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.)