Thursday, October 30, 2008


If, like me, you find the idea of a zombie hamburger delightfully stupid, then you may be inclined to check out THE MAD, a seriously flawed but fun 2007 release from director Johnny Kalangis that often teeters on the brink of genius.

A white-bread suburban family (led by venerable character actor Billy Zane, totally out of place as a straight-laced dad, even with the David Cross hipster glasses) vacationing in a bucolic farm community soon finds their itinerary disrupted when trouble brews at the local restaurant. It seems the ranch that supplies their beef has been infected with a strain of Mad Cow disease, transferring to the people who consume it and making them marauding, rampaging zombies.

As horror-comedy set-ups go, Kalangis has the makings of a winner, but his comedy is too uneven to really work. The humor works best when it's subtle, but the broad slapstick, which constitutes most of the laughs, doesn't fare quite so well and degenerates to sloppy silliness as the film wears on.

THE MAD also suffers from several narrative missteps, including a too-familiar plotline, some very predictable characters arcs, and an indulgent, self-referential zombie discussion, not to mention a third act that grinds the story to a halt when it should be hitting full-throttle (even at 82 minutes, it's still 20 minutes too long). Kalangis has a penchant for stylistic flourishes involving quick editing and skewed camera angles that add nothing, which leads to one of the worst blowjob-related scenes in recent memory.

Yet despite these significant faults, THE MAD entertains for the most part thanks to a couple of genuine surprises (as in the people who don't survive) and an incredibly game cast. Zane keeps up his dependable-but-bland persona (leaving behind the smarminess that creeps into many of his roles), and supporting females Maggie Castle and Shauna MacDonald breathe life and charisma into potenitally cardboard characters--especially the latter, who channels Annette Benning's manic perfection from AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Though it could've done more in the gore department--the scenario was perfect for an over-the-top bloodbath, though I doubt Kalangis is really the director for one--THE MAD is still worth a look-see. Prepare yourself for a little frustration and you'll be all set.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Equally obnoxious is the short film, RETURN OF THE DASTARDLY ZOMBIE VAMPIRE MUMMY FROM PLANET X, which Brian Singleton made in 1998, and serves as a bonus feature on the FOREST OF THE DEAD DVD. In many ways it serves as a dry run for the inanity that constitutes FOREST--lame-brain comedy, ghastly performances (which are essentially "actors" speaking in the most annoying accents possible), and crappy effects, it's a punishing 17-minute "homage" to bad horror flicks of yesteryear.

Too bad it forgot to be as entertaining as those schlocky B pictures.

There's little plot to speak of, so I won't, but I will say it's the first time I've ever seen a monster dispatched by a suit-and-sombrero-wearing pistolero. (It's utterly stupid, to be sure, but original nonetheless). Certainly not worth checking out on its own--and barely worth seeing if you rent the FOREST DVD--it's a slice of chuckleheaded nonsense that's easily forgotten.


Thank God it will all be over soon.

In just a few more days I won't have to subject myself to movies like FOREST OF THE DEAD, a 2007 production from Canadian director Brian Singleton. On the surface a laudable example of the micro-budget DIY ethic--not only did he finance the project wholly out of his own pocket, but Singleton acted as a one-man crew, filming and recording sound with solely the assistance of off-screen actors--it soon buries any goodwill beneath a toppling mound of obnoxious characters, numbskull humor, and thin plotting.

Taking its cue from the "dumb teenagers dying the woods" school of '80s filmmaking, DEAD involves a carload of insufferable assholes on a road trip who make a detour into the forest. Loud, asinine, and not the least bit amusing, these so-called protagonists are the perfect target for the flesh-eating zombies that await them, which would've made for a trying, but potentially gory, teen-kill flick. But in a shocking-in-a-bad-way plot twist, Singleton quickly does away with them so he can introduce another group of characters even more noisome than the first. What did I do to deserve these people?

Singleton offers up an adequate smorgasbord of splatter towards the end--juvenile, uninventive splatter, but still--yet in order to get to it you've got to sift through a lot of talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. Boring and uneventful barely describe it, and the screenplay--penned by Singleton and his brother Mark--helps little with the ever-present bad amateur dialogue. Trying to be edgy and hip, passing off one-dimensional stereotypes, they come off not as envelope-pushing comedians but alarmingly antisocial bastards.

Narratively weak (once Final Girl bites it, the movie's over, as there's no more plot motivation) and self-indulgent (bearing not only an unnecessary director introduction--dammit, if Kubrick and Scorcese never felt the need why do amateur filmmakers always do?--and nearly nine minutes of "wacky" outtakes), FOREST OF THE DEAD is a typical representation of the the headache-inducing dross that litters micro-budget cinema.


Another hunk of Akron-lensed hooey from director J.R. Bookwalter, 1993's OZONE isn't quite as bad as some of his other shot-on-video work (sort of like how a broken finger isn't as bad as a severed hand), but it's still a far cry from THE DEAD NEXT DOOR. A mishmash of the cop and horror genres, OZONE displays a little ambition, though its low budget and shaky craftsmanship prevent it from really taking off.

James Black--who almost has the chops to be above dreck like this--stars as a police detective on the trail of a dealer pushing a new drug called Ozone that turns its users into zombies. When his partner is abducted by Ozone addicts, Black picks up the search, a journey that takes some strange--but not strange enough--turns once he becomes injected with the drug himself.

Though it boasts some fairly solid production values (considering its budget and year of its release), OZONE suffers from so many avoidable pitfalls. Poor performances from the supporting cast don't help, particularly the unconvincing bad guys, but the biggest flaw lies in its plot. Dream sequences exist solely to showcase gratuitous effects (including the then-prevalent use of morphing technology), an overabundance of cop-movie cliches such as the maverick detective getting bawled out by the chief (some of these scenes feel intentional, but regardless they make watching the movie a chore), and some oddball subplots (such as the underground fighting ring where combatants fight each other with oversized pizza cutters). Throw in a drug kingpin that resembles one of Jabba the Hutt's Gammorrhean guards, and you've got a flick that tries too hard and delivers too little.

Filled with continuity errors--a half-naked Black escapes the fight club, only to round a corner fully dressed or zombies with makeup that never goes past their jawline--and other amateurish hallmarks, OZONE is a slow-paced, unintentionally humorous mess. I'm sure there are bad-movie completists who'll want to add this to their must-see lists, but I'd advise them to steer clear.


A would-be blockbuster, Tobe Hooper's 1985 film LIFEFORCE was an attempt on the part of producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to replicate the cash-cow success of STAR WARS. To say they failed is putting it mildly, and at first glance you might be surprised--the film is exceptionally crafted, with a rousing Henry Mancini score, opticals by visual fx guru John Dykstra, and great cinematography by Alan Hume--but once you really look at it, it's a wonder it made any money at all.

Working with a screenplay by ALIEN's Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on Colin Wilson's novel THE SPACE VAMPIRES (yes, I know this is technically a vampire movie, but give me a chance to explain in a bit), LIFEFORCE is purportedly a science fiction story, but its plot shifts gears so often that any potential audience is repeatedly, ahem, alienated.

It's not that the central concept is a bad one--vampiric creatures discovered in space are brought to Earth, who quickly spread a plague of the living dead throughout London--but after starting out like an erotic variant of ALIEN (in the form of Mathilda May, easily the film's best visual) with a healthy dose of mystery and tension, it loses its momentum once it returns to terra firma and becomes a slick, sf-tinged vampire tale (witness the dream sequence in which May visits a slumbering Steve Railsback, a classic succubus scenario if there ever was one).

The vampire element is probably the strongest plot thread, yet its most intriguing aspects are left unexplored. While obviously needing to set up May's spreading of the plague (funny--every single scene of the lovely Ms. May waltzing around nude runs much longer than the rhythm of said scene requires, yet I never really complained), Hooper and his screenwriters concentrate instead on the investigative portion of the event; it gives the film a meandering, dry second act that it never fully recovers from.

Once it finally kicks gears into apocalyptic-horror mode, I was ready to call it quits (as I do every time I watch this film). It's also at this point that Golan and Globus's blockbuster-envy shines through, as it strains itself toward a GHOSTBUSTERS-styled climax--without the demonic dogs, of course. By then the faint heart of its emotional core, the quasi-spiritual/sexual relationship between May and Railsback, is lost beneath an orgy of gee-whiz optical effects. (And I can't help but wonder what this movie would look like in today's CGI wonderland, especially the scene in which blood from Patrick Stewart's unbelievably fake-looking head creates a vision of May.)

As for the zombies . . . while I can't entirely hate a movie that shoehorns them into the story, it's very plainly stated that these creatures are vampires; they're referred to as such, fer cryin' out loud. Yet the monsters running around London, feasting on any available victim, appear to be zombies. They certainly behave like them, and the film presents them in a similar fashion (even foreshadowing films like 28 WEEKS LATER). It's confusing, to say the least, but it's probably part of the producers' need to appeal to every single movie-going demographic.

LIFEFORCE is a wildly uneven film that offers the occasional pay-off, but--at the risk of sounding like a sexist pig--its greatest asset is the inclusion of one of the best naked performances in genre history.

Monday, October 27, 2008


RABID GRANNIES, a 1988 Belgian production from director Emmanuel Kervyn, is a gore film that takes out all the gore. Picked up for domestic distribution by Troma--who included the truncated splatter in a separate reel, which isn't quite as fun when taken out of context--it's more about demonic possession rather than zombies, but like Lamberto Bava's DEMONS films, which it frequently echoes, it hews very close to the established zombie formula.

A pair of kind elderly women host a birthday party, in which all of their greedy, rude, and self-absorbed relatives are invited. When the ladies are infected by a demonic presence--as part of a present from their Satan-worshipping nephew Christopher--they transform into rampaging monsters equipped with Krueger-esque claws, slaughtering their way through their ungrateful family.

The fun of a movie like RABID GRANNIES is the lowbrow thrill of non-stop grue, broad slapstick humor, and maybe a little skin. By removing all the gore (which also ruins the impact of a rather ballsy scene involving a dismembered child) it also removes its reason for being, leaving behind a film that isn't very enjoyable without it. The little mayhem that remains is often interrupted by long, pointless stretches of conversation, and the humor that could've tied these scenes together isn't nearly as funny as it should be.

The cast is comprised of such ugly, amoral people that there's no one to root for, and their comeuppances are so restrained that we can't even revel when they're mowed down. Bereft of creativity, RABID GRANNIES coasts on its premise without the energy or excitement that's crucial to a good splatter film.


All I'm going to say is, Thank God I work at a movie theater; otherwise I'd have had to pay my own money to see this dreck.

As part of Hollywood's continued obsession with remaking well-made foreign films, the 2008 picture QUARANTINE is, as I'm sure you're aware, a redo of the Spanish release [REC] (which I'll be unable to view by the end of this project--a shame, since it's supposed to be far superior). Since this crap-sandwich is still playing in theaters, at least until the equally execrable SAW V draws its core demographic away, I'll spare the usual synopsis and get right to the lambasting.

I've never been a big fan of the hand-held style of filmmaking. I didn't mind it in, say, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, mostly because the technique was never a distraction. But its recent use in movies like CLOVERFIELD, 28 WEEKS LATER, and the BOURNE sequels, it ceases to enhance the story and becomes irritating, confusing, and (in this case) nauseating. Note to director John Erick Dowdle: if you're going to place subtle visual clues in your story, steady the goddamn camera long enough for us to fucking see them, okay?

Plot-wise, QUARANTINE does a decent job of setting up its premise, and the the mounting sense of danger is handled well. But once we get to the meat of the story, and its rabid zombie-like creatures are revealed, the film becomes a dull, repetitive cinematic funhouse ride as the characters face monsters in one uninspired scene after another. That in of itself wouldn't be so bad if the movie didn't feel so much like a 28 WEEKS LATER/DAWN OF THE DEAD clone. There isn't anything fresh or unique to be found here, and as soon as the realization settles in, QUARANTINE becomes quite a slog.

Which leads into the film's problematic third act, a blurry, night-vision sequence as star Jennifer Carpenter makes her way through the darkened corridors of the sealed building. What could've been a taut, knuckle-busting segment is reduced to shrill, never-ending boredom, and at the heart of it lies Carpenter's performance. Now, I got the idea she was a fluff-reporter thrust in over her head, so I could forgive her being somewhat weak, but listening to her shriek and cry for twenty-some minutes was interminable. Was her reaction believable and realistic? Certainly, but this is a narrative, not a documentary, and having your protagonist carry on like a five-year-old with a skinned knee is disappointing and annoying.

QUARANTINE is the kind of movie that makes the current genre scene so disheartening. Knowing that a brilliant and frightening film like Michael Dougherty's TRICK R TREAT remains unreleased while the remake-and-SAW sausage factory rolls on just makes me sad, and more than a little angry. And judging from the reaction I saw at work the last couple of weekends, I don't see it changing soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Funny, I was thinking the same thing.


HYSTERICAL is a 1983 AIRPLANE-style comedy showcasing the Hudson Brothers, a '70s-era comedy troupe now relegated to obscurity (and if this movie's any indication, obscurity couldn't have come quick enough). Astonishingly low on laughs, it's notable only for the respectable character actors roped into it (including Murray Hamilton, Bud Cort, and Julie Newmar).

Bill Hudson stars as a Harold Robbins-esque bestselling author who takes a soul-searching vacation to a coastal Oregon town. His relaxation is cut short by the appearance of a vengeful spirit who appears in the lighthouse home he's renting 100 years after her suicide; as part of her plan, she raises the corpse of her long-dead lover Captain Howdy (Richard Kiel, cast only to justify a vague JAWS reference), who turns the townsfolk into zombies so . . . actually, I have no idea why.

Even if the plot didn't jump around like a caffeine-addled child, or had made a lick of sense, HYSTERICAL still would appeal strictly to undiscriminating ten-year-olds, thanks to its abysmal joke-to-laugh ratio. I would say most of the gags are tremendously dated, since it mines early-eighties pop culture for much of its comedy, but it sticks to high-profile mainstream material--RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EXORCIST, THE SHINING, etc.--so what little jokes there are somewhat hold up. (And should give you an idea of what EPIC MOVIE will look like in twenty years.) Only a brief bit involving John Larroquette as a pot-smoking boat-tour guide--Bob's Big Buoy, ho-ho)--got any real laughs out of me.

With production values giving it the look of a '70s TV movie, HYSTERICAL is little more than a curio. The Hudson Brothers, along with co-writer and director Chris Bearde, made a movie that might've been funny at a Catskills comedy club circa 1952, but remains relatively worthless in the harsh reality of the new millennium.

It's still better than MEET THE SPARTANS, though.

(Special thanks--I think--to Michael Anthony for providing a copy of this film.)


I'm a big fan of anthology films, so I was really looking forward to Brian Clement's EXHUMED, a three-part feature released in 2003 that deals with the resurrection of the dead. Thematically ambitious, it nonetheless disappoints not only by being a mediocre picture, but it also never dares to fulfill the challenge it sets for itself.

After a brief, and needless, introduction by a cadaverous Serling surrogate we get into the first story, "The Forest of Death." Set during feudal Japan, it's a novel backdrop for a zombie tale, but the segment is hamstrung by poor acting and a thin plot with a weak resolution. Still, it's well-photographed, and it's nice to see a domestic DIY film shot in another language.

Faring about as well is the next installment, "Shadow of Tomorrow," a 1940's-set science fiction/detective mash-up that creates a great film-noir atmosphere but has an equally flimsy cast to go with it (especially its lead, a would-be hardboiled dame that delivers an awful performance). It too is a lightweight, disposable story, featuring one of the worst nightclub scenes in recent memory; it also has very little to do with the living dead, and capped with an abrupt ending, leading into . . .

"Last Rumble," the final segment, a post-apocalyptic juvenile delinquent tale that chronicles a war between vampires and werewolves, orchestrated for the government's enjoyment. Besides having absolutely nothing to do with zombies, it's easily the weakest portion of the film. Brimming with oodles of cut-rate gore, it plays like every other micro-budget action/splatter flick, with lame fight sequences and desperate, crass scenes of lesbian sex. It's also the least interesting of the three visually, looking cheap and tawdry instead of end-of-the-world bleak and gritty.

Clement ends EXHUMED with a weird epilogue that ties all three stories together, saddled with exposition as if were going out of style, but it adds nothing to the overall movie. If anything, it makes it even more confusing.

EXHUMED would've been more successful if it hadn't used its structure and various settings as window dressing, and actually explored them with some manner of depth. Hell, any one of these could've justified their own feature-length treatment. But by being as superficial as possible, Clement sabotages his chance of creating something unique.


The problem with this 2003 shot-on-video production is that it gets the revolting part right, the dead not so much. Directed by Michael Su--who, you might remember, also made the turd-in-disc-form known as DOOMED that I ripped a few weeks back--this wannabe screwball zombie flick too silly and nonsensical to be worth watching. Or reviewing.

The Tehachapi Flats mortuary has long been guilty of unscrupulous business practices, among them graverobbing and casket recycling (though they've got nothing on Ray Dannis is THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS, the king of shady morticians), but when they target the grave of a Druid priest, his sister uses her otherworldly powers to get revenge.

Loaded with terrible acting and sloppily assembled, THE REVOLTING DEAD's as funny as a groin injury. The only thing it does well is its gratuitous nudity; the rest is pitiful DIY filmmaking at its worst, livened only by a last-minute appearance by a laughably bad, barely articulate zombie "puppet" that entertains by virtue of its shoddiness.

There's a smidgeon of gore to be found, but doubtless you'll be asleep by the time it comes. A punishing excuse for a movie.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Horror-comedies are the proverbial dime a dozen, and a particularly ubiquitous stripe is the slacker-doofus comedy, which more often than not aims to be as cult-friendly as SHAUN OF THE DEAD or CLERKS, yet never bothers to bring anything new to the table (or is too thoroughly obnoxious to be watchable). The filmmakers behind this 2007 shot-on-video production, Billy Garberina and Richard Griffin, have the same goal in sight, but their feeble execution leaves much to be desired.

Attempting to be a micro-budget version of GHOSTBUSTERS, NECROVILLE stars Garberina and co-writer Adam Jarmon Brown as two likable knuckleheads who can't seem to hold a job. When Garberina's bitch-on-wheels girlfriend (Brandy Bluejacket, who's almost hot enough to get away with being so deplorable) rides him about his employment prospects, as well as her own financial needs, he and his hetero life-mate sign up at Zom-B-Gone, an extermination company of sorts that specializes in the removal of zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

NECROVILLE is good for a couple of chuckles, but the humor is never as clever, perverse, or sharp as it should be. It tries to be "edgy," but usually ends up being juvenile and crass. The leads are likable enough, though Bluejacket's performance is the wrong kind of over-the-top and hard to sit through. Garberina isn't quite as good here as he was in THE STINK OF FLESH (speaking of which, look for that film's star Kurly Tlapoyawa and director Scott Phillips in small roles), but he's got the lovable goofball bit down pat.

Though its inspiration clearly owes a debt to GHOSTBUSTERS, as would any film involving blue-collar fighters of the supernatural, but NECROVILLE follows Ivan Reitman's picture a little too closely, mirroring not only its plot (a vampire uprising unfolds very similar to the way Gozer comes to power) and incidental scenes (a comparable wet-dream gag that doesn't work). It's one thing when a film fails to achieve what it sets out to do, but when it does so while aping another movie it feels like a double waste.

Ultimately I suggest bypassing this one in favor of the aforementioned THE STINK OF FLESH, one of the best zombie flicks in the last few years and an underappreciated little gem.


This review is going to be easier to write than I expected, as my feelings toward 28 WEEKS LATER--director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 2007 follow-up to 28 DAYS LATER--are exactly like the first: a well-made movie that left me cold.

Credit belongs to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland for remaining as executive producers and ensuring not only a sense of continuity, but integrity as well; so often once a major horror film makes money it's quickly franchised and morphed into a clone factory (or what the suits like to call "a guaranteed revenue stream"), but WEEKS wisely avoids that trap. Watching the story unfold, I was often reminded of superhero series, and how they can fully develop once the origin story's out of the way. It's not entirely an apt comparison, but Fresnadillo and his screenwriters explore an area we don't really get to see: the emotional toil and societal rebuilding after the virus has been contained.

Much like DAYS, WEEKS has an incredible opening (though I can't express enough how much I hate, hate, hate the use of shaky, hand-held camerawork and rapid-fire editing that makes the action incomprehensible--yet it's interesting to note how it can "graphically" show something without making it clear what's happening) and a greater dramatic resonance, even if it's exhausted early. It's technically amazing, too, with great photography, etc.

However, WEEKS has a somewhat longer build-up than is really necessary, and its lackluster midsection doesn't quite make up for it. Once the virus is reawakened--in a bravura moment, by the way--is quickly falls into the same formulaic storyline, hewing closely to the established when it ought to be cutting its own swath. Fresnadillo creates several potentially intriguing set-pieces, but often undermines them with poor CGI (such as the mass-decapitation by helicopter, featuring fx that have no business in a mainstream motion pciture) or timing (the night-vision stadium sequence, which grows tedious rather than suspenseful). And while it has a more character-driven plot at its heart, its story arc doesn't quite support the overall film, throwing off the emotional momentum of key moments.

Although 28 WEEKS LATER ends on a more downbeat note than its predecessor, I doubt I'll make time for any additional sequels. Although I'm sure it'd be an extremely well-made movie.


A 16mm student film shot at UC Berkley, KEG OF THE DEAD sounds like a good idea for a college-based horror comedy, but director Paul Schilens plays this 2007 short decidedly one-note, and a pretty sour note at that.

A put-upon pizza delivery boy runs afoul of asshole frat guys (is there any other kind?) while making a drop; not only does he not get paid, but Pizza Dude discovers that zombies are descending upon the Alpha Master Beta house. (Like that joke? Hope so, 'cause it's the only one, and boy does it get some mileage.) Fortunately, he gets to save the day once he learns the living dead are destroyed by beer.

Had it displayed even an iota of creativity and humor, KEG OF THE DEAD might've been worth a chuckle-headed laugh or two, but it's too lame to be any fun. It doesn't even make a good doofus wish-fulfillment, as it's characters are drawn in the broadest possible strokes (and I won't even mention the excruciating acting on hand).

I'd rather pledge the Alpha Betas in REVENGE OF THE NERDS than sit through this one again.


Also known as THE FACELESS MONSTER (whose video box art gives away the surprise at its ending), this 1965 Italian production from director Mario Caiano will appeal to fans of black-and-white Gothic thrillers--being a black-and-white Gothic thriller, I guess that's a given--and the lush, atmospheric work of Mario Bava, to say nothing of the admirers of its star, Barbara Steele.

Steele plays the adulterous wife of a sadistic doctor. When her affair is discovered, she and her lover are tortured to death and, in true Poe-like fashion, sealed within a wall of their castle. Years later, Steele's husband marries her twin sister so he can get to the inheritance he lost. But the spirits of the murdered lovers have remained behind, biding their time to get their revenge.

NIGHTMARE CASTLE--the edited version most commonly found on budget DVD labels--is pretty slow going, and will probably be useless to viewers weaned on more visceral films. Those who appreciate is ambience and mood might still be left restless by its emphasis over melodrama, but in its final reel as Steele and her lover exact their revenge it becomes much more watchable. Perhaps not entirely worth the time it takes getting there, but nonetheless a great example of old-school spook-show horror.


Have you noticed that I've waited rather late in this project to review a film as well-known and -received as 28 DAYS LATER? I'll let you in on a little secret: I put it off for so long because I never really cared for it, and was waiting until the proverbial last minute.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think Danny Boyle's 2002 film is bad; it's undeniably extremely well-crafted, sporting excellent cinematography--which captures a harsh, gritty feel that such a scenario might invoke--and score. When I first watched it, my initial reaction was that it was too sedate for a film about a rage virus, and perhaps that disappointment colored my viewpoint. Seeing it again, however, I'm left with the same feeling as before.

28 DAYS LATER has quite a following, not to mention a surprisingly warm critical reception (thanks to its filmmakers' pedigree), and I wouldn't want to "sway" people to my way of thinking, even if that were possible. Many of you dig this movie, and I've got no problem with that.

So let's call it personal preference, shall we? I think what ultimately did the film in for me the second time around was a consciousness of its similarity to previous films. (Okay, and maybe because the Infected aren't really the "living dead"--I'm an old-school purist, what can I say?) What seemed relatively fresh upon its release--especially to audiences not familiar with the films of Romero, or similar end of the world pictures like, say, THE OMEGA MAN--feels retread and tiresome at this point (then again, I've watched this plot unravel roughly 300 times in the last year). DAYS never strays far from the established apocalyptic formula--a rag-tag group of survivors, set-pieces involving run-ins with the Infected, and an oppressive military presence--though Alex Garland's screenplay takes an intelligent and credible approach.

What did I like about it? I thought the prologue set up a good n' bleak end-of-the-world feel, though the sequence implies a darkness (thematically and narratively) that it never quite fulfills. The tunnel sequence, easily the highlight of the movie, is another good scene, though I wish it had maintained the same style and tension throughout. (My, aren't I all about the backhanded compliments today?) Oh, and Cillian Murphy's first encounter with the Infected--in a church, no less--was great as well. I also thought Boyle handled the violence and gore admirably, getting rougher than a "respectable" director might go, yet exercising the right aesthetic restraint.

Yet despite Boyle's strong directorial eye DAYS never reeled me in, especially once the military steps in. Borrowing heavily from Captain Rhodes and crew from DAY OF THE DEAD, but without their toxic charisma, their portion of the film ground the story to a halt for me. (I'd also seen this type of army occupation done better in Brian Keene's THE RISING, though that novel came after Boyle's film.) Maybe I'd already anticipated the reveal that the soldiers weren't as altruistic as they first seemed, but I found myself growing steadily antsy. And the climax, in which the Infected are let in the compound to aid their escape, has nothing on the similar finale of Romero's DAY.

So, the verdict? 28 DAYS LATER is a good film that just didn't do it for me. Probably not something I'll watch very often, but a cerebral and skillful entry into the neo-zombie cannon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


You want stiff odds? How about making it past the fifteen-minute mark of this noisome shot-on-video pseudo-comedy without ejecting the DVD in disgust. This 2004 feature from director Caleb Allen is the cinematic equivalent of a blaring car alarm that won't shut off. As stupid as it is obnoxious, STIFF ODDS is an enticing as a trip to a crowded Wal-Mart on a busy weekend.

Any movie that kicks off with a three-minute static two-shot of nimrod buddies blathering is going to be trouble, and STIFF ODDS lives up to its promise. Not much about the movie is clear--something about the Grim Reaper reviving three zombies to help settle a gambling debt--because the movie flits about like a depraved hyperactive child, hoping that if it moves frantically enough it'll be mistaken for a real story. This dumb, dumb, dumb film falls prey to the ever-present DIY pitfall of setting WAY too much of the movie in unending, boring conversation, though the alternative is hardly better; replacing genuine action with juvenile flailing and comedy with asinine behavior, it quickly becomes an exhausting experience. (Allen tries livening things up with cheap, "trippy" special effects, but abandons this technique early on--the only irritating thing he gives up.) Considering the out-putting soundtrack of grating music and sound effects, such as a baby crying, I wonder if Allen was deliberately making an annoying film, and if so, why?

Performances consist of actors out-screeching each other, so we'll ignore them, but Gabe Strachota stands out as a fairly creepy, red-skinned Reaper (so what if he's something out of Marilyn Manson's wet dreams, at least he's not your standard Hooded Dude with a Scythe); with better execution or a different film he might've worked, but he's as shrill and piercing as the rest of the cast.

I'd rather have a couple of casino goons work on my kneecaps than subject myself to STIFF ODDS again.


Definitely filed under "Special Interest," this 1990 straight-to-tape novelty from director Kenneth J. Hall (hiding under the pseudonym Hal Kennedy) is part horror-comedy, part softcore porn, and all an unabashed celebration of the ultimate '80s scream queen.

Beginning with the requisite shower scene (whaddya expect--it's a Linnea Quigley movie!), it's almost a video diary of sorts as Ms. Quigley, decked out in the eightiest of fashions, discusses her filmic career before getting into her workout. Don't bother with the sweatsuit for this one, fellas, since the only thing you're supposed to be working out--judging from Linnea's exercise apparel consisting of a studded bra and fishnet stockings--is your johnson. Linnea also encounters some out-of-shape zombies while jogging--and the result is what Michael Jackson's THRILLER would look like if it starred Richard Simmons--and invites some girlfriends over for a slumber party/exercise session. Have you gotten the idea this thing really isn't meant to be taken seriously?

With all the production value of a cable access program, this hour-long lark looks as if it was slapped together in a single day. Obviously, no one really gives a shit about that, but even as an excuse to ogle Linnea's goodies it's not nearly as titillating as it should be; there's very little nudity, and most of the routines are either too silly, too repetitive, or too conservative to be of any interest save for curiosity. (I've seen legitimate workout videos more erotic than this--anyone remember BODY BY KIANA?) Fans of Linnea might still be inclined, but too often she seems either bored or stoned, which doesn't exactly make it sexy.

LINNEA QUIGLEY'S HORROR WORKOUT is best appreciated by us Gen-Xers who stayed up to watch Linnea on USA's UP ALL NIGHT (and promptly headed for the bathroom during commercial breaks). Not funny enough to be a comedy, and not hot enough to be jerk-off material, it occupies a weird in-between that'll disappoint all but the most loyal (or desperate) fans.


The one thing this not-bad 2008 homemade short doesn't do is answer the burning question: Just what does death bring? A Bundt cake?

Seriously, though, director Alex Joyce has made a pretty decent housebound zombie film, though I would've preferred to see him strike out with his own creative endeavor and not slavishly copy Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. Though DEATH BRINGS is as unimaginative as a lot of these types of shorts are--though Joyce does employ a nice use of creative lighting--it at least lacks the insufferable forced humor and showboating that tends to accompany them. (To be fair, Joyce attempts a dramatic ending, but orchestral music choice makes it unintentionally humorous.)

Technically, you get what you expect from a non-professional crew (though I've seen worse), and the cast has an annoying habit of mumbling their lines--bad move from a movie this talky.
And I'll (very begrudgingly) give you your fast zombies, Alex, but next time can you at least make them look like dead people?


Originally titled LAST RITES, this 2006 video-based production from director Duane Stinnett proved to be a pleasant surprise, much better than its obscurity suggests it to be. Far from a perfect film, it offers a degree of craftsmanship and skill not readily found in shot-on-video cinema.

An amalgam of DAWN OF THE DEAD and RESERVOIR DOGS, GANGS OF THE DEAD details the uneasy transactions of two rival gangs in an abandoned Los Angeles warehouse (overseen by the always-awesome Reggie Bannister) just as a meteor hits the city, turning those who come into contact into flesh-eating zombies. The gang-bangers soon find themselves having to make peace with the LAPD, if only to escape the undead that've infiltrated the warehouse.

An impressively solid micro-budget film, GANGS gets underway with a very well-executed prologue involving the meteor's landing that boasts much better CGI than we normally see (owing to Stinnett's background in the video-game industry, no doubt). As I stated earlier, Stinnett's got some definite directorial chops, and it's a shame his movie hasn't gotten a bigger, or better, reception; however, as strong a filmmaker as he is, GANGS is missing a few intangible elements that prevents it from being a no-budget classic.

It boils down to the two biggies, story and characterization. While most likely a budgetary decision, the conceit of fighting zombies trapped in a single location is a mighty stale one, and Stinnett never makes the setting fresh. And though he does an excellent job whenever the zombies are on-screen--capturing well-shot sequences of chaos that a lesser director would fumble--the movie suffers whenever the dead aren't around, as his characters just aren't vivid enough to sustain interest (with the notable exception of Bannister; unfortunately, once he's killed off the cast can't compensate for his absence). The performances are by and large quite good, largely avoiding stereotypes (except for the ineffectual white guy who exists solely to illustrate just how ineffectual white guys can be).

Some excellent gore and a nice downbeat ending ultimately makes GANGS OF THE DEAD worth the investment, and most die-hard zombie fans might even enjoy some of those standard tropes. Stinnett hasn't directed a feature since, but I'm very much interested in seeing what he does next.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


A weak action/horror hybrid, HUNTING CREATURES is a German shot-on-video production from writer-directors Andreas Pape and Oliver Kellisch. Apparently part of an underground-film collective in their native country, these filmmakers illustrate that flavorless, Tarantino-derivative films are not exclusive to U.S. soil.

An unoriginal gangsters-vs.-monsters movie, CREATURES offers nothing new; it's another example of directors imitating their favorite movies without an innate understanding of how those films work. What we get are slimy monsters facing off against a group of wannabe tough-guys who're wholly unconvincing as badasses, muddily edited and shot on horrible-quality video that's difficult to watch. Stuffed to bursting with faux-cool dialogue, which plays a bigger part in the proceedings than zombie-fighting, it's a transparent attempt on the actors' part to be bad and impress girls that fools no one.

There's a helping of cheesy gore, but not enough to make it worth the effort. The kind of movie that puts more thought into the posters on the wall than characterization (no need to impress us with your FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN one-sheet, fellas--we knew you were unabashed fanboys from minute one).

Let these CREATURES go.


This weird little flick, made by director Rusty Nails in 2005, will definitely appeal to offbeat sensibilities, even if the overall film is a little weak. On the surface it appears to be a send-up of vintage science fiction flicks, and is to a degree, but ACNE is rooted deeper in the underground art scene than with the likes of Roger Corman.

Two siblings--Franny and Zooey, played by Tracey Hayes and Nails, respectively--drink contaminated water and find themselves as zit-headed "zombies." (Though the zombie angle is aggravatingly inconsistent; they're not the living dead, nor are they in a trance-like state, or anything else commonly known as zombies, yet Nails evokes undead films often, using bleak exteriors that could've been outtakes from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.) Oozing pus from their pustule-crowned heads, the two teenagers spread the infection, causing the local youth population to sprout zit-heads and crave chocolate.

ACNE will be best appreciated by fans of transgressive or surreal cinema. Nails does a pretty good job replicating the '50s sci-fi look, but his black-and-white cinematography bears greater influence from Luis Bunuel or early Lynch. A frequently compelling and well-conceived piece, this film works best as a nontraditional visual fabric. (Nails's inventiveness really shines in a great bit involving a fire-and-brimstone preacher at his pulpit that features no real dialogue.) It's when it tries to approach a standard narrative that ACNE falters, as Nails gives his story too many talkative digressions and silly subplots, with humor that falls flat.

Like most experimental films, ACNE isn't for everyone, but fans of arthouse cinema and the open-minded may find the experience rewarding. Nails is a breath of anarchic air, the perfect antidote to mainstream stagnation.


Okay, I've featured plenty of student/homemade short films in the past, and though I try to give them slack for what they are, they're still usually hard to sit through, of interest mostly to friends and immediate family of the filmmakers (and sometimes even that's debatable). And while THE DEAD, a 200 short from directors Marten Oravas and Urmas Salu, is in many ways no different, but something about it really got to me and I found really fun.

Made by kids who are probably still looking forward to junior-high orientation, and as simple-minded as a zombie movie made in one afternoon, THE DEAD possesses a childish enthusiasm that overcomes the obvious humor and awkward performances (hell, you should watch it just to hear the lead kid scream).

Yes, it's just children playing pretend, but the photography and editing are surprisingly solid, and the cribbed soundtrack (including Godsmack over the fight sequences) isn't as jarring as it usually is when used this way. (And hey, for someone who's just grown their pubes, this kid can kick some zombie ass.) It even has a story of sorts, though its Pied Piperish ending had me scratching my head.


Can you tell I've been scraping the bottom of the zombie barrel?

INSANE IN THE BRAIN is a reprehensible in-name-only comedy directed by Chad Hendricks in 2007. A would-be spoof of blaxploitation and zombie films, INSANE bears closer resemblance to a third-rate IN LIVING COLOR sketch. The concept, in which pheromones from an inner-city whorehouse awaken the dead to become horny zombies, has definite potential for a raunchy horror-comedy, but Hendrick's oh-so-tedious execution renders the film as enjoyable as a water-boarding session.

If the embarrassingly bad zombie make-up and annoyingly repetitive dialogue isn't enough to drive you from the room--and it should be--Hendricks offers up a buddy-cop subplot that strives to be a pimped-out STARSKY AND HUTCH spoof but remains a desperate assemblage of ghetto stereotypes. (Tip: afros and pimp suits do not a blaxploitation parody make.) That the film is far from the spirit and style of '70s soul cinema (much the same way a dead-baby joke is far from the wit of Oscar Wilde) can be overlooked if it delivers the gory goods, but wouldn't you know it, Hendricks fumbles this ball too. Most of the "horror" seems to involve blow-jobs gone bad--in fact, so much of the film's supposed humor is dick-centric I can't help but wonder about the director's intention--and besides, it takes a backseat to the "comedy," so zombie fans will get the shortest shrift of all here.

A monumental failure at everything it attempts, INSANE IN THE BRAIN made me want to rip out my eyes so I could stuff them in my ears. Easily among the worst movies reviewed for 365 Days.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


DORM OF THE DEAD, a 2006 video-bound feature, was directed by Donald F. Farmer. If you're familiar with the cinematic atrocities Mr. Farmer has committed (Exhibit A: the spectacularly awful rape-revenge pic SAVAGE VENGEANCE), then feel free to skip this review. Trust me, I won't be saying anything you don't already know.

Sort of a LIVING DEAD MEAN GIRL, taking place at Arkham University (is there a cheaper in-joke than a Lovecraft reference?), DORM's threadbare scenario involves a rivalry between bitchy campus queens Jackie Hall and Andrea Ownby and Goth chicks Adrianna Eder and Ciara Richards. When a zombie outbreak infects the university, the Goth girls finally find a way to settle the score, but find themselves way over their heads.

There's no way to sugar-coat it, so I'll just say it: WORST ACTING EVER. Even with the lovely Tiffany Shepis gracing this film (a credit that DORM does not deserve) this has got to be the most incompetent assemblage of actors this side of gonzo porn. At least the crappy performances suit the lousy writing, direction, photography, gore effects (Herschell Gordon Lewis never would've tried to pass off these fx), etc.--over two decades of filmmaking experience, and Farmer still doesn't have a clue about making movies. But what do you expect from a director who ruins a perfectly good lesbian sex scene with ghastly techno music?

Yikes. Just yikes.


You certainly are, if you dare to put this 2007 shot-on-video crapfest into your DVD player. Directed by Michael Su, DOOMED is ostensibly a parody of SURVIVOR with an undead twist, but the overall execution is done so poorly that fans of both reality TV and zombies will be utterly bored and disappointed. (If you want to see this type of thing done right, check out Brian Keene's novel CASTAWAYS, about an island-bound reality show beset by monsters, due in bookstores this January.)

In a premise that sounds awfully similar to THE RUNNING MAN, a near-future competition-based reality show pits teams of convicted felons against each other for the chance of early release, as well as a $50 million prize. The contestants are dropped on the Isola de Romero (sigh), unaware--though they should be, given the glaring zombie-flick reference--that the island's living dead population will be their biggest challenge.

DOOMED might've worked if it had attempted to satirize the conventions of reality TV or voyeuristic entertainment, but all it does is simply replicate an ordinary episode of SURVIVOR; I've never been fond of the show, which increased my tedium tenfold, but even a die-hard fan would be put off by this. Instead of drama or tension, the flimsy screenplay gives us scripted recreations of reality-TV bickering, and substitutes types for characters. And when Su finally gives us an action sequence, it's punctuated with annoying video-game "hit points" that tally up the damage, a detail that gets increasingly exhausting each time it's employed.

Laughably inept, boring beyond belief, DOOMED keeps its zombies off-screen much of the time, breaking them out only when it's time to thin the cast. (If I told you their appearances were edited so quickly as to be incomprehensible, would you be surprised?) At a meager 76 minutes it's still stretched to the snapping point, finished off with a stupid cop-out ending that would've enraged me, if I hadn't already hated this movie from the get-go.

I'd rather be stranded on a desert island, eating a fried rat off Richard Hatch's bare ass than watch this thing again.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


When I caught the charming British short I RAN FROM A ZOMBIE on Day 316 I felt like I'd discovered something special; at least I knew not every student zombie short was destined to be awful. My good fortune, however, was short-lived, having run smack into UNIVERSITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a Swedish-produced short from 2008 that embraces everything that makes amateur productions so hard to sit through.

The version I watched, and available below, fails to include credits, so I'm not sure who's responsible for this thing (and I don't have the inclination to look it up--but feel free if you'd like), and it is in untranslated Swedish, but the dialogue is minimal and the simplistic story is easy to follow.

Bottom line, UNIVERSITY is boring. As boring as a ten-minute short could possibly be (perhaps if the filmmakers didn't wait until the six-minute mark to bring out the zombies it wouldn't have been so bad). Granted, the zombies' introduction was pretty well done, and almost generated the right amount of thrills, but . . . what's up with the living dead? They're not quite fast zombies, yet they don't shuffle. They kind of look like someone racing to the toilet after a long night of Corona and cheap tacos.

