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.