Saturday, May 31, 2008


This one's going to be a lot shorter than usual, boys and girls, because I really don't have much to say about DANCE OF THE DEAD, a 2005 episode of MASTERS OF HORROR directed by Tobe Hooper. It's not that it's a terrible episode--nor should it be, as it's written by Richard Christian Matheson, adapting one of his father's short stories--but for some reason it left me cold.

Matheson stays faithful to the source material, in this post-apocalyptic tale in which a rave-like club (run by Robert Englund as a vaguely effeminate MC) features corpses "dancing" thanks to the injection of a nerve-targeting drug. The story keeps this angle mostly in the background, preferring to focus on the relationship of a young, innocent girl with a tragic past (Jessica Lowndes) with both her overprotective mother (Marilyn Norry) and a drug-dealing gang (led by THE RUINS's Jonathan Tucker).

DANCE OF THE DEAD isn't bad; it's well-acted, and Matheson's teleplay offers a little more depth than the standard post-nuke zombie tale, even if the drama's not exactly fresh. Hooper's direction is simple yet effective, thankfully abandoning the stylistic trickery--distorted picture, editing so rapid-fire it's hard to determine on-screen activity--that mars the story's first act. But it isn't exactly good, either, failing to make a genuine impact on a narrative, visual, or dramatic level. Too often, it feels like something slapped together to fill a slot in the MASTERS OF HORROR line-up.


A couple of weeks back, I'd mentioned that I didn't understand the need to get high to enjoy certain films; today, I'd like to extend that to my dislike for drug films in general, particularly the stoner comedy. Since I don't indulge, a lot of the shared lifestyle-based humor from these movies doesn't quite connect with me (an exception would be something like HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, which uses the herb as a means to set up a series of very funny misadventures). So admittedly I'm not the intended audience for Justin Powers's 2006 alleged horror-comedy POT ZOMBIES, but I highly doubt (um, no pun intended) that even hardcore stoners would find this crap amusing.

POT ZOMBIES isn't so much a movie as it is a collection of amateurish skits centered around a crop of toxic "cannibus setiva [sic]," which wouldn't be so bad if these one-dimensional vignettes weren't so repetitive they bordered on the hypnotic. (Note to Powers and his crew: you should be high when you watch this movie, not make it.) Basically, each sketch runs down as such: stoner(s) smoke weed, transform into green-skinned zombies with glowing eyes (a hideously bad digital "effect"), and eat the person in closest proximity (in feeding sequences slightly less convincing than those in ZOMBIE LAKE)--over and over and over for 54 minutes, the mercifully brief running time feeling twice as long. Powers feebly tries to vary the formula a little by spoofing different aspects of the stonerdom, even throwing in a parody of the Columbine massacre, but the film always goes for the easiest, most obvious humor possible, so much that the jokes feel flat even before they're spoken. There's even an appearance by a fan of self-mutilation who allows himself to be hung by hooks A MAN CALLED HORSE-style, but Powers fails to realize the potential in this crude but effective sequence, simply cutting from a zombie holding a hook to the "actor" hanging by the skin of his back. (And speaking of actors, the somnambulant performances suggest the cast was smoking the genuine article.) When Powers runs out of ideas and/or friends, the movie peters out to a lame undead parade, capped off with a "shocking" shot of a full-frontal nude zombie (might as well have taken out an ad that said "Amateur Filmmaker Desperate to be Considered Edgy," dude).

Amazingly, it took four people to write this mess, though with a film this lazy and sluggish I can't imagine an actual screenplay was even written--Powers can't even make lesbian sex interesting, for cryin' out loud. And, as this was produced under the auspices of Troma, we're treated to yet another irritating Lloyd Kaufman cameo. (Y'know, Lloyd, I admire what you've accomplished with Troma, and your commitment to art--whatever form it takes--is commendable, but being shrill and annoying for the sake of being shrill and annoying does not make for worthwhile viewing.)

A few non-funny "disclaimers" stating how bad marijuana really is notwithstanding, POT ZOMBIES actually discourages drug use by showing it to be extremely boring and stupid. (Hopefully it'll discourage talent-barren filmmakers from picking up a video camera.) While there's nothing wrong with making a movie to be enjoyed in between bong hits, some type of storytelling skill and technical prowess, however rudimentary, should be present.

Please bogart this joint all you want.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


A quieter, nontraditional approach to the living dead, Bob Clark's 1974 film DEATHDREAM (also known as DEAD OF NIGHT, THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME, and roughly forty-seven others) is an interesting counterpoint to his previous effort, the humorous NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD take-off CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. A much more serious film, it was one of the first attempts to address the Vietnam conflict within the safe confines of a horror film.

Written by CHILDREN's scribe Alan Ormsby, DEATHDREAM deals with a middle-America couple (Lynn Carlin and John Marley, best known for waking up with the horse's head in THE GODFATHER) who loses their son Andy in Vietnam. With a slight nod to the classic tale "The Monkey's Paw," Andy soon turns up in their kitchen, still in his uniform, changed somehow but still apparently alive and well. (I wonder if Stephen King drew inspiration from this film for the Timmy Baterman subplot in PET SEMATARY.) The family rejoices, though their happiness is short-lived when they discover exactly what their son has become.

DEATHDREAM is the kind of thoughtful, downbeat film that could've been made only in the '70s. It works beautifully on its own as a straight horror picture--Andy's almost vampiric in nature, drawing blood from his victims in a manner that foreshadows Romero's MARTIN--thanks to its shadowy photography, haunting ambient sound effects, and an uncanny performance by Richard Backus as Andy, whose cold monotone delivery and slow movement is the perfect vehicle for the undead. (And speaking of MARTIN, this film marks the debut of gore guru Tom Savini, himself a Vietnam veteran.) But DEATHDREAM has more on its mind than just horrifying theatrics; Andy can be seen as a metaphor for the specter of grief that hangs over the families of war casualties. The poor reception Vietnam vets received upon returning home is briefly touched upon, but the film's dark heart lies in the dynamics between father/son (Marley resents his son for being a mama's boy, despite serving in combat) and husband/wife (Marley's contempt for Carlin's obvious preference of Andy over their daughter, played by Anya Ormsby).

The film's low-key method doesn't make for many show-stopping set-pieces, but gets tremendous impact out of the ones it attempts; Backus's murder of the local doctor is a somewhat disturbing sequence (underscored by a slight militaristic drum roll right before Andy goes to work, a subtle and effective touch), as is its chilling finale--as Andy, deteriorating until he resembles Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera, wreaks his last havoc.

Of all the great '70s horror films being remade, DEATHDREAM remains one of the few that could well serve a modern upgrade; its metaphorical trappings could easily accommodate such subjects like Iraq and post-traumatic stress disorder. (According to IMDB, there's one in the works under the title ZERO DARK THIRTY from screenwriter Stephen Susco, who adapted Jack Ketchum's RED to the screen.) Often overlooked as examples of prime '70s horror in general and zombie pictures in particular, DEATHDREAM deserves to be sought out by devotees of both.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Before I commence with the slaughter, I'd like to address a disturbing trend I've been seeing lately. I'm noticing a lot of micro-budget, I-shot-this-in-my-backyard movies with mind-bogglingly excessive running times. Today's entry, clocking in at just under two hours, is just one of many offenders I've come across; this isn't a bad thing on its own, but given the threadbare nature of the DIY flick, it's a rare case that a film of such length has a story of sufficient depth and complexity to justify it. Writer/producer/director/cinematographer/editor/actor Darrin Brent Patterson's 2003 release THE DEAD LIVE is a prime example of this flaw, bloating a shallow, one-dimensional tale beyond belief with a relentlessly clueless filmmaking "technique."

After a credit sequence over a static-choked screen, a background that renders Patterson's title card all but unreadable, the movie itself starts to roll, and it immediately becomes clear that the staggeringly long takes, extraneous action, and five-second pauses between dialogue is going to be the least of this movie's problems. (With a title as unimaginative and bland as THE DEAD LIVE, is that a surprise?) The story--in which a reporter and her cameraman follow a growing zombie epidemic--begins with faux news footage so clunky and lacking immediacy that any verisimilitude goes out the window; but that's not the (main) problem. The problem is when the actors opens their mouths.

The performances in this movie can generously, charitably, be called wooden. However, wooden suggests the acting found in Ed Wood pictures, or elementary school plays, or the banter that pads out third-rate porno films, and the acting in THE DEAD LIVE never reaches those heights. All of the actors are stilted and unconvincing (to be expected, I suppose, with stars named Mike "Joe Joe Little" Jones in the cast), but Patterson himself deserves most of the blame; playing eight-five percent of the characters, he bungles each individual role by portraying them not as regular human beings, but in broad, unrealistic stereotypes that border of the offensive. (Though the film was shot, and presumably takes place in, Ohio, the cast has a slightly less southern-backwater feel than DELIVERANCE.) People simply don't act in reality the way anyone does in this mess.

Friends, mere words can't describe how wretched and soul-crushingly bad this movie is. (Please, please, don't take that as a suggestion to watch it.) The first twenty minutes alone displays enough incompetence to make Uwe Boll shake his head in disgust; I kept thinking THE DEAD LIVE resembled those pseudo-skits they used to show on AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS, only stretched to feature length and filled with astonishingly bad zombies and gore effects. My favorite pieces of ineptitude comes early, as the ever-so-intrepid reporter uses her sharp journalistic skills to determine that dead bodies are sent to the morgue once they're picked up. Wow, the things you can learn watching no-budget horror films!

About halfway through suffering this nightmare I wondered what would happen if Patterson ever hooked up with WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES director Adam Maranovich--a concept ten times more frightening than anything conceived here. I tried to imagine it, but my brain--in an act of self-preservation, I'm sure--kept shutting down.

The requisite shout-outs to Savini and Romero are here, as well as the obligatory thanks to Fulci in the end credits (Patterson even goes outside the box a bit to close with a cheap CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST reference). After threatening us with a lame "To be continued . . . ???" tag (let's hope the fuck not), Patterson finally ends with a half-assed "tribute" to the victims of September 11; not only does this crass ploy to liken terrorists with the living dead (and aside from the use of "Let's roll," there's nothing here remotely connected to that day) trivialize that tragedy, it also begs the question: if terrorists really are like zombies, why not make a movie about that (which would actually be an original and thought-provoking take on the subject) instead of remaking NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the seven-millionth time?

Monday, May 26, 2008


Here's a rarity, a backyard camcorder production that isn't total garbage. AMONGST THEM--grammatically questionable title aside--is a 2008 short film from writer/director Ian Shirley, and while it fails to deliver the promise implied in its beginning, it's still a lot more tolerable than most amateur dreck.

Shirley gets things started right with an intriguing opening shot, then backtracks a little to set up the actual story. It's these early moments that make up the best parts of the film, as Shirley lays out a prolonged montage of a deceptively quiet landscape that's eerily beautiful, accompanied by an impressively strong score. (No music credit is given, so I'm assuming it may have been lifted from another source, but it's very effective--appropriate without being "creepy," with the immediacy of something from a Jerry Bruckheimer epic; I'm just grateful it wasn't another death metal soundtrack.) Unfortunately, this asset is abandoned after the first few minutes.

The film itself centers on a young girl (Cassandra Moreno) in a typical Romero-inspired end-of-the-world backdrop, taking refuge from the living dead in a so-called "safe house" (which, as it's an unfinished structure, doesn't look safe from the elements, much less a zombie plague). The story focuses on Moreno's struggle to stay alive, not to mention sane, amid dwindling supplies and a growing number of the undead. Shirley captures the endless monotony of her plight with solid photography and a languid pace that's never boring--perhaps because it feels intentional--yet doesn't quite engage, either; it doesn't help that Moreno's character goes through the paces, never bringing anything fresh to the story. I did, however, like the understated, almost subtle look Shirley gives his zombies.

Alas, AMONGST THEM is not without its flaws, and they're considerable. Moreno has a great survivor look, hollow-eyed and desperate, yet her clumsy voice-over diminishes the impact of her performance. The physical action is weak to the point of ridiculousness (blame Shirley the "coreographer" for that), its ineptitude threatening to wreck the film's believable atmosphere. The minimal supporting cast is also laughable, especially the lone human Moreno encounters (gotta love his scream, though). Shirley also pulls a bait-and-switch ending that, though it makes more sense than the denouement initially suggested, still feels like unfair storytelling. I especially liked the acknowledgments in the end credits, which thanks "everyone who was apart [sic] of this short film." You're welcome, Ian!

I'm kidding, though. It really is refreshing to see the "Hey! I'm bored, let's make a movie!" mentality produce something that doesn't make my teeth hurt. Sure, it has its liabilities--liabilities that compromise its effectiveness, make no mistake--but Shirley's technical skills really gave me hope. Save your pennies, Ian, and when you can afford to make a "real" movie, let us know.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Wrapping up--heh-heh, sorry--our look at Universal's MUMMY films, 1944's THE MUMMY'S CURSE brings the series to a close on a less than resounding note. A step down from the flawed but fun THE MUMMY'S GHOST (my personal favorite of the four sequels), it tiredly trots out the same old story for one more go-'round.

Picking up 25 years after GHOST (someone on IMDB did the math and figured out that, given the skewed chronology of the series, CURSE should rightfully take place in 1997), the movie mysteriously transfers Kharis and Ananka from New England--where they drowned together in a quicksand pit--to a Louisiana swamp populated by ethnic stereotypes. Once again, there's an Egyptian henchman to do the grunt work--Peter Coe, aided by THE FLESH EATERS's Martin Kosleck--this time trying to reunite the re-animated lovers and take them back to Egypt. (Though, unlike the previous films, the human villains are just as bland as the rest of the cast.) And as usual we get a refresher course on the use of tana leaves, as well as a needless five-minute flashback to THE MUMMY'S HAND regurgitating the Kharis/Ananka backstory.

Previous MUMMY films weren't much better--especially in the story department, where plot holes seemed to be dominant feature--but there's an empty-tank feeling to THE MUMMY'S CURSE that keeps it from being as enjoyable. Any continuity from the earlier movies--like, if Kharis and Ananka drowned together, why are they separated? If Ananka was reincarnated at the end of GHOST, why is she acting like a twentieth-century amnesiac?--is abandoned, save for the recycled motions of Kharis and his cronies. (Not even a bandaged Lon Chaney, Jr. can rescue scenes in which people don't notice a huge shambling mummy six inches behind them.) And Leslie Goodwins's traffic-cop direction prevents the film from gaining any steam (one exception is a fairly eerie scene in which a mud-caked Ananka pries herself from the muck); the DVD subtitles say "Footsteps Dragging" whenever Kharis walks, an apt description of the plot itself.

And just like the other films, testosterone gets the better of the hired help as Kosleck tries to take Ananka for himself, incurring Kharis's wrath. Perhaps Universal was as fatigued as the story, since they allow Kosleck and Kharis to be buried alive together in an accident that also destroys the remaining tana leaves, putting an end to the Kharis saga (until the studio resurrected him to star in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY).

The lackluster finale of THE MUMMY'S CURSE notwithstanding, the series still makes for fun viewing today, thanks mostly for its Saturday afternoon-nostalgia factor--not bad for disposable cinema originally intended for undiscriminating kids. (Unlike this summer's THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, which will be forgotten by Labor Day.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008


The second half of the DIARIES OF THE DEAD DVD--gotta love those companies trying to foist knock-offs onto an unsuspecting populace--2003's DEADHUNTER: SEVILLIAN ZOMBIES is a Spanish release from director Julian Lara. Don't let the subtitles fool you, this is just as asinine, unwatchable, and altogether time-wasting as any domestic shot-on-video crap-fest.

Unlike yesterday's putrid DEAD SUMMER, DEADHUNTER at least provides oodles of unintentional comic gold, getting underway with the stripper at a bachelorette party losing a chunk of his throat to an intruding zombie (serves him right--since when did strippers stop dancing to answer the door?). And the laughs keep coming, in this BAD TASTE-inspired romp--the film itself makes a prominent cameo--about a slapdash group of zombie-killers; too bad they all look like the members of a third-rate metal band. Ken Foree would've had these punks for breakfast.

Derisive laughs aside, there's still very little about this film that makes it worth watching. Lara's poor direction saps the life out of the many so-called action scenes, making them even harder to sit through by drowning them in an atrocious death metal soundtrack. The attempted humor is lazy and uninspired, with much of its emphasis on zombie crotch-shots and their reaction. (Note: zombies, though having nards, don't feel it when you hit them there.) Even the obligatory Lloyd Kaufman cameo is dull (though to be honest, seeing Kaufman turning up in low-budget shit-flicks is starting to get as annoying as Stan Lee in Marvel films).

Nor does the paltry budget help, none so painfully as the guns that lack muzzle flashes (and in a movie that prominently features firearms, it just gets more pitiful). Lara does amass an impressive number of extras for a larger-scaled showdown, but mishandles it in so many ways that the sequence is doomed from the start; in addition to the aforementioned lousy direction, there's the awful zombie makeup which makes them look like burn victims rather than the living dead, as well as a climactic mall setting that had me seething with its rampant unoriginality (though, fittingly, the scene takes place in what looks like the Spanish equivalent of a Dollar General, which somehow makes it funnier).

DEADHUNTERS ends on a suitably stupid note, vanquishing the zombie epidemic--with remarkable ease--yet setting up a sequel; I don't know if Lara ever went through with his threat, but he did produce a 20-minute follow-up called ZOMBIE XTREME the following year. (No, I didn't find it, and no, I didn't try very hard.) Lara should concentrate more on becoming a more competent director than trying to pass himself off as "the ultimate Spanish horror filmmaker" (his words, conveniently forgetting the likes of Amando de Ossorio and Jorge Grau), because right now he's more like Spain's answer to Andreas Schnaas.


Have you ever felt a certain kinship with a movie? Whatever the reason--it was filmed in your hometown, the main character's uncanny resemblance to you, a story that shares your same peculiar sensibility--many of us have cinematic soulmates, movies that may be flawed, yet we look past them due to a personal connection. I felt a brief flicker of such emotions sitting down to watch DEAD SUMMER, which was not only shot in my backyard (although living in western PA all my life, zombie pictures in my neighborhood are nothing new) but bears a similarity to a story I wrote long ago called "Dead of Summer," written shortly after I met the woman who'd be my wife. Both my story and this movie deals with young people bored and displaced amidst a zombie outbreak, sorting out various romantic and personal issues when not killing the living dead. (Not to be a braggart, but my take was more about the frustration of having your collegiate and career plans cut off by the apocalypse--a metaphor for the ennui of being a working-class twentysomething with minimal job prospects--that would've worked if the zombie angle wasn't as rote and mechanical as the films I bitch about.) So, long story longer, I immediately felt a connection with this 2005 shot-on-video production even before I slipped it in the DVD player.

Two minutes in, that camaraderie was broken.

Wow, what a piece of shit this thing was. (Let me just clarify, I'm in no way bashing this thing because I think my story was "better;" from here on, the ire is purely from the disgust of wasting 70 minutes minutes on unbearably bad filmmaking.) A self-described "flick" by director Eddie Benevich--okay, so he doesn't take himself seriously, that's good because he doesn't take his movie seriously, either--it centers on a group of backward-cap wearing Neanderthal fucks and their equally vacuous girlfriends, a group of such aggressively obnoxious assholes that I wanted them dead literally the moment they opened their mouths. We're supposed to sympathize with any of these people? You'd meet a more empathetic group at a frathouse kegger. It's boring and plotless parade of vignettes as this odious clique kills zombies, butts heads with a rival survivor, and just, y'know, hangs out.

Making these assholes even more insufferable is the abysmal sound quality that--thankfully at times--renders the dialogue inaudible, a perfect compliment to the inept writing, photography, direction, and acting that permeates this shitburger. (Oh, and the zombie make-up is terrible, too.) Eavesdrop on a random conversation, it's bound to be more interesting than anything that happens in this thing.

Completely unoriginal in every regard, DEAD SUMMER could've been a lost film--I couldn't find a listing on IMDB, nor did YouTube yield any clips, even some minimal Googling turned nothing up--if it hadn't been passed off on DVD under the DIARIES OF THE DEAD DOUBLE FEATURE, paired with the just-as-painful Spanish production DEADHUNTERS. And that's a shame, because cinematic evolution should've rightly sent this piece of crap into oblivion, to be forgotten forever more.

Friday, May 23, 2008


VOODOO was one of several forgettable releases churned out by A-Pix Entertainment during the mid-'90s (though the company was responsible for bringing foreign oddities like BABY BLOOD and EVIL ED to these shores, as well as the underrated THE CRAFT steal LITTLE WITCHES), and it's pretty much what you'd expect from cookie-cutter, straight-to-tape horror. Produced in 1995 and directed by Rene Eram, it's a shallow and pedantic--sorry for the FAMILY GUY reference, I can't get that phrase out of my head when writing about this movie--exercise that follows the easiest, most predictable route from Point A to Point B.

Corey Feldman stars as a writer--not of anything specific, just, y'know, a writer, which is about as believable as Feldman playing an astronaut or neurosurgeon--who transfers to an unnamed college to be close to his girlfriend. (Why is beyond me, since she's a stuck-up bitch with whom he has zero chemistry.) Due to a housing shortage he ends up joining a fraternity for a place to crash, headed by a voodoo practitioner who just so happens to need one more body to sacrifice; the frat brothers--all seven of 'em--are also zombies, even though they still display their own will and personality (or would if the actors playing them were any good). Can Feldman keep from joining the living dead? And can he do it without Corey Haim's help?

VOODOO could've been a half-decent little flick if it'd given an honest effort. Feldman makes for a lousy lead, his apathetic performance so laid-back it borders on sleepwalking (actually, he's more zombie-like than anyone in the cast). Eram wrongheadedly starts off with a prologue showing the previous frat brother succumbing to the powers of a voodoo doll, thus destroying any chance of mystery and suspense--and with as slow a build-up as this movie has, waiting until roughly the mid-point to explore anything remotely supernatural, that's a big problem.

The only thing the script really provides--aside from a poorly-handled shotgun massacre in a voodoo-possessed rival frat, which even if it were better directed would still be uncomfortable viewing in the wake of events like the Virginia Tech shootings--is a great deal of homoerotic undertones, none of which feels intentional. Whereas a better film might explore the homosexual connotations of frat life in general, and in frat initiations in particular, VOODOO sticks to boring dream sequences about snakes and long, phallic tongues.

I really want to take the high road here and refrain from saying things like "VOODOO is doo-doo," or something equally juvenile, but I can't think of a more appropriate way to describe it. Go rent THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW or I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, you'll be much better off.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Ah, NEON MANIACS; they just don't make 'em like you anymore. And anyone who's grown up on '80s horror like myself will know that's both a shame and a relief. This 1986 release from director Joseph Mangine (cinematographer of such cult faves as SQUIRM and ALLIGATOR, who hasn't directed since) is a perfect time capsule of Reagan-era fright films; even the title is well-suited, both nonsensical yet fitting it precisely. If the hairstyles and dialogue didn't tip you off that this was decidedly a mid-'80s film, the synthesizer score would've been a dead giveaway; and let us not forget the Neon Maniacs themselves, a motley crew of creatures that could've only sprung from a coke-fueled pitch meeting.

What exactly are the Neon Maniacs, you ask? That's a good question, so good that the movie never bothers to explain it. The DVD description refers to them as zombies, hence their inclusion here, but out of the dozen or so Maniacs, only two or three could really be called such (fortunately, that's enough, even if their screen time is minimal). They're more like a hastily-sketched series of creatures ready-made for franchise purposes--which might've been an intriguing prospect if any of them possessed a shred of personality, or were in any way interesting. Instead the screenplay, by future PUMPKINHEAD scribe Mark Patrick Carducci, focuses more on the quantity of its monsters rather than quality, so that all of them feel rushed through their paces.

NEON MANIACS sets off on a promising note, as Leilani Sarelle--years before she shacked up with Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT--survives a massacre in Griffith Park by the titular menaces (who, without explanation, live in the structure beneath the Golden Gate Bridge). Though this early set-piece features plenty of latex monsters and a high body count, Mangine's ham-fisted direction robs the sequence of any power; and lacking any real bloodletting, it can't even be enjoyed on a purely exploitive level.

From there it's a long--very long--series of scenes as Sarelle, along with a shy but hunky love interest and a precocious pre-teen horror buff, try to figure out exactly what's going on, with the occasional interference by the police. In a movie rife with myriad problems, this midsection is possibly NEON's worst; the story feels arbitrarily plotted, segueing from one scene to another without any discernable reason. And since we have no idea what the Neon Maniacs are, or what motivates them, it's impossible to get involved. I'm sure Carducci's script is partly to blame, but Mangine's lackluster work behind the camera sure doesn't help. Check out the stupid and uninspired subway sequence and you'll know what I mean.

After keeping its creatures in the wings for most of its running time, NEON MANIACS finally culminates with a showdown between the leads and the monsters in, of all things, a high school gymnasium (while the worst-ever Battle of the Bands rages on--really, the music in this fucking thing's more frightening than the Maniacs). As before, Mangine choreographs the action so lazily that it's just as laborious as the rest, throwing in that hoariest of cliches: the monster that's vulnerable to water. Yes, all it takes to relieve your Neon Maniacs problem is a garden hose and a functioning spigot. (Which begs the unanswered question: if water's all it takes to do them in, why in the blue fuck do they live under a bridge?)

NEON MANIACS sports all the earmarks of trite '80s horror: gratuitous, gruesome dream sequences (that use more fake blood than the actual events of the story), female protagonists who are never too traumatized to slip into a bikini for a dip in the pool, obnoxious party-minded teens--yet fails to deliver even the cheapest of thrills. (What, couldn't have one of the Maniacs made a lame wisecrack before killing someone?) Dull and forgettable.

Look sharp for a pre-WISHMASTER Andrew Divoff as one of the Maniacs.


Universal's 1944 follow-up to THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE MUMMY'S GHOST is one of the better entries in the series (not that it's that great a movie, but coming after the tedium that was TOMB it seems like a refreshing change of pace), though the studio's churn-'em-out mentality is still in full swing.

Once again, a human lackey is charged with the task of overseeing/controlling the mummy Kharis (this time played by John Carradine), with the same high priest giving the same instructions on the use of tana leaves and the very same ceremonial swearing-in (either Universal didn't re-release these films as often as their smash hits, or they assumed audiences would forget the previous installment). Carradine's duty is to bring Kharis and the body of Princess Ananka--currently residing in a museum in TOMB's sleepy Massachuetts village--back to Egypt.

THE MUMMY'S GHOST is a lot more entertaining than TOMB, if only for the additional screen time Lon Chaney, Jr. gets as the wrapped one, spontaneously bursting out of the scenery whenever Carradine calls him into action. Not once does the screenplay ever explain where Kharis comes from, or where he goes whenever he's not doing Carradine's dirty work (does he have a cot at the Y or something?). Obviously we're not supposed to think about the plot holes big enough to hide the Sphinx in that GHOST throws at us.

While the action's still as stiff as Kharis's gait, at least director Reginal LeBorg tries to keep it scary, drawing out Kharis's scenes with plenty of menacing close-ups. It doesn't entirely work, thanks to the by-the-numbers pacing, but the effort is appreciated. At least the police realize this time that a mummy's responsible from the get-go, sparing us a number of boring "You've gotta believe me!" scenes.

As with the previous MUMMY pictures, the villain's the sole reliable actor here (it's fun to see Carradine's relatively early portrayal of a role he'd repeat ad nauseum for the rest of his life). Robert Lowery is the supposed hero, but he's such an arrogant douchebag that it's easy to root for Kharis; the female love object--sorry, interest--is played by Ramsay Ames in an anemic performance, though I did love her Elsa Lanchester-inspired 'do whenever Kharis scares the bejesus out of her. And while I know it's intended to be frightening, but the sight of Chaney stumbling around in the visibly-uncomfortable mummy get-up (which reputedly caused him to break out in hives) is a rather pathetic sight; at least he's more animated here than he was in TOMB.

Just like his fellow mummy-keepers, Carradine decides to ditch his sacred promise and attempt to get the girl for himself (the argument with his voice-over is a smirkily amusing highlight), cementing GHOST firmly within the series forumla; you'd think by now the high priest would start recruiting eunuchs for this job.

The film's climax is well-done, if a little protracted, utilizing an interesting use of exteriors (which look nothing like New England). I did like how Ames, as a reincarnation of Ananka, gradually aged the longer she lay in Kharis's grip, as well as how Kharis sort of wins by disappearing with her into a pool of quicksand--making a somewhat unusual departure from most horror fare at the time, even if it's still a cop-out ending. (At least it put a damper on Lowery's day, the smug bastard.)

(See the previous MUMMY entries for the trailer.)


After sitting through Steve Session's 2003 shot-on-video snorer HELLBOUND: BOOK OF THE DEAD, I felt compelled to write the following list of things I hate (strictly by coincidence, I assure you):

--Movies that are supposedly suitable for this blog, yet take so much time getting to their zombies that I have to keep checking the DVD sleeve to make sure I'm watching the right goddamn film.

--Actors who are adept at delivering exposition but crumble the minute they have something dramatic to do. (See also: actors who speak so softly that the boom mike can't pick them up.)

--Irritatingly loud background music over dialogue.

--Movies that are exceedingly slow and meandering, yet don't have a strong enough story or visual style to support them.

--Boring bondage scenes.

--Subplots that exist for the sole purpose of padding the film and providing grungy T&A.

--Completely unrealistic situations that are put in to generate--or attempt to generate--cheap, false suspense.

--Films in which characters raise the dead to little or no consequence, either on a narrative or thematic level.

--Anything that resembles/comes from the director of DEAD CLOWNS.

--When I can't find a clip to illustrate just how fucking bad a movie really is.


Universal carried on its MUMMY series in 1942 with THE MUMMY'S TOMB, and if it wasn't apparent before that these films were intended as double-bill fodder, the mechanical nature of this picture will clear up any doubts.

Though produced only two years after THE MUMMY'S HAND, TOMB picks up three decades later, with Dick Foran in old-age makeup recounting the events of the previous film. This tactic unspools a good deal of flashback footage from HAND, taking up nearly 12 of the film's 61 minutes; add a subsequent scene as HAND's high priest swears Turhan Bey in as George Zucco's successor in an almost identical fashion and a quarter of the film is wasted (this is especially tiresome for those watching the series in a row). Bey's mission is to punish Foran, as well as his family, for violating Princess Ananka's tomb, for which he brews some tana leaves and sends Kharis out to do his bidding (you'd think there'd be a more practical, not to mention inconspicuous, way to kill a handful of people, but then there wouldn't be much of a mummy picture, would there?).

THE MUMMY'S TOMB focuses more on mystery than adventure, shifting locales from Egypt to a quiet Massachusetts village; improbable, maybe, but the fog-swept setting helps evoke some semblance of Universal's better efforts. The problem with the mystery angle is that we already know a mummy's to blame, so we get to twiddle our thumbs as an "elderly" Wallace Ford tries to convince the police of what the audience has just been told. (Director Harold Young also has an annoying habit of digressing to moments of painful redundancy; do we really need a doctor pronouncing Ford dead after he's strangled by Kharis?)

As with THE MUMMY'S HAND, the performances are flat and unengaging as most '40s programmers, with Bey being an exception (his vaguely Asian mannerisms suggest a post-Pearl Harbor response). Though I'm sure he was hired purely for marquee value, Lon Chaney, Jr. makes for a thoroughly undistinguished mummy under Jack Pierce's wrap job, probably more concerned with the bottle waiting in his trailer than giving a real performance.

Pedestrian and apathetic, THE MUMMY'S TOMB possesses a few moments that might please fans of vintage horror, but there's an awful lot of filler to sift through to get to them. Not nearly as taxing as, say, watching Brendan Fraser overact against a bluescreen, but still far from rewarding.


THE BEYOND, Lucio Fulci's 1981 installment of his unofficial zombie cycle, is considered by many to be the director's masterwork, though as I've noted here before, it's always left me cold; I've always felt it was overrated, shadowing ZOMBIE or CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD as his definite work. In re-watching THE BEYOND for this blog, I'm pleased to say I finally recognized its significant merits, even if I'm not 100% sure it's the jewel in Fulci's crown.

It's certainly the most visually striking of his films, the sepia-tinted prologue quite possibly the stylistic highlight of Fulci's career. The sequence itself is one of his best regarded, if not for the creative display of violence levied against the artist Schweik, for its continuation of the Lovecraftian undertones lying within the painting that frames the plot. (The voice-over quotation, "And you shall face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored," implies the same sort of cosmic terror that the man from Providence so frequently wrote about.)

Like a lot of cult movies, THE BEYOND isn't necessarily a great film as a whole, but features enough powerful individual moments to make it worthwhile. The initial build-up seems to be a string of such scenes, held together by a strong visual fabric, but when the film reaches David Warbeck's morgue it begins to fall apart. The first morgue scene is not only filled with incessantly improbable moments--hooking a cadaver to monitor brainwaves, a "Do Not Entry" sign, not to mention the acid jar that spews its contents by its own volition--but the manner in which they're crassly handled turns THE BEYOND into an average gratuitous-gore flick; the infamous library sequence, wherein Michele Mirabella falls prey to a swarming cluster of tarantulas, is another example of this misstep. The film works best as a garishly-lit ghost story, and when these admittedly bravura but tonally inconsistent segments occur they become literal show-stoppers, taking the audience out of the story to marvel over the crudity of their special effects (which, especially in the case of the flesh-eating tarantulas, can be laughably poor).

Fulci's often been accused of ripping off Dario Argento--and having a blind girl getting her throat torn out by her seeing-eye dog doesn't exactly let him off the hook here--but some of THE BEYOND's weakest moments happen when he imitates himself. There's an attempt to recreate ZOMBIE's notorious eye-splinter scene (a woman has her head impaled upon a nail, which pushes its way out her eye socket) that packs nowhere near the punch as its predecessor; even the finale as Warbeck and Catriona MacColl stand off against zombies in the morgue feels like an elaborate version of ZOMBIE's hospital showdown. Even the plot itself--MacColl's hotel rests above one of the seven gateways to Hell--is uncomfortably close to CITY, and not quite as a further exploration of its theme.

Quibbling about imitation in Italian horror films, though, is like griping about the humidity in Florida--it comes with the territory; Fulci still manages to pull off quite a few remarkable bits on his own. The final shot of the hotel is a superbly understated moment as silhouettes slowly fill in the windows, supporting Fulci's claim that Jacques Tourneur was THE BEYOND's primary influence. There's also the somewhat ambiguous ending that compliments the dream-like logic that propels so many of his best films. (Personally, I think it's Fulci's best-realized denouement ever.)

Throw in Fabio Frizzi's evocative score--again, one of Fulci's most effective soundtracks--and you've got a film that skirts the line between art and exploitation, that hard-to-find sweet spot that makes low-budget fright films so satisfying. THE BEYOND is essential Italian horror; I'm glad I finally saw the light.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Often described as a "thinking man's zombie film" (usually with an air of condescension, as if people who think are above living-dead fare), ZEDER is an atmospheric and frequently unnerving film, though I don't know if it'd ever give one's intellect a workout. This 1983 Italian production from Pupi Avati takes a scientific and mystery-oriented approach to the zombie tale--which had to've confounded early '80s audiences expecting the typical gut-munching extravaganza.

The film's prologue suggests either an EXORCIST or POLTERGEIST rip-off, with its undercurrent of unexplainable occurances, before shifting into giallo mode as a masked killer strikes down a frightened old woman. It turns out to be nothing of any of these as the main storyline takes over. A writer (Lino Capolicchio) discovers a secret within the ribbon of a second-hand typewriter, leading him on a quest in which he discovers K-zones, mysterious pockets of earth which defy the laws of aging and death, and can restore the dead to life if the deceased are buried there. Capolicchio also stumbles upon a French scientific group attempting to resurrect a long-dead priest.

While its focus on ambience over bloodletting is admirable--Avati earns points for his use of muted photography and Riz Ortolani score--ZEDER's mystery angle is poorly defined, making it difficult to tell exactly what's going on and how everything relates. The climax is an impressive display of Gothic-styled horror, and makes up for some of the more obtuse aspects of the narrative.

Many have mentioned this film's resemblance to Stephen King's novel PET SEMATARY (i.e. a story about a burial site that returns the dead to life), and both book and movie ends with a husband reviving his wife with disastrous results, but to imply that one has plagiarized the other is preposterous. Though both were released in 1983, Avati filmed ZEDER the year before, and King had written PET SEMATARY largely in 1979 (publishing it with great reluctance, and then only to free up a royalty dispute). Their similarity, while remarkable, is merely coincidence.

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


Perhaps it was the particularly strong afterglow I still had from SARS WARS going in to SABBATH, but I was fully prepared to give this 2005 shot-on-video feature from director William Victor Schotten a good review. A zombie film with a truly apocalyptic scenario--we're talking Book of Revelations apocalyptic--and ambition on both a visual and story level, I had pretty high hopes that this would be that elusive diamond in the rough. However, my good will started to evaporate around the fifteen-minute mark, as SABBATH's numerous flaws came to the fore.

A solitary woman, a minister, a pair of brain-dead brothers, and a criminal band together when the living dead start roaming the earth. The earlier scenes of this premise are the most effective, as each individual character starts out--for the most part--on their own. Schotten captures the uneasy tension lying just beneath the bucolic surface of his setting, and by using very little dialogue he almost achieves a surreal quality for the first part of the film; however, any trance-like mood the long takes and repetitive score might have built is broken by too many moments of cheap gore, and by the time the characters have bunkered together in a rural farmhouse it becomes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Variation #258.

The zombies aren't the characters' only problem, as they're visited by shadowy demonic forces and the Grim Reaper hisownself, though what any of it has to do with the main plot, I have no idea, but it has to do with the last soul entering Heaven and the first sinner being shut out of Hell . . . which I assume is bad. Though they certainly elevate SABBATH beyond a mere Romero rehash, these additional elements don't really work. The Reaper in particular fails to generate any sense of fear or awe, probably because of the cherubic face poking out beneath the hood. The demons, on the other hand, are obviously guys in black leotards slithering around on their bellies, but there are a couple of moments--within their first couple of scenes--where they're very much an unsettling presence (check out the scene in which the minister delivers his backstory monologue, that's some damn creepy stuff). Schotten unfortunately doesn't keep them on the sidelines enough and their disturbing power soon wears thin, until they've got as little impact as the stock zombies approaching the house.

Missteps like these keep SABBATH from reaching its frightening potential. Also hampering it are a cast littered with idiots and bad actors who can't deliver their lines without mumbling. When the climax has characters wrestling with zombies as cheesy death metal blares on the soundtrack, any hopes for SABBATH being a serious, intelligent film go right out the window.

There's something especially painful about a film that toys with your expectations, promising to be an undiscovered gem but in reality is just the same old schlock. SABBATH belongs in that category, another squandering of talent and skill taking up valuable space on video shelves.


I've never understood people who need to get high in order to enjoy a movie. Sure, I can see firing one up before a Cheech and Chong marathon to get in the right frame of mind, but for the life of me I don't get those who can't sit down to watch films--particularly horror or science fiction/fantasy films--without a proper buzz. Maybe it's a lack of imaginative capabilities on their part, but why would you spend good money on drugs when there are movies like SARS WARS: BANGKOK ZOMBIE CRISIS which do all the work for you.

A supremely delirious action/horror/comedy with a generous dollop of romance, this 2004 Thai film comes from the feverish mind of director Taweewat Wantha (who recently followed up this film with something called THE SPERM--Lord, I can't wait to see that). A movie this chaotic defies a mere synopsis--think a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot like WILD ZERO filtered through influences such as Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, David Cronenberg's SHIVERS, and the films of Stephen Chow and, naturally, George Romero--so let's just say it takes a distinctly non-traditional approach to some of the standard elements of the zombie genre.

A mutated strain of the deadly Sars virus travels from Africa by a poorly-rendered CGI mosquito (all of the digital effects here are pretty lousy, saved only by the picture's anything-goes mentality) to Bangkok, immediately turning those infected into snarling, flesh-hungry zombies. A ruthless FEMA-like agency quarantines them in a downtown high-rise, where earnest young warrior Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon) and his master (Suthep Po-ngam) are trying to rescue a kidnapped girl named Liu (the relentlessly adorable Phintusuda Tunphairao) from the clutches of a criminal gang.

And that, my friends, is just the set-up. The thugs responsible for Liu's kidnapping would make for an entertaining flick on their own--a colorful bunch with a, shall we say, flexible grip on their sexuality (their mastermind even sends the most homoerotic ransom demand in cinematic history)--but Wantha keeps throwing in Thai drag queens, coercion by tickling, even an enormous digital snake, until your mind threatens to boggle. Though not every joke works, and some of the humor may not translate well to these shores, but there's some extremely hilarious moments here--an inspired bullet ricochet in a crowded elevator, the master's lightsaber-ish sword that needs fresh batteries, and a vengeful CGI fetus are definite highlights (I haven't laughed this hard at a movie--at least, a movie where I was supposed to--in quite some time).

The problem with such a creatively erratic first act is that the action tends to peak too soon, leaving the film to lull a bit during its midsection; here is where Khun Krabii and Liu explore their feelings, leading to one of the most hilariously inappropriate lovemaking scenes in recent memory (Wantha pulls a fast one, playing the scene straight, with a little of SPIDER-MAN's rain-swept flavor, before going balls-out with the humor; maybe he didn't realize that he'd struck just the right balance of zaniness and character, and actually damaged what could have been a very moving scene. Oh well, "Crouching Tiger Eats Noodles" makes up for it.)

SARS WARS picks up plenty of steam for its final act, chugging along nicely to a climactic CRYING GAME-inspired reveal, as well as a deus ex machina remote control gag that, even with all the insanity preceding it, is still an incredibly stupid way to close a picture.

The good far outweighs the bad in this ready-made fanboy favorite. Wantha even spices things with a quirky visual style (including energetic anime sequence-flashbacks) and a catchy-as-hell heavy metal theme song (which you can check out the video for below, after the trailer). SARS WARS: BANGKOK ZOMBIE CRISIS is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Just what this blog needs, another shot-in-the-backyard short film. This time around, it's director Chad Koeller's 2006 presentation THE WALKING DEAD, which is a literal example of the "Hey! I've got a video camera! Let's make a movie!" school of filmmaking. I wish I could say Koeller makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in directorial prowess, but whatever creative urge might've spurred him on never translates to the screen. Like so many of these types of "productions," it's a home movie with a liberal use of Karo syrup.

The story is simply--very simply--a young man's encounter with a handful of the living dead; the first six minutes are nothing but this guy plopping his ass in front of the TV and watching fake news footage of a zombie epidemic cribbed from the DAWN OF THE DEAD DVD Special Features (hey Chad, look up this phrase: in media res) until the undead finally lumber into his house. There's two points of contention here: the first, if somebody staggered into your home--slack-jawed, wide-eyed, moaning and covered in blood--are you really going to politely ask, "Can I help you?" Even if they weren't obviously fucked-up, would you? And second: they're dead, dude, they don't have sticks jammed up their asses.

Actually, this guy takes a spreading zombie outbreak pretty calmly (for those of you who enjoy people half-heartedly watching alarming news reports, I've found your movie); in fact, he's such a cool cucumber that when the zombies sneak into his house he casually goes upstairs, hides in a closet, and patiently waits for the danger to wander away. And if you know anything about effective horror films, you know that protagonists who act calm and collected probably aren't in a very good movie. (You know what else indicates a bad movie? Zombies that hiss like cats.) I don't care what your motivation for making a movie may be, if there isn't a sense of urgency--about anything, whatever's at the heart of your story's conflict--then nobody's going to care.

They'll laugh at it, sure, but they won't care.


THE LOST ZOMBIE is a 2008 short film submitted to me for review by writer/director Marshaa Robinson. At two and a half minutes it barely qualifies as a vignette, much less a fully-developed story, but at least possesses the kernel of a premise that would benefit from a more fleshed-out take. (Marshaa didn't include any additional information on her short, but from what I could gather this seems like a student production, and the abbreviated length may have been a prerequisite.)

The threadbare story, told in narration by a thoroughly awful voice-over (note: make sure your actor can read from a script without stumbling over his words before hiring him), deals with a young man named Daniel who has a "pet" zombie--in the sketchily-drawn back story, the living dead are rather commonplace--and his troublesome relationship with bullying Jessica, who seems to resent his zombie. The reason for Jessica's behavior lies at the heart of the story's conflict, which could've been quite resonant if it had a chance to fully develop, and didn't suffer from a pat, tidy conclusion.

With any luck, Marshaa will be able to expand on this brief short and play upon some of the intriguing ideas she suggests; there's a chance here to explore the themes of loss, grief, and hope. What I think would be really interesting--and I'm being serious here--if this short were re-done as a children's story; it has just that right touch of sweetness to it that what make it work. And hey--wouldn't we all like to see more kids' stories about the living dead?

I've been having trouble getting the film to load, so I'm not posting it here, but maybe you'll have better luck: THE LOST ZOMBIE.


Continuing with our inclusion of mummy pictures, we turn our attention to 1940's THE MUMMY'S HAND. There's been a smattering of debate over whether this film is a direct sequel to the 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff, or merely the start of an entirely different series of films that just so happened to come from the same studio and featured a mummy.

Maybe it's a little of both, though those who claim that HAND bears no relation to the original must not have noticed the snippets of footage lifted from Karl Freund's picture, nor have they realized that HAND recycles the Karloff backstory, splicing in new shots of Tom Tyler as the newly-dubbed Kharis. (And how could they not have, as these moments contain the only real style of the picture.)

Reused footage notwithstanding, it's pretty apparent that Universal had a new direction in mind for their new MUMMY films, and I'm sure the operative word was "cheap." Whereas all of the classic monsters suffered from diminishing returns with each additional sequel, the MUMMY films jumped straight into programmer mode with its very first follow-up. Gone are the mood-enhancing lighting schemes, the opulent sets (except for the temple scenes which borrowed the sets from GREEN HELL), and the high-caliber talent; behind the camera is Christy Cabanne, a prolific but undistinguished director, and in front a mixed bag of actors including the great George Zucco (standing out as the mummy's mortal henchman), Peggy Moran, and Wallace Ford (playing here a Joe Pesci prototype as the so-called comic relief). HAND may have had the advantage of a slick studio pedigree, but it's really just one notch above the typical Poverty Row potboiler, with too much time spent on stagebound banter that the mummy practically becomes an afterthought.

As for the movie itself, it's a thin but often entertaining adventure masquerading as a fright film. A prologue of sorts sets to establish its own set of rules for the mummy Kharis, as Zucco is instructed by a high priest in the manner of the tana leaves that control Kharis (and a complicated set at that; owning a Mogwai is easier than keeping this bag of bones). It's Zucco's duty to protect Kharis's resting place from a group of Brooklyn-based archaeologists (Dick Foran and Ford, accompanied by Moran and her magician father) in search of treasure. Of course, if Zucco was any good at his job there wouldn't be a movie, so he unleashes Kharis on the treasure-hunters once they uncover the mummy's tomb.

Kharis stays off-screen for most of the movie, leaving Foran and Moran's budding desert romance and Ford's shtick to carry the story, and once the mummy finally walks he elicits more chuckles than chills. Ever mindful of his top-billed co-stars, Kharis is careful only to kill off the secondary characters (who must not've been very important, as Foran and company still sleep peacefully in their tents after discovering two bodies in their camp site, remaining disturbingly nonplussed), and appears more concerned with drinking tana brew than chasing our stars. (The idea to blacken Kharis's eyes--which involved hand-painting each individual frame--was a good one, giving his few close-ups a sorely-needed menacing feel.) The action is fairly rote, but I was surprised that second-banana Ford is the one who saves the day.

Some have argued that Stephen Sommers's 1999 version is ostensibly a remake of this film more than the 1932 original. I can certainly see the resemblance, with so-so computer effects distracting from the equally asinine humor and lightweight story. But at least THE MUMMY'S HAND still retains its nostalgic, Saturday afternoon matinee feel, a quality I doubt Sommers can boast in another sixty years.

(Here's a bunch of trailers for Universal's MUMMY films.)


HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB remains one of Paul Naschy's best-known films, perhaps because of its accessibility: this 1973 release from director Carlos Aured was one of the few of the actor's movies to receive a US video release (albeit in a heavily-edited form), but the film's emphasis on atmosphere and mood, along with a relative minimum of dialogue, made the uncut Spanish-language version a popular one on the bootleg circuit. It's also quintessential Naschy, a strange marriage of traditional Gothic elements and exploitation that works just enough to make it worthwhile viewing.

In a flashback to fifteenth-century France, Naschy (as sorceror Aleric du Marnac) and his mistress Helga Line are sentenced to death for practicing the black arts (and what a laundry list of offenses: drinking human blood, consuming human flesh, consorting with the Great Horned One, etc.). Before their deaths, Naschy places a curse on the descendants of his executioners. And then gets his head lopped off. Du Marnac's body and severed head, which is inexplicably still alive, are discovered in the modern day--well, the early '70s, anyway--by the attendees of a seance (including Naschy as the great-great-great-great-etc.-nephew of his earlier incarnation, along with frequent co-star Vic Winner). It isn't long until du Marnac's head is unearthed and it begins wreaking havoc on the cast.

TOMB strolls along at a fairly leisurely pace, but makes plenty of pit stops for crude gore (torn throats and ripped-out hearts seem to be a favorite here) and not-so-crude nudity (most notably in the bewitching form of Ms. Line). These baser elements, coupled with the lush European backdrop makes the movie feel like some sort of depraved comic book come to life. The half-hearted dubbing obscures some of the acting, but I doubt there's any Oscar-caliber performances here, even in its native Spanish (Naschy, who also scripted, was obviously looking out for number one here: he's either sitting behind an altar as a severed head or stripping his duds to get down with the females in the cast).

Far from a great film, TOMB is still a lot of fun, and would be worth checking out solely for the gloriously cheesy pipe-organ score (which Rob Zombie sampled for his HELLBILLY DELUXE album).

Friday, May 16, 2008


A curious little film, this one, yet for all the wrong reasons. A 2003 short from writer/director Kevin Lane, THE SOMNAMBULISTS is extremely well-made on a technical level--in particular its widescreen photography, which gives it the slick, polished look of a major Hollywood production--but its story is so muddled and busy that if it weren't for a brief shot of zombies I'd have never known this was a suitable entry for the blog.

The story posits the conceit (or at least it does until the expository conversations render it incomprehensible) a parallel between sleepwalking and the living dead. Or between the dead trapped between our world and the beyond--like I said, I was lost from the start, so I could be wrong on both.

In addition to this main throughline, Lane throws in a serial killer who preys upon young athletic men, the police investigation of same, and a last-minute revelation of a long-buried adolescent trauma. Needless to say, it makes for a confusing 25 minutes; even if all of the elements made sense, there's enough plot here to befuddle Keyser Soze, and it all feels as if Lane's throwing each thread out at random to see if any stick.

That's too bad, because he really does have a strong eye, and I wish he'd had a story that measures up.

DAY 191--THE MUMMY (1932)

Aw, fuck it.

From the very beginning of this project I debated including mummy films; with the exception of 1981's DAWN OF THE MUMMY, which explicitly tried to ape the wave of Italian zombie movies, cinematic mummies had their own individual set of rules, their own style. They really were their own separate entity, and to review them felt a bit like cheating.

Ultimately I decided, what the hell. They were, after all, human beings who had died and returned to life, which has always been my basic criteria--and God knows I've made exceptions for far less-deserving movies (for the record, I'm rather embarrassed about having HELLO AGAIN here, if only because it's an admission I've watched it). Besides, I've always had a soft spot for the ol' bandaged guys, who've appeared in some noteworthy movies I'd like to discuss,and I doubt there's enough to devote an entirely different blog to them. That, and BLACK VOODOO EXORCIST had already sneaked in.

Which it makes it somewhat ironic, then, that Universal's original THE MUMMY is not only more of a love story (albeit one with supernatural trappings) than a horror film, but that it parallels Tod Browning's DRACULA to such a degree it's almost a remake.

Proving that Hollywood's formulaic nature is nothing new, Universal hired DRACULA screenwriter John Balderston and cinematographer Karl Freund to direct in hopes of capturing the same box-office returns. In what may possibly simply unimaginativeness on Balderston's part, his script (originally to be based on the infamous French charlatan Cagliostro, who claimed to have been reincarnated multiple times, then transferred to Egypt to cash in on the public's fascination with the recently-unearthed Tutankhamen) follows DRACULA's in almost every regard: both films deal with outside forces (read: foreigners) bringing death and misery, and the fear of such forces taking off with proper young ladies (leave it to David Manners, as both DRACULA's Jonathan Harker and THE MUMMY's Frank Whemple, to be the refined gentleman who saves them from such a fate). Even Edward Van Sloan reprises his role of Van Helsing here as Dr. Muller, an occult expert and cock-blocker of the supernatural.

While the film is undoubtedly a classic, I found it to be one of the less frightening entries in the Universal monster cannon; the only truly scary moments are, rather unfortunately, in the prologue as Karloff awakens and takes his first tentative steps out of his casket. (Freund even echoes his former boss Browning in this sequence which, like DRACULA, uses no music, or sound whatsoever, letting the subtle opening of Karloff's eyes, the slow movement of his limbs, to create tension.) However, once Im-Ho-Tep ditches the bandages for his rendezvous with the exotic Zita Johann, the movie switches from fright-film to tragic romance.

There's lot to marvel over in THE MUMMY. Freund brings his same German Expressionism feel to the Egyptian desert, casting the same mood that helped make FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA so renowned (a few shots during the flashback scene as a mummified Karloff is bring sent to his tomb recall similar moments in FRANKENSTEIN's graveyard scenes), employing much more fluid camera movement than he was able to do on those previous films. And whereas THE MUMMY features a climax much like DRACULA's, as Manners and Van Sloan rescue the girl from the monster's clutches, the former's final confrontation isn't as passive, but it does--rather progressively, I might add--relegate the males to the backseat of the action as Johann prevails over Karloff.

Just as they'd go on to do with the rest of their money-making monsters, Universal eventually sank THE MUMMY in Sequelville, producing a string of substandard follow-ups (which we'll review in turn in the days to come), none of which equaled the success of the original. As lackluster as they may be, they at least never featured an over-acting Brendan Fraser, making them much more palatable than the 1999 version.


There have certainly been worse movies reviewed here than WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES (skull-raping shitbombs like ZOMBIES GONE WILD, DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS! and ZOMBIE CAMPOUT spring immediately to mind), but I can't think of any that I have more contempt for. Adam Maranovich's 2003 self-indulgent mess deserves to be buried in the New Mexico desert with all those unsold E.T. Atari game cartriges, after more competent directors like Todd Sheets, Donald Farmer, and David "The Rock" Nelson take turns shitting on it--a fate far too good for slapdash dreck like this.

Yeah, I hate this fucking movie that much.

What pisses me off most about this brain-damaged train wreck isn't the story (a pair of goombas on a mission for their don run afoul of zombies somewhere in Florida) or even the shitty acting (though I've decided I'd rather see passionate actors who aren't very good over friends of the director who can't act and don't give a shit), but the remedial-level desperately redundant, and spectacularly awful dialogue that infects the stillborn screenplay. Here, characters never say anything once when they can repeat it fifteen times--an infuriating tactic that doesn't affect just exposition (although everyone constantly reminds each other of what they're up to, usually whenever they open their mouth), but action that's just occurred on-screen; can there really be a director so utterly fucking clueless that he thinks its necessary to recap events at the end of each scene, when both the audience and the other actors on the goddamn screen have just fucking watched it? I know that viewers today have shorter attention spans--and it's quite possible people will miss something when they nod off during this shit--but this reiteration would offend an Alzheimer's patient.

Along with the egregious dialogue, Maranovich also has no understanding of script economy. Okay, so the mob boss has a job for the two main characters, so he calls them into his office. Now, an efficient screenwriter would begin with the wiseguys already on the job, gradually revealing the relevant details to the audience as they conversed. Not the wunderkind Maranovich; he not only has the boss sit down in front of the boys and lay out every single aspect of the job in a long series of static talking-head shots, but he begins with phone conversations as the boss calls each one in for even more protracted tedium. (Yes, these scenes do show a little glimpse into the characters' personality, but once again, a skilled writer could've integrated this into the action.) And what happens when the two gangsters have to drive from New York to Miami to finish their job? Why, we sit in the car with them for the entire trip--who needs a lap-dissolve to advance the story when there's ample opportunity for more brain-addled banter?

Which brings us to WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES's other major flaw: Maranovich (who also stars, by the way, playing his scenes with the self-enamored swagger of a wannabe barroom brawler) really wants to be the next Quentin Tarantino, as indicated by the characters' slo-mo walk, RESERVOIR DOGS-style, in the beginning (yet another stationary moment that slams the brakes on this picture) and the in-trunk POV shots, and is most likely the reason for the incessantly rambling dialogue. It's irritating enough when a filmmaker slavishly follows another's work, bu it's even more so when said filmmaker clearly doesn't understand the artist he's copying; yes, Adam, we know you love PULP FICTION, but Jules and Vincent didn't spend their screen time reminding each other of what they've just done. What, don't your characters know anything about foot massage?

The zombies, I should probably mention, don't make their appearance until the mid-point of the movie--a nod to FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN, no doubt--and when they do, it's no different than the myriad backyard zombie flicks that've proliferated throughout this blog. Close your eyes and think of a shot-on-video living-dead film at random. WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES is just like it.

People have asked me why I'm harsher on some movies more than others, especially when I'm easier on the "worse" film, and the answer is simple: I'm usually forgiving when a movie has a clear affection for the genre or the craft of movie-making, or if the story or direction show promise but must concede to the strictures of time, money, or other practicalities. Even a bad movie sincerely made can take a review as constructive criticism.

But what I cannot abide are vehicles for attention-grubbing hacks who are more concerned with their own ego than entertaining an audience, especially when there's not an iota of talent or skill to showcase. Which is why WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES--a film that couldn't place First Turd in a bowel-movement contest--earns the distinction of the most-hated film so far.

(Troma paired this movie on DVD with something called MEAT FOR SATAN'S ICEBOX, a movie that truly defines the phrase "torture porn." I didn't watch it all, but there is a moment in which Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman forces a pair of bound girls to urinate in a glass so he can drink its contents, a scene made even more disturbing by Kaufman's cartoonish expressions of relish; which proves that yes, there are double features in Hell.)


In 1990, long before GRINDHOUSE was a twinkle in Rodriguez and Tarantino's eyes, George Romero and Dario Argento teamed up to bring us TWO EVIL EYES, a fair-to-middling pair of Poe-inspired tales. (Originally it was intended that John Carpenter and Wes Craven were to both contribute stories, but were unable to come aboard; a shame, it would've been great to see four powerhouse directors riffing on the Bard of Baltimore.)

Of the two, Argento provides the more entertaining "The Black Cat," which makes up for a steadily implausible story with provocative camerawork, an unnerving Pino Donaggio score, and a gleefully unhinged performance by Harvey Keitel. It also has nothing to do with zombies, so let's turn our attention to Romero's segment, "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar."

Much less visceral than his DEAD trilogy, "Facts" feels more like a made-for-TV noir with its scheming, duplicitous leads and elements of greed and adultery. (Romero, who himself compared this to an episode of "Columbo," makes up for this relatively weak affair by reuniting CREEPSHOW cast members Adrienne Barbeau, E.G. Marshall, and Bingo O'Malley.) The story, about an adulterous wife (Barbeau) and her lover (Ramy Zada, who also popped up in the anthology film AFTER MIDNIGHT) who use hypnosis to bilk Barbeau's elderly millionaire husband out of his fortune until his ill-timed death complicates matters, is straightforward and routine, climaxing with a telegraphed ending right out of EC Comics. (The ever-reliable Tom Atkins turns up at the end as well, cementing his tale as an unofficial CREEPSHOW offshoot; all that's needed is a weed-choked Stephen King.)

The performances are believable, even if the do go through the paces of a watered-down James M. Cain copy, and the mysterious "Others" who dole out Zada's punishment are a suitably creepy touch, offering a glimmer of imagination that the overall story's missing.

Though not completely satisfying, "Facts" does mark the last time to date Romero's filmed in the metro Pittsburgh area (THE DARK HALF was shot in nearby Washington, PA--about half an hour from where I lived at the time) before moving on to the tax-friendly confines of Toronto, as well as his final dalliance with the living dead before the slick-styled mediocrity of LAND and DIARY OF THE DEAD, making it a somewhat important footnote in his career.


Amando de Ossorio brought his BLIND DEAD series--possibly his most accomplished and best-known work--to a close in 1975 with NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS, the most visually and narratively arresting installment since the original film. Like its predecessors,it's a slow, deliberate film that rewards the patient with an almost palpable atmosphere (and the occasional burst of gore).

As he did with RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD, de Ossorio begins with a flashback of the Knights Templar in human form as they sacrifice an unwilling victim for their diabolical purposes (perhaps this was to bring new viewers up to speed, or maybe to re-establish the continuity after GHOST GALLEON strayed a little from the formula). This time the Knights offer the ripped-out hearts of their victims to the stone statue of a fish-god, giving the film a vaguely Lovecraftian tone--as well as suggesting de Ossorio's fatigue with the series.

Also setting SEAGULLS apart is a stronger narrative structure than the previous films, as a doctor and his new bride move to a sleepy coastal village and learn of the locals' ritual of proffering young maidens to the Knights Templar. It's not a particularly complex of profound plot, and the mood frequently carries it whenever the story starts to flag, but it's at least entertaining; what is irksome though is the wasted opportunity of a climax, eschewing the show-stopper capper the series deserved (a budgetary decision, most likely) in favor of an uncomfortably rushed confrontation between the doctor and the Knights.

NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS is still an enjoyable example of '70s Spanish horror, and fans of the slow-motion scenes of the Knights on horseback won't be disappointed (though they're not as effective here as they are in earlier films, compromised by poor day-for-night photography and lacking the previous sense of macabre awe; the novelty of the coastline setting helps offset this flaw). A suitable close to an often underrated series.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2008


While not the first zombie/gore movie from France--despite the claims made on the Retromedia DVD box--REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS can at least be considered among the sleaziest. An unofficial, in-name-only follow-up to Jean Rollin's THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, the film was made in 1986 by Pierre B. Reinhard (hiding under the Americanized pseudonym Peter B. Harsone).

The convoluted plot involves three young girls who die when they drink milk poisoned by a recently-dumped toxic chemical. They return as decayed, skull-faced zombies when the company responsible for the tainted milk dumps their chemical in the very same cemetery where the girls were buried. (Talk about your crappy luck.) The girls immediately set about killing off innocent locals while the milk company tries to cover their involvement in the scandal (I never realized what a cut-throat business the dairy industry was) in two almost separate storylines.

It should go without saying that the film lacks the same poetic beauty of Rollin's work, though it does possess a singular skeevy feel all its own. REVENGE does manage to pack in plenty of female nudity--partially thanks to a prostitute with the best work ethic I've ever seen--and several moments of allegedly shocking violence: crotch-stabbings, dicks bitten off, a spontaneous shower-induced miscarriage, though these scenes are filmed so bluntly, without finesse, that they come off as merely distasteful (Reinhard's background was primarily hardcore porn, which is evident in his workman-like style).

The DVD also contains an alternate ending, which clears up many of the film's glaring inconsistencies while simultaneously remaining thoroughly implausible. I won't give it away here--I don't think I could, anyway--but I will say it turns the movie into one of the most impractical schemes ever hatched.

There is a certain low-rent charm to REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS that fans will no doubt enjoy (the poorly-dubbed dialogue is good for a couple of laughs), but the film crawls along too slowly, with not enough to offer, to be little more than a prurient curiosity.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Remember the good ol' days of low-budget horror, when filmmakers would sneak political or social commentary in between the bloodshed and nekkid breasts? If you do, then you'll likely be just as disappointed as I was in 2005's SEVERED: FOREST OF THE DEAD, a film that could've easily been the backdrop for a sly environmental statement instead of being just another redo of George Romero's greatest hits.

Directed by Carl Bassai, this straight-to-DVD cheesefest deals with a logging crew who cut down a copse of genetically-engineered trees; contact with the trees' blood-like sap turns them into zombies (and no, this isn't the worst premise for a movie I've ever heard, but it comes pretty damn close; I suppose making the trees themselves zombies wouldn't make for a good movie, either). Those loggers not infected, or eaten, must hole up with a nearby group of eco-activists in order to survive, turning the film into a woods-bound NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

All in all, the action in SEVERED isn't really that bad, it's just routine. I do wish Bassai had taken advantage of his natural surroundings to create real fear; this movie could've taken place at the beach, or in a Wal-Mart parking lot, or the moon, and still been the exact same movie. Trapping the loggers and the tree-huggers together is a good way to generate tension and conflict, but Bassai settles on having its characters spew rhetoric back and forth (so much for any environmental commentary). Also, I wish there'd been more development of the story, instead of the third-rate DAY OF THE DEAD copy that makes up the last third of the picture. (Really now, can we stop with the good guys vs. the military storylines? Yes, it worked in DAY, and it worked in Brian Keene's THE RISING, but can you please move on to something else?)

If SEVERED does have any marks of distinction, it'd be the creative ways it dispatches its zombies, utilizing its logging-camp setting to good effect (i.e., crushing zombies under a pile of logs, taking them out with bulldozers, etc.). But personally I'd rather see a better story, or stronger direction, or more competent acting--things that this film simply can't offer.

Monday, May 12, 2008


For years it seemed that Richard Matheson's classic novel I AM LEGEND was never going to get its proper cinematic due; oh, there was the financially-challenged THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (which I think's gotten a somewhat poor shake, as it's the closest in storytelling to the book) and the hideously dated THE OMEGA MAN, but a truly faithful adaptation was never to be had. Rumors of a big-budget upgrade swarmed throughout the '90s, with such names as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nicolas Cage considered for Robert Neville (the former would've been a joke, and the latter may have pulled it off before he succumbed to NATIONAL TREASURE purgatory) and Ridley Scott attached as director. Sadly, Scott eventually left the project and it seemed that the definitive LEGEND would remain a pipe dream. When it was announced that Will Smith and Michael Bay would be teaming up for another go, fans felt that not only would a real I AM LEGEND remain unfilmed but the book itself would get another ass-raping.

Fortunately, Bay went elsewhere while Smith stayed behind, this time joined by CONSTANTINE helmer Francis Lawrence. Bay's departure did little to ease the minds of those looking for a true adaptation, as Smith's presence promised (threatened?) a wisecracking superhero blowing up vampires left and right. (I myself was already prepared to hate it, planning to refer to the film as I AM LIVID.) That isn't exactly what we got, but it's damn sure not the novel.

Will Smith really isn't the best choice to play Neville (what the role needed was an everyman instead of a $20 million superstar, and though I understand the studio's decision to cast Smith, thanks to previous roles in INDEPENDENCE DAY and MEN IN BLACK I can't take him seriously as either military brass or a groundbreaking scientist), and we never really get the sense of isolation, loneliness, or impending insanity that makes up the character. Nor do the film's flashbacks help to illuminate him as a person, as they're mostly pre-fab tearjerker moments building up to a miserably contrived cop-out involving the death of his family--instead of an elaborate helicopter crash, wouldn't it have been more tragic if they'd become infected? Wouldn't that have added a layer of sorely-needed depth to the character?

The film does take plenty of liberties with the book, often to take advantage of a Hollywood mega-budget, and while it wasn't really neccesary I did like how the lifeless husk of post-apocalyptic New York becomes as much of a character as Neville. As for the creatures, it's never clear if they're supposed to be vampires (yes, yes, I AM LEGEND is technically a vampire novel, but as most of you already know it set the template for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, thus making it part of serious zombie-film study), despite their aversion to the sun. Whether you choose to call them hemocytes or Darkseekers--which makes them sound like something out a third-rate DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS rip-off--they're ineffective in any case. As CGI beings they have a synthetic, two-dimensional quality that keeps them from being frightening; it's only when they're off-screen that Lawrence has any chance of generating suspense, and even then he fails to imbue them with any sort of mythic quality. Not to mention the infected dogs, which feel too much like something out of RESIDENT EVIL to be taken seriously, much less afraid of.

Though it mostly eschews the gratuitous action set-pieces many of us feared, the screenplay still avoids the most important aspect of the book--the nights in which Neville barricades himself in his home, playing music to drown out the cries of the vampires as they called for him. How anyone could willfully omit such potentially frightening material is beyond me, even if they were jettisoning the thematic elements. (What the film thinks is more important thematically is the music of Bob Marley--not that I'm dissing the artist, but it really isn't much of a concept to have your protagonist's favorite album be called "Legend" in a story called I AM LEGEND.)

For much of its running time the film plays like a reasonably close adaptation of the book, albeit rather slow and deliberate (given the pace, I was surprised just how successful the box-office returns were; people must love them some Will Smith). Until the final twenty minutes, that is, when it mutates into the very same movie I was afraid it would be, shifting into a tonally inconsistent, needlessly extravagant action scene that only ignores Matheson's original ending, but climaxes on its own idiotic note. Had the movie been its own story, such an explanation for calling itself I AM LEGEND would've been bad enough, but it goes further to shoot a boiling stream of piss all over Matheson's novel.

As for how it stands in relation to zombie films, it owes more to Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake instead of Romero's NIGHT--flash and spectacle over substance and depth. No surprises here, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Though I thought for sure it would end like this:

VAMPIRE: Who are you?

WILL SMITH: I am legend, motherfucker!


It wouldn't have pissed me off any less.


With an awkward title like WAKING UP TO HELL (shouldn't that be WAKING UP IN HELL--unless they're referring to anyone who nods off during this thing, a very likely possibility), it should be no surprise that the film itself is equally stilted and clumsy. Whatever you want to call it, this 2007 short film is yet another painfully amateurish dropping from an untalented filmmaker (four of them, actually: directors Matthew Bankhead, Jason Geigerman, Evans Wilson, and Kody Wynne). And though this dud marks the first entry in the second half of this project, it still doesn't make the next six months look any brighter.

The film claims to follow three "intertwining" stories as a zombie plague overtakes a sleepy Georgia town. Well, WAKING doesn't intertwine its stories as much as jump from one to the other, with little more than a common scenario bridging them together; there's not much here that's new, either, most of the would-be stories are either normal folk running from zombies, or laughable official-types try to deal with the outbreak. The plot unfolds in such an unimaginative and pedestrian manner you'd think the terms "fresh" and "creative" were foreign concepts to these guys, and at 27 minutes it drags far too long thanks to its shallow script.

The acting and dialogue are abominable, as is usually the case, though even by the threadbare standards of backyard filmmaking--I almost called it cinema, what the fuck was I thinking?--it's still pretty heinous. (I didn't bother to look for her name, but I sincerely hope that whoever plays the girlfriend in the latter part of the film harbors no thespic aspirations--she's in for a world of heartache if she does) Making matters worse is the atrocious sound quality, which reduces most of the dialogue to a muddled garble. Fortunately, the horrendously inappropriate Europop soundtrack comes through loud and clear.

You'd think that with four directors behind the camera, one of them might've figured out something was amiss, but I'm afraid they were all too busy high-fiving each other between takes to notice. There is one moment where the story attempts a little pathos, as one of the characters contemplates the photo of a loved one; by the blood strategically spattered on the picture we're to assume they were a victim of the zombies, but then we notice that everything around the picture is thoroughly neat and clean, and any chance this scene had of working goes out the window.

There's something else I need to get off my chest: what's the deal with having a director's credit at both ends of the movie? I've been seeing this a lot lately, where we'll see the director card before the movie begins and bam, there it is again, Tarantino-style, before the end credits roll. It smacks of arrogance and hubris, and in most cases the director in question isn't worthy of such indulgences. WAKING UP TO HELL does this too, smugly showing off all four names again as if we're supposed to be impressed by their shitty little flick. We're not. Try again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


I'm going to confide in you folks: I'll be happy once this project's over, so I can stop subjecting myself to godawful amateur shorts like THEY NEVER STOP EATING. To be fair, I think that's a pretty cool title, even if not much eating takes place, and I promised myself I wouldn't resort to such juvenile tactics such as calling the film IT NEVER STOPS SUCKING, but goddamn this is some really moronic shit.

After a brief series of title cards setting up the backstory--something that could've been done just as easily in dialogue, instead of the bickering and whining we end up with--a group of friends find themselves trapped in a black-wallpapered room, with no doors or windows, as one of them turns into a zombie. Okay, I've cut plenty of slack for these types of films (it's not like I'm expecting Jerry Bruckheimer-ish production values), so I can forgive such an inexpensive, featureless setting. It's what director Carlos Queen chooses to do within his limited set that makes things so insufferable.

The two leads are pretty sedate, considering they're sharing a room with a hungry zombie. Even assuming the actors had very little space to move around in--which I'm guessing is the case, since this thing has all the camera movement of a snuff film, but would it kill somebody to pan left a bit?--it's extremely difficult to generate anything resembling tension or drama when you remain absolutely still. Oh, I'm sure the right pair of actors could pull it off, but these schmucks are WAY below that level (note to Queen: when your actors induce laughter within the first fifteen seconds of your film, you should consider recasting). And if the performances and redundant dialogue weren't enough to stop this thing cold, there's the matter of the zombie, which is for some ungodly reason presented only in still-screen (leading one to assume it was shot separately and spliced in later). Y'know Carlos, it's pretty fucking difficult to make your zombie scary WHEN HE NEVER FUCKING MOVES!

And let's not forget the ending, which features the kind of twist that relies on withheld information. If somebody was bitten by a zombie, don't you think they'd mention it a little sooner?

Queen also includes outtakes and deleted scenes, neither of which I punished myself with, and their inclusion irritates me as much as anything in this wretched thing. When your movie's as flat-out stupid as this, outtakes are a self-indulgent luxury you haven't earned; and if I couldn't stomach the finished film, why in fuck's sake would I want to watch what didn't make it in?

This has been the longest year of my life.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Remember when Anchor Bay Entertainment was a trusted, reputable source of uncut European classics on VHS and DVD? Well, ever since film-procuring Bill Lustig struck out on his own with his Blue Underground label (as commendable a venture as AB was in its heyday), whenever I see the Anchor Bay logo anymore it's usually preceding some bijou-bypassing time-waster like DEAD AND BREAKFAST. Though no masterpiece, 2006's THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD is a pleasant exception to the rule.

Writer/director Gerald Nott gets things started well with a stylish opening credits sequence (a rarity these days) that establishes the movie's backdrop: in an unspecified future--that somehow looks remarkably like the romanticized Old West--a zombie virus has transformed the majority of the world's population into the living dead. Clint Glenn (who also produced, and with a name like that how could he not star in a Western?) stars as a zombie bounty hunter--that is, a bounty hunter who goes after zombies--who's double-crossed and left for dead by a rival hunter (Parrish Randall, acting like a poor man's Dennis Hopper). Having survived his gunshot, as well as being immune to zombie bites (an interesting twist that goes unexplored), Glenn heads out to reclaim his bounty and get revenge.

With washed-out photography giving the movie a bleak, post-apocalyptic feel, Nott shows a sharp directorial flair and keeps things visually exciting during this rather rote tale of outlaw vengeance. (Any fan of horse operas has seen this story a time or two, the zombies just being a gimmick here.) Glenn's mysterious loner owes a little from Snake Plissken, a little from The Man With No Name, though without the oomph of either, making up in screen presence what he sorely lacks in acting ability.

Even with its relative familiarity, THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD makes for compelling viewing, moving along at a decent clip (at 78 minutes it doesn't wear out its welcome, either). Nott's clearly influenced by the zombie classics of yore, thankfully keeping the homages to a minimum (though he does sneak in a groan-inducing "Choke on it!" reference). It isn't until the zombie stand-off at the end that things start to feel a little tired, though some later character interaction prevents it from being a total waste. There's also a refreshing downbeat ending that reminded me a bit, at least in tone, of that from Carpenter's THE THING.

A mixed bag for certain, it's at least good to see some horror films done on the cheap that don't resort to tired retreads or unfunny in-joking. I'd like to see what Nott does with his next film.