Getting back to the tedium, mundane action is given far too much screen time. If you or I were trapped in a public restroom, or stuck without cell phone service, we'd try to remedy the situation for more than a few seconds. But, if we were characters in a movie--especially one ten friggin' minutes long--we'd do it just long enough to establish we're stuck in the john with no bars on our phone, okay?

So UNIVERSITY ends like every other cheap student short: heroine runs from the zombies a while before falling victim. Sheesh, not exactly an M. Night Shamalyan twist, is it? It's kinda well-executed, though not well enough to overlook the "they got me and now I'm one of them!" closing.

Oh, and the zombie plumber-crack at 9:43 was totally unwarranted.


Writer/director Jake Kennedy's 2007 shot-on-video opus DAYS OF DARKNESS has popped up in several conversations since 365 Days of the Dead began; I've heard, "Hey, check that one out, it's not your typical zombie flick," as often as I've gotten, "Dude, don't waste your time, it sucks!" Since divisive movies intrigue me, I decided to see for myself, and although the movie is definitely a mixed bag, it is certainly not your typical zombie flick.

It starts out as one, as a passing comet covers the earth in a toxic dust that turns people into zombies, forcing survivors to seek shelter at an abandoned microwave station. Kennedy seems none too interested in doing something different with the living dead--at least not at first--but manages to establish a good build-up with just enough characterization and well-timed action. Yet just when you think the film will remain a mere Romero pastiche, it starts to veer into strange new directions.

I won't go into too much detail, since these variations are what makes DAYS OF DARKNESS worth checking out, but I will say I can't think of very many movies that feature zombified genitalia. (There's even a quite memorable "crotch exam" sequence.) The plot twists get steadily loopier, leading to one helluva "Eureka!" moment as the main character figures out just what's going on, but I gotta give props to Kennedy for audacity, even if his execution leaves something to be desired.

Kennedy tries to assemble a more outre roster of characters--such as the former porn star who uses her extensive anal experience to explain why she can't kill zombies--but too often they come off as gimmicky and unintentionally humorous (I still don't know if this was supposed to be a comedy or not), and they still resort to the same pointless bickering that can be found in any post-apocalypse zombie film. (Though there are quite a few novel character types, I really could've done without the queer-bashing fanatical preacher.)

DAYS OF DARKNESS is in many ways like a lot of micro-budget films--boasting lame CGI effects that instill little confidence in the audience--but it's what it does differently that gives it that edge (Kennedy even throws in a happy ending--awww.) Not to be confused with great cinema, it at least offers something different than the usual Romero-esque gut-munching.

Monday, October 6, 2008


WICKED LITTLE THINGS was among the initial batch of After Dark's Horrorfest productions, and generally considered the worst of the lot. Having not seen all of the entries I'll reserve judgment, but I will say this 2006 film is the cinematic equivalent of an '80s horror paperback--all that's missing is the Zebra logo on the DVD sleeve. Derivative and trite, it hits all the prerequisite horror bases, director J.S. Cardone doling out the cliches with clockwork timing.

Sort of a combination ghost/zombie tale (a variation I've been noticing a lot lately), WICKED LITTLE THINGS concerns a single mother and her two daughters moving into a ramshackle house in the Pennsylvania mountains following her husband's death. The house, they'll come to discover, is located near an abandoned mine, where several child-workers were buried alive in a long-ago accident. And with the developments of a local real estate baron--a sinister, greedy real estate baron, as if there were no other kind--tearing up the nearby earth it isn't long before the spirits/undead bodies of (the film never makes it clear which) are out and about, feeding messily on secondary characters.

The film is steeped in rustic atmosphere, making a good setting for a ghost yarn, but the screenplay is too riddled with well-worn tropes; it's the kind of movie where the local handyman is a convenient source of exposition, as if the ability to identify people in old photographs and relate dormant legends are part of a plumber's job description. It also asks us to be divinely patient with the older daughter--as always an unrelenting bitch--as if we're suddenly going to care and be so happy once she finally settles down after her encounter with the supernatural. (Um, how about she gets eaten by zombie moppets in the first reel and save us all some misery?) Of course, the younger daughter is friendly with the ghost-zombie kids, and helps them back to the other side--you know how this is going to end before it even begins.

A few familiar faces pop up in the cast, including HALLOWEEN's Scout Taylor-Compton and veteran character actor Geoffrey Lewis . . . but who did Ben Cross piss off to get stuck in this mess? He should bring a little class to the picture, hut his overwrought performance drags him down with the others.

If Dickensian-looking zombie kids give you nightmares, by all means watch this one with the lights out. If you're a little more hardened to the conventions of the genre, you've already seen this movie before, why repeat yourself?


Waaaaay back in the early weeks of this project (i.e. I'm too lazy to scroll back and figure out exactly when) I skewered a rotten piece of shot-on-video tripe called ZOMBIES GONE WILD. Look it up, if you haven't read it, it's one of the most virulent reviews I've ever written, and was it ever deserved; almost at the end of this blog it's still one of the worst movies I've ever seen, zombie or otherwise.

I mention this only because the Cohen Brothers (yes, you read that correctly) have returned with another shot-on-tape zombie flick called MOTOCROSS ZOMBIES FROM HELL, and while this 2007 production is better than WILD it's far from watchable. Director "G.R.", whoever he may be, learned a thing or two about the technical aspects of film-making since making WILD; maybe in 2010 he'll be able to tell a decent story.

MOTOCROSS is about, duh, a motocross racer, his mechanic/best pal, and their feisty gal pal (there's actually a love triangle introduced at the beginning, as the girl switches affections from one to the other, a "conflict" that smooths over remarkably well) who head out to the desert for an important weekend race. Unbeknownst to them, an unbeatable team is gearing up for the race as well, a team invincible because they're zombies (from hell--remember the title?). It's going to be a long weekend as our heroes must race not for a title or trophy, but their very souls. (Sorry about the overwrought description, it's very late and I'm typing like a madman.)

MOTOCROSS almost plays like a two-wheeled version of DUEL, as the zombie racers remain hidden behind helmets throughout their chase, though it certainly lacks the tension or craftsmanship of Spielberg's film. The desert pursuit eventually gives way to yet another NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-inspired trapped-in-a-house finale, ruining the one thing that set this turkey apart.

The film's shot competently enough, although it's got the production values of a local car-dealership commercial that give it an unusually fake-looking veneer. The acting's not too bad, but the screenplay is saddled with "realistic" dialogue that stops the movie cold. (Dialogue in a film does not need to sound exactly like genuine conversation to be realistic; it's a plot device, so when one character conveys information to another, we don't need them to repeat to anyone else.) Further bogging down the picture are overly-strained conversations and far too much attention devoted to motocross minutiae (though racing enthusiasts might not mind), and the horror elements are too cheesy to be scary.

Like a lot of SOV flicks, MOTOCROSS ZOMBIES FROM HELL remains ignorant on the maintenance of suspense or plot-momentum, though it spares us a showcase for the filmmakers' egos. Perhaps beneficial to would-be directors as an example of what not to do, it's a lame-brained bore that's as dry and boring as the landscape it's set in.

DAY 325--DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)

When Zack Snyder's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD proved to be a hit (not to mention a pretty good movie), nobody was too surprised to find that DAY OF THE DEAD was getting the redux treatment as well. Nobody was too excited either, especially when uber-hack Steve Miner (known for fair-to-middling genre fare like LAKE PLACID and HALLOWEEN: H20) was announced as director, but Hollywood has a tendency to carry on despite the outcry of fans. We just have to suck it up and pray it's not too disastrous.

The verdict? Thanks to the lowest expectations imaginable, it wasn't too heinous, yet the 2008 incarnation still manages to stumble over itself once the living dead start popping up (this film should settle the fast-vs.-slow zombie debate once and for all). It's at least better than DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, though a shattered testicle would be preferable to that cinematic atrocity.

Opting to remain an in-name-only remake, Miner's DAY centers on a tiny Colorado town hit by a zombie epidemic, and the paramilitary squad that leads the quarantine. Ultimately it leads to two parallel trapped-in-a-box scenarios as the various survivors (which include Mr. Mariah Carey Nick Cannon, scream queen Christa Campbell, and a what-the-hell's-she-doing-here star turn from Mena Suvari) try to keep the plague from spreading. Thanks to Miner's not-bad-but-not-great directorial hand it's actually fairly entertaining, but a reliance of hyper-fast zombies (exactly why/how do they crawl spider-like on the ceiling?) and BOURNE-inspired hand-held camerawork keeps it well within the bounds of mediocrity.

There are a couple of novel touches (such as zombies who continue to feed on a body stuck in an electrified fence) and Ving Rhames, in a bullshit ploy to establish continuity to Snyder's DAWN, elevates the proceedings with his extended cameo (yes, he is the best thing about this movie). The plethora of gore should please grue fans, though I really would like to see less CGI splatter--I realize it's cost-effective, but it looks like shit and leaves me cold. Suvari makes for a surprisingly capable action babe, though she's the only actor, aside from Rhames, who imbues any sense of humanity to their character, and even then it's strictly the B-movie bare minimum. I could at least tolerate the human members of the cast; I can't same for the vegetarian zombie "Bud" (puh-leeze!), who I found pretty goddamn stupid.

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but the 2008 DAY OF THE DEAD fares better than most of recent zombie films/horror retreads. Hampered with heavy exposition and wrong-headed action that sinks its third act, as well as a stupid ending, it'll never be mistaken for a genre classic. The highly undiscriminating or very merciful might find this works in a pinch; it helps not to think of this as anything remotely related to Romero.


I'll be perfectly honest with you, I can't tell if ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING (also known as ZOMBIE BEACH PARTY) is a good movie or not, but I do know that it's a helluva fun little flick. Unlike most micro-budget productions, which try to make the best out of limited resources, ZOMBIE KING uses its financial restrictions to create its own cut-rate style, an aura of retro-kitsch cool that in of itself is worth the price of admission.

Packing an awful lot into 76 minutes, ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING is somewhat difficult to summarize, but imagine the classic lucha libre films of the '60s mashed into the living dead universe of George Romero (who, incidentally, was originally slated to play the titular king) and you're on the right track. Mexican wrestling superstar and part-time crime-fighter Ulysses (Jules Delorme) sets out to investigate an outbreak of zombies in a sleepy beach community--which inexplicably is experiencing heavy snowfall--suspecting his old cohort Tiki (El Fuego) is behind it, as the latter's been on the wrasslin' circuit with a zombie-grappling act. (And this is only the A-story, folks.) But as Ulysses and his fellow do-gooders Mercedes and the Blue Saint (Jennifer Thom and Raymond Carle) delve deeper, they find the mastermind is much more than a fellow wrestler.

ZOMBIE KING has its share of flaws, such as plot that likes to meander at its own pace and predilection for redundant dialogue, but director Bill Marks compensates with a rollicking second act that features plenty of zombie-wrestling, the quest for justice and revenge, and a bevy of pin-up worthy females, all backed with a groovy surf-rock soundtrack. As I said earlier, the low budget forces concessions upon the filmmakers--such as the climactic battle fought in a local playground--but this adds to the movie's lunacy, giving it a singular feel that will enamor bad-movie fans everywhere. (This is one of those rare examples that capture the spirit of Ed Wood beautifully without getting mired in intentional idiocy.)

ENTER . . . ZOMBIE KING will probably turn away as many viewers as it turns on, but I had a damned good time and I won't hesitate to recommend it. The perfect centerpiece to your retro-themed Halloween party. (Oh, and I can't wait for the sequel, THE CURSE OF THE IRON MASK.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008


In the days before home video there were several filmmakers who were essentially regional moguls, folks like Charles B. Pierce, Earl Owensby and Worth Keeter, or today's director, Don Dohler, who financed, produced, and distributed motion pictures far from the Hollywood system. With the internet age and the ease of acquiring decent home-video equipment (not to mention studios like Lionsgate, who'll dump any amateur production on DVD regardless of competence), I'm surprised there aren't more of them today; maybe there are, and are simply toiling in obscurity, justified or otherwise.

Dohler, a Maryland-based filmmaker, made no-budget pictures until his death in 2006, but he's best known for his horror/sci-fi offerings of the early '80s. FIEND was only his second picture, and boy does it show. Though the 1980 production possesses the same low-rent charm that graced (if that's the word) similar early works by Fred Olen Ray and Larry Buchanan, its mind-bogglingly inept story ruins any chance of a fun, horrific romp.

The story gets underway when a shoddy optical effect--really, what the hell is that supposed to be? It looks like a large, disembodied eyeball--resurrects a corpse in a local cemetery, turning him into a lumbering zombie with glowing red hands. (Yeah, I know Dohler couldn't have afforded Industrial Light and Magic, but at least the poor photographic effects give it a fleeting bad-movie energy.) Now, this could've been a good starting point for a movie, even one as financially-challenged as this one, but Dohler allows too many questions to pop up.

Like, who is this guy, and what is he really supposed to be? What is he after, and how does killing innocent women help accomplish his goal? And most importantly, how does a reanimated corpse buy a house and establish a music school?

I suppose with the right verve and tempo a film could make me forget those questions, but FIEND doesn't have it. A crashing bore of a picture, it spends more time with the dead guy poring over sales records with his lackey or grooving to New Age tunes than . . . whatever it is undead music teachers do. Seriously, Dohler films this guy feeding his cat with the same intensity as the murders.

Now that I've written this review, I think I know why there aren't that many regional producers anymore.


This 2004 micro-budget production might've been worth checking out if it made a genuine attempt to bring the horrors of the living dead into an inner-city environment; using zombies as a metaphor for, say, the drug epidemic or the hopelessness many of its residents feel would've been a rich vein to tap, even with the atrocious acting and horrendous shot-on-video quality.

But directors Jose and Eduardo Quiroz decided instead to make RE-ANIMATOR IN THA HOOD, even throwing in the well-known Day-Glo green serum, and gladly trot out every ghetto stereotype imaginable. (That the filