Something I'll never understand about certain filmmakers--be it a high-profiled director like Rob Zombie, or any of the myriad do-it-yourselfers toiling in the straight-to-DVD market--is their tendency to completely emulate their favorite movies. I'm not even talking about the Tarantino-esque method of mashing disparate elements into a singular whole, but walking an audience from Point A to Point B through films that already exist.
I loved DAWN OF THE DEAD. When I want to share my enthusiasm for it I invite some friends over, order a pizza, and watch the movie. But apparently for micro-budget filmmakers (and to be fair, a lot of higher-scale "professional" producers are guilty of this, too) when they want to espouse a particular film they must recreate it with amateur casts and crews, overlooking the inspired creative spark that drove their beloved picture in the first place.
Director David J. Francis loves zombie films. It's obvious from the very first frame that he's just as fond of Romeroesque end-of-the-world scenarios as the rest of us. But while his 2003 shot-on-video feature ZOMBIE NIGHT conveys that affection, it is absolutely no different than any dozen zombie movies made in the last twenty years.
Folks, there isn't a single solitary thing in this movie that is fresh or original. Even if you've never heard of it, you've seen it: survivors of an abrupt zombie epidemic hole up and alternately bicker with each other and fend off the approaching undead; there's even a Ken Foree stand-in. And though I've said the same thing about other movies before, with ZOMBIE NIGHT it's especially troubling because Franics shows a glimmer--not a lot, but it's there--of talent.
ZOMBIE NIGHT is competently filmed and edited, with a non-professional cast that turns in tolerable performances and decent, if unexceptional, gore. Yet it hews so closely to the apocalyptic-zombie formula that any enjoyment is nil. Francis tends to write fairly generic dialogue, the kind of time-killing banter these DIY productions thrive on, but he seems like an a respectable enough screenwriter. I'm sure with the right encouragement, and the proper ambition, he could've turned out something that wasn't the 1473rd variation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Francis made a follow-up in 2006 called AWAKENING, which I'll probably pass on. Nothing in ZOMBIE NIGHT cried out for further exploration, nor do I have any faith it will break new ground. As love-letters to the genre go, I've seen far, far worse, but it's nonetheless too undistinguished and derivative to be worth your time.