Moving on with our look at grossly overextended DIY films, we turn our attention to 2005's SWAMP ZOMBIES, which clocks in at just under two hours. (Rumor has it the original cut ran an unfathomable three hours, but have no fear--it still feels that long.) As with other micro-budgeted efforts, the length comes not from a complex script or a large-scale story, but rather languid performances, unneeded talking-head exposition, and a pace with the same urgency as my grandmother tottering out to the mailbox.
I should probably mention at this point my "personal connection" to this film, which was shot in nearby Erie, PA. Director Len Kabasinski is a local filmmaker who regularly churns out backyard-rotgut like this under his KillerWolf Films banner, and though I'm usually all about supporting homegrown talent, in this case I'd say it's time to give it a rest. (Last year our theater hosted the "premiere" of Kabasinski's latest opus FIST OF THE VAMPIRE--i.e. we let him rent an auditorium so his friends and relatives could see his work on the big screen--and as much as I was unimpressed with the movie itself, I was even less so by Kabasinski; dressed in full cliche mode in black trenchcoat that screamed "Desperate Wannabe" and not "Bad-Ass Underground Auteur," and strutting like the ghost of Akira Kurosawa dwelt in his hindquarters, he showed up forty-five minutes early so that we--or I, the thankless projectionist--could properly calibrate the sound and lighting for his little opus. It felt like trying to determine which china pattern and silk tablecloth best complimented a 99-cent value meal from Taco Bell.) I should probably also mention Kabasinski's a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and no doubt takes himself way too seriously, so perhaps I'll digress.
As for the movie itself, it's really two stories in one as a group of college students on a field trip run afoul of the undead; the zombies, as we'll see in the parallel storyline, are the result of a secret experiment headed by scientist Jasmin St. Clair. (You ever notice how incredulous a movie feels when glamorous-but-vapid types play high-powered attorneys and corporate CEO's? Well, it's not nearly as bad as a research scientist played by an "actress" best known for boning 300+ guys at once.) However, neither plot thread is worth much, since in addition to being uncommonly dull--I've suffered through some pretty interminable dreck during this project, but SWAMP ZOMBIES is the first one to actually slow the progress of time--it features the same hallmarks of DIY cinema: shitty sound quality, terrible acting, an implausible script with as much depth and drama as a PBS gardening show, and of course the obligatory generic death metal soundtrack which drowns out the remaining discernable audio.
SWAMP ZOMBIES's specific blunders include non-existent continuity (like, the zombie experiments are conducted only on cadavers with closed-casket funerals--i.e. no recognizable and therefore incriminating features--yet all of the marauding undead have little to no facial damage), a relentlessly meandering screenplay that takes the time to give secondary characters their own flashbacks, and a bevy of punishingly odious original songs (courtesy of one Victoria Galinsky--I'm sure she's got a website or a MySpace page, but I haven't checked for fear of finding it). Even St. Clair's egregiously gratuitous shower scene runs too long and lacks any sense of rhythm.
As far as performances go, they range from laughable to "Are you fuckin' kidding me?" Standouts are minimal, save for the sexy Goth chick whose name I forgot--and I'm not even sure how much was skill and how much was my weakness for sexy Goth chicks--and my good buddy Chad Cozzens as the asshole Rick. (I really wish I could say Chad was as remarkable here as he was in later work, but his inexperience shows far too often--not that he had a real director to guide him away from his awkward stiltedness; though I can safely attest that after appearing in two plays with him, Chad's strength as an actor is growing considerably, and it's amazing to see one hone their talent before your very eyes. Judging from his role here you'd never suspect he'd be pulling off Stanley Kowalski three years later.)
Since co-stars Todd Humes and Monica Piccirillo also hold black belts in Tae Kwon Do, there's plenty of martial arts action, with many of the actors performing their own stunts. (Fans may get a kick out of UFC champ Dan "The Beast" Severn making a brief turn as an ill-fated hardass cop, or wrestling's the Brian "the Blue Meanie" Heffron as a swamp hermit.) Unfortunately, the extensive fight scenes are no better than anything else in the film, running along without any tempo or immediacy, with choreography so bad it'd make Rudy Ray Moore blush.
If I haven't already made it clear, SWAMP ZOMBIES is an unwatchable mess to be avoided, even if you're one of those cine-masochists who feel compelled to watch every turd Brain Damaged Films puts out on DVD. Though it does provide a few guffaws at its own expense, it's way too much of an investment of time and energy to make it worthwhile.