Coogan weeps and moans plenty, but I felt that it was for her own inconvenience than empathy for her husband. Gebroe's obviously more interested in how his characters deal with being undead than reveling in visceral thrills, though their interaction is so talky and dull that it's difficult to feel anything at all for these uninteresting people.

There's way too many "relationship" films involving the living dead that are better than ZOMBIE HONEYMOON--like MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, ba-zing!--for you to waste your time with this drivel.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


So, the dead hate the living, do they? I suppose it's only fair, since I hated this sniveling, look-at-us-we-like-obscure-horror-flicks-and-that-makes-us-cool waste of time. Released in 2000 by Full Moon Pictures--yet doesn't feature miniature puppets, toys, or Tim Thomerson--Dave Parker's zombie flick should've been a rancid love letter to fans of Italian horror, but instead sucks all the fun from itself with its insufferable cast and boneheaded story.

THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING gets off on the wrong foot by revealing its prologue to be a segment of the film-within-a-film. (Can somebody please declare a moratorium on this practice, please? This is the same kind of unfair misdirection as someone having a bad dream or hallucination, and it's never done right.) A group of indie filmmakers have broken into an abandoned hospital to shoot a Fulci-lovin' zombie film and, after finding a weird coffin-liked mechanism within the bowels of the building, accidentally unleash a gaggle of zombies and their master into our world.

All would be well if this wasn't the single most annoying bunch of fucks ever let loose in a movie. From the bitchy sister of the eager yet self-absorbed director to the stoner DP, I was rooting for the undead to disembowel these losers from the very first frame. (Let's not forget the director's other sister, who I frequently mistook for his girlfriend, given their oh-so-tender moments together, or the pimpslap-worthy FX guy, who acts like Shaggy from SCOOBY-DOO crossed with a flighty drama queen.) These guys name-drop David Warbeck and Tom Savini as though it makes them smart and hip, though they're no different than the socially-retarded mouthbreathers standing in line behind you at Horrorfind weekend. (I hated these assholes, can you tell?)

Nor does it help that it takes nearly half the movie to get the zombies in gear, after endless scenes of pointless bickering, and when the action finally starts it's marred by rubbery zombie masks, unconvincing gore, and plodding execution. The crew behind the camera has more zombies among them, judging from the uniformly subpar writing, direction, and camerawork; now and then Parker will display an imaginative use of lighting or atmosphere, but for the most part his work is flat and uninspired.

After cribbing several shots from THE BEYOND (a move we're supposed to applaud, I'm sure, but it does nothing but reveal the film's dearth of imagination) Parker pulls an all-out steal of that movie's conclusion for his own ending. Are we supposed to high-five each other at this point? Yeah, we all loved Fulci's film, so if we wanted to see it again we'd pop it in the DVD player. Sadly, these moments rank as the movie's best.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Like many of his fellow titans of terror, Lon Chaney Jr. found himself in a career slump in the 1950's. With the days of Wolf Man and Mummy films for Universal behind him, Chaney found himself phoning in several performances in minor B productions. 1956's INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN is one of them, a crime thriller with a minimal horrific slant that echoes Chaney's previous MAN MADE MONSTER.

Directed by Jack Pollexfen, the film stars Chaney as Butcher Benton, an executed criminal brought back to life by electricity as part of a secret scientific experiment. Since the movie's presented as a DRAGNET-style docudrama (complete with just-the-facts narration by the unfortunately-named Lt. Dick Chasen), Chaney's resurrection is rushed through in spectacularly unspectacular fashion--just a quick zap of juice and voila, instant killing machine--so that Chaney can get down to the business of offing the cohorts who set him up. (For some reason the procedure also renders Chaney mute, saving the actor--who was in all likelihood thoroughly pickled during the shoot--the trouble of memorizing dialogue.)

Despite the science-fiction trappings, INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN plays like a straight crime melodrama, with Chaney's invincibility used as a gimmick. The action plays like any generic gangster picture (though I got a kick out of seeing Chaney tossing dummies from rooftops or down flights of stairs), though in a few instances Pollexfen works up a somewhat noirish look with the occasional use of light and shadow (as well as a few hardboiled dames). The performances are what you'd expect from a B quickie, with Chaney's the most unfortunate: an interchangeable set of expressions somewhere between Excedrin Headache #326 and a serious bout of constipation, conveying his anger with close-ups on his half-squinting eyes.

INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN has its moments, and in the right frame of mind can make for a pleasant time-killer, but it's still tough for someone who loved Chaney as Larry Talbot (or Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN) reduced to such drivel. It is, though, better than some of the truly abysmal work that would await him in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


We've covered 1950's-inspired zombie flicks here already, from the well-intentioned but flawed instructional video parody HOW TO SURVIVE A ZOMBIE ATTACK to Andrew Currie's wonderful FIDO. Today's entry, GUY'S GUIDE TO ZOMBIES, lampoons the Eisenhower-era newsreel in an attempt to inform you--the moral, upstanding American citizen--how to productively function in an increasingly zombie-friendly society.

This animated short from Daniel and Matthew Austin duplicates the look and sound of those vintage newsreels, complete with scratched film stock and a nostalgic hiss on the soundtrack. The humor is often clever, even if does touch on the usual topics (I liked the visual demonstration on how the zombie virus affects the human body), but it manages to cover a lot of ground and packs a remarkable amount of detail into each frame. One of the better shorts I've seen a while, both retro and zombie fans will dig it.


Tobe Hooper's filmic output has been on a rather sharp decline since he debuted with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 1974 (though after achieving the heights of that film, a little anticlimax is understandable). Sure, there was POLTERGEIST and THE FUNHOUSE, but for me his career was exemplified by such mediocrities like SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION and the godawful THE MANGLER. So it was with cautious optimism that I approached Hooper's 2005 release MORTUARY, hearing that it was unlike anything the man had previously done. Well, I'll give you that it's different, but that doesn't neccesarily make it good.

Really, the film isn't that far removed from horror flicks from the '70s and '80s or their paperback-original brethren (oftentimes it feels like something Rick Hautala might've penned twenty-odd years ago). In time-honored fashioned, a broken family moves into a new home to start their lives over, only to run afoul of the evil that's inhabited the place for years (I'm surprised Hooper didn't throw us a prologue from 1975, and then begin the story in PRESENT DAY). Here we have a single mom (Denise Crosby, sporting a heinous hairdo far scarier than anything in the picture), a sullen teenage son (Dan Byrd, thankfully not as grating as most horror-cinema teens), and a precocious prepubescent daughter (Stephanie Patton) who settle into a decrepit house/mortuary combo to begin their new start--though I gotta wonder, with the house's dilapidated condition and septic tank-saturated yard, how fucking brutal were their lives before if this is considered a step up?

MORTUARY is fairly slow going as it establishes its backstory and characters, and while I'm glad Hooper takes the time to flesh out his cast the clues to the story are few and far between, glossed over with pre-fab "spooky" cinematography and stock ominous score. Once things finally get rolling the pace picks up considerably, though the screenplay throws out so many elements that I was hard-pressed to figure out exactly what the movie was about. At first it seems to concern a strange black fungus that infects people and turns them into zombies (or uses them as vessels, it isn't clear), but then what is one to make of the deformed man-child that lives in the adjacent cemetery and preys on fornicating teenagers? Or the quasi-Lovecraftian aspects of the Call of Cthulhu inscription on one of the tombs, or the sacrificial well (a shoddy CGI effect that resembles a grungier version of the Sarlaac Pit) that Patton is to be offered to? Nothing forms into a cohesive whole, and the deadpan humor Hooper uses doesn't help; a typical example is when an infected Crosby serves a dinner of sludge and milk to her family, a tonally out-of-place moment that gets worse the longer it runs.

For all its flaws, I still enjoyed MORTUARY in the sense that it's the kind of movie they don't make anymore, though after the recent spate of uninspired J-horror remakes, torture porn extravaganzas, and tepid PG-13 "thrillers," it's hard not to feel a bit of relief from it.

Monday, March 17, 2008


An interesting thing I found while doing this blog is the patterns that occur when watching movies in succession. I try to take a varied, almost random approach when selecting upcoming films--shuffling between different genres, countries of origin, and decade of release so as not to watch (and you in turn read about) the same kind of film in a row. And yet despite my efforts I find subtle, I guess you could say insidious, themes recurring from one movie to the following one. Case in point: Andrew Parkinson's 1998 effort I, ZOMBIE which eschews the dark-humor "approach" of yesterday's entry ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER (I say approach because ED kinda eschewed the dark humor as well, even though it was allegedly a comedy) yet retains the dearth of activity at its core.

A British-based production that spanned four years to assemble, the film concerns a young botanist (Giles Aspen) who's bitten by a lesion-infested woman while out collecting samples. Afflicted with horrible seizures if he doesn't consume human flesh, Aspen ostracizes himself from his girlfriend (Ellen Softley) and holes up in a tiny apartment, documenting the progression of his condition on a tape recorder and feeding on unsuspecting victims.

Shot on film with credible performances and a strong if unassuming directorial style, I, ZOMBIE shows the potential to be an introspective, quietly powerful take on the zombie genre; Parkinson capably uses the living dead as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation, cemented with a melancholy acoustic score (also by Parkinson), but Aspen's frequent voice-overs--or scenes of him speaking into his recorder--soon grow monotonous; while it may be consistent with the diary-like style of the narrative, giving Aspen someone to interact with other than his reflection, or having Aspen convey information via expression or action, would've helped considerably in drawing the viewer in. (We do get a little of that near the end, in a marvelous bit as Aspen contemplates his decaying self in the mirror, the soundtrack itself degenerating into white noise.)

Maybe if Aspen's character didn't accept his condition so passively the film wouldn't have grown so inert. He's bitten while exploring the dilapidated structure of an old farmhouse (a scene that's steeped in creepy atmosphere), yet he makes no effort to return to find out more about the woman who attacked him. (One of his man voice-overs explains he dismissed the notion, since he's got enough problems, but I'd imagine knowing more about the person who infected you would take priority over unspecified "research.") And though he tells us repeatedly he hates having to kill for sustenance, his anguish never comes across--despite the film's subtitle, "A Chronicle of Pain," we never get an understanding of that pain, save for a few moments of Aspen writhing on the floor. His spiritual or emotional agony is never really addressed.

Parkinson also takes a relatively bloodless approach to Aspen's feeding. Though I commend him for not wallowing in senseless gore, we usually see Aspen subduing his would-be meals with an ether-soaked rag before cutting to his living room as he dines on a portion of their body, robbing the most dramatic moments of the film of their impact. (Another thing: if you hated killing innocent people, why eat just a little bit of the corpse and dump the remains? If all you need is a tiny bit to quell your craving, why not hack up the body and store them for later? Is it fresh bodies you need, or are you out of Ziploc bags?) Yet when Parkinson attempts a more visceral approach--like adding a couple of gratuitous dream sequences, or a moment in which Aspen "dismembers" himself while masturbating--they come off as cheap and calculated, out of place with the cerebral tone of the picture.

Parkinson deserves credit for attempting to do something different with zombies, revealing the human side of the living dead, but unfortunately watching someone alone in a room talking to themselves as they rot out of existence doesn't make for satisfying viewing. If there was a lesson or message being imparted, that'd be one thing, but the feeling is more that Parkinson let the heart of his narrative go unexamined.


"Quirky" is a tough thing to pull off. What one may consider offbeat and whimsical, others may find cutesy and annoying. I don't have a particularly high quirk threshold, but with an engaging story or a strong directorial presence I can be pretty forgiving; but what really bugs me is when a movie thinks that all it takes to be quirky (or witty, or edgy, or what-have-you) is a clever premise, without the bother of a screenplay, or director, or performances to develop it. In the case of the 1993 so-called black comedy ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, it doesn't even have the advantage of a clever premise.

Jonathan Wacks's film stars Steve Buscemi as Ed, an awkward mama's boy still mourning the death of his mother (we know because it's repeated ad nauseum in the dialogue; Wacks, nor Chuck Hughes's script, never gives Buscemi to do to actually show his grief). When a slick-talking salesman played by John Glover shows up, promising to bring Ed's mother back from the dead--for a small fee, of course--Ed agrees to fork over the cash, despite the extremely shaky claim. Sure enough, Glover fulfills his promise, bringing Ed's mother back in all of her stifling, overbearing glory, yet what Ed doesn't realize is that keeping her alive requires more than just the hidden fees Glover keeps revealing.

There's plenty that goes wrong with ED, starting with the initial set-up. Like I mentioned earlier, Buscemi doesn't seem all that affected by his mother's passing--at worst, he simply misses her, as any normal person would--so that it doesn't seem plausible that he'd go to unorthodox measures to get her back; he also never comes across as ecstatic to see her once she returns, so the film is nothing if not consistent. And for a black comedy it's appallingly sedate, with idle writing, acting, and directing that turns each scene into a non-event. One need not go to the splattery lengths of DEAD ALIVE (with similarly plumbed the zombied realms of the mother-son dynamic), but at least generate some type of energy from your newly-alive mother. It's as if Wacks had absolutely no interest in pushing his premise in any direction. Things happen with little to no reaction from the surrounding cast; the morning following her resurrection, Ed finds his mother sitting in the refrigerator as if were a Barcalounger, and no one really does anything. Are we just supposed to laugh at the wackiness? And if your mother has to consume live cockroaches as part of her condition, can't you present that in a way that gets ANY type of response, from characters or the audience? I mean, you don't have to show Mom scarfing bugs a la FEAR FACTOR, but at least convey the notion that it's pretty nasty.

The characters in ED are just as limp as its story. Buscemi plays Ed as the same oddball as he has many times since, and Glover is little more than a typical used-car salesman (at one point we follow Glover to his supervisor's office, who insists Glover bilk Ed for all he's got, against Glover's better judgment; it's an interesting wrinkle in the con man persona, but of course goes unexplored). Ned Beatty turns in a supporting role as Ed's lecherous uncle (and was probably reminiscing about the good ol' days of getting ass-raped on a Georgia riverbank), who sole purpose is to introduce the film's eye candy in the form of sexy neighbor Storm (Sam Jenkins). Storm's definitely a treat for the eyes, but her entire presence feels implausible--how many incredibly hot women do you know that pay no mind when strangers gawk at them through a telescope? There's also a last-minute twist regarding Storm's burgeoning relationship with Ed that makes it even more hard to swallow.

Throw in some needless complications like a recently-released convict (Jon Gries) that may or may not be looking for revenge on Ed's mother who brings absolutely zilch to the story, and a lame feel-good happy ending that reeks of preview-audience dissatisfaction and post-production tinkering, and you've got 90-odd minutes thrown to the wind.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Science delves once again in places it shouldn't, this time with reanimating the dead (duh, why else would it be here?), in THE WOMAN EATER--or WOMANEATER, if you go by the onscreen title card--a 1957 programmer from director Charles Saunders. As is usually the case in mad-scientist flicks, a terrible price is paid for one's meddling but this time around it's the audience who pays it.

George Coulouris plays Dr. Moran, a stuffy British scientist who discovers the secret of restoring life to the dead whilst on a trip to Africa (or rather, a stagebound jungle set rife with stock animal footage). The secret is the extract from a malevolent tree who feeds on the bodies of sacrificial virgins, a B-monster marvel with floppy limbs and Audrey Jr-like appendages which gets precious little screen time. Moran brings the tree, along with a native manservant (Jimmy Vaughan) in tow, to his laboratory in England, where he begins his death-defying experiments. Or, more accurately, engages in multiple conversations drier than day-old toast, stretching the meager 70-minute running time to the breaking point.

Even by potboiler standards it's boring as hell, crawling along with the same urgency as a drunken snail. Laboratory scenes take a backseat to forced melodrama, and even when we are privy to Moran's experiments it's as interminable as the rest, usually a slooooow shot of liquid coursing through a network of tubes. Oooh, fascinating stuff, Doc. Moran finally puts his theory to the test, reviving the body of Joyce Gregg a whopping two minutes before the film's end; even then, all she does is putter around, sort of like my grandma did when she couldn't remember which cupboard had the cookie sheets, before dropping to the ground. Egads, the horrible toll science demands!

THE WOMAN EATER couldn't even muster a little poetic justice for Moran. The living dead doesn't punish his hubris, nor does he end up a midnight snack for the plant. Want me to give it away, and save you an hour and change of your life? Moran torches the tree--the secret wasn't for him to know, you see, that's reserved for the stereotypical savage native to understand--before Vaughan takes him out with a handy knife trick. Oh, and Vaughn then joins himself in the flames consuming the tree, because nobody hates loose plot threads more than an insensitively-drawn, one-dimensional villain.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Chop-socky zombies are the order of the day in 1983's KUNG FU ZOMBIE, a supernaturally-tinged kung fu mess from director I-Jung Hua. Loaded with broad, slapstick humor and featuring hopping ghouls similar to those in Tsui Hark's MR. VAMPIRE, the film's a prime example of the frenetic tedium that marks so many low-budget martial arts films.

The plot defies a mere synopsis (and the rapid-fire, barely legible subtitles make it impossible to follow, anyways), but from what I can gather it's about a hired killer who's struck by lightning--a delightfully bad optical--and in need of a fresh corpse for reincarnation. (And how--with his bushy eyebrows and mutton-chop sideburns he's not exactly a fearsome figure.) With the help of a shifty magician, he finds one in the body of hero Billy Chong's father, which sets up the increasingly crazy series of hand-to-hand contests.

Though the supernatural aspect lends the film some atmospheric digressions, it's still not a very interesting pic. The action is what you'd expect from cheap, grindhouse-era jung fu movies, though the climactic fight between Chong and a fire-fisted vampire (!?!) is unique and visually exciting. But the combination of kinetic editing and horrid pan-and-scan transfer feels like a subliminal sales tactic from the folks at Excedrin.

Monday, March 10, 2008


With Michael Jackson's 1983 album THRILLER being such a runaway success, it's only fitting that the accompanying music video would be a spectacle on an equally grand scale. A thirteen-minute mini-blockbuster film directed by John Landis with Rick Baker makeup, THRILLER used the relatively new medium of the music video and became a pop culture phenomenon in its own right; it remains the only video to not only spawn a feature-length making-of documentary but its own hardcore knock-off as well (1984's DRILLER--substituting zombies gangbanging porn princess Taija Rae for its finale).

Unlike most videos, which are usually just a vehicle for the track and exists as a visual compliment, "Thriller" the song nearly gets overshadowed by Landis's presentation, taking up roughly a third of the running time (I also found it strange that Landis had Jackson perform the bulk of the lyrics in a static tracking shot) before being tied to the video's storyline in its iconic zombie-dance climax. (I know a lot of horror fans took umbrage at Landis for using the living dead in such a fashion, but I thought it was more an homage to the great fright classics rather than a mockery.) Ultimately, the video concedes to its source material, as its throughline allows some pretty big plot holes. Some of them are interesting, like Jackson in a theater watching himself in the film-within-a-film (an easy segue, or a comment on Jackson's ascension to superstardom?). But as someone who enjoys horror/zombie films, I can't help but be disappointed by the ending, in which Jackson's date is beseiged by the undead--a well-executed sequence that would've been the highlight of an ordinary film--only to be cut short by Jackson's sudden return to normalcy. (Note: the only thing more annoying than an it-was-all-a-dream ending is an it-was-all-a-dream ending in which no one was dreaming.)

Sadly, parts of THRILLER have not aged well, most notably the prologue which shows a young Jackson (before he became a version of the living dead himself) on a romantic evening with a woman. Given the recent allegations of Jackson's love life, it's easy to get a cheap laugh out of this sequence, but the real discomfort comes when he confesses, "I'm not like the other guys. I'm different." Whether or not the werecat he then transforms into stands as some type of metaphor, I have no idea.

Still, THRILLER has its moments, from a "Beat It"-inspired zombie crawling from a manhole to Vincent Price as the Rap (it's too bad he couldn't have found his way on the set). Though the scariest part for me remains that the album (easily the most-played record my third-grade year) is twenty-five years old.

(Since Jackson disabled the embedding of his videos on YouTube, I've included the Indian version which is far, far more entertaining.)


This 1990 schlockfest from writer/director Timothy O'Rawe was produced under the auspices of Tempe Video, the reigning king of shot-on-tape crap during the early '90s. Unlike most of Tempe's output, GHOUL SCHOOL was shot on film, giving it the feel of a forgotten Troma movie circa CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH. However, like most of Tempe's output, GHOUL SCHOOL is dreadfully dull, stuffed to the gills with flaccid humor and atrocious acting.

After an interminable opening credit sequence with slow-motion title cards (indicative of the movie's pace) that seems to have sprung from an eight-bit video game cartridge, we find ourselves at a New York high school where a pair of letter-jacketed toughs accidentally release a toxic chemical into the school's water supply, turning the swim team into flesh-hungry zombies. (As ridiculous as that sentence sounds, the film's execution thereof renders it ten times worse.) Bearing a slight resemblance to the creatures in Lamberto Bava's DEMONS--in fact, a few shots serve as threadbare recreations of that film--the zombies lurch through the halls, devouring whatever high school stereotype crosses their path; speaking of stereotypes, there's plenty to choose from, from the pair of horror-loving geeks that pose as unlikely heroes (and read SLAUGHTER HOUSE magazine during study hall) to the basketball team that sports more mullets than a Larry the Cable Guy concert. There's also a bad hair metal band practicing on campus, a group so uninspired they can't aspire to cheesiness.

With its witty banter ("Why are you such an asshole?" "Cuz I like to take after you!") that makes the comedies on the CW sound like Aaron Sorkin and loads of unconvincing gore, GHOUL SCHOOL makes for pretty dire viewing. Bland and lifeless, the film sleepwalks from one moment to another; the humans in this flick act more like the undead than the zombies themselves. Particularly jarring in an odd digressive scene in which Jackie "the Joke Man" Martling auditions for Joe Franklin, a sequence that not only has nothing to do with ANYTHING but overflows with shitty jokes to boot, and exists only to show that the filmmakers could wrangle a couple of Z-list cameos.

Barring a fleeting reference or two to THE EVIL DEAD, the zombie scenes suffer from the same inertia as the others; it's pretty sad when a zombie can repeatedly whack a dude in the groin with an ax and not even elicit the slightest sympathy from the male audience. Perhaps the paltry budget is to blame for some of its biggest blunders, such as when O'Rawe attempts a RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD-style non-ending, giving us a white-out and explosive sound effects before launching into the end credits (a roll call of shame littered with fake names, like Bart Simpson and Chester Malester, to disguise the fact that the crew consisted of ten people).

(The trailer for the recent Splatter University Edition DVD contains many scenes not found in my screening copy; either the Brentwood edition circulating on budget labels is severely cut--most likely--or the former edited in scenes from another film.)

Friday, March 7, 2008


Not be confused with the previously-reviewed short DEAD MEAT (which also hails from Ireland, and was made in 2004), this feature-length zombie film of the same name comes to us from writer/director Conor McMahon. And though it isn't exactly groundbreaking, DEAD MEAT should prove a rancid treat to zombie fanatics.

The film is a series of escalating events happening to a young woman named Helena (Marian Araujo, an admirably understated heroine) as a zombie outbreak--the result of a mutated strain of Mad Cow Disease--strikes the Irish countryside. While it isn't really a horror-comedy, McMahon injects a healthy dose of black humor into the proceedings as the story slowly unfolds (my favorite bit was an unexpected vacuum-to-the-eyeball as Helena fends off her freshly-zombified boyfriend). What really stands out is the foreboding sense of doom that lingers over each scene, aided immeasurably by the stark exterior setting (the movie takes place almost entirely outdoors, an atmospheric touch that had to've been difficult, given the production's obvious limited resources) and its use of such structures as the crumbling ruins of an abbey or an ancient castle as sets. The film's digital video photography is also exceptional, fluid yet not shaky, bearing an influence of early Peter Jackson without slavishly copying his style.

Very little happens in DEAD MEAT that you haven't seen before (it takes the checklist of Things That Need to Happen in a Zombie Film and hits just about all of them), yet unlike most instances where this bleeds the life from the story, the feeling of familiarity actually heightens the fun. Some of McMahon's details are a little far-fetched, especially in the fight scenes (shovels are used as spears, Helena dispatches zombies with the heel of her shoe, throwing it with amazing accuracy), and the story does start to run out of steam as it nears the end, slowing down to the point that its rustic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-inspired finale loses some of its impact, but by then I was to enamored with the film to really mind. I would, though, have liked to see more done with the downbeat ending, which raised more questions than it answered.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


When Mary Lambert's adaptation of PET SEMATARY became a box-office hit, grossing more than any previous King-inspired film, it was no surprise that Paramount ordered a follow-up. Lambert returned, along with a script by Richard Ouelette, in this addle-brained 1992 sequel.

Aside from a few fleeting references to Louis Creed and his family, PET SEMATARY TWO bears little relation to its predecessor. This time around it's Edward Furlong (high on the success of TERMINATOR 2) and his veterinarian dad Anthony Edwards (a couple of years before ER saved him from the possibility of future sequels) taking up shop in Ludlow after the death of Furlong's mother. From its prologue establishing Furlong's backstory, it becomes abundantly clear that TWO's disinterested in being anything but a dumb horror flick, albeit with a shiny Hollywood veneer (courtesy of cinematographer Russell Carpenter, who'd go on to be James Cameron's DP of choice, and whose gorgeous autumn photography provides the movie with its sole asset).

And as boneheaded sequels often do, PET SEMATARY TWO completely misses the point. The Micmac burial ground was a vital part of the original story, a place of dark, unfathomable power; here, it's a means to an end, a plot device to fulfill the vaguely-defined motivations of its characters. (That it also glosses over the original moral about tampering with the unknown should be a given.) Even without trying to cram a new story and a different set of characters into the first film's mythos, little about PET SEMATARY TWO makes any sense. Nobody has a clear reason for doing anything, such as when Clancy Brown (in a villainous turn with an in-and-out New England accent) dies, why does stepson Drew (Jason Maguire) and Furlong bury him, knowing he'll return? You'd think with an asshole like him out of the way, they'd keep it that way. Much is also made about "burying your own," yet how is Brown able to resurrect Furlong's mother and bully Jared Rushton? (I'll tell you how, so Furlong and Edwards can face off with a couple of boogeymen at the end.)

PET SEMATARY TWO has all the earmarks of a bad movie: plodding dream sequences with no purpose, cheap jolts, even a mysterious old coot who knows all the town secrets, yet doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. The performances here are actually pretty decent--a nice perk of having major studio backing--with Edwards and Maguire being standouts. Furlong makes for a poor protagonist, with his faux-tough posturing and selfish whining, though when he makes a sudden shift into a smug jerk at the climax, you really wish Brown and company would get ahold of him.

PET SEMATARY TWO is horror at its most cynical, a specially-designed "product" determined by committee to deliver the prerequisite tropes Hollywood believes we want. That there's no PET SEMATARY THREE tells me the fan weren't going to stand for it (I can't really complain, since I saw this one in the theater), though the myriad CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels continues to perplex me.


The title of this microbudgeted 2007 release offered a prurient but raucous promise; the GIRLS GONE WILD juggernaut--um, if that's a pun, it's not intended--is ripe for parody, and throwing zombies into the mix makes sense, mirroring the dead, voyeuristic tone of the videos. However, this presentation by the Cohen Brothers (who apparently add the "h" to their non-Oscar winning projects) is so utterly and thoroughly awful, that calling it awful simply isn't enough. ZOMBIE CAMPOUT was awful. NIGHT OF THE BUMS was awful. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II was, too (my apologies to Ken Widerhorn for my harsh review a few days back; after watching the wretched cinematic secretion that is ZOMBIES GONE WILD, his film is a breathtakingly inventive spin on the zombie comedy, as hilarious an outing ever put on celluloid.) Yeah, this movie is that fucking terrible.

I knew I was in trouble when the writer/director is credited to "G.R." (I understand completely; if I'd made this piece of shit, I'd've been doubly careful and shot each of my crew members in the hindbrain, lest any of them reveal my identity). Opening with a "disclaimer," warning the viewer that the following movie is really, really, offensive and if you're, y'know, a pussy, that you shouldn't watch. Well, I was offended, but only because I'm not a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal obsessed with the act of egestion (that means pooping, if G.R.'s reading this). Actually, I shouldn't be so mean toward knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, since most of them will have the good sense to avoid this rotgut. Tedium clocks in around the eight-minute mark in this alleged comedy as three nimrods embark on a road trip to indulge in all the delights appreciated by college men, mostly of the vaginal variety.

Now, I want to impress upon you just how putrid ZOMBIES GONE WILD is, yet I refuse to discuss it in detail (it's not that I don't want to, but I tend to curl into the fetal position and twitch whenever I try to think about it). I will say that for its aggressively moronic first hour, the movie is nothing but a series of abominably unfunny "skits" as these three assholes engage in all sorts of shenanigans, most of which involve farting, shitting, or a combination of both (in "edgy" fare like this it's inevitable that certain bodily functions are invoked, but G.R. centers so many "laughs" around human excrement that I began to wonder if the old boy was trying to work out some personal demons). I've literally been to funerals that were funnier than this.

It behooves me to mention that I don't have a problem with material that seeks to shock and offend; in fact, I tend to favor it. But what G.R. doesn't seem to understand is that it takes more than showering your cast in fake vomit or throwing a black guy in a Klansman's hood to be "shocking."

ZOMBIES gets around to "exploring" its premise in the last twenty-five minutes, though the handful of bikini-clad girls included are more braindead than wild, and the undead shows up briefly to munch on some meager gore. (For a GGW parody that strives to be offensive, there's absolutely nothing in the T&A department; I say that not as someone who needs bare breasts to be entertained, but the film seems to miss the entire point about its raison d'etre).

I'm sure the morbidly curious will want to watch this just to see how bad it is, but I implore you: DO NOT. I'd rather mud wrestle with Ann Coulter and Nancy Grace before subjecting myself to this again. Tell you what, instead of watching ZOMBIES GONE WILD, I'll gorge myself on a shitload of White Castle burgers and a gallon of black coffee; when I can't hold it any longer I'll videotape the resulting explusion and sent it to you. Not only will your time be better spent, but I'll probably get a five-picture deal from the Cohens as well.

(Notice that the trailer not only avoid any sound or dialogue, but lasts a whopping thirty seconds.)

Monday, March 3, 2008


I'm getting sick of these myself, so this should be the last short for a while, though THE DEAD EFFECT isn't a horrible note to break on. Written and directed by Chris Schwartz, it deals (briefly) with a female scientist's attempt to find a cure for the zombie epidemic. The heavy metal score meshed with the tone of the short, a rare occurence, and I liked the blood-spattered zombie POV. I just wish Schwartz hadn't saddled his film with a tired ending; and where the hell did that baby-faced soldier come from?

Tomorrow, I swear, feature length movies!



Okay, I promise, just two more contest entries, okay?

SEVER, from writer/director Kurtis M. Spieler, showed some promise, and it's not a badly-made film, at least from a technical standpoint. Acting could've been better, but I'm starting to get used to these amateur-hour performances. For a minute there I thought we were going to get an honest-to-God story, but I was mistaken. Cool zombie makeup, though.



(Before I begin, special thanks are due to Donna Williams for her invaluable assistance with this blog. She's contributed many copies of films for me, and in my haste I've shortsightedly left her name out of prior entries where she's helped me. So here you go, Donna, go to the head of the class.)

Brian Yuzna--the genre-favorite who produced such jewels as RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, and hell, even SOCIETY, then went to Spain and set up a crap-film factory--took over the reins of the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD series with part three in 1993. While no masterpiece by any means, even a mediocre affair such as this is a breath of fetid air compared to Ken Wiederhorn's previous bowel movement.

Completely ignoring the previous installments, PART III's sole connection to the earlier films is the use of Trioxin. This time around it's being used in military experiments to develop the ultimate, unstoppable soldier. (Y'know, there's been a dozen or so zombie flicks with this same premise, but have any of them actually showed undead soldiers in combat? I'm trying to recall, but all I can think of is a brief moment in REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES.) Heading up the project are Sarah Douglas--a long ways away from working with Richard Donner on SUPERMAN--and Kent McCord, who accidentally kill WAXWORK director Anthony Hickox during a botched experiment.

But the secret military stuff is window dressing for the real story, the reckless teenage love affair between McCord's son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend Julie (the stunning Mindy Clarke). Theirs is a typical teen romance--i.e. completely boring save for a brief lovemaking scene with a topless Clarke--until McCord is transferred from the project, meaning the two lovebirds will be separated (possibly forever!). Curt and Julie decide to run away together, but when Julie's killed in a subsequent motorcycle accident, a heartsick Curt takes her to Daddy's lab to bring his girlfriend back.

There've been plenty of doomed romances involving the living dead (my all-time favorite being Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY), but PART III ignores any potential for true tragedy within the material, instead saddling its leads with chuckleheaded villains (a gang of half-assed Latino hoods they meet during a convenience store hold-up) and an assortment of prosthetic monsters; Yuzna's version of the Tar Man looks particularly rubbery, and is good for a derisive laugh or two before hitting the fast-forward button. Too much time is devoted to the strained father-son relationship, which wouldn't have been so aggravating if either the father or son possessed any charisma, and the plot's decision to abandon its love story angle in favor of slugging it out with dumb-looking monsters is quite a let-down.

Then there's its leads. Edmond is such a bland, whiny wannabe that almost everything he does feels out of character. I never bought his defiance of his father's wishes, nor did I buy his burning love for Julie (or how he'd a girl like her in the first place); in reality, after Julie bit the dust he'd be sitting alone in his room, writing wretched poetry to her in between My Chemical Romance songs. (Yeah, I realize my musical references are off--it's the wussiest band I could think of.) Clarke herself is a competent actress, but all she's required to do is look hot as a self-mutilated zombie in ragged fishnets, a task she fulfills quite nicely. The montage as Clarke undergoes her metal-and-glass-studded transformation suggests an eroticism Yuzna should've explored, though with all the problems he had with the MPAA he probably couldn't. Either way, I'm sure a lot of young boys had confusing emotions watching this flick.

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART III is a decent popcorn movie. If you're looking for an excellent horror-comedy, get the original, but if you're seeking the ultimate body-mod girl, this one bits the bill.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist. I doubt anyone will mind.)


Kern Saxton demonstrates DEADER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY in his entry in the DIARY OF THE DEAD contest, one of the more skillful clips I've seen so far. There isn't much of a story here--four drug addicts argue over how to proceed when one of their friends is turning into a zombie--which is rather irritating; we get a lot of "debating" as the characters hurl the word "fuck" back and forth (Saxton doesn't seem to know the difference between David Mamet "fucks" and BLAIR WITCH PROJECT "fucks"); even in the limited time alloted, there was potential for conflict and tension that goes untapped. At least Saxton got an adequate job out of his actors.

CHEMISTRY also benefits from a little production value, with an effective score by Friedrich Myers and stylistic editing and camerawork. The closing scenes are admirably done, leading one to believe we'll be seeing more from Saxton in the future.


Sunday, March 2, 2008


Another example of patriotic zombies, this time from MANIAC director William Lustig. Working from a script by B-movie guru Larry Cohen, this 1996 release tries to Kruegerize the great American icon, but the entire enterprise feels as lifeless as its title character.

The plot centers around Jody (Christopher Ogden), a young boy whose uncle Sam was killed by friendly fire during the Gulf War. Finally making its way home, his casket waits in Jody's living room until the funeral, saving the production much money in location costs. (Head-scratching abounds in the early scenes: if Sam's a zombie in the prologue, why/how is he dormant in his coffin? Why did it take so long to identify Sam's body, when he died with his dog tags? And what the hell is Jody doing in school in July?) When a group of teens burn a flag at his gravesite, Sam returns to life, donning an Uncle Sam costume for his vengeance-spree.

UNCLE SAM takes forever getting started, as its roster of victims is established (a draft-dodging teacher, a local politician who belittles the National Anthem, the cop who's dating Sam's widow), but even once the killing begins it comes off dry and perfunctory. For what's essentially a slasher film with a creative premise, UNCLE SAM seems strangely dispassionate when bumping off its cast. But then, it's never clear why Sam kills; is he outraged he was denied burial at Arlington? Does he want to punish those who disrespect the country he loves? Or is he merely out for revenge? Cohen's screenplay picks whatever motivation's convenient at that moment.

And while it's obvious why Sam chooses his victims--painfully so, in most cases--he dispatches them with no irony or sense of poetic justice, save one bit involving a head-shot Abe Lincoln. UNCLE SAM tries to incorporate Fourth of July trappings, like killing off Robert Forster in a shower of fireworks, but wouldn't Sam consider impaling someone on the American flag disrespectful?

Lustig includes a number of familiar faces in small roles, from Isaac Hayes as a wounded war veteran, to William Smith, who wrote and performs the clunky spoken-word piece over the end credits, but his leads are woefully anemic. Jody starts off as a genuinely curious child trying to sort the romanticized image of battle from its grim reality, but quickly turns into an unlikeable brat. Sympathy is suddenly shifted to Jody's friend, a boy blinded and crippled in a firework mishap, who has plot-convenient telepathic powers; his presence makes little sense.

Unlike the similarly-themed HOMECOMING, UNCLE SAM keeps its tongue firmly in cheek (unfortunately, it also has one thumb stuck up its ass), but it never creates the spark that a fun horror movie should have--the film's a shining example of how shitty fright flicks were in the mid-'90s. Instead of simply dedicating the film to Lucio Fulci, Lustig should've followed his lead.

Lustig went on to do great documentaries for Anchor Bay and later founded the incredible Blue Underground label, which brought us a wealth of memorable pictures on DVD. Judging from the flaccid nature of his last feature film, it's clear that he made the right decision.


Yeah, another DIARY OF THE DEAD contest entry, this one from Keith M. Bates. (If it makes you feel better, I'm getting a little tired of these, too; patience, gentle readers, I'll be spacing them out soon.) CARPE NOCTEM tackles the classic they're-attacking-the-installation scenario, ostensibly on the same night Romero's original takes place.

Besides being just a vignette, and a fragment of one at that, NOCTEM is shoddily written, with odious acting. I realize that some of these shorts may be produced by amateurs, bu c'mon people, isn't there a community theater near you? (I'd also like to take a second and pimp the experimental film EXQUISITE CORPSE, a collection of short films based on the writings of Michael Arnzen. Anyone submitting to this contest would do well to study it, to see that it is possible to make a short film--with a true beginning, middle, and end--in under three minutes.)

Without the technical polish to compensate for its sketch of a premise, CARPE NOCTEM doesn't add up to much.



Y'know, it's funny, but until recently I'd never seen Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR series. Blame it on my lack of cable, or the skewed ratio of the number of movies to time-alloted, or that I'd heard too many mixed reactions to go out of my way to check it out. Regardless, I had decided that if and when I sampled Mick Garris's TV brainchild, I'd probably skip Joe Dante's first-season episode HOMECOMING, the somewhat controversial anti-war zombie tale. Ironic, then, that this is the first one that I see.

Now, the last thing I want to do is turn this blog into anything remotely political; your views are your views, and I'll respect them. And while I appreciate Dante's (and scriptwriter Sam Hamm's) frustration and anger, such a blatant presentation of a political viewpoint negates its satirical edge, no matter how biting.

Even on a basic storytelling level, the plot (in which a GOP spin doctor instigates the resurrection of soldiers killed in Iraq, who return to vote the current administration out of office) struggles to be interesting. Of course, when you prominently feature facsimiles of Larry King and Ann Coulter, it's going to be damned difficult to draw me in (though the always-great Robert Picardo does a great job standing in for Karl Rove), but the story's pace is just too slow, weighed down by principles when it should be propelled by its characters. There is a brief exploration of lead Jon Tenney's childhood and his first brush with tragedy, but it's so simplistic it verges on silly; I didn't find it believable at all.

Maybe it goes back to the old saw about discussing politics and religion, but watching HOMECOMING was like being trapped in an elevator with one of those talking heads from Faux News. Hey, Dante's entitled to express his opinion, but I would've preferred a coating of metaphor to help the message go down. (I'd also take a page from SOUTH PARK, who excel at this kind of thinly-veiled satire; being funny helps get your point across easier.)

DAY 118--WHEN YOU TURN . . .

Adolpho Navarro throws his undead hat into the ring with his short WHEN YOU TURN . . . Presented as captured video as five strangers seek refuge from the living dead, its cinema verite feel would've been more successful with more consistent POV camerawork, less blurriness when the camera moves, and better digital effects (the latter being particularly problematic). There's no story here, just a rapid progression of people (named Shaun, Barbara, Cooper, ad nauseum) of being bitten, turning, and biting the next one in line, though with the level of acting displayed I was quite grateful the entries are restricted to a three-minute time limit. (Since when did zombies acquire bad Karloff impersonations?)

Although it replicates the DIARY OF THE DEAD feel, its cutesy-clever gags and amateurish performances prevent it from being more than a slight gimmick.



Ken Wiederhorn, who directed the B-movie gem SHOCK WAVES back in 1977 (and incidentally, anyone who can hook me up with a copy of that flick will be my new BFF), returned to zombies in 1988 with this tragically unfit sequel to Dan O'Bannon's serio-comic classic. Not-funny and not-scary in equal measure, the film treats fans of the original with the same casual disregard as it does with the film itself.

Originally written by Wiederhorn as a stand-alone screenplay, he wedges a barrel of Trioxin into a tame story about a young boy (Michael Kenworthy) who accidentally unleashes an army of undead onto his sleepy California town. James Karen and Thom Mathews return from the first in unrelated roles, and although their scenes together are just as asinine as the others, they're by far the highlight of the picture. (I've long since come to the conclusion that Karen would rock reading the Yellow Pages on YouTube, an option far more appealing than another viewing of this dreck.)

Wiederhorn regurgitates many of the more popular elements of O'Bannon's film, offering up a pale imitation of the Tar Man and having Karen and Mathews repeat some of their more memorable lines. If this was done in the spirit of homage I could be more forgiving, but too often it feels more like laziness on the director's part. On his DVD commentary Wiederhorn freely admits the film was an attempt to break out of the horror market, but such a remark isn't necessary; his apathy bleeds through every frame of this flick.

What angers me most is Wiederhorn's treatment of the undead. The scene in which the zombies rise from their graves--a setpiece that shows promise at first, despite aping the first film and stretching the boundaries of logic--plays them for laughs almost as soon as they're out of the ground. GodDAMN how that pisses me off! And if you're going to make your zombies the butt of your jokes, for fuck's sake be funny. But throwing in near-sighted zombies and the undead falling into open graves isn't enough, Wiederhorn goes the extra mile with a gratuitous THRILLER parody that's as stupid as it is irrelevant.

More remake than sequel, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II is enough to bring the bile to the back of my throat. If I may quote the esteemed Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated hated this movie. (My apologies to Mr. Ebert if I missed a hated.) Boring and insulting, it would take nothing less than a smoking hot zombie chick to salvage this series, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In lieu of a trailer (which wouldn't load, probably out of shame), here's the Michael Jackson zombie in all its outdated glory:


BODY FARM, a short film credited to FGCU Zombie Film, is another applicant in the DIARY OF THE DEAD contest. (Hopefully, you're not getting tired of seeing these. They're not only an excellent way of maintaining a one-a-day status when real life gets hectic, but many of these shorts are fascinating.) Structurally I didn't care for it--the meat of the story is a daydream, capped with an or-is-it ending, is trite and done beyond death--but this tale of a student and his professor visiting his school's "body farm" at least displays some decent visual style. Yes, we've all seen zombies emerging from an elevator and hordes of zombified faces pressed against windows, but as far as capturing the spirit and feel of Romero's work (an aspect of the contest that's frequently overlooked), BODY FARM shines.

My biggest quibble is the horrendously disproportionate sound quality, which renders the dialogue all but inaudible yet leaves the physical sound effects ear-splittingly loud. And daydream or not, having a character stand his ground and shoot zombies when running is a far clearer alternative gets on my nerves.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

DAY 115--DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

Like many of you who read this blog, I was seething when I first heard the announcement that DAWN OF THE DEAD was being remade. How dare they tamper with Romero's classic, cried the dissidents (I know, I was among them). Heads were demanded on platters. Solemn death vows were sworn. They're gonna fuck it up, we railed. Jesus, they got the guy who wrote the fuckin' SCOOBY-DOO movie to do the screenplay for God's sake!

And when the film finally premiered we shuffled into our local multiplexes like the condemned headed to the gallows, visions of the PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remakes hanging overhead. Yet when the house lights went up at the end of the film you could hear a collective sigh of relief and bemused surprise.

Holy shit, that wasn't bad at all. Pretty damn good, even.

I exaggerate, of course, but if there was ever a movie that benefited greatly from zero expectations it was Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. It benefited so much that all it took was a second viewing to demote it from "horror classic of the new millennium" to "not-bad studio fright film." While I still think it's a decent picture, with a little critical perspective it's quite easy to see the flaws in this well-made but shallow Hollywood product.

After an incredible prologue to get the story rolling (I've come to find that the earliest stages of an undead epidemic, as characters realize the severity of their situation and are forced to adapt, is my favorite part of apocalyptic-styled zombie films), it becomes clear that the new-and-improved DAWN is trading the original's pitch-black satire for slick Hollywood escapism. It succeeds in large part because it respects Romero's source material, even if his based-on credit lasts for all of a half-second. And though Snyder keeps a tight rein on the flashy excesses that mar most commercial directors' feature debuts, credit largely belongs to James Gunn's script (which is fair, since a lot of us blamed Gunn for ruining everything before the film came out).

Fans of the original got thrown bones in the form of cameos from Tom Savini, Scott Reininger, and Ken Foree; while it's a treat to see each of them, only the latter emerges as more than a gimmicky snippet. Foree gets to repeat his famous "When there's no more room in Hell" line, this time as a Falwell-esque condemnation of non-Christian lifestyles, a modern context that resonates more than the rest of the movie's "subtext" (i.e. a Muzak version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" over the mall's PA, or naming its Starbucks-like coffee kiosk Hallowed Grounds). Fan-satiating cameos aside, Snyder has assembled a solid cast, but kudos go to Sarah Polley, who gives the proceedings credibility with her strong portrayal of the female lead, and Ving Rhames, whose grit also helps ground the film in reality.

But DAWN's also got its share of problems, and I'm not referring to its upgraded fast zombies (me, I didn't have a problem with them, I thought they were a natural cinematic progression). Despite getting to the mall much quicker than the original, the new version completely misses the point of a self-made mini-utopia. Even if Snyder wasn't interested in satirizing consumerism, he neglects the potential of the material wish-fulfillment implicit in its premise, grist which would've been perfect for a big-budget studio film. DAWN also rehashes many zombie tropes--the infection is spread through bites, shoot 'em in the head to kill them--as if they're new, though to the film's target audience, they probably are. (Pardon me as I cringe a little.)

I'd pin DAWN's biggest flaw on the size of its cast. Snyder populates his mall with more players, supplying a bigger cross-section of society, but most of these peripheral characters feel like dead weight, sending the plot into several unneeded digressions (such as a maudlin scene involving a bitten Matt Frewer). Even though it runs roughly ten minutes shorter than the original, the new DAWN feels much longer.

If the 2004 version has any edge over its predecessor, I'd say it's with its ending. Not that I'm faulting Romero, who I felt brought a suitable closure to his story, but I did like how Snyder suggested the feel-good, studio-approved denouement many of us feared, then slipped us a downbeat coda over its end credits. This sequence, with its rapid editing and barrage of gruesome images, left me feeling somewhat sucker-punched.

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