Saturday, July 5, 2008


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.

No comments: