Sunday, August 31, 2008


What. The. Fuck.

Not to be confused with the recent short film GAY ZOMBIE, or the reprehensible FLAMING GAY ZOMBIES I foisted upon you a few weeks ago, I came across this amateurish mess while searching for obscure films to review. Supposedly begun as a home movie in 1986 (which would explain the horrific "production values"--this thing's as aesthetically pleasing as an Argentinian snuff flick) by writer/director Mike O'Dea, and apparently not the same Mike O'Dea behind the film TOWNIES, GAY ZOMBIES was made intermittently over the last twelve years, never to be truly completed and dumped as a multi-part upload on YouTube (where I found it, and scavanged the above data).

So stupid and pointless it borders on the avant garde, it's the perfect vehicle for people who think Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are unappreciated geniuses. And though it treats its gay zombies, who appear more like zombie mimes, with as much sensitivity as a frat hazing, it at least gives redneck assholes the same treatment. However, the only demographic it truly insults are the dumbasses who actually watch it.

Jesus Christ on a hand-cart, this is probably the worst-made "movies" I've seen for this blog (gotta love the scene where the rain smothers 98% of the audio), and that includes the stuff made by kids in their backyard; the only difference here is a plethora of F-bombs and some shadow-sodomy.

As much fun as drowning puppies.


This one was a pleasant surprise, referred to me by Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions as an example of high-concept filmmaking on a shoestring budget (and a frazzled shoestring, at that). NECROPOLIS AWAKENED is a 2002 shot-on-video feature from writer/director Garrett White that certainly wants to do more than the average DIY production, and while I found the end result lacking White definitely deserves an A for effort.

An action-oriented zombie film, NECROPOLIS concerns Nefarious Thorne, a goggle-wearing baddie with a mouthful of nasty teeth, and his plot to take over the small town of Skyhook. As the local population is steadily turned into zombies (not that big a task when the town has all of eight people) the last surviving human must fight to send the dead back into the ground.

The superior technical quality of this film is apparent right from the start, with top-notch photography and editing that's better than most micro-budget flicks. White even kick-starts the action with a car chase/crash that for once didn't have me bellowing with laughter, and maintains higher-scale set-pieces up to a rousing climax. Nor does the gore disappoint, featuring a face-removal by tire that ranks among the best no-budget effects in recent memory. That White was able to pull of a movie of this scope at all is pretty amazing, yet he managed this feat with a very small crew of friends and family and a cast of only five people. (The acting is particularly strong, especially considering most of the actors are playing multiple roles; the stand-out is easily Duke White, who plays sole survivor Bob and human villain Judas, turning in a hilariously deranged performance as the latter without edging into camp or parody.)

If NECROPOLIS AWAKENED has any problems, they lie in a rather shaky screenplay that constantly undermines White's technical savvy. While the dialogue isn't as clunky or tone-deaf as most indie films, many of the conversations are strained, and it often isn't clear what's going on. It also fails to find just the right pace, taking the time for small, quiet moments for its characters (which I don't mind) but never quite moving the story at the right tempo. It's never as engaging as it ought to be.

With a better script this could've been an under-the-radar classic, but despite being well-made it still doesn't cut it. Though I wouldn't give it more than a C+, I can't wait to see what White has up his sleeve next.


As 365 Days of the Dead draws closer to its Halloween end date, and a sea of interchangeable, unremarkable undead mediocrities surges forth in my direction, I find myself resisting the temptation to check out early. To phone the last two months in.

I won't, only because I appreciate those of you who read this blog too much, but when faced with something like the 2005 DVD-ready monstrosity DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, I gotta admit it's very appealing.

An in-name-only extension of Romero's zombie films, CONTAGIUM (you know you're in for a rough time when a movie's subtitle is a made-up word) bears as much resemblance to DAY OF THE DEAD as BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. Slapping together the weakest, most superficial elements from RESIDENT EVIL, 28 DAYS LATER, and HOUSE OF THE DEAD, this films plays as if Todd Sheets had gotten behind the helm of a Sci-Fi Channel original film. It's an amateur production that had somehow been given a larger than usual budget, and the results are just as derivative, tedious, and uninspired as its micro-budget counterparts.

Directors James Dudelson and Ana Clavell have made a film that almost but not quite reaches the so-bad-it's-entertaining mark. Not that it flirts with the delirious stupidity of TROLL 2, but these co-directors throw in enough details like subtitles identifying what language is being spoken or soldiers who swath their rifles in bandages that you can enjoy the film knowing you could make a better movie. (I wonder if some point during the production, the directors looked at each other and wondered what the hell the other was doing.)

The effects are another curious aspect of CONTAGIUM. While the CGI is as negligible as expected, the zombie and gore make-ups are pretty good, easily the highlight of the picture; but just as you're beginning to appreciate them, the filmmakers have the nerve to pass off dried glue on the actors' faces as peeling skin. This trick didn't cut it in high school jokes, you people.

What's worst about DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM is that it's more concerned with the title's built-in audience rather than its legacy, in separating fans from their money instead of giving them what they want. Some may find this passable on a camp level, but more discriminating fans (especially Romero's) will want to avoid it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I'm not sure why I'm even bothering. There's not a single thing about the 2007 indie film DEAD MOON RISING that I haven't written about, and you haven't seen, before. Following the Do-it-Yourself Guide to Cookie-Cutter Zombie Filmmaking to the letter, writer/director Mark E. Poole's maiden effort isn't even distinguished by its ineptitude, not bad enough to stand out from the rest of the shot-on-video muck.

Now, when it's too late, do I realize I should've written a template review and just changed names accordingly; it would be less of a hassle than reiterating the same laundry list of complaints, though not as much of a chore as sitting through the movie itself.

Let's see if I boil the premise down to its barest minimum: Plague. Zombies. Trapped survivors. Yep, that about covers it. Anything more would be redundant.

DEAD MOON RISING commits the same cinematic sins as most micro-budget films, most importantly a screenplay oblivious to such concepts as tempo and rhythm, but lumps in the usual suspects. We've got feeble attempts at humor, a bland, charisma-challenged cast (including an especially anemic lead), and not the barest shred of anything original. (Poole seems to understand how well-versed his audience will be, presenting his "this is how the plague spreads" montage without sound; yet rather than rehash for the umpteenth time something we've already seen, why not take a chance and try something new?)

Instead Poole gives us unwanted exposition in the form of a fourth wall-breaking narrator with all the personality of a fence post (if information isn't or can't be given through the course of dialogue it's either not necessary or a badly-written script) and a BARB WIRE-inspired action babe that plays her part laughably straight-faced.

Only one thing about this film impressed me, and that was the frightening number of extras Poole corralled for his finale. Seriously, my graduating class was smaller than this group. It's an awe-inspiring sight to see the frame filled with so many zombies; of course, they go criminally underutilized, but by that point you're resigned to as much.

Skip this one, and you've missed nothing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


We horror geeks are a pretty easy-to-please bunch. We're especially susceptible to an over-the-top approach or an audacious style--in fact, sometimes that's all we need to elevate a new film to cult status.

Take for example the 2004 Czech film CHOKING HAZARD, which strives for the zany anarchy of Peter Jackson or EVIL ED (remember that Swedish meatball?) yet never realizes that when going surface over substance you've got to go balls-out, otherwise why bother?

Director Marek Dobes tells his story of a philosophical retreat's run-in with a horde of zombie woodsmen with an aggressive hyper-style, almost gratuitously so (such as filming the removal of a bottle cap with the same intensity of THE MATRIX's bullet-time), but it's a smoke screen, a means to disguise HAZARD's shallow, simplistic plot. Yet, consciously or not, he can't maintain that degree of high-impact filmmaking, and the gimmicky tricks soon fall by the wayside, leaving the one-note story to flounder on its own.

Usually, when a movie coasts on technique the director will ladle on the gore or humor, often combining them to a heady stew that makes up for its hollowness, but CHOKING HAZARD curiously lacks bite in both departments. It's primarily a comedy, though the laughs are consistently ineffective (a casualty of the cultural barrier, perhaps, but this type of humor doesn't need translating). It's almost as if Dobes believes his premise is inherently funny, and the gags will write themselves; The only potentially amusing concept, that of a Jehovah's Witness porn star who accidentally joins the group (and provided the solitary laugh this movie got out of me), doesn't get the mileage it should, and gets stuck as a one-note, repetitive character. The film's horrific aspects don't fare much better.

Idiotic enough to make Benny Hill look like P.G. Wodehouse, CHOKING HAZARD will be best appreciated by those who watch SOUTH PARK only for the fart jokes. Hopefully, this isn't representative of the types of films being produced in the Czech Republic.

I also have no idea what the title's supposed to mean.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The isolated tranquility of any rural location has always--to me, at least--held a vague sense of sinister potential. I've never quite been sure what exactly causes it, whether it's the stark landscape of barren trees or expanses of fields or simply the fact of being miles from the next person (that you know of), but the right kind of secluded atmosphere can give a film a foreboding mood that photography or editing can't replicate. It's at this quality that Jerry O'Sullivan's 1997 shot-on-video production GUT PILE excels, making up for a film that's too bogged down in unoriginal concepts to be truly memorable.

Jeffrey Forsyth accidentally kills a fellow hunter, mistaking him for a deer, and buries the corpse in a shallow grave within the woods. The following year, he and his buddies (played by DIY-cinema guru Ron Bonk and Ed Mastin) head to the same area for a little R&R, unaware that a little justice from beyond the grave is about to be meted out.

Despite its micro-budget trappings, GUT PILE has a lot going for it: the videography is solid, with a few skewed camera angles for the right off-kilter feel, the acting is much better than most camcorder-based movies (especially Mastin, who wrings a lot of low-keyed humor out of his role), and the dialogue isn't painful to listen to for a change. But as refreshing as all of this was, it can't compensate for the times the movie falters.

At only 51 minutes, it moves a lot slower than it should, delaying its scares as late as possible. And while this is a story as complex as a revenge tale out EC Comics, it still would've been nice to have a better idea of how shaken Forsyth was by the accident. Is he remorseful? Grateful no one discovered his crime? We get glimpses, but not enough to get a handle on his character.

GUT PILE also utilizes the POV camera style that THE EVIL DEAD made popular, relying on it to such a degree that it begins to feel like a remake of Raimi's film than an homage to it. It undercuts O'Sullivan's chance of developing a style of his own, a shame since it's clear he's operating at a higher level of craft than most SOV filmmakers. I also had a problem with the movie's climax, with Forsyth spending too much time running from "unseen" (i.e. non-existent) threats, and keeping the undead hunter off-screen for far too long. At least O'Sullivan closes on a downbeat, if unsurprising, note.

It's not a great film, and at times not even a good one, but GUT PILE is still better than most video-bound movies out there. Fans of the do-it-yourself aesthetic will want to give this one a try.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

DAY 300--DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979)

The year is 1991. A young man stands in the Horror section of his local video store, an area that will have a significant impact on his life. He's sixteen years old, and his passion for all things horror is fierce (so intense it's given him a horribly pretentious attitude about anything remotely mainstream, a phase he'll thankfully outgrow). The film selection--surprisingly eclectic for a small hick town--is an embarrassment of riches; the trouble isn't finding a gem among the dreck, but which unseen classic or hidden treasure is on the agenda tonight?

You see, celluloid terrors were strictly verboten during his formative years. Although he'd always been a monster-happy kid, the kind who was consistently disappointed when Scooby-Doo and the gang discovered the ghost was just Old Man Crenshaw, his mother's death when he was nine turned his favorite entertainment into a morbid, unhealthy obsession (including a laughably misguided "intervention" with the family minister, an early lesson in the cluelessness of adults). So when his friends at school were discussing horror du jour like CHILD'S PLAY or PUMPKINHEAD he was sorely out of the loop.

But things are different now. Parental strictures have loosened, and with this newfound freedom he can finally indulge in the pleasures of movies he's read about in FANGORIA and GOREZONE, or seen profiled on THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILM SHOW. Already this year he's logged THE EVIL DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, RE-ANIMATOR, and BLUE VELVET, all of which will remain lifelong favorites. But tonight's film, George Romero's 1979 landmark DAWN OF THE DEAD, will be more than a mere movie-going experience.

It will be a revelation.

It's when this young man discovers that he really, really likes zombies. Loves them to their shambling, rotten core. He's not content to simply watch anything with ZOMBIE or DEAD in the title--in his dreams he outruns the undead masses through the Monroeville Mall. In his waking hours he scribbles zombie tales of varying degrees of mediocrity, hoping to recreate that initial cocaine-like rush. It's the beginning of a mania that he'll carry into adulthood, when he neglects his patient, understanding wife in the pursuit of a half-assed blogging quest.

That DAWN is a remarkable film is not enough. True, he loved the brooding, apocalyptic feel (and having grown up in Pennsylvania farm country, the setting strikes an even deeper chord with him) and the avaricious fantasy of living unchecked in a deserted mall. The charms of actors Ken Foree (who left him mute and fumbling when he bumped into him in the hallway of a Baltimore hotel), Gaylen Ross, David Emge (who has the greatest zombie-stride in horror history), and Scott Reininger were not lost on him; Romero's social commentary was (at the time, he was more concerned with Tom Savini's make-up than satire). But what happened during that first screening was a fusion at the DNA level, a meeting of celluloid and flesh, when the dead became a part of him.

Growing up, he can see that DAWN OF THE DEAD is not perfect. He's surprised to realize just how ineffectual Ross's character really is (and wonders if Romero made Lori Cardille so tough in DAY to compensate for her and NIGHT's Barbara's weakness), or to notice just how many mannequins stand in for zombies during key moments. Or how much the "optimistic" ending never quite sits right with him. But these minor quibbles do nothing for his unabashed devotion anymore than his wife's irritating habits affects his love for her (not that she has any).

He wouldn't be the person he is today without DAWN OF THE DEAD. Some may call that a pity, and perhaps they're right. But there isn't much you can do when the dead come to claim you.

(POSTSCRIPT: 365 Days of the Dead was originally intended to conclude with DAWN, as it's my definition of the ultimate zombie film, but I moved it up a bit, since I didn't want to end the project on a movie I wasn't going to say much about.)


Regular readers of this blog will know I tend to go easier on bad movies when they at least try to do something different--or, dare I hope, unique--but watching the 2003 indie CORPSES ARE FOREVER I found myself with conflicting feelings; it's certainly an original movie, bordering on stylish, but profound directorial inadequacies constantly overshadow its merits.

Writer/director Jose Prendes stars as Quint Barrow, a seemingly undead man in search of his kidnapped son. Shot on black-and-white video, it's a faintly noirish story, intriguing enough to overlook Prendes's turn as a shockingly passive parent and the incessant and needless voice-over that accompanies him--

--until Prendes pulls a fast one, thrusting us without warning into a full-color post-apocalyptic world (and we're talking genuine, New Testament apocalypse here) overrun with the living dead. It's a jarring and frankly disappointing transition--especially since it also transforms mild-mannered Everyman Prendes was initially playing into a bad-ass spy, whose martial arts proficiency is woefully substandard--but the explanation is, refreshingly, something we haven't seen before. In fact, I was so struck by the possibilities within the premise that I stayed with an increasingly complicated plot to see if Prendes would surprise me further. The investment, sadly, was a bad one.

Despite a solid roster of horror vets (among them Linnea Quigley, Richard Lynch, Felissa Rose, and Don Calfa) and a laudable desire to be multi-layered, CORPSES suffers from a problematic narrative; convoluted when it wants to be complex, the story shifts its tone so frequently that any sense of rhythm is disrupted. We're also treated to the ever-present plague of wretched sound quality that makes many of the scenes sound as if they were filmed in a wind tunnel.

But the biggest fault lies with Prendes himself. I'm usually leery whenever the director stars in his own picture, since the decision is more often one of ego than economics, and in this case my apprehension was justified. At its worst, watching CORPSES is watching a grown man play dress-up, indulging in a bevy of adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies; not only does he get to beat up the walking dead, but he gets to tussle in bed with femme fatale Debbie Rochon, put on a hard-boiled tough-guy routine in the movie's B-plot, and rebuff the advances from a sexy, yet hilariously out-of-place, nurse. All of this could be tolerable if Prendes could pull it off, but he's unfortunately not much of a leading man. It's not just that he doesn't have the chops for this kind of role, but there's a smug self-satisfaction underlying his performance that's as annoying as it is unwarranted.

Normally, when a filmmaker aims high and falls short I commend their efforts, but I'm not sure how I feel in this case. Maybe if Prendes casts someone else as the lead, and has a tighter script, next time out I'll give him a look, but in either instance I think I'll pass on the proposed follow-up THE CORPSE WHO LOVED ME. (By the way, despite the titular puns and a Shirley Bassey-esque theme song, the Bond motif plays very little into the actual picture.)

Friday, August 22, 2008


The title ZOMBIE JAZZ invokes some pretty vivid imagery: a smoky coffeehouse, filmed in crisp black-and-white, filled with finger-snapping hepcats surrounding a stage as an undead poet, beret cocked on his mangled skull, recites beatnik verse in guttural tones. The accompanying music would be real smooth, you dig?

Steve Dunnington's 2007 short film ZOMBIE JAZZ couldn't be any more removed from that scenario if it'd been called ZOMBIE ZYDECO JAMBOREE.

By now I should know better, but for some reason (perhaps the sixteen-hour day at the theater I've just put in) I expected something different than the amateurish "horror-comedy" that I got. This thing's ridiculous even by home-movie standards.

At least it's only four minutes long.


Nacho Cerda's THE ABANDONED was among the first batch of films released as part of After Dark's Horrorfest in 2006, and was the only one of those initial eight to garner a theatrical release. At first glance it makes sense; Cerda probably had the largest cult reputation, thanks to his notorious short film AFTERMATH, but THE ABANDONED is not exactly the kind of movie that does well at the local multiplex.

Written by Cerda and SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY director Karim Hussain, THE ABANDONED stars Anastasia Hille as an adoptee traveling to Russia in order to learn about her birth parents. She visits a rustic cabin she's inherited deep within the forest, beginning a journey into life and death, the past and the present, and the secrets that lie in the hearts of families. A journey that includes a mysterious man named Nicolai (Karel Roden) who knows more about her past than he should, and a pair of strange, zombie-like doppelgangers.

This movie should've been a modern masterpiece, and if judging solely on technical savvy Cerda still succeeds. He creates an unbearably lush atmosphere, worthy of the likes of Mario Bava, establishing and maintaining such a foreboding mood that just know something ominous will happen. Cinematographer Xavi Gimenez's excellent photography uses nature to not only heighten the ambiance, but to underscore the film's thematic elements as well (note the significance of the river in the scenes bookending the story's core). The screenplay also suggests some novel concepts, such as the ability to haunt a location before your arrival, or to feel the same pain as your ghost.

Yet, almost tragically, despite Cerda's best efforts to be genuinely scary, THE ABANDONED doesn't quite hit its mark. Blame can be pointed at Hille, whose stiff and cold demeanor may be necessary thematically, but is hard for an audience to connect to (Cerda reportedly refused to consider name actresses such as Holly Hunter or Nastassja Kinski, insisting upon an unknown; I understand his reasoning, but he could've chosen better), but the script shoulders most of the burden. Its tempo is much to slow truly be effective, trying to convey too much of the story through dialogue and creating a tedium that destroys much of what Cerda has achieved. The mystery aspect is not enough of a hook, raising more questions than they answer (surely the point, but still) and the origins of the doppelgangers is never made clear, nor mined for true suspense beyond their original reveal. It also grows needlessly obtuse as it reaches the finale, fumbling the tension when it should be cranking it.

Still, regardless of its considerable flaws, THE ABANDONED remains one of the most notable films of the decade. A cerebral, spiritual movie, sure to please fans of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, it possesses an ambition little seen in this era of rampant remakes and graphic-novel adaptations. I'd much rather see an artist falter trying to accomplish something unique than the usual prefabricated, audience-friendly schlock.


Drawing inspiration from PLANET OF THE APES and the myriad MAD MAX rip-offs that proliferated during the early '80s, writer/producer/director Steve Barkett's 1982 film ZOMBIE AFTERMATH has the makings of a pretty good film: an enthralling premise, a smattering of monsters, and the promise of sci-fi-tinged action. What it doesn't have is the budget or skill of a pretty good film, and thus turns these raw ingredients into 95 minutes of sludge.

Barkett also stars as part of a three-man space crew that crash-lands off "the coast of Los Angeles," only to find the Earth has been reduced to an unoriginal post-nuclear wasteland populated with roving biker gangs led by Sid Haig and highly flammable mutants (which go completely in flames at the barest touch of a match-head).

ZOMBIE AFTERMATH ultimately degenerates into a cliched blow-up-and-rescue vehicle that would make Chuck Norris weep; it's a hopelessly misguided mess, boasting all the production value of a cheap Filipino actioner and the excitement of Pledge Week on PBS. The abominable special effects--including penny-ante matte paintings and a spaceship set that would've embarrassed Al Adamson--do nothing to detract from the directionless, plotless "story." Barkett makes for an incredibly poor action hero, which at least keeps him consistent with the rest of the amateurish cast; Haig does the same psycho shtick he'd deliver for Rob Zombie twenty years later, but even his rape-happy character can't liven the film.

The finale tosses in some (very) mildly interesting action, such as a rooftop chase (which appears to have been performed on actual high-rise balconies without wires or safety harnesses); yet Barkett mishandles this as well, allowing a villain who's been shotgunned in both legs to stand, let alone fight.

Perhaps you've noticed that I've not yet made any mention of the film's zombies. The reason is simple: THERE ARE NO ZOMBIES IN THIS MOVIE. Yes, my reward after enduring this terrible picture--transferred onto DVD from a beat-to-hell VHS complete with tracking problems--is a copyright notice proclaiming this to be called merely THE AFTERMATH. Now, I've scrapped potential blog entries midway when I realized they weren't about zombies, but wouldn't something titled ZOMBIE AFTERMATH contain, I dunno, zombies? This could've been a how-to gardening video and the name would be just as accurate, and probably more entertaining to boot; yet by slapping on a misleading label someone managed to make this dross even less useless.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


GRAVE ROBBERS is an unremarkable Mexican outing that, like the recently reviewed EVIL CLUTCH, isn't good enough to be entertaining, yet doesn't achieve the right level of stupidity to still be watchable. Director Ruben Galindo Jr.'s 1990 film certainly has its share of unintended laughs, but not enough to make it worth the investment.

A group of treasure-seeking teens break into the subterranean tomb of a satanic priest, only to resurrect him as a vengeance-hungry zombie. In addition to killing those who disturbed his grave, the priest is also out to impregnate a virgin for the birth of the Antichrist.

The first hour of GRAVE ROBBERS is horrendously bogged down with laborious action and nonsensical dialogue; really, the movie couldn't have been less boring if the DVD was blank. The final third act almost compensates for this tedium with some pretty decent gore (including a grisly ax to the face) and the kind of illogical filmmaking bad movie buffs yearn for. But GRAVE ROBBERS can't maintain its manic brainlessness, and crumbles long before its sappy ending.

Worth a derisive chuckle maybe, but GRAVE ROBBERS falls short of the gold standard of TROLL 2.


Most short films--at least the ones I've been viewing for this blog, anyway--reveal their hand early, letting you know upfront if you're in for a quirky treat or unbearable boredom. Cortney B. Brown's 2007 short GHOSTS OF THE DEAD isn't quite so easy to read, appearing at first to be one step above somebody's home movies, then sneaking into a more stylish mode.

Unfortunately, it shifts back to hackneyed storytelling soon thereafter.

After a "prologue" consisting of Zombie Walk footage mixed with a bloodied girl dragging on a cigarette (fortunately, this didn't turn out to be the grossly self-indulgent wank-fest I was expecting), it gets its minimalist story underway. Brown cobbles together the standard zombie-film beats, and GHOSTS is more a suggestion of a story than a full-fledged narrative, but there's a little style and an attempt at something different; granted, it's the notion of zombies having ghosts, which is as confusing as it is possibly contradictory, but give Brown points for trying.

Then subtract those points for not delving deeper into the premise. GHOSTS devolves into the same amateurish mess we've seen time and again, confusing rampant use of the word "fuck" with character development and running hopelessly off the rails. (Why would you spent a full minute in a seven-minute film in a meaningless driving montage?)

The zombies are interesting (though the noise they make, which sounds like a Sleestak getting suctioned in a dentist's chair, gets annoying quick), but ultimately GHOSTS OF THE DEAD has no real point and thus no reason to go anywhere. Perhaps Brown should consider exploring his ideas a bit further, but let's wait until the Sleestaks have their check-up, okay?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I think I'll be keeping this review kinda short.

Mostly because there isn't much I can say about 1973's RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD that I haven't already mentioned in the previous reviews in Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series (though I'm viewing this one last, it's actually the second in the chronology). All the hallmarks that've made this one of my favorite series--the palpable atmosphere, the ominous chanting soundtrack, the skeletal visages and slow-mo gait of the Knights Templar--are here.

In this installment the Knights descend upon a quaint Portuguese village and terrorize its citizens during their centennial festival. Those who don't care for the creeping pace of these movies will be equally bored here, since RETURN offers perhaps the fewest thrills of them all; this may be due to a fair amount of cuts inflicted upon the film--including Anchor Bay's supposedly unedited version, which is the one I've seen--but I honestly don't think a little extra gore would've helped much. Save for one scene involving a young, frightened girl being used as bait to lure the Knights so the unsavory characters can escape, there isn't a whole lot going on.

Obviously, if you're a fan of any of the other Blind Dead movies you'll want to make time for RETURN, but casual viewers may want to stick with the original TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD or the formula-breaking HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, aka GHOST GALLEON (or, if faster-paced thrills are what you're after, skip them altogether).


When I first started 365 Days, I was surprised to see just how many zombie films--or films involving the dead returning to life--were centered around a love story. But when you think about it, it makes sense; the notion of a love so strong it defies death is a terribly romantic one, and the desire to be with that one true love forever is incredibly powerful.

It's a need that drives the 1972 film NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND, which weaves elements of mystery and horror into a whirlwind romance. Susan Hampshire plays a young woman who meets a lighthouse keeper (Frank Finlay), with whom she begins an abrupt, passionate affair. Together they escape to a Scottish isle, where Finlay dies during a romp on the beach. But it'll take more than death to keep these lovers apart.

Director Fred Burnley, working from a screenplay by Gordon Honeycombe (who also wrote the novel it's based upon), posits that Hampshire and Finlay's love is so strong, so pure, that death cannot separate them, but don't go in expecting THE CROW. This film is first and foremost a romance, and I've got no problem with that, except that it's an exceptionally talky and slow romance; Burnley keeps the story moving with a pace roughly the speed of the average glacier.

And though there are times it feels deadeningly dull, there are a couple of moments that (almost) make it worth the effort. Finlay's initial return after his death is a creepy highlight, and turns up toward the end as a gradually rotting corpse. But Burnley merely skirts around the horrific, never truly embracing it, and these sequences quickly lose their impact.

NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND is the kind of movie most people picture when they think "art film": long stretches of dialogue, a dearth of physical activity on screen, and an emphasis on theme over plot. It wants to be profound, but is much too plodding--and while Hampshire's character is intended to be a grief-stricken romantic, but often comes across as obsessive and weird once Finlay's dead, making any type of sympathy difficult.

Fans of '70s cinema, or the extraordinarily patient, may want to visit this one, but those seeking a more visceral experience should head elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Picking up the brain-addled antics where ELECTRIC ZOMBIES left off is the 2004 shot-on-video movie ZOMBIEZ, directed by Zachary Winston Snygg (who churns out "urban" styled rotgut horror like VAMPIYAZ AND BLOODZ VS. WOLVEZ, and apparently loves the letter "Z"), hiding here under his initials. After seeing this confusing mishmash I can't blame him for wanting to stay anonymous.

What's it about? Good question. I sure as hell don't know, and none of the actors involved in this mess bothered to summarize it on IMDB for our convenience, probably because they don't know either. Snygg most likely made this up as he went, if the drastic shifts in tone and story are any indication.

Nor do I think Snygg knows much about zombies, since he opens his film with a crawl explaining the origin of the undead (he likes explaining things, so much that he breaks the movie into little segments, headed with pretentious definitions of simple words--i.e. fear, lost, etc.), but he gets it wrong; "traditional" zombies, those induced into death-like trances by the use of hallucinogenics, don't eat people. Romero kinda added that when he made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, as anyone who slept during Horror Ed 101 will tell you.

Jenicia Garcia stars as part of a demolition crew working out of either a run-down industrial district or the edge of a forest, depending on where the story needs it. After sickle-wielding zombies kill her supervisor she heads home, only to have her husband abducted by them once she gets there. She then gets waylaid in a HOSTEL-like torture chamber before embarking on a loooooooooooong foot chase through the woods and running into a clan of cannibals in order to get him back.

Like I said, it's a bit jumbled.

If there had been a shred of sharp direction or skilled dramatics on board it might not've been so bad, but ZOMBIEZ comes up empty in either department. Nor does anything happen, since the plot prefers to go in circles rather than move forward, burdened with some of the worst dialogue I've ever encountered. (Snygg's idea of a police interrogation is to repeat the same question without variation five or six times, and his attempts at slang are clumsy at best.)

Worse, Snygg tries to inject some humor into the proceedings, but he handles comedy as sloppily as he does horror (what the hell is a man in a chicken suit doing in this thing?). Of course, that's not to say you won't be laughing during ZOMBIEZ, because there's plenty of ineptitude to chuckle at.

Yikes. Just yikes.


Have you ever done something you knew you weren't probably going to like--be it going on a date with someone who wasn't your type, or consuming drinks with names like Elephant Enema--but did it anyway? What you feel afterward isn't necessarily regret, but almost a vague sense of shame that goes beyond "I told you so." The 2006 shot-on-video release ELECTRIC ZOMBIES is like that, a movie so universally reviled by those who've seen it that I knew I had to see it, even though it's as much fun as eating a bucket of bad clams.

In a premise that Stephen King would find awfully familiar, ordinary citizens are becoming brain-washed zombies due when they answer their cell phones. I hate to do this, but for further plot information allow me to quote in full the Plot Summary from the film's IMDB page:

"Cult horror director John Specht's low-budget feature, "Electric Zombies," neatly cobbles together two disparate genres: the conspiracy thriller and the horror/slasher movie. It also comments sardonically on the post-9/11 fear of the U.S. government-gone-haywire, as it recounts the tale of a misguided federal project to brainwash "enemies of the state" via cell-phone signals. The signals inadvertently grow in power and become redirected to the U.S., turning unsuspecting civilians into super-obedient zombies whenever their cell phones are answered. They receive self-destructive orders, which they follow will-lessly -- orders running the gamut from self-mutilation to suicide to homicide to riot. Those who manage to escape from falling prey to the menace must find a way to stop the threat -- before the U.S. erupts into unchecked anarchy."

The above synopsis is credited to one Jonas Moses, who appears as an actor in the film. Frankly, I would've still known it was a ringer's review by two things: one, it isn't the least bit negative, and two, Moses knew exactly what the movie was about.

There is absolutely no way one can discern what happens in ELECTRIC ZOMBIES just by watching it. It's a terminally muddled "thriller," compensating in confusion what it lacks in thrills. Director John Specht lets us know right off the bat we'll never know what's going on, drowning the dialogue under the score and sound effects and fading in and out without rhyme or reason every thirty seconds. We've got spies, politicians, cops, pimps and ho's, but what we don't have is a clue.

ELECTRIC ZOMBIES fails in every conceivable artistic capacity, too cheap, boring, and stupid to even elicit a passionate response. Watching it won't make you laugh or piss you off; you'll just sit there with a vague feeling of sympathy, praying for the end to come (the movie's or yours, whichever happens to arrive first).

If you're anything like me you normally rush out and track down a movie that gets a virulent review like this one, and because I know the mentality I won't bother to stop you. Instead I'll wait until the following morning, give you a comforting pat on the shoulder, and say, "I told you so."


One of a handful of Mexican films Boris Karloff made shortly before his death (and released posthumously), 1971's THE SNAKE PEOPLE is often considered the best of a bad lot. While it wasn't the cinematic abortion I was expecting, it wasn't particularly good, either.

Collaborating directors Juan Ibanez and Jack (SPIDER BABY) Hill suggest an intriguing little programmer at the outset, kicking off with a voodoo ritual complete with a sinister dwarf and a live chicken decapitation, but it soon degenerates into talky occultic hokum. (Nor did anyone in the production do their homework, once again referring to voodoo as a religion of "black magic and a cult of death.")

South-of-the-border actress Julissa heads to an unspecified Caribbean locale on a smug, self-important quest to rid the world of alcohol consumption--it's responsible for 99.2% of all the world's sins, don't you know. Along with her wealthy uncle (Karloff, dressed for some reason like Colonel Sanders), she quickly gets ensnared in the plans of a fiendish voodoo cult that's been turning beautiful native girls into zombies. (The title, I'm sorry to say, refers to the use of snakes during voodoo rituals, and not people who are part reptile. Shoot.)

It's fairly sluggish material, with little going for it. Karloff looks visibly uncomfortable throughout--whether it was his failing health or knowing he was acting in a dud, I can't say--and the rest of the cast aren't much better. The main reason anyone will keep watching is the (mildly) erotic undercurrent embodied by snake dancer Tongolele, not to mention various hallucinatory sequences involving women gripping writhing snakes or some brief girl-on-girl play.

The zombies in THE SNAKE PEOPLE owe more to more subtle fare like WHITE ZOMBIE than George Romero, so don't expect any flesh-eating--heck, don't expect them to be on-screen much.

It's a sad, sad showcase for one of the genre's finest actors.

Monday, August 18, 2008


At least this 2007 short film had a hook--I'm not sure you could actually call it a plot--unlike most shorts I've seen, which consists of zombies chasing the director's friends through the backyard. And that, my friends, is as close as I can come to praising FLAMING GAY ZOMBIES, a jaw-droppingly terrible production from Sadya Lashua and Aaron Mace.

I'm not really sure what to make of this, since it's hard to tell what the filmmakers were trying to do. It's not a satire, nor a comment on what it's like to be gay. I think it might be a comedy, but with humor this sophomoric and unfunny, I can't say. The story, such as it is, involves a young man who comes across a magical pair of glasses that, for reasons unexplained, enables him to turn other men into zombies with a single bite; only these "zombies" aren't really the living dead, but rather straight men turned queer, a parallel I found terribly insulting and I'm not even gay. This plot device serves no real purpose other than an excuse to indulge in unamusing gay jokes and extended scenes of man-on-man groping. (It amounts basically to softcore gay porn, but if that's your thing, I'm sure you can find better examples elsewhere.)

Pointless and tedious, there's nothing about FLAMING GAY ZOMBIES that makes much sense. I don't think the filmmakers are gay, nor do they know much about male homosexuality--they confuse it with transvestism, for one thing--and at times they come off as contemptuous of gays; certainly the ending does as the zombies "turn straight." (And let's not forget the segment in which our hero pimps out his zombies, taking great pains to emphasize how cheap they are.) It makes me wonder about their motivation, though, since despite a creeping anti-queer sentiment they dwell extensively on sequences of guys writhing on top of one another.

Oh, and can someone explain the ending to me, aside from the cheap symbolism of eating phallic hot dogs?


Why in the name of all that is holy was this allowed to happen? I mean, was anybody really asking for this?

Once again the undisputed classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is thrown over a barrel and sodomized for the sole purpose of scraping up a few easy bucks from a built-in audience--sheesh, Ned Beatty didn't have it this bad in DELIVERANCE. While I don't think anything could top John Russo's desecration for the 30th Anniversary "Special Edition," this ill-conceived and thoroughly unwanted 2006 remake comes mighty damn close. (I could also say that NIGHT was remade once already, and didn't exactly require another go-round, but this deep into the blog I've learned that Romero's film has essentially been remade dozens of times.)

Director--and oh, how I use that term loosely--Jeff Broadstreet made one of those movies that's so bad, so incompetent, and so insulting (on both a conceptual level and in execution) that it invokes a profound, indignant anger; I honestly can't remember a movie made me this flat-out furious. The hubris to remake a classic of NIGHT's stature is bad enough, but to do it without an iota of filmmaking savvy (Broadstreet is to cinema what Josef Mengele is to modern medicine) is unacceptable.

The good news, if there can be any gleaned from a colossal fuck-up like this, is that this version is largely an in-name-only remake. Aside from a hideously inept cemetery opening, this NIGHT cuts its own swath, though the asinine story's no different than a hundred other zombie flicks, and no better. Broadstreet seems to think that "updating" a movie means tossing in gratuitous references to MapQuest and cell phones, and his modernized version of "They're coming to get you, Barbara" would've brought bile to the back of my throat if wasn't so spectacularly stupid and faux-clever.

At least Broadstreet had the good sense to surround himself with actors of the same caliber. Sid Haig, who seems to phone it in for any director not named Rob Zombie, plays one of the characters invented for this version (I wonder if he'd have still half-assed this part if he'd known it was written expressly for him) and, quite frankly, isn't fit to shine Duane Jones's shoes. And as for Brianna Brown, our upgraded Barbara, I have two words of career advice for her that will mesh nicely with her range of talent: Porn. Ography.

(If you've noticed why I haven't yet mentioned this version being in 3D, it's because I watched the flat edition also available, though I really didn't see anything that could've benefited from the third dimension aside from a marketing gimmick. Don't worry, though, it'll still make you dizzy.)

This latest NIGHT couldn't even achieve the escapist fun of Tom Savini's 1990 remake, let alone attempt a stab at the original's social or political commentary. No, everybody runs around until the zombies get them. That's pretty much the whole story right there. And if you haven't watched it yet, you're welcome.

If I do compile a Worst Of list at the end of this project, as I've been seriously contemplating, this NIGHT is a sure bet for the Top Five. I'd tell you to avoid it, but what I really want you to do is find a copy, stomp it beneath your foot, piss on the remains, and bury it by the side of the road. Trust me, it's a more productive activity than actually watching the goddamn thing.


Director S. Torriano Berry sets the tone for his 1996 shot-on-video chiller THE EMBALMER by prefacing it with "A We Had No Money, So We Had Fun Production." And while I'll always admire the let's-put-on-a-show spirit of so many non-professional features, somewhere along the line Berry forgot that the audience has to have fun, too.

THE EMBALMER attempts to create a nightmarish figure out of the fictional urban legend of Undertaker Zack, a mortician who uses his victims' bodily fluids to revive his slaughtered family, but Berry's raw ingredients just don't gel. It could be the poorly-conceived title crawl that establishes the legend ("We all have our childhood myths and legends that scared the sh-- [sic] out of us"), the horrible rap song that accompanies it, or the fact that a villain named Zack simply isn't all that scary.

Berry gets things to a good start, though, in a fairly disturbing prologue in which Zack's daughter witnesses him killing her mother before being murdered herself, but the story quickly derails without ever getting back on track. The film's backstory is a bit heavy-handed and force-fed to the audience, and the plot strains credibility (such as the abusive asshole parents who're too cartoonish to be believable, or that one of the scholarship-bound teens would ditch his promising future to run away with his friend and his gal-pal, and on a whim no less) and digresses too much to gain much momentum.

THE EMBALMER has pretty good production values, given its limitations, and the cast is adequate, although the script tends to turn them into unlikable snits somewhere after the first act. Way too little time is spent with Undertaker Zack or his undead family (though considering the lousy zombie makeup on display, maybe that's a good thing), as the characters wander aimlessly through Zack's dilapidated abode or sneaking off for a little discreet fornication.

Although it shows glimmers of skill (to my surprise, Berry's not an upstart filmmakers like I'd assumed--he was in his late thirties when he made this--but, according to his IMDB bio, a professor at Howard University's Department of Radio, Television, and Film), THE EMBALMER ultimately disappoints due mainly to its lackluster storytelling. Berry doesn't seem to have done another film since, but I'm curious to see what he'd do with a better screenplay at his disposal.


I'll admit it, I almost forgot to include Jorge Grau's 1974 film LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE. Not because I'd overlooked it--unlikely, since it's not only one of my favorite zombie films--but because I thought I'd already reviewed it. I suppose these last few weeks of suffering through dreck like MY DEAD GIRLFRIEND and ZOMBIE STRIPPERS have led me to believe I'd worked through all the good films.

Also known under a slew of alternate titles--BREAKFAST AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, and DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW, among others--CORPSES bears the distinction of not only being arguably Spain's best contribution to the zombie subgenre, but as one one of the first films directly influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Unlike later imitators who were content to be mere rip-offs, Grau used Romero's classic as a starting point, a point of reference for his own movie. And the results, though not as well-known as Romero's, are just as successful.

I don't really want to start a compare-and-contrast of CORPSES and NIGHT, since each movie stands on its own merits, but as we'll see there are quite a few parallels that enrich the CORPSES viewing experience.

Most notably is that Grau gives a fairly specific, pseudo-scientific explanation for the zombie outbreak; with a nod to the eco-horror films of yore, an experimental pesticide technique using ultrasound waves that somehow revives the dead while killing off insects and vermin. (This also helps Grau pay homage to '50s sci-fi movies like THE BLOB, where the heroes can't convince the authorities of the outlandish situations they face.) This reason is also incorporated into the story, rather than being breezed over as a plot-starting gimmick.

As for the story itself, CORPSES eschews Romero's trapped-in-a-box scenario for a more detailed and nuanced plot that emphasizes mystery as much as horror, and a slightly deeper character development. (Please don't read any of this as a knock against NIGHT or Romero; I'm simply pointing out differences in approach, not extolling one at the other's expense.) And like its fellow countryman TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, CORPSES uses a bucolic pastoral atmosphere to astonishing effect, particularly in the first reveal of the living dead, a sequence of beautifully executed tension; yet Grau never allows the mood to hamper or slow the story's pace.

(And while we're on the subject, I can't help but wonder if Grau chose a setting of lush beauty as a subtle ecological comment--note the contrasting prologue, as star Ray Lovelock flees an urban environment of noise and pollution--or if he put the grotesqueries of the living dead's attack against a placid backdrop to heighten the horror.)

Like Romero, Grau keeps his heroine (Christina Galbo, in a lightweight, borderline-irritating role) ineffectual for the duration of the movie, even subjecting her to a grim end at the conclusion--though Barbara never suffered the indignity of becoming the undead. What's more interesting is Lovelock's character George; standing in for Duane Jones, he replaces NIGHT's racial tension with generation-gap conflict as he clashes with Arthur Kennedy's fascist detective. With his "long hair and faggot clothes," it's obvious that he can do no right in Kennedy's eyes, and though his own fate echoes that of Jones's, it's still a foregone conclusion from their very first meeting. (Their relationship suggests what kind of threat the hippie movement posed to the European status quo, but certain aspects of Lovelock's character--his aforementioned appearance and fey demeanor imply a homophobic undertone as well.) While his death doesn't have quite the same resonance, at least Lovelock gets to come back and get his revenge--a denouement that diminishes its impact further.

Aided immeasurably by a distorted electronic score and a use of unusual sound, LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE ranks among the most accomplished zombie films of all time, and might even be a contender for the best non-Romero zombie movie ever made. Any fan of the living dead who has not seen it has a glaring omission in their horror education, one they should rectify immediately. Those who have seen it should watch it again, just for the hell of it.


Saturday, August 16, 2008


As I mentioned previously in the HELL'S GROUND review, foreign films can often be fascinating by translating domestic classics into a different cultural sensibility. Even when a movie's especially derivative of stateside terrors, seeing well-worn genre tropes in new contexts makes them simultaneously intriguing, amusing, and accessible. Curiously, various portions of the world rip off American horror films differently; while Italian horrors are notorious for slavishly copying popular trends, India, Turkey, and other Eastern countries are just as guilty. It's just that their versions have an energy, verve, and a unique sense of audacious ridiculousness that makes them infinitely rewatchable.

Well, most of them, anyway. Director Sisworo Gautama Putra's 1982 film SATAN'S SLAVE is an Indonesian take-off of PHANTASM, and though it's interesting to see Don Coscarelli's film retold against a Muslim backdrop (though, to be honest, if you're looking for the equivalent of the Tall Man or dwarfs or silver spheres, you won't find them here), the movie as a whole is lacking.

SLAVE plays very much like a conventional Western ghost story, focusing on hauntings and demonic possessions until late in the film, when the living dead arise. The family at the story's center has recently lost their mother, and in their grief have turned their backs on religion, thus allowing the evil spirits to take hold; while it's interesting to see how Islamic beliefs dictate the story, it's more of a plot device to get the ball rolling.

SATAN'S SLAVE comes close to reproducing PHANTASM's vaguely dream-like atmosphere, helped by a trippy Tangerine Dream-styled score, but it loses its momentum fairly soon and boredom quickly settles in. Aside from a goofy-looking "Satan" in a dream sequence, it's pretty slow going until the zombies show up (and even then it's kinda dull, even if the undead inexplicably hiss like Sleestaks).

If you really want to check out the wild delights Indonesian horror has to offer, try MYSTICS IN BALI or VIRGINS IN HELL instead.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I knew I was in trouble before MY DEAD GIRLFRIEND even started. Director Brett Kelly begins his 2006 do-it-yourselfer with a production logo: Brett Kelly Productions, with the words framing the filmmaker's photo, before moving on to opening quotes from both Shakespeare and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD--yep, it's time once again for Self-Enamored Amateur Director Theater. Perhaps if Kelly had spent more time working on a decent script instead of being in awe of himself he might've made a watchable horror-comedy.

Kelly also stars--big surprise--as a college professor who moves in with one of his female students. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that an ethics violation of some sort?) When Kelly accidentally backs over his new girlfriend, in one of the movie's many feeble examples of humor, he tries covering it up, only to discover she's come back as a flesh-eating zombie. (Don'tcha hate it when that happens?) This sets up a so-called comedy as Kelly inexplicably takes her on a camping trip that's slightly less amusing than an episode of HOMEBOYS FROM OUTER SPACE.

The story's utterly predictable, hitting every well-worn plot point right on schedule yet Kelly trots them out as if they're fresh. Making matters worse, he's a horrible leading man, a total black hole of charisma and a sloppy comedian to boot. This is the type of filmmaking--driven more by ego than a desire to tell a good story--that's all too prevalent on the DIY scene, and a shining illustration of why micro-budget films are so hard to sit through.

Even if you haven't watched MY DEAD GIRLFRIEND, you've already seen it, as there's nothing new or original. At 73 minutes, it's mercifully brief, yet still wears out is welcome staggeringly quick.


Give credit where it's due, folks: this movie says right upfront that it's horrible. And it's by this criteria--and this criteria alone--that the movie succeeds. Directed by Ted Nicolau (who gave us the SUBSPECIES series), this 2000 effort was part of producer Charles Band's attempt to appeal to "urban" horror audiences, which basically consisted of throwing African-American actors into the same watered-down "monsters and puppets" scenarios of previous flicks.

The horrible titular doctor is a powerful and influential hip-hop mogul, though with a loose enough schedule to hold open auditions for aspiring artists. He signs a hopeful new group called the Urban Protectors to a lucrative record deal, failing to mention he's planning to turn their music into an evil anthem to turn listeners into a zombie army. (Hey, I just watch 'em, people.)

Despite its zombie plotline, THE HORRIBLE DR. BONES is a warmed-over showbiz melodrama with a minor supernatural twist, padded out with numerous musical numbers and interminable conversations. (A condensed version of the film appears in the anthology flick URBAN EVIL, though even streamlined it's boring and dry.) The actors are decent--and Sarah Scott makes a pleasing hip-hop singer--but the story is nonsensical, the horror too soft-pedaled and silly to be effective.

Still, as horrible as Dr. Bones is, it's better than I WANT TO WORK FOR DIDDY.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I've been trying to figure out a way to preface THE BURNING DEAD, a 2004 DIY feature from director George A. Demick, and can't quite come up with a way that I haven't done in previous posts. It's not a completely bad film, especially by the standards of most micro-budget movies, though there's nothing to really distinguish it, either. Oh well, let's take a look.

The movie stars D. Vincent Ashby as a troubled young man returning to his childhood home, hoping to recover from a deep-seated trauma stemming from a catastrophic fire that killed several people. Ashby keeps seeing the smoldering victims during the night--is he losing his mind, or is there a more nefarious explanation?

Ashby seems like a nice enough fellow--he comes across as a shaggy Nicolas Cage--but he's somewhat lacking as an actor, with a tendency to painfully overact, though the overwrought dialogue he's given doesn't help. Demick has the ingredients for a tight little horror tale--he doles out information carefully, keeping things ambiguous enough to hold our interest--but for everything that he accomplishes in his favor, he sabotages it with amateurish mistakes; his worst habit is a tendency for long stretches of exposition, relayed in static shots that often repeat information we've already been given (Ashby likes to mumble during these scenes as well). Demick's got the kernel of a good story, but too often it consists of one-note dream sequences that do little to propel the story forward, adding too many pointless moments of Ashby idly driving around, and throws in a couple of last-minute twists that, while not entirely out of left field, don't really count as satisfying storytelling choices (well, there is a late reveal of Ashby's paranormal ability that feels like a cheat). And the outcome is gratingly predictable and pat, with a "feel-good" ending.

But Demick shows he can establish a dream-like mood on a bare-bones budget, and the scenes in which the dead visit Ashby are well-put together. He's got a decent enough eye, and if he can trim the extraneous material from future scripts he might be an indie filmmaker to watch.

Close, but no cigar.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Mindless Action Movies aren't made to be appreciated by critics. They're solely designed to delight fans looking for thrills, cheap or otherwise, and succeed on the strength of their fight scenes and explosions. I'm cool with that, for the record. I only mention it because I feel somewhat stupid complaining about the lack of substance in Ryuhei Kitamura's 2000 cult favorite VERSUS; it's so concerned with being a Mindless Action Movie that it never realizes how shallow and thin it is (and we're going by Mindless Action Movie standards).

Springing from the Super-8 short DOWN TO HELL, VERSUS sets up a fascinating premise: there are 666 portals connecting our world to the great beyond. In a Japanese forest a group of criminals have gathered where the 444th portal--the Forest of Resurrection--is located. It's a concept that promises a lot of fast-paced fun, but soon after the living dead show up, the story's dropped for an abundance of self-indulgent directorial preening.

Kitamura is a very style-conscious director, so much that coolness and badassery are paramount, dictating the course of the picture. The trouble is that his style is that of other squib-happy filmmakers like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, and spends two friggin' hours aping their movies. Tough-guy posturing is one thing--hell, it can be what separates a great action flick from the mediocre--but copying someone else's tough-guy posturing is irritating as fuck. Take the iconic everyone-pulls-their-gun-on-each-other moment that occurs in Woo's best work; Kitamura pulls out this chestnut every chance he gets, regardless that it was stale long before the first instance.

To call this a gun fetish movie would be an understatement--this is for guys who like to masturbate to SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. Once again, wall-to-wall gunfire makes for can't-miss entertainment, but if you're relying only on surface qualities you've got to bring something new to the table.

Oh, and did I mention it's got an open ending, so Kitamura can continue this chicanery without the burden of logic or reason?


Short films, I've come to discover, are a dicey prospect. Not counting amateur or student productions (which seem to rarely be worth watching by anyone outside the movie itself), it's hard to find a short that works the same as a well-crafted short story. Most shorts are adequately made on a technical level, but severely lack in solid storytelling. Director Duncan Bowles's 2006 film WORKING LATE is a good example of this trend.

Two low-rung corporate types are stuck overnight in their office to prepare for an important presentation. As if they weren't under enough pressure, yet another zombie outbreak has turned the city into a madhouse, and these guys will be lucky to get out with their lives, let alone their jobs.

While it's competently filmed, WORKING LATE is woefully thin in the plot department; there certainly isn't twenty-eight minutes' worth of story to be found as one of the workers is bitten and disappears into the building as the other searches for/hides from him. There's plenty of opportunity for "corporate drones as the walking dead" metaphor, yet Bowles keeps this strictly an office-bound NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; even with such an unimaginative throughline WORKING LATE drags as slowly as the undead it features. Maybe if the surviving worker didn't cower in the break room and listen to the radio every three minutes the story might not've been boring and suspense-free.

Bowles assembles an impressive zombie army for the ending, but fades to black before giving them anything to do. It's frustrating, because even with a bare-bones scenario like this one Bowles could've made something really fun instead of executing a perfect anti-climax.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Don't go near this movie.


LIVING A ZOMBIE DREAM begins with a production company logo: Borderline Entertainment, which is probably the most accurate moniker I've ever seen. This 1996 shot-on-video feature from director Todd Reynolds tries to be something more than a run-of-the-mill living dead flick, even daring to be artsy, but faces too many hurdles--be it budgetary, technical, or creative--that it just can't overcome.

Encapsulating the plot will be no easy task, since throughout most of the movie I had no idea exactly what was going on, but I'll give it a shot: a young man--played by Amon Elsey, who looks suspiciously like he'd be Arch Hall Jr.'s secret love child--catches his girlfriend and his brother mid-coitus (though, as ridiculous as this sex scene is, I'd be more embarrassed for them than angry). As retribution, Elsey takes his brother for a ride and leaves him stranded in the middle of the night in a well-lit, properly maintained suburban neighborhood (that'll teach the bastard, I guess), only to accidentally leave him for a local serial killer, a killer who likes to dress in a loincloth--no reason, must be a comfort thing--and make snuff movies in his basement. Elsey kills this Tarzan-wannabe psycho, only to find that he won't stay dead, returning again and again in what is either grossly unmotivated revenge or an increasingly potent hallucination.

And while the above synopsis sounds like an interesting enough movie, I'm afraid it really isn't, since the film's as lively as a kid on the first day of school. It's bad enough that the story lags, but Reynolds needlessly jumbles the chronology of events, making it confusing as well. We're then treated to a parade of strange, David Lynch-flavored sequences that may or may not be in Elsey's head (we're made to question what's real and what isn't, but never in a tantalizing or absorbing way); though I appreciate that Reynolds is trying to do something different, even if I can't understand it, without any knowledge of who these characters are or what they're after, these scenes end up merely as bizarre window-dressing (even at his most obtuse, Lynch never abandons the viewer in the imagery). And that's a shame, because this might've been an engrossing film if it'd had the right energy, but DREAM lies on the screen, lifeless, with no impetus or conflict to propel it.

Despite a few surreal flourishes here and there, LIVING A ZOMBIE DREAM suffers on a technical level too, hampered by muddy, grainy videography and poor audio (yet, as we've seen from previous reviews, crappy sound can be your friend with such inferior acting on display).

Reynolds has his heart in the right place, but his movie feels like those terrible softcore skin flicks that popped up during the mid-'90s, the ones that interspersed repetitive flashes of random objects with lingering images of nude women (who got off on those damn things is beyond me, since I've seen more erotic fare on The Learning Channel). LIVING A ZOMBIE DREAM is a painful lesson in style vs. substance.


A pleasant surprise, this one, thanks in part to different expectations. Director Elza Kephart's 2003 film sounds a lot like several of the raunchy zombie sex-comedies that've popped up on this blog: a frumpy nurse becomes bitten by a zombie and turns into a sultry sexpot as well as the living dead, enabling her to fulfill the fantasies she was too afraid to pursue in life. But this quirky Canadian production is much more than that; influenced by such disparate sources as vintage science fiction, arthouse films, and silent cinema, GRAVEYARD ALIVE is a refreshingly subversive indie, even with its flaws.

Broken into nine chapters, complete with their own headings (usually the herald of an unbearably pretentious filmmaker--but not the case here), ALIVE chronicles the romantic misadventures of dowdy Nurse Patsy (Anne Day-Jones), who pines for the dreamy Dr. Dox (Karl Gerhardt); but, alas, the handsome doctor is already engaged to Head-Nurse-to-be Goodie (as in Two-Shoes, played by Samantha Slan). Kephart seems to realize her silly, pun-based humor doesn't exactly work early on, so she abandons it for a more-or-less straight-faced parody of old soap operas. At least until a bite from an infected patient turns her into a flesh-hungry sex kitten out to take what she wants.

The film plays well, demonstrating that the soaps of yore weren't all that different from sci-fi pics of the same era; the performances capture the wooden earnestness, and the story has the same steady build-up of a creaky monster programmer. The zombie angle is introduced fairly early, with a Van Helsing stand-in who establishes the rules with a unique twist: "The only known method of eliminating a zombie is to drive a knife of 100% sterling silver through the third eye of the centre [sic] of the skull." Different, sure, but also remarkably similar to vampire lore, no? At times like this, or when Day-Jones must prey on the living to keep from decomposing, that Kephart feels like she can't decide what kind of monster she wants, though her indecisiveness never detracts from the plot.

GRAVEYARD ALIVE excels aesthetically at the expense of its narrative, but is the trade-off ever worth it. The concept of zombie-transformation-as-empowerment is nothing new, but Kephart's approach certainly is, eschewing the typical fuck-and-eat scenario for a much more subtle and nuanced route. Sure, there is a sampling of gore (which meshes unexpectedly well in the film's retro look), but Kephart throws in some eerie dream sequences and an increasingly surreal atmosphere that recalls CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the early work of David Lynch. The movie moves much slower than its 81-minute running time suggests (and there are times when the story practically crawls on its belly), but the engaging look and involving plot carries it along.

It's not a perfect film, but still one I recommend searching out. Kephart deserves credit for doing something different with the zombie genre, as well as a lot more attention (I imagine I'm not the only one who overlooked this film). For additional fun, invite some film theorists over and really mess with them.

Friday, August 8, 2008


One of the goals of 365 Days is to look at how the living dead are treated in various genres; we've got plenty of horror films, obviously, as well as a plethora of comedies and a surprising number of love stories. What I was really hoping to find were some zombie documentaries--ostensibly real ones, not mock-docs like AMERICAN ZOMBIES--but aside from a few specials on The History Channel I was coming up empty. The closest I could find that fit my admittedly loose criteria was Roy Frumkes's 1989 making-of documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD. (And if anyone out there knows of any "real" zombie docs--especially in the vein of those searching-for-Bigfoot films from the '70s--please let me know.)

DOCUMENT is both a behind-the-scenes look at George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD as well as an informal study of the director's style and technique. Unlike similar projects which serve as glorified electronic press kits, this is a true making-of film; Frumkes follows Romero around DAWN's Monroeville Mall location, gleaning bits of production trivia (for example: shooting was suspending during the Christmas season so time wasn't wasted removing and replacing the mall's holiday decorations) and Romero's thoughts on the filmmaking process.

In addition to the filming of DAWN, Frumkes studies Romero's directorial methods, using clips from MARTIN and the original NIGHT to analyze his stylistic consistency. We also get a look at Romero in the editing bay before segueing to the TWO EVIL EYES set. It's fascinating stuff, and aspiring film students should check it out.

As interesting as all of this is, DOCUMENT often the mirrors the tedium that permeates film shoots--most notably during the EYES segment, where Tom Savini repeatedly tries to get Ramy Zada's death scene to work--and there's little that revelatory (aside from a brief clip deleted from EYES and a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-inspired detergent commercial from Romero's early days). Frumkes also rounds out the film with talking heads Gahan Wilson, Steve Bissette, and the Phantom of the Movies as they discuss NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's cultural impact, but it acts more as filler and barely grazes the surface.

A look into the mind of zombiedom's most influential director, DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD is recommended to both student filmmakers and die-hard Romero fans. Casual fans, though, might get a little antsy.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


An ultra-cheap Italian rip-off of THE EVIL DEAD, 1988's EVIL CLUTCH is one of those movies that doesn't have quite enough going for it to be a truly recommendable film, mostly because what it does have to offer is remarkably similar to more memorable films. Director Andreas Marfori clearly believes that style compensates for a dearth of substance--and to an extent it's true, but not when it copies an internationally renowned cult classic.

EVIL CLUTCH stars Coralina Tassoni (of DEMONS 2) and Diego Ribon as a couple vacationing in a quaint European village who encounter a demon in the guise of a beautiful seductress. (We know she's a demon because we've seen a claw emerge from her groin to grab a guy's manhood--this should've been called EVIL CROTCH.) Will Tassoni be able to keep her boyfriend safe from the demon's malevolent designs?

The movie has a low-rent but palpable atmosphere of impending dread, complemented by a moody score, yet it's so frustratingly slow that the ambiance yields little effect. I suppose when there's a total of five people in a film it's hard to have a decent body count. (Marfori teases early with an imaginary scene in which the hypothetical fates awaiting the couple are illustrated, but this is as close to mayhem as we come until the final reel.) What fills the movie's dead air is an overabundance of the POV camerawork Sam Raimi made famous in THE EVIL DEAD, and while it's put to good use it's also so prominent it deserves top billing. Marfori may be a one-trick pony, but he's going to make damn sure we all love his trick.

EVIL CLUTCH picks up near the end as the demon attempts to claim Ribon, even throwing in a zombie henchman for no other purpose than to have a zombie henchman (and he is pretty cool-looking, even if his presence makes no sense). Marfori goes all out for his climax, and comes very close to reaching the deliriously campy heights of TROLL 2--featuring a demonic tree with octopus-like branches, the seductress's sudden bug-eyed countenance, and a juicy but ridiculous decapitation--but it never goes the whole nine, ending up being rather silly instead.

EVIL CLUTCH has its moments, and aficionados of Italian cheese might want to check it out, but keep the remote handy since the fast-forward button is crucial to enjoy this flick.


Something that's always bugged me as a horror fan is the insistence of several films to make their characters as unlikable as possible. Don't they realize that without giving us people to root for or care about--and I'm talking about the basic human response to a person in jeopardy--they're simply not going to work? They're exceptions, as always (author Jack Ketchum is a master of presenting flawed, frequently unsympathetic protagonists and putting them into hellish situations that no one deserves), but because most horror movies are simple Us vs. Something Bad scenarios, preventing the audience from identifying with the "good guys" almost always results in a bad film.

(And while we're on the topic, since when did Eli Roth get the blame for this? I've read more than one review recently which lambasted him for starting the "Assholes as Main Characters" trend, but doesn't anyone remember the obnoxious party-goers from the '80s slasher boom? Besides, Roth's unlikable protagonists are usually otherwise well-developed, and their attitudes serve a purpose in the story.)

This is all an extremely long-winded way of explaining why I didn't care for TRESPASSERS, a 2006 digital-video inanity from director Ian McCrudden. It's got it's fair share of problems, but the biggest is a roster of characters so aggressively irritating and vapid that any potential for suspense is blown from Scene One. How are we supposed to feel about someone who describes a tropical paradise as being "like Mexico without the Mexicans" with anything but passive contempt?

The movie's premise involves a vanload of youngsters who head out to the beach on a surfing expedition and run afoul of a centuries-old curse when they take a wrong turn; pretty standard B-horror material, but with this bunch it feels like a particularly noisome reality series. (Note to the director: while gratuitous nudity is always appreciated in overlong set-ups, I could've done without seeing the slacker dickhead pleasuring himself afterward.) When McCrudden finally gets his story underway it suggests something along the lines of THE BEACH HAS EYES, but what we get is a limp, undercooked serving of fast zombies that don't do enough to make the sluggish pacing worthwhile. (So little happens on screen that TRESPASSERS is a lot like a Snickers bar, filling you with empty calories while providing no true sustenance.)

The film often employs hand-held video, a technique that might add a layer of realism to polished Hollywood fare like THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, but makes a low-budget outing like this look even cheaper. Worse is that McCrudden chooses to film and edit the piddling action in such a way that it's all but obscured. I'm sure financial constraints played a part, but if you're going to create the illusion of something you couldn't afford you at least need to provide the raw materials so we can meet you halfway.

TRESPASSERS offers nothing of substance; there's a hundred other wrong-turn movies that provide the thrills this movie lacks. Though there's a smattering of gore, it's not even worthwhile on a splatter level. Avoid this one.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I could make a cheap joke about WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II being the scariest movie I've reviewed on this blog, but that would be inappropriate since humor and this 1993 misfire are mutually exclusive. In his book I HATED, HATED, HATED THIS MOVIE (one of my favorite collections of film criticism), Roger Ebert illustrates what a creative wasteland celluloid comedy was in the early nineties with such lacerating reviews of CLIFFORD, MILK MONEY, and NORTH, but nowhere does he mention director Robert Klane's frighteningly unfunny follow-up to the apparently successful 1987 original; perhaps because it doesn't take a master critic like Mr. Ebert to explain why this movie flat-out sucks.

I guess Klane (who also wrote the first film) had plenty of unanswered questions burning from the previous WEEKEND and thus felt compelled to make this one. In a premise convoluted enough to befuddle Christopher Nolan, returning stars Andrew McCarthy and Johnathan Silverman (has there been a more chemistry-barren comedic duo? Robert Blake and Scott Wilson got more laughs with IN COLD BLOOD) find themselves unemployed and under investigation due to the events of the first film and head back to St. Thomas to clear their names. Trying to beat them to the $2 million still up for grabs are a pair of anonymous bad guys--who're given so little screen time I have no clue who they are, but they dress like villains from MIAMI VICE so we know they're up to no good--recruit a voodoo priestess to resurrect Bernie's no-worse-for-wear corpse to lead them to the missing cash. The priestess, for no discernable reason, enlists a pair of lackeys to perform the ceremony; they of course screw it up, and Bernie can only move toward the money when music is playing. (The two voodoo henchman are played by the late actor/stuntman Steve James and Tom Wright--who knows a thing or two about zombies, having played one in CREEPSHOW 2's hitchhiker segment--and are portrayed in the broadest possible sketches, coming one chitlin joke away from being offensive Stepin Fetchit stereotypes.) And let us not forget Barry Bostwick, who tails McCarthy and Silverman to prove their complicity.

With a plot like that the laughs should be come every thirteen seconds, right? Right?

At any point during the course of making this movie did anyone find anything about this story funny? The appeal, such as it was, of WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S was the various slapstick abuses visited upon Bernie's corpse; there's some of that here, but for the most part we're expected to sit back and howl as Bernie hip-thrusts along to calypso music on his way to the stolen loot. The story is built upon a foundation of unfunny and belabored set-pieces that have all the comedic impact of white noise. In a typical example of the movie's approach, Bostwick is either an efficient investigator or a bumbling oaf, whichever the current situation needs, often resorting to the last desperate grasp of the terminally uninspired--the simple pratfall. Silverman and McCarthy are as charisma-free as ever, especially the latter who evokes a bygone era when protagonists could say "Look at the tits on that one" and still be expected to be likable. I laughed exactly once during WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II, at an asinine JAWS parody during the movie's finale, and even then it wasn't the humor but the filmmakers' audacity to include such an utterly stupid gag.

I'd tell you this movie's a waste of time, but that would insult your intelligence. Remarkable only in its chutzpah (though it at least served as a plot point in a really great SEINFELD episode), WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II will have your brains dribbling out your ears by the midpoint.

A taste of stupidity:

And the trailer, which condensed all the stupidity into a two-minute clip:

Monday, August 4, 2008


No one goes into a movie called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS expecting cinematic gold; of course, everyone has different definitions of a great movie, but I doubt even the most indiscriminate film buff would have THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in mind. Plenty of female nudity, a sprinkling of gore, a few chuckles--you know exactly what you're getting, right? Yet even by these lowly standards director Jay Lee's 2008 alleged horror-comedy fails miserably. Now, I don't know if Lee assumed his title would simply write itself, or he just didn't have the money to do much with his premise; the film offers considerable evidence for each possibility.

After a brief prologue in which we learn about the near future of 2012 (and receive the few genuine laughs of the movie), we're treated to yet another top-secret project to create an invincible super-soldier (I keep telling you guys, these plots never work but does anyone listen?). Of course the situation goes bad, and it's up to a group of thinly-developed non-zombie soldiers to maintain control. In this opening Lee establishes what we'll have to sit through for the next ninety minutes: unimaginative humor, lackluster action that relies much too heavily on crude CGI, and an overall sense of apathy from everyone involved. (I also don't understand why we needed a detailed explanation of how the zombie virus works, since the rules are absolutely no different than a hundred others. Wouldn't the filmmakers realize anyone interested in something called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS already know this stuff?)

Anyway, one of the soldiers gets bitten and hides out in a skeevy strip joint run by Robert Englund (who apparently had a balloon mortgage on his house, or someone has pictures of him involving a goat and a bottle of Wesson oil) and features Jenna Jameson as the star attraction. It isn't long--though it sure feels like it--when Jenna ends up bitten herself, and spreads the virus among the other dancers. Soon the place is filled with whooping young guys eager to watch the blood-spattered zombie girls strut their stuff. (And comedy or not, here's where I gotta call bullshit. I've been to quite a few disreputable strip clubs and even at their drunkest these guys have zero interest in a Goth stripper, let alone one covered in blood.)

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS completely wastes its potential, shying away from anything amusingly twisted and instead shoveling out the same type of humor (the Russian madam prone to malaprops, the Nebraska farm girl fresh off the bus) that was old when vaudeville was alive; the film gamely tries to play with a few gross-out gags near the end, but I was already benumbed by the climactic battle between the humans and the zombies rife with godawful digital effects and lame LOONEY TUNES-style action that was so unfathomably stupid it's almost insulting. (But those of you who've always wanted to see Jenna Jameson shoot billiard balls from her vag--and we all knew it was just a matter of time, right?--might not be disappointed.) The story is inexcusably sluggish, so boring it actually makes a succession of nude women tedious, and mainly consists of a zombie stripper doing her thing, taking a guy backstage for a "lap dance," then eating him in a ridiculously over-the-top fashion. Lee toys with exploring the notion of jealousy and cattiness among dancers, but only as far as the next tit-shot or splash of gore, preferring to keep things as superficial as possible.

Slightly titillating at best, ZOMBIE STRIPPERS is of interest only to those who've never seen Jenna Jameson naked before (i.e., anyone under twelve). And amazingly enough, she's the best actor in the cast, though she's turned in stronger performances in her hardcore career. Englund, on the other hand, plays his character as a femme-phobic priss to such an annoying degree that I wonder if he was trying to get all of his scenes cut (an understandable notion). It's less fun than watching SHOWGIRLS on TBS.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


So, is zombie-filmmaking the modern equivalent of collecting baseball cards? It seems the past time of choice among today's youth is using Dad's camcorder to shoot a living dead opus in the backyard or rec room, though I suppose it's more constructive a hobby than message board flamewars about which cast member of THE HILLS is TEH HAWTEST!!!! All of this is to say that here's another amateur short film: ZOMBIFIED, directed by Adam Colas in 2007.

It's a classic trapped-in-a-box scenario, enacted by three pajama-clad teenage girls as they barricade themselves in their garage against a zombie outbreak. Since most of these "productions" are more about relieving the filmmakers' boredom than innovative storytelling, I'll give Colas a pass for keeping it strictly NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LITE (though the short's beginning, in which the story is established through snatches of dialogue over a blank screen, suggested a more ingenious method to follow).

Everyone involved no doubt had a lot of fun, but I've got to say I didn't. While I gladly support youthful creativity, overwrought dialogue still jabs my eardrums like an icepick and the characters, such as they were, were a little to grating to root for. And if you're going to stage a "let's run through a swarm of zombies to escape" sequence, you've got to have the appropriate energy; lackluster zombie-killing is just no fun. Recruit that kid in your geometry class you secretly hate and wail the crap out of him!