Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Here's yet another zombie comedy, one that I was really looking forward to seeing. The 2006 production DIE AND LET LIVE was shot in Fairmont, WV, not too far from my old stomping grounds of Morgantown (where, in fact, the movie's premiere was held). And while director Justin Channell's film is relatively charming, it never packs quite enough oomph--in either a comedic or horrific capacity--to really score.

The movie focuses on a pair of lovable college goofballs Benny and Smalls (played by Josh Lively and co-writer Zane Crosby, respectively). When Benny despairs over his unrequited crush on the lovely Stephanie (Sarah Bauer), Smalls decides to cheer up his pal by throwing a party. (Maybe not the most original of plot conceits, but would any movie be shot so close to WVU and not center around a party?) What the boys don't realize is a nearby medical research lab has accidentally unleashed a swarm of the living dead, and soon Benny and Smalls have bigger concerns than the pizza getting delivered on time.

Though the level of humor in DIE AND LET LIVE is decidedly sophomoric, and the characters often obnoxious jackasses, the movie itself never becomes intolerable, buoyed by its feel-good tone; so even if there are only a few genuinely funny moments, it's still consistently amusing--though it felt more like a rejected sitcom pilot than a horror-comedy. The non-professional actors are surprisingly good, even if they're not exactly out of their comfort zone. Channell even wrangles a few cameos from Troma fixtures Lloyd Kaufman (who must be serious about usurping Stan Lee for the number of most annoyingly gratuitous cameos) and the always-welcome Trent Haaga (in a blip of a role as the head of the research facility where the zombies originated), as well as a voice-only "appearance" by Debbie Rochon. And the gore, while not in the over-the-top league, should still be sufficient to satisfy fans of the red stuff.

The film's biggest problem is mostly its pace, which has the same "Whatever, dude" disposition of much of its cast, aimlessly meandering from one vignette to another without any forward momentum. If the story had had a real spark to it, this easily could've been a non-stop blood-and-chuckle-fest like Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, but unfortunately never gathers enough steam. And though I realize having Benny and Smalls's primary conflict be getting the super-awesome Bambino's Pizza is part of the humor, a more substantial throughline would've made for a stronger movie.

Regardless, DIE AND LET LIVE is all about having a good time, both for its characters and its audience, and thankfully never takes itself seriously (something I wish a lot more do-it-yourselfers would do). Although Channell and his friends didn't quite hit their mark, I look forward to what they've got up their sleeves for next time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I hate writing reviews for movies like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS, a 2006 German production from director Mathias Dinter; not really good enough to warrant a whole-hearted recommendation, nor bad enough to invoke my ire, the movie inhabits that gray area where so many others fall. It's got its moments, though the end result is mostly hit-or-miss, and I'm never sure just what to write about.

This horror-comedy about a trio of high-school losers who come back from the dead after an amateur-hour voodoo ceremony to get revenge on those who picked on them, certainly is rife with potential, and it's interesting to see how high school hell is portrayed in a different country (where the nerds are heavy into drugs, freely grope the female population, and look down their noses at the Goth crowd--but wedgie-happy bullies, it seems, are international). Problem is, the undead angle is just a plot device, a means to jump-start a wish-fulfillment fantasy teen comedy. Yes, there is a fair amount of black humor and gore, but DORKS's primary aspiration is to join the ranks of AMERICAN PIE, so much that I initially thought this was a dubbed copy of one of those generic sex romps that poured out of Canada during the '80s. And despite one of the characters' hunger for live human flesh, the zombie motif is treated more like Peter Parker's arachnid awakening, as the boys develop powers like superhuman strength (at least their increased drug and alcohol tolerance makes sense with them being dead, even if it is the cause of some really tired drug jokes).

All the well-worn teen cliches are present--the prim teacher who's really a voracious nymphomaniac, the overpopulated RISKY BUSINESS-style party that gets out of hand--as well as the most tiresome of all: the hero, who's so focused on getting with the popular bitch that he never notices his best gal pal's been in love with him all along. I don't know how common these movies are in Deutchland, but I've seen these plot developments so many times that I couldn't get into the few geuine chuckles DORKS had to offer.

The movie is consistently if mildly amusing, but the story really doesn't have enough gas in the tank to make it to the end, and the third act feels labored and strained. There's also some friendly self-sacrifice, as well as a reversal of the boys' zombie condition (and apparently their death too), for a schmaltzy feel-good ending that just doesn't sit well.

A harmless trifle of a picture, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS might be worth a watch, but is by no means essential for any collection.

Monday, July 28, 2008


If there's one thing that irritates me most about locally-produced DIY productions, it's that they're often extremely derivative (well, they don't really irritate me so much as inspire a profound weariness). Now, lack of originality is nothing new, but it seems this new crop of indie filmmakers are more focused on slavishly replicating their favorite movies rather than using them as a springboard to their own concepts. Call it the Tarantino Effect: take a character from Movie A, a snippet of dialogue from Movie B, and a couple of kill scenes from Movies C, D, and E, and--voila, you have your "own" film. (Has there ever been a director with a more detrimental influence than Tarantino? It's hard to believe that his relatively simplistic style, in which he mashes up his favorite films much the same way that a DJ will create something new with other people's songs, has been so grossly misunderstood.)

This is probably the biggest problem with Ryan Cavalline's 2004 production DEMON SLAUGHTER. By confusing imitation with innovation, Cavalline has made a movie that's so busy trying to be like something else that it never finds its true voice. Following the example of FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN--i.e. criminals find themselves over their heads by a late-breaking appearance of the supernatural--Cavalline sets up a premise that basically plays like a John Woo version of THE EVIL DEAD.

That in itself is disappointing, but it's even more so considering Cavalline doesn't have the resources to stage something out of a Hong Kong bullet ballet and the result is stilted and flimsy, a literal example of gun play (nor is Cavalline's cast up for the task; it's a special kind of pathetic when an actor attempts a tough guy persona and simply can't pull it off), embellished with cheesy digital "enhancements" that make the scenes look even worse. And while it seems as if he was trying to make his plot as incomprehensible as possible, at least Cavalline keeps the action moving, giving us a fairly impressive body count (he wastes four characters in the first seven minutes alone).

But a 62-minute action movie shouldn't be hard to follow or boring, and yet it's often both, taking an even slower turn once the film's Chow Yun-Fat surrogate holes up in a remote cabin. It becomes a one-man show as he hallucinates and runs from THE EVIL DEAD's POV camera-demon, but these Raimi-esque shenanigans only make the movie even less interesting. (It tries to be suspenseful in these moments, but the script hasn't earned it, and the story stagnates.) Even the multitudes of zombies lumbering out of the woods can't save the film, since our would-be hero's zombie-slaughtering is as lamentable as his gunfighting. And let us not forget the JACOB'S LADDER ending, which might've had a chance of working if Cavalline hadn't pulled it from between his butt-cheeks at the last minute.

Like the rest of Cavalline's 4th Floor Productions, the acting is odious, particularly so when the script requires anything remotely dramatic. Cavalline's direction is spare, but his no-frills style seems to be more unimaginative than a deliberate creative choice, and he never really tries to maximize his tight budget. And the threadbare story also hits upon every action-movie cliche in between steals of Raimi, Woo, and Romero.

DEMON SLAUGHTER makes for relatively harmless viewing, even if I can't personally recommend it. It's not 100% awful, though even with the terrible acting and cut-rate effects I would've enjoyed it more if Cavalline had had something unique to say.

Check out the trailer here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


THE CHILLING, a 1989 horror cheapie from directors Deland Nuse and Jack A. Sunseri, not only shares a similar title with Wes Craven's telepic CHILLER but it also mines the same territory: that of suspended animation through cryogenic technology. But while Craven's film was a weak satire on the corporate mentality of the 1980's, THE CHILLING takes a straightforward, horrific route, making the thawed-out dead flesh-hungry zombies. This approach makes it no less anemic than Craven's film.

THE CHILLING takes a while figuring out just what kind of story it wants to be, starting off as a listless melodrama about cryogenics research (where Troy Donahue oversees a clinic containing the frozen stiffs of Charlie Chaplin, Teddy Roosevelt, Walt Disney, and . . . Michael Jackson?) before shifting into crime flick, in which the criminal son of one of Donahue's clients is iced for later reanimation. Besides the inferior acting--the only real crime committed in this film--the budget for this movie wouldn't cover the overhead of a tampon commercial, let alone a thriller involving bank robbery. But once the overlong, head-scratching-inducing set-up finally gets out of the way, the directors break out the zombies as a freak accident unleashes them from their frozen states. The movies doesn't get any better, as it continues with the same leaden pace and incredulous storytelling skills, but at least the zombies are hungry, devouring any incidental character that crosses their path.

Linda Blair (who's wasted as Donahue's lab assistant) looks suitably embarrassed to be part of this travesty, and musters a straight enough face to make her way through her handful of scenes. GRIZZLY ADAMS's Dan Haggerty (who's not wasted enough as a loutish security guard) quickly steps in as the would-be hero, transforming from wage slave to zombie-slaying mofo in record time; too bad he never takes a page from the Bruce Campbell Playbook of Zombie Killing, proceeding to wipe out the living dead with as little muss, or gore, as possible.

It's woefully bland pablum, to be sure, but THE CHILLING manages to squeeze out a little extra stupidity for its finale, piling one inanity upon another until it crumbles beneath the weight of Haggerty's out-of-nowhere "tragic" flashback and the "gotcha!" ending. The filmmakers even follow up with a series of "Where are they now?" title cards, in which all the supposed loose ends are tied up and we learn where every goes afterward (Haggerty, we're told, traded in his rent-a-cop uniform for a cabin in the mountains where he lives with his pet bear--stop, my sides are aching).

Asinine and dull, THE CHILLING belongs in one of the film's frozen vaults, only we're going to play it smart and never let the damn thing out.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Part of the fun of watching exploitation films is the gimmicks some producers will use to get an audience into their movies, usually more than once. Title changes were popular--if a movie did poorly as DAY OF THE WOMAN, call it I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and re-release it with a whole new ad campaign--but schlockmeister Al Adamson topped them all. When one of his movies received a terrible reception (which was the case more often than not, considering the usual ineptitude of an Adamson production), he not only slapped a new moniker on it, but he added new footage to it as well, essentially making a "new" movie out of fifteen minutes' worth of material.

When Adamson and producer Sam Sherman failed to sell a lukewarm heist thriller called ECHO OF TERROR, they went back, added a mad scientist subplot and called it PSYCHO-A-GO-GO, which also tanked. Adamson went back one more time, throwing in some half-assed zombie footage and more mad scientist shenanigans (oh, and Tommy Kirk), and thus BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR was born. (For a more detailed description of this turkey's lineage, I refer you to the review from fellow cine-masochist The Cinema Snob.)

The DVD has an intro from Sherman, who's seen allegedly disposing of the remains of critics of GHASTLY HORROR in plastic trash bags, adding that we too could share a similar fate if we don't like the film. Aside from it not being funny, it's a disgustingly arrogant response from a man whose primarily motivation in the movie business was to make a quick buck. I'm fairly certain Martin Scorsese didn't drive around with the bodies of GOODFELLAS haters in the trunk of his car, so why would someone behind some of the steamingest piles of cinematic feces have the nerve to threaten viewers? Just be glad you suckered another one, you fucking prick.

As for the movie itself, you're better off sticking with the Snob's review, which can visually illustrate just how appallingly horrid BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR truly is. I was too busy searching for something to thrust into my eye sockets to really pay attention, but from what I could gather it'd be a turgid, uninspired mess even if it wasn't spliced from three different movies. And while I could usually appreciate a movie that utilizes both John Carradine and THE CRAWLING HAND's Kent Taylor as mad scientists, as well as using wocka-chicka music during the zombie's climactic scene, I never got the chance to do so here, as I was bored to the point of near-insanity.

GHASTLY ain't the half of it.

Friday, July 25, 2008


A generous slab of action-infused sci-fi hokum, NIGHTMARE AT NOON is a 1988 outing from director Nico Mastorakis, who's probably best known for tepid thrillers like BLIND DATE and THE ZERO BOYS (but he'll always have a special place in my heart for the 1975 sleazefest ISLAND OF PERVERSION). NIGHTMARE is a mess, one that even its roster of B-flick veterans can't overcome.

The late Brion James plays an albino scientist who turns the residents into a bucolic desert town into raving, zombie-like maniacs by poisoning their water supply with an experimental chemical. Vacationing Wings Hauser and his wife, along with aimless hitchhiker Bo Hopkins, get caught in the middle of James's devious scheme, and must figure out how to stop him before the infection spreads.

Mastorakis has plenty of experience dealing with this type of lowbrow, pulpy material, but with NIGHTMARE he never really uses a firm directorial grip. The action drags too much to be enjoyable, and when the plot does move forward it's as prone to confuse as it is to entertain. The picture morphs into a C-grade action-thriller for its third act, but even then it can't muster the strength to be watchable. There's some minor stunt work involving car chases that no doubt sapped the budget but aren't flashy enough to perk up the film, and the helicopter dogfight at the climax might've been fun in a better movie.

Hauser, playing a litigation-happy lawyer, doesn't exactly make the most appealing protagonist, nor does Hopkins as the typical Mysterious Drifter, and let's not even mention George Kennedy's oblivious sheriff (oops, just did). But the biggest disappointment in the cast is James, who's never allowed to go off the rails; his mute, expressionless baddie is no doubt meant to be mysterious, but instead he comes off as a flat and flavorless villain, having less screen presence than the zombie servants he commands (and that ain't good, my friends).

This movie's a NIGHTMARE any time of day.


Whew, just typing that title has worn me out. This 1993 oddity--which has become a late-night favorite among certain audiences, namely those who consider bongs a bigger movie-going necessity than popcorn--is credited to Lowell Mason, who'll we'll learn during the movie is a pseudonym used to protect the shameful. The movie's concept is simple: take the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, strip the soundtrack clean, and replace it WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY?-style with new, humorous dialogue and sound effects. The results are . . . mixed.

It helps to have a juvenile sense of humor, as the film's mindset would fit right in a grammar-school boys' room, and several of the jokes are of the racially insensitive and homophobic variety (those that take umbrage at the use of the N-word are advised to steer clear), but in the right frame of mind--i.e. really, really high--it's still worth a guilty chuckle or two. (And the re-dub of Duane Jones, as offensive as it may be to some, still isn't as bad as the jive-talkin' voice-over from ZOMBIE 90: EXTREME PESTILENCE.) Yes, it often goes on tangents for far longer than is funny, but there are a couple of inspired moments. Mason lampoons almost the entire film, skipping over the slower parts with original clips in the same unsophisticated level of humor, as well as profusely apologizing to Romero for sullying his masterpiece. But the novelty wears off somewhere around the mid-point and runs out of steam long before it's over.

Worth a look for curiosity's sake, but not exactly essential viewing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Yet another slice of backyard zombie shenanigans, this time courtesy of Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions. Mike's a good guy, as well as a reader of this blog, so take this review with as many grains of salt as you feel appropriate, but I thought his 2007 short film SKYLER PHALANGES: ZOMBIE HUNTER was a hoot.

Sure, it's pretty insubstantial even for a short (it works much better as a splatter effects demo reel than a legitimate movie), but SKYLER PHALANGES has a goofy, self-deprecating sense of humor that's hard to dislike; Mike not only pokes fun at the zombie-killer subgenre itself, but the stick-up-the-ass filmmakers behind them as well. And though the last half of the movie consists of coils of fake innards and slap-happy outtakes, the brief montage that begins the short and establishes the "backstory" actually makes for a stark, bleak atmosphere that could easily anchor a straight-faced feature. (That's Mike, by the way, as the zombie Santa.)

Check it out here.


A low-budget offering from Australia, ZOMBIE BRIGADE is a 1986 production from directors Carmelo Musca and Barrie Pattison. It's a slight film, as you'll surely tell from the length of this review, and not a very good one, either. The plot centers around a money-grubbing city council who decide to built a science-fiction themed amusement park over the graves of Vietnam servicemen. So it's no surprise when the vets rise from the dead--as both zombies and vampires, but with as little screen time as they're given, I don't see why the directors bothered with the distinction--and express their displeasure.

ZOMBIE BRIGADE has its share of humor, though it's so dry it's hard to tell if it's actually funny. The story moves at a fairly leisurely pace, one that kept me tapping my foot for the undead's arrival, yet once we finally get them they're more concerned with righting the council's wrongs than wreaking any havoc. Call me an ignoramus, but what better way to correct someone than multiple disembowelments?

For a movie that has the desecration of a veterans' memorial at the heart of its story, BRIGADE has little to say about war or military service, preferring to use it as a plot-starter and nothing more. And though we may be exhausted by recent dogmatic war pictures like LIONS FOR LAMBS or STOP-LOSS, a commentary on such things--pro or con--would've added some weight. As it is, ZOMBIE BRIGADE remains an unremarkable film that doesn't offer enough to recommend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Man, I really wanted to like this one. A micro-budget production based in Charleston WV (and I'm a sucker for anything involving the Mountain State), CATHOLIC GHOULGIRLS sounded like a can't-miss: take zombies and pit them against Goth chicks in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. What could possibly go wrong? Well, when a movie's as lazy, stupid, and derivative as this one, a hell of a lot, it seems.

A 2005 sequel to ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD (a film I've never heard of, nor have any intention of seeking out), it's no different from the typical lunkheaded DIY efforts currently plaguing video shelves, and in many cases is worse. Take for example the opening scene, in which a pair of newscasters set up the story; while I realize amateur directors must make concessions, especially involving sets, but are we really supposed to believe that two actors on stools in front of a bed sheet is really a news room? (There's also some really forced, unfunny humor involving Jews in this scene that, were it not for an equally moronic "payoff," I'd be tempted to call anti-Semitic.) It's a sequence that does little to inspire confidence in the filmmakers' competence--and, as the movie grinds on, it seems to go out of its way to confirm your worst suspicions.

The rest of GHOULGIRLS fares about as well, depicting a city-wide zombie epidemic that affects roughly a dozen people. Director Eamon Hardiman apparently considers himself a student of Tarantino, since his idea of characterization is to have his actors--astonishingly godawful, the lot of them--discuss G.I. JOE in an F-bomb-littered discourse. (I grew up during the '80s too, dude, that doesn't mean I want you to stop the movie so your leads can sing the fucking theme song to THE LITTLES.) Fortunately, the execrable sound quality renders most of the inane dialogue inaudible, a blessing I was most grateful for.

A 54-minute zombie film shouldn't be hard to sit through, yet CATHOLIC GHOULGIRLS lumbers at a bogglingly slow pace, expecting to keep us enthralled with random tit-shots (instead of, y'know, ideas and plot developments and that junk). The "action" on display here is worth mentioning, if only because it's so inept and clumsy that I feel almost guilty making fun of it, especially when Hardiman tries to invoke KILL BILL with a schoolgirl and a samurai-sword; remember those Steven Seagal films where the bad guys patiently wait their turn in group fight scenes? Well, imagine if the zombies did it reeeeealllllyyy slowly, and the heroine swung her sword with a force that wouldn't nick a stick of butter--I'd be ashamed to include a scene like this in a gag reel, much less the actual goddamn picture. The "climactic" zombie swarm is just as bad.

Hardiman released a follow-up entitled VAMPIRE WHORES FROM OUTER SPACE, a film I intend to give a wide frigging berth. Even by the paltry standards of shot-on-video films, CATHOLIC GHOULGIRLS fails to deliver an iota of anything resembling entertainment--even the gore and nudity was negligible at best. Don't waste your time.


I've made it a point in the past to go easy on micro-budgeted efforts, at least when the bulk of a film's problems stem from financial constraints; I'm more than happy to sit through crude computer effects or less-than-stellar performances when the screenplay or direction offer a glimmer of ingenuity beneath its faults. Sometimes you get lucky and find a promising filmmaker on the rise. And sometimes you get John Johnson's 2004 film SHADOWHUNTERS. While it's not a terrible film--not in the way that ZOMBIE CAMPOUT or WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES were terrible--it hints at a better movie that could've been, had Johnson spent a little more time on the script.

If you've ever wondered what THE UNTOUCHABLES would've been like if Elliot Ness went after demons and zombies instead of organized crime, SHADOWHUNTERS is for you. An occult-practicing foursome of demon-hunting tough guys (decked out in 1940's-era fedora-and-trenchcoat ensembles), the Shadowhunters sneak into an abandoned hospital when a body-hopping fallen angel escapes from its binding spell. By sheer coincidence, a sorority initiation is going on at the very same hospital, where a gaggle of would-be pledges (in their underwear, of course--at least it's not gratuitous!) are to spend the night. Needless to say, the Shadowhunters have their hands full as the body count rises, especially once the demon resurrects his victims for his undead army.

All of this sounds pretty exciting, but like a lot of DIY productions the film suffers from poor pacing. Johnson keeps the action moving, but without the right tempo the story never really comes to life. Nor does it help that the script is littered with clunky dialogue exchanges that drag it down even further. (Frankly, if there wasn't a girl in her bra and panties on-screen every ten seconds this movie would be even more interminable.) The performances are mostly weak but passable, except for Lincoln L. Lilley, who plays the demon Malphaedor with the same overwrought, trying-to-chew-the-scenery approach of many B-villains before him. It isn't bad, per se, but I would've welcomed a much more novel technique.

SHADOWHUNTERS would've been a much better film if Johnson hadn't reined in his imagination once he'd conceived the premise. By failing to explore his concept further and grafting it onto yet another good-guys-vs.monsters plot it becomes more of a gimmick than something fresh, and we're stuck with something we've seen a million times before.

Monday, July 21, 2008


On the surface, it would appear that the 1982 film MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD was simply Jess Franco's answer to the BLIND DEAD series, but those familiar with the director's work will know that you rarely get a mere rehash from the man--more often, you get a rehash brimming with constant zoom lenses, meandering conversations masquerading as storylines, and abundant but vaguely unappealing nudity. MANSION, in many ways, is typical of the apathetic, skin-heavy hackwork that's defined the latter half of his career.

Four swingin' single females (led by Franco's wife Lina Romay, hiding beneath the name Candy Coster, as well as a really ugly wig) on vacation at a beach resort find the hotel deserted, save for a few creepy employees; whereas most young women would be freaked out by being alone with these perverts, they find it rather convenient, since it gives them more time to indulge in gratuitous sunbathing and sex scenes. But they soon find that there's more to the hotel than the concierge's wife chained to a wall in her room (don't ask), and it has to do with the monk-robed, skeletal figures that dwell in a crumbling building near the hotel.

While it goes without saying that MANSION is inferior to Amando de Ossorio's films in every regard, Franco still manages to create a bare-bones atmosphere with shots of the empty hotel and a howling wind on the soundtrack. But the horror trappings are just window-dressing, a means of crossover appeal for what is essentially a softcore porno romp. And an uninteresting romp at that, as the (fairly graphic) lesbian sex exist as much to pad the film to a releaseable length than to create any excitement. Franco directs with the same blunt, fetishistic gaze, lingering over the ample female flesh on display, yet the sex scenes yield little passion or heat; he even uses the zombie angle to serve the prurient aspect of the film rather than the horrific one, using gang-rape and humiliation to thrill the audience. (I've never been fond of either one for sexual gratification, but I highly doubt those that are will find anything here to stimulate them.)

It's hard to recommend MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, since it fails as both a horror film and an erotic vehicle. Franco completists who are immune to his more irritating habits may be compelled to check it out, and Romay certainly has her share of devotees--but those wanting to glimpse a side of the actress similar to that in, say, THE BARE-BREASTED COUNTESS are going to be disappointed, as Franco makes her as frumpy as possible (a naked frump, yeah, but still somewhat unattractive). Really, the only suitable audience I can think of would be hormonally-addled teenage boys without Internet access.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


More mad scientist shenanigans, this time with a south-of-the-border flavor. CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD began as a 1961 Mexican film entitled LA MARCA DEL MUERTO, directed by Fernando Cortes. In 1965 schlockmeister Jerry Warren (responsible for such cinematic mishaps as TEENAGE ZOMBIES and THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN) redubbed it into English and spliced in original, almost impossible to watch footage to make the film more comprehendable to domestic audiences. Needless to say, he didn't quite pull it off.

The original film features Rock Madison (or, under his equally-cool Mexican moniker, Fernando Casanova) in a dual role as a scientist who kills women for their blood--in order to maintain his eternal youth--and as the scientist's grandson, who re-enacts Grandpa's "experiments," using the female blood to resurrect his grandfather as a Frankenstein-like creature. Like most Mexican horror films of the '60s, it's a very atmospheric film, with the moody black-and-white photography creating a rich, Gothic feel; also, like most Mexican horror films of the '60s, it's pretty slow going, and unlike other film of the period like THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M, there's no real pay-off or memorable imagery to make it worth sitting through.

As laborious as the source material is, it's made even worse by Warren's intrusion. A few select scenes are dubbed like any other imported release, but the majority of the dialogue is restricted to dull-as-dirt voice-over narration that neither illuminates nor moves the story forward; it's a bit like watching a bad DVD commentary for the wrong movie. The new footage Warren shoehorns in isn't much better: most notably, a looong, static, talking-head information dump that features the unwanted sight of corpulent character actor Bruno VeSota (known for such B gems as ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES and THE CHOPPERS) wrapped in a toga-like sheet getting what has to be the laziest massage ever recorded on film. Geez, Jerry, what'd we ever do to you?

Like the rest of Warren's output, CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD makes a better sleep aid than film. If you're inclined to see this, seek out the untainted original, or better yet, try some more enjoyable Mexi-horror films like THE MAN AND THE MONSTER or the ever-popular THE BRAINIAC.


Aficionados of cult cinema will no doubt be familiar with filmmaker Ted V. Mikels, director of everything from exploitation actioners like the CHARLIE'S ANGELS rip-off THE DOLL SQUAD to tame horror quickies such as BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS. But perhaps his most famous title is the 1967 sci-fi/horror hybrid (conspicuously light on science or chills) ASTRO-ZOMBIES--though the presence of John Carradine and FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! beauty Tura Satana contribute more to its fringe appeal than the so-called plot.

A half-baked spy "thriller" as much as science fiction, the story concerns a group of interchangeable CIA agents on the hunt for the demented Dr. DeMarco (Carradine), a former Space Agency scientist who's been up to no good. DeMarco's been conducting experiments on the cadavers of dead criminals, creating a super-powered "Quasi-Man" that escapes and embarks on a killing spree.

While one of Mikel's better-known films, ASTRO-ZOMBIES isn't nearly as fun as some of his other movies like THE CORPSE GRINDERS. Besides a needlessly convoluted and hard-to-follow espionage subplot, there's very little action involving the Astro-Zombies (or, really, Astro-Zombie, since the miniscule budget really couldn't afford a whole army of these things). Most of the picture consists of thuddingly dull expository speeches, and though no one really watches a Ted V. Mikels movie for its breakneck pace, it's still excruciatingly boring. Attempts to liven the festivities with a little exotic dancing are wasted, since the dancing on display's as exotic as Friday Night Bingo at the local VFW.

Interesting side note: M*A*S*H's Wayne Rogers is credited with co-writing the screenplay.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Let's see, today we have 2005's HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2: ALL GUTS, NO GLORY, a sequel to a movie based on a video game (directed by Uwe Boll, don't forget) that premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. Wow. The only way this film could've been any less appetizing would be if it featured kittens being skinned alive or David Spade. And you know what? It sucked even worse than I'd anticipated.

But at least I can say it wasn't disappointing, since right from its opening scene--where a group of numbnuts frat boys embark on a panty raid to justify enough gratuitous nudity for the DVD release--director Mike Hurst makes it abundantly clear this film is intended to be nothing but brain-dead filler programming. Even the film's premise hardly bothers to set up half a story: scientist Sid Haig--in a performance so blase he probably slipped a kid ten bucks to phone it in for him--accidentally unleashes a zombie plague on a university campus; 29 days later (the closest the film ever comes to creativity) the place is swarming with the living dead, or "hyper-sapiens" as the film calls them, and it's up to a crack team of soldiers (actually, the squad from ALIENS would've had them for breakfast--did these punks go through basic with the cast of STORM OF THE DEAD?) and zombie-killing scientists to infiltrate the campus and get rid of the zombies.

Even with a screenplay that feels like it was bashed out on a slow afternoon it would've been possible to make a decent flick, but Hurst and company simply don't give a shit. The plot moves slower than the zombies, with direction so inert you'll be yearning for the original film's 360-degree turntable abuse, and painfully unsuccessful stabs at humor (which isn't nearly as insulting as its attempts to reference Abu Gharib with photos of soldiers with dead girls). The characters are bland and one-dimensional, with thin performances--though to be fair, if I were an actor on this film, I'd do as little as possible, too. Photogenic but generic leads Ed Quinn and Emmanuelle Vaugier (as the requisite action babe, though frankly she's better in the babe department than the action) could probably do better with stronger material, and rapper Sticky Fingaz is certainly not the same actor here as he's been on THE SHIELD. But the gold star for laughable acting goes to James Parks, son of famed character actor Michael Parks, who mutters through his role like the poor man's--hell, the homeless man's--Michael Rooker.

When a movie's idea of characterization is having them converse with the brains of zombies cooling on their faces, you know you're stuck in bad movie hell, but with a movie as atrocious as pedigree as this one complaining's almost not allowed; you were expecting GUNGA DIN, maybe? Still, there's fun-bad movies and there are just-bad movies--I've been known to kick back with a copy of TROLL 2 now and then, but are there people who really find this a viable entertainment option of any kind?

Monday, July 14, 2008


Another student zombie short, since apparently I'm only fulfilled when I'm wasting brain cells by the bucketload. This 2006 offering from directors Elliot Marks and Alex Whitington is an ode to the so-bad-they're-good school of vintage sci-fi cinema, particularly the works of Ed Wood. And, like dozens of other amateur filmmakers, they seem to assume that if you're parodying bad movies you've got free license to suck as much as humanly possible. (Allow me to refer way back to Day 3's entry, I WAS A ZOMBIE FOR THE FBI, which proves that you can draw inspiration from hokey films and still be quite entertaining.)

BRIDE OF THE FLESH-EATING ZOMBIES FROM OUTER SPACE begins with an introduction by an horrendous Criswell stand-in, who goes to great lengths to warn viewers just how terrifying the movie is. It's a grating performance, though I did like his hyperbolic spiel (at least until it started getting beaten into the ground--there's enough drawn-out jokes in this thing to make Mike Myers gnash his teeth), but once the non-professional cast starts mumbling their way through the short, it becomes quite apparent that the Criswell wannabe is easily the highlight of the damned thing.

A few easy sight-gags are worked into the proceedings (like a boom mike intentionally lowered into frame), and the filmmakers managed to shoot in black-and-white for the proper look, but most of the "story" consists of high-school age students spouting dialogue--much of which sounds made up on the spot--that makes little sense, nor is it nowhere near as funny as these kids think it is. (Ever get stuck somewhere with a bunch of teenagers trading amusing anecdotes with each other? This is as hilarious as that.) I really wish I could tell you more, but I spent most of the short's interminable running time (eighteen of the longest fucking minutes I've ever spent) driving toothpicks under my fingernails to distract from the pain.

Seriously, this is one awful, awful little short, one that I'd advise you to give a wide berth. I really feel guilty even posting it here with the review, since your life will be far more richer without it, but I know the morbidly curious among you will feel compelled to seek it out anyway, and you should expend as little as energy as possible on this thing.

So here you go, ya fuckin' masochists.


Sequels can be a tricky prospect, at least when it comes to follow-ups to movies that are classics, cult or otherwise; whereas most slasher franchises can simply slap a Roman numeral on a new draft of the script and call it a day, films that were a little more nuanced or complex don't have the same luxury. I'm sure producer Brian Yuzna thought about this when he set out to make a sequel to the uproarious RE-ANIMATOR in 1990; how does one attempt to expand--or, as all sequels should strive to do--top such a well-made picture as the first one? Give Yuzna credit for trying to do something different with BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR--most producers would be happy to just cobble a screenplay together as quickly as possible and let the previous movie's rabid fan base do the rest--but the finished product is less than satisfying.

Taking over directorial duties for BRIDE, Yuzna reunites Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, and the late David Gale to continue Dr. Herbert West's quest to perfect the reanimation of dead tissue. And while it's a treat to see each actor revisiting their roles, the chemistry isn't there, inadvertently underscoring just how important Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli were to the first film's success. It doesn't help that BRIDE's script--written by Rick Fry and Woody Keith, who also penned the delirious SOCIETY for Yuzna--keeps Gale's Dr. Hill from menacing West until the very end (most of Gale's screen time is spent in clunky, humorless scenes with Mel Stuart), opting to put Claude Earl Jones in as the main antagonist, a vindictive police detective looking for revenge (his wife was a victim of the original's Miskatonic massacre--a nice tie-in). The script also complicates things further by adding a love triangle for Abbott with a South American beauty (Fabiana Udenio) and a terminally-ill patient that West has plans for (played by Kathleen Kinmont). But the biggest question remains: how in the blue fuck did these guys get positions at Miskatonic University just eight months after unleashing a bloody zombie massacre there?

One of the ill-advised adjustments BRIDE makes is with Herbert West; in the first movie he was a pursuer of forbidden knowledge, obsessed with conquering the permanence of death. Here, he's more of a traditional mad scientist and not as interesting a character. His experiments this time around--not only with the titular piece-meal cadaver, but his mix-and-match approach to spare body parts--are more like those conducted by the Third Reich. And while the movie often feel more like a vehicle for special effects than storytelling (though with six different fx houses in the credits, that's probably inevitable), most of the creations are unique and eye-catching, particularly those by surrealist maestro Screaming Mad George (whatever happened to that guy?)

For the most part BRIDE coasts along by being just good enough to be interesting, but when it reaches its climax--where Abbott and Combs bring their creation to life--it really drops the ball. The reanimated Kinmont not only presages Mindy Clarke's undead sex goddess in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 3 (just what was it about Yuzna and the sexualization of dead women?), but it raises some disturbing questions about West's true motivations--especially his indignation when she refuses to be subservient--questions that're dropped as soon as they raise their head.

All in all, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR isn't a terrible film, but it really isn't a good one, either. I suppose it could've been worse, and considering how well the first one turned out it's inevitable a sequel just wouldn't compare (in the world of low-budget horror it's tough to capture lightning in a bottle once, much less repeat it).

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Having already written about THE GHOST GALLEON and NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS, the concluding chapters of the Blind Dead series, a review of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD would be somewhat redundant since Amando de Ossorio established most of what made those films effective in his 1971 original. And while the films are similar to one another in technique and approach, TOMBS remains the most straightforward and pure, free of the embellishments de Ossorio would add in later installments.

One of the most evocative titles in the annals of Spanish horror cinema, TOMBS is little more than a few frightening set-pieces strung together with a minimum of character or exposition, but what it lacks in narrative weight it more than compensates in atmosphere--be it the almost palpable Gothic ambiance, or the deceptively idyllic pastoral backdrop that counterpoints the macabre setting.

Not a whole lot happens in the film--in which the skeletal remains of the Knights Templar prey upon those who've disturbed them--but it's the way it happens that makes TOMBS such a remarkable film. De Ossorio does a tremendous job of sustaining a careful, deliberate pace (though today's attention-deficient audiences might find themselves squirming) that only falters in setting up its final act. I'm finding it hard to discuss much of the story--since there really isn't one to speak of--but the smidgen of plot that's there progresses nicely, existing with the sole purpose of being as creepy as possible. The initial appearance of the Knights Templar is a low-key stand-out (a sequence so effective de Ossorio cribbed it for two of the subsequent sequels), as is the suitably nightmarish climax in which the Knights lay siege to the passengers of a train, the withheld gore making a greater impact when it finally occurs.

While de Ossorio's use of mood is the film's best aspect, it's easy to overlook how skillfully he utilizes sound to create tension and suspense. From the ominous chanting that serves as the movie's soundtrack or the slowed-down rhythm of hoof-beats as the Templars ride on undead horseback, TOMBS's audio is as efficient as its atmosphere; it's best represented in the scene in which the Templars (who, as the title tells us are sightless, rely on sound to follow their quarry) track a victim by her heartbeat. Or the final moments of the picture, as de Ossorio uses sound and still-shots to convey the horror of the concluding train massacre.

Though the whole BLIND DEAD series is worth watching, TOMBS is the most accomplished, using all of its elements to greatest effect, and the one I'd recommend to curious beginners. One of my all-time favorite zombie films.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


One of the joys of international cinema is finding a film wholly inspired by Hollywood yet filtered through a different cultural sensibility. Pete Tombs, who's brought many mind-boggling oddities stateside under his Mondo Macabro label, co-wrote and co-produced this 2007 debut from Pakistani director Omar Ali Khan, a film that's simultaneously unique (in that it's like nothing you've ever seen) and derivative (it draws inspiration from several classic horror films). Though far from a perfect, or possibly good, film, HELL'S GROUND is still worthy of attention.

Taking its cue from domestic fare like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FRIDAY THE 13TH, it starts off very much like any teens-in-peril film as a group of youths head out to attend a concert. And like their slasher-flick predecessors, they can be just as obnoxious, partying and smoking weed (one character, played by Rubya Chaudhry, does double-duty as both the arrogant bitch and the whiny pain in the ass), wanting nothing more than a good time when an ill-advised short-cut puts them in harm's way.

It's times like these that I wish I was more knowledgeable about foreign cultures, since I'm curious just how envelope-pushing the drug use and F-bombs really are (not to mention a premise that has unwed men and women spending the night together away from home). Just as the '80s slasher boom reflected the conservative tone of the Reagan era, HELL'S GROUND seems to reinforce the prevailing moral values. "Good Muslims should be getting ready for their evening prayers," intones the film's Creepy Old Man before the characters stumble obliviously toward death.

And while HELL'S GROUND proclaims itself as Pakistan's first zombie movie, the living dead play a very small role in the proceedings, making a brief appearance around the thirty-minute mark for a little entrail-munching. Definitely Romero-inspired, Khan's zombies are just different enough to be effective--or they would be, had they been given something to do. The undead here are merely plot devices, quickly abandoned after setting up a "subplot" that ultimately amounts to a cheap punchline for the film's ending. (Though I did like how Khan added clouds of buzzing flies that hover over the zombies as they feed, a cleverly disturbing detail that brings to mind the true living dead among starving Third World countries.)

What Khan really set out to make was a Pakistani version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, complete with troublesome hitchhiker and deranged family members (limited here to just a single crazed mother) to terrorize the vanload of teens, but HELL'S GROUND's greatest asset is Baby, a hulking, inarticulate killing machine and Leatherface surrogate. Baby lives in a claustrophobic, slaughterhouse-like dwelling straight out of an Eli Roth wet dream, and his initial appearance, while not as brutally efficient, strongly echoes that of Gunnar Hansen's in the original CHAINSAW. (I also loved his weapon of choice, a spiked metal ball that he swings on a chain--a conceit that sounds rather silly until you see it in action.) And, like his Texas counterpart, Baby's a cross-dresser, wearing a burqa on his killing spree (Mama also refers to him as her daughter, further adding to his gender-confusion).

Despite Khan's unabashed love for American horror and his fervent enthusiasm, HELL'S GROUND still has its share of flaws. The rather slow build-up of the first act never really gains any momentum, and there are quite a few dry spells in between the bursts of gore and mayhem. And what should've been a gut-wrenching climax as Baby hunts down the surviving cast members is hindered by poor pacing and clumsy timing of its shocks, as well as constant shifts in tone.

However, I'd still recommend it, if only to see so many beloved classics of the genre reinterpreted in new ways. Unlike other fan-oriented films like PLAGA ZOMBIE: MUTANT ZONE which simply regurgitate the favorite portions of its inspirations, Khan attempts to imbue his rehashes with his own personal style and vision (and there are several moments where he shows off his imaginative directorial flair). It can be uneven and sloppy at times, but the results are always fascinating.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


The last installment in Lucio Fulci's unofficial zombie cycle (or his quasi-Lovecraftian trilogy, if you prefer), 1981's THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is easily the least of the lot. Coasting by on the reputations of its predecessors, it's not as rich--thematically, visually, or viscerally--as THE BEYOND or CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD, it has by proximity and similarity been grouped in with them by both fans and critics. Though not without its merits, it's a much weaker experience, marked by what feels like Fulci's fatigue with the paranormal (it's little wonder that he went on to the non-supernatural sexual violence of THE NEW YORK RIPPER for his next feature).

HOUSE's prologue, a sequence toying with the conventions of American slasher films, suggests a continuation of the gruesome excesses of Fulci's previous films, as a pair of fornicating teens are done in by a mysterious figure (the female of the pair is Daniela Doria, who so memorably puked up her intestinal tract in CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD). It's a blunt, stylish scene that sets the tone for what's to come, but in hindsight it works more as a bribe to hook audiences into a dry, rote haunted house film, as the movie rarely operates on the same level.

In a premise that undoubtedly owes a debt to Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING, professor Paolo Malco packs up his wife Catriona MacColl and their towheaded (and irritatingly dubbed) son to New England, where he's to complete the research project of a recently-deceased colleague. Amid the growing marital turmoil and their son's communication with ghosts, Malco discovers Dr. Freudstein--a hulking, almost featureless figure that must consume human flesh to regenerate his cells--living in the basement (I guess Fulci couldn't have been bothered with bartending specters or guys in bear suits giving blowjobs).

What sinks THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY isn't its thin characterization or narrative freestyling (two things you don't exactly go into a Fulci film looking for), but its lack of the weird, dream-like atmosphere that made THE BEYOND and CITY so compelling, causing the pace to feel sluggish rather than careful and deliberate; there are a couple of exceptions--the hallucinatory scene in which a mannequin loses its head, for instance--but the story feels very stiff and tired without the ambience to support it. Nor does it boast any of the bravura set-pieces of gore that've been a Fulci a trademark; a prolonged stabbing can't compare to over-the-top show-stoppers like ZOMBIE's eye-splinter sequence or Giovanni Radice getting a massive drill bit through his skull.

Though it's much better than subsequent Fulci releases like MANHATTAN BABY, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY isn't the classic that its cult following implies. Devotees of Italian horror and Fulci himself will no doubt consider this a must-see, it doesn't have enough meat on its bones to make it required viewing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Obviously, I like to be as accurate as possible with the information passed on the movies reviewed here, which is why it annoys me when certain movies (usually of the shot-on-tape-in-the-backyard variety) seem to have multiple release dates. For example, today's entry, Bob Ford's STORM OF THE DEAD, lists a copyright of 2007 during its credits, while IMDB lists it as a 2006 film, and the Netflix sleeve the disc arrived in said 2005. I guess it doesn't really matter, since the movies is a reeking pile of monkey feces no matter when it was made or released.

I knew I was in bad shape when the Brain Damage Films logo appeared at the film's start. I can't begin to describe the profound, soul-draining fatigue that sets in whenever I subject myself to one of their "films." (If they've ever put out anything with more production value than a grade-school Christmas pageant or Mexican snuff film, please drop me a line.) Anyway, STORM lives up to the threat implied, proving to be as limp, wrongheaded, and ridiculous as its cinematic brethren.

The movie deals with a militia group upholding martial law in Florida following a devastating hurricane (any allusions to or commentary of Hurricane Katrina are left unsaid), their duties mostly consisting of gunning down looters. When one of their squads disappears in the swamp, a platoon of one-dimensional, sketchily-drawn characters take up the search, soon finding themselves in the midst of a vengeful voodoo priestess.

STORM OF THE DEAD aims to create a sense of mystery, but the only suspense is when the damn thing's going to end. Ford spends too much time slogging through the wilderness or interviewing his cast (a tactic that pads the running time more than it fleshes out the characters) than concentrating on his story; he seems more concerned with getting to the next gratuitous tit-shot than developing some of the more promising aspects of the plot.

It drags on for what seems like hours before finally reaching an awful climax that's more about preaching a misguided "message" about right and wrong, with a judgment on the war in Iraq shoehorned in for good measure, than evoking any feeling of horror. And the zombies? There's one, near the end of the movie, that occupies roughly a minute of the entire production, and is there more to justify the title than anything else.

Watching potentially interesting and frightening concepts wither unused makes STORM OF THE DEAD as frustrating as its interminable story. A horror film that wastes any opportunity for horror, it deserves to be tossed into the muck.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Unbeknownst to me, this 2001 cult oddity from Argentinian filmmakers Pablo Pares and Hernan Saez is a sequel to the earlier (and presumably cultier) PLAGA ZOMBIE. General consensus says MUTANT ZONE is the better of the two, in which case I plan to steer plenty clear of the original. It's easy to see why this film has an underground following, since it embraces such fanboy icons as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, and I feel like I should've liked it, but the movie left me cold. (Perhaps because at this point I'm extremely weary of Raimi/Jackson homages.)

Pares and Saez attempt to emulate the same frantic energy as BAD TASTE or Tsui Hark's WE'RE GOING TO EAT YOU, but instead of being quirky and frenetic, they simply come off as loud and obnoxious; often watching MUTANT ZONE is like being stuck in a Denny's with a hyperactive child that won't shut up. The film is indeed chaotic, but in a rambling, directionless way as the filmmakers blur through the episodic story like an ADD-afflicted kid with a remote control. (Sorry about all the child-based similes--blame the juvenile nature of the film, or the Troma-esque level of humor delivered in spastic Spanish.)

Nor does MUTANT ZONE achieve--or strive to achieve, for that matter--to be anything more than a clone of the filmmakers' favorite directors, slavishly copying the gory excesses (to a considerable degree, there's grue aplenty to be had here) of THE EVIL DEAD or BRAINDEAD. Like Raimi and Jackson, Pares and Saez can accomplish quite a lot with a next-to-nothing budget, and there are a few slight flashes of ingenuity (such as tying a zombie to a light post with its own intestines), but they're too preoccupied with being imitative that they never pull off anything truly unique.

I'll leave it at that, since I feel a rant coming on about how filmmakers these days are content to replicate their inspirations rather than outdo them. PLAGA ZOMBIE: MUTANT ZONE might cut the mustard when you can seem to remember where you left your EVIL DEAD 2 DVD, but original or refreshing it ain't.


A rare misstep from Jean Rollin, 1980's NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is often regarded by both critics and fans as one of the director's low points (aside from his forays into the porn ghetto, that is). Although the film has its supporters, and it's not without its charms, it can't help but pale in comparison to Rollin's more accomplished works like THE LIVING DEAD GIRL or LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES.

The brunt of HUNTED's problems lies in its paltry budget, which prevents Rollin from exploring some of the greater possibilities of his script. Supposedly granted complete artistic autonomy, Rollin had to concede to his smallest bankroll yet (though what's the point of having total freedom, when you can't afford to do what you want?); his only requirements were the inclusion of some fairly graphic sex scenes. (Fortunately for Rollin, much of the cast was comprised of performers from the French adult industry.)

Not a true zombie film, at least not in the accepted sense, the plot concerns a young man (Vincent Gardere) who finds an amnesiac hitchhiker (Brigitte Lahaie, looking nothing at all like the hitchhikers I normally encounter) on his way home. Helping her, he takes her back to his apartment, where they rather forcedly fall in love--as well as initiate the first of those prerequisite schtup scenes. Although the sex is no less gratuitous than what's to come, Rollin presents it tenderly, tying it into the characters' relationship and setting up the remainder of the story; when Lahaie is escorted away by a pair of mysterious scientists, Gardere follows them to the apartment-like clinic where the majority of the movie takes place.

After an intriguing set-up, HUNTED starts to falter once it enters the clinic (which bears a superficial resemblance to Cronenberg's high-rise in SHIVERS). Part of it has to do with its prohibitive budget, which allows for little more than some additional skin and brief gore (which includes a memorable scissors-through-the-eyes bit), but it's also due to the source of Lahaie's amnesia--an unexplained disorder caused by a radiation leak that's gradually destroying her brain. Most of the clinic's patients are afflicted with this ailment, so that they wander around aimlessly, mimicking the film's somnambulant pace (except the ones that go crazy, that is).

And while the meandering tone of the picture may inspire fast-forward manipulation, Rollin ends the film with a bitterly romantic moment, in which Gardere and Lahaie are reunited (for good, in an ironic and very French finale), though viewers might be too antsy by then to really appreciate its morose beauty.

Rollin completists will no doubt find some glimmer of interest in NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (aside from a subplot involving the doomed relationship between two young girls, there's little thematic unity to the auteur's other works), but the casual or tyro viewer would be better off sticking with, say, Rollin's THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE or even THE GRAPES OF DEATH. At any rate, it's still better than ZOMBIE LAKE.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I've never cared for the term "re-imagining," especially since it's usually applied to subpar remakes of films that were often mediocre to begin with, but it's an apt description for George Romero's 2008 film DIARY OF THE DEAD. Romero essentially starts anew, taking another look at the beginnings of his now-legendary zombie outbreak through the filters of various camera lenses and cathode ray tubes.

Perhaps it was the lingering resentment over the slick, name-ridden LAND OF THE DEAD or the unfortunate timing of being released shortly after the similarly-styled CLOVERFIELD, but it seemed as if critics and audiences alike had written off DIARY sight unseen. I myself went in with considerable trepidation, expecting the same warmed-over undead pap that made up LAND.

Call it the power of lowered expectations if you want, but DIARY OF THE DEAD is a solid film.

Right from its opening scene, in which a news crew captures the early stages of the outbreak, Romero recreates the same ominous, apocalyptic feel of the original trilogy, effectively rinsing away any residual traces of LAND. I've stated here before that my favorite part of end-of-the-world zombie films is the beginning of the end, so to speak, as the characters start to realize that something's going seriously wrong. Romero not only nails the sense of impending dread, but he sets it up in the confines of a video-bound student film (that would no doubt have gotten skewered on this very blog). It's a clever, if somewhat thrown away, contrast between fictional horrors and "real" ones, but it also gives Romero a chance to chime in on the fast-vs.slow-zombie debate, which he does with a fair amount of bite.

What I found curious was how much the dissidents berated Romero for using the faux-documentary approach, as if the technique were the sole property of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. (That'd be like fans of Stoker's DRACULA saying novels can no longer be written in epistolary format.) It's simply a storytelling method, one that Romero uses to reinforce the theme of media and its impact on reality. There's never a moment where it doesn't feel like a work of fiction, and sometimes the format calls for some awkward blocking to get the action, but it's far from the deal breaker critics make it out to be.

Story-wise, Romero doesn't take us anywhere we haven't already been, but with the father of the modern cinematic zombie at the helm it makes for a worthwhile journey. Memorable set-pieces include an abandoned/emptied hospital that recalls the RESIDENT EVIL games (bringing its stylistic influence full circle) and an all-too-brief appearance by a mute Amish farmer (a resurgence of Romero's often-overlooked black humor). There are a couple of slow spots along the way--the sequence involving the black survivalists could've had a lot more tension, feeling more like an potential obstacle that's easily brushed past, and the military-as-reckless-assholes scene bored me as soon as it started (Romero mined this area well in DAY OF THE DEAD, but aside from Brian Keene's novel THE RISING, it's since fallen into tired cliche; at least Romero keeps the moment brief)--but DIARY moves at a brisk clip, incorporating several scenes of action and/or scares without sacrificing its flow. But it's the film's third act, in a fortress-like home equipped with an oh-so-appropriate panic room filled with video monitors, when Romero really takes the character-POV structure as his own, using a multiple-camera approach to goose what could've been just another ho-hum climax.

Much has already been written about Romero's criticism of 24-hour information sources and online communities like YouTube and MySpace, though they're more extensions of Romero's commentary of a technology-dominant society than the overall message. (Odd, that those who called DIARY a rip-off of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST failed to mention that both films use their documentary-esque format to illustrate how the media can manipulate the truth to one's best interest.) But most of the movie's contempt--and, presumably, the bulk of Romero's ire--is for the character of Jason, who films the majority of DIARY's events; more than once he's condemned for his willingness to stay safely behind the camera lens and "document" the mounting horror than become an active participant in his group's survival. I wonder how potent this would've been during the mid-'90s, when the "If it bleeds, it leads" style of journalism was at its peak.

A sequel to DIARY is supposedly already in the works, and as much as I enjoyed seeing Romero's world through his protagonists' eyes, I really don't think one's warranted. Granted, it's possible Romero may have something new to bring to the equation, but considering the first (or is that fifth?) film's reception, and the seeming ambivalence of his zombies in general anymore, it may be wise to slap the lens cap back on.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


We may have wrapped up our look at the ZOMBIE BLOODBATH films, but weren't not finished with Todd Sheets just yet (or should that be, he isn't finished with us?). Squeezed onto the BLOODBATH DVD as an added bonus, the 1986 short DEAD THINGS shows that Sheets has been up to his brand of cinematic chicanery for quite some time.

Billed as "A Heapin' Helpin' of Hellbent Hillbilly Hospitality," it's probably more accurate to call it "A Heapin' Helpin' of Ham-Fisted, Hare-Brained Horseshit." A woefully thin entry in the backwoods-killer subgenre, DEAD THINGS concerns a group of city folk who encounter a murderous, and EXTREMELY stereotypical, hillbilly and his Chop Top-wannabe son. City folk run. Hillbillies catch them. Kill them.

Fortunately, a last-minute reveal informs us that the hillbillies are the living dead, and "y'cain't kill what's already dead!" (Though, if I'm not mistaken, the odds were pretty much in favor of the, shall we say, Appalachian Americans.) Thus, this fifteen-minute slice of tomfoolery is suitable for this blog, and therefore worth sitting through.

(Can't find a version of this one to show you, but if you've got Netflix or a similar service, it's worth renting ZOMBIE BLOODBATH just for this painfully amusing short.)


Todd Sheets's ZOMBIE BLOODBATH series concludes with the 2000 entry ZOMBIE ARMAGEDDON. By now any critique would sound just as redundant as the movies themselves, so I'll try to avoid the obvious (acting, writing, etc.) and stick to the flaws unique to this particular picture.

Kicking off with yet another prologue, the third installment begins as a gaggle of zombies are rounded onto a space shuttle and--in cheesy, primitive CGI--are blasted into space. And while I would've loved to have seen a cheap, amateur-hour zombies-in-orbit film, Sheets keeps the action on terra firma, with a group of BREAKFAST CLUB-inspired high school misfits stuck in detention. (I was pleasantly shocked to see that Sheets's dialogue had improved a little since the last film--though that's a bit like saying your sucking chest wound has finally stopped bleeding--but man, he has GOT to find a better crop of actors.) Sneaking out from under the nose of their pervy, porn-viewing teacher (who's no match for the late, great Paul Gleason, I assure you), the motley band of troublemakers discover the prologue's space shuttle in the bowels of the school.

You may think you've read that wrong, so I'll repeat: the motley band of troublemakers discover A FUCKING SPACE SHUTTLE IN THE BOWELS OF THE SCHOOL.

So the zombies get released and eat people and yadda yadda yadda . . . you guys can be writing these reviews by yourselves at this point. The dimestore gore is splashed around with great abandon, though after three movies it all blurs into one big Karo-saturated mess. What I was more interesting in was where does Sheets find all these extras? There's literally hundreds of zombies in each separate film; I guess plenty of people would jump at the chance to be a cinematic zombie, no matter how insipid or addle-brained. (And, truth be told, the same could be said about me.)

Sheets proves that his plotting abilities still haven't grown, ending the film some stupidity involving the space-time continuum to essentially "erase" the events of the film. (Lord, how I wish I could've done the same with this movie.) He also hasn't figured how to close a story, letting the film linger on much longer than needed before launching into a neverending stream of chuckleheaded outtakes.

I'd like to state for the record that I HATE outtakes at the end of movies. Every once and while there'll be an exception, but more often than not they exist just so the stars can indulge their inner hams. (Here's a fun exercise: the next time you see outtakes over the end credits, watch the actors. The more fun they seem to be having, the crappier the movie itself tends to be.) And that's with movies that're relatively good. Coming at the end of a badly-made, piss-poor shot-on-video atrocity like this, it reveals the filmmakers' ignorance and lack of professionalism. (This reminds me of a similar film set I once visited, where the director was more concerned with getting a good gag reel than making a competent picture.)

With that out of the way, if wall-to-wall bloodshed is your thing, you'll probably find the ZOMBIE BLOODBATH films worth checking out, assuming you can look past their considerable liabilities. (A feat most gorehounds have perfected.) I, however, buckled under the strain.


Before we go any further, I just want to reiterate that Todd Sheets's ZOMBIE BLOODBATH films are not a trilogy, but rather a series of movies from the same director that share a similar subject (there's no character or thematic continuance from one installment to the next), nor should one infer a belief on my part that it's so; I'm simply reviewing them consecutively purely for my own convenience.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's proceed with the 1995 follow-up to the original BLOODBATH, subtitled RAGE OF THE UNDEAD. In my earlier review I chastised Sheets for using the first film as a vehicle for a repetitive collection of one-note zombie gut-munchings; I wonder if he received similar feedback upon its release, because he tries something new for RAGE. Opening with a sepia-tinged flashback to 1945 Topeka, he employs certain stylistic flourishes like black-and-white cutaways and subliminal editing as he sets up what's to be the film's central figure, a robbery victim who's murdered and crucified in a cornfield by his attackers; these techniques don't really work, in that they contribute little more than distracting the viewer from the lackluster acting (a Sheets trademark if there ever was one) and stilted pacing. But you sense Sheets is trying to spread his creative wings a little, so I'm willing to cut him a little slack.

Ironically, you don't realize the strengths of the prologue--the lighting, the camerawork--until the story proper begins, and it settles into the same dunderheaded storytelling as BLOODBATH. A group of teens run afoul of a handful of on-the-lam criminals in a remote Kansas farmhouse, eventually resurrecting the prologue victim as a vengeful scarecrow (who can somehow revive the dead in the local cemetery as well). This wouldn't have been a bad set-up--well, if you'd taken out the atrocious performances and stiff dialogue, that is--but Sheets goes even further, introducing another gang of bad guys who're holding up a deli, and keeping its employees hostage, in a parallel story completely removed from the first.

It's here that Sheets's weaknesses as a filmmaker come to the fore. The hold-up scenes are horrendously tedious, further encumbered with inane acting and lousy writing that make them almost unwatchably ludicrous (and Sheets cannot direct physical action to save his life); hell, when you can't even get a reaction from the rape of a female corpse something's gone seriously awry.

The two running storylines converge for a credulity-straining third act--really, only in an egregious plot contrivance would these two situations ever cross paths--topped with yet another Romero-inspired zombie feeding frenzy. Ho hum, you don't need me to tell you the rest.

Sheets adds a "Satanic" twist this time around, which mostly involves splicing in shots of pentagrams and drawings of goat heads, that gives it little distinction. There's a payoff, if one can call it that, in an epilogue filled with news reports of Satanic-inspired crimes and occultic imagery that goes on nearly ten minutes after the story's over and has absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself.

Or does it? Sheets tacks on a closing crawl saying that we're already ZOMBIES by killing each other and draining our natural resources. (Um, okay, whatever you say, dude.) Misguided pleas for change are annoying enough, but at the end of a lame-brained amateurish gore-a-thon it's to be taken as seriously as the movie itself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


When offering any type of criticism--be it a story critique for a writers' workshop or an employee evaluation--common etiquette suggests beginning with something positive, softening the blow of the impending assessment. Long-time readers of this blog will know I don't usually subscribe to this method, since 98% of my negative reviews have little for them to extol, but in the case of Todd Sheets's 1993 shot-on-video opus ZOMBIE BLOODBATH I can say this: it's not as bad as his previous ZOMBIE RAMPAGE.

Faint praise to be sure, considering the ungodly mess RAMPAGE was, but at least BLOODBATH didn't make the primary act of watching the screen as gut-wrenching as the acting and plotline. I don't know if the DVD was a remastered print (an act akin to having roadkill stuffed and mounted on your wall), but the photography was clear with passable sound quality. And that's about as far as I can go with the compliments.

A title card at the start of ZOMBIE BLOODBATH proclaims it to be "inspired by every zombie movie ever made," or to translate: "We're gonna rip EVERYTHING off!" Kicking off with a nod to HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, a meltdown at a nuclear power plant (run by higher-ups who rock shirt-and-tie, khaki shorts, and hardhat ensembles) pollutes a nearby cemetery, causing the dead to rise. You can pretty much imagine the rest.

It's obvious that Sheets loves splatter films, particularly the Italian zombie variety; from the DAY OF THE DEAD-like quarry set to the cavalcade of blood, brains, and entrails that get spilled during the meager 70-minute running time, Sheets wants to share his admiration with the rest of us. However, enthusiasm can only take you so far before talent and skill need to step in.

I love gory mayhem as much as the next guy, but without the foundation of a solid story it's simply juvenile theatrics, and you don't need me to tell you that gets old fast. It's bad enough that it's one-note storytelling--the plot consists of various characters getting munched by the living dead, interspersed with several drawn-out and poorly-acted conversations--but even at this basic level the scenes grow repetitive, hitting the same monotonous note (too many moments rely on characters being overtaken by sudden swarms of awaiting zombies that strain credibility--wouldn't you notice thirty or so zombies coming up behind you?). And don't get me started on the performances here; Sheets should've taken some of the budget set aside for latex and Karo syrup and invested in some decent actors that won't sink his movie (like the hilariously unconvincing girl gang). And 1993 was far too late a year to feature a mullet-sporting father (seriously, this thing is so frightening it'd shock a Winger reunion tour groupie).

What annoys me most about Sheets's ZOMBIE BLOODBATH "trilogy" (as we'll examine in upcoming entries) is his attitude, which suggests a complacency at best and complete apathy at worst (at least he doesn't have a strutting ego he needs to showcase); Sheets seems perfectly happy to churn out simplistic, amateur-hour crap. That's fine if he was merely showing his films to friends in his rec room, but by releasing them upon the general public he owes it to his audience and to himself as a filmmaker to strive for better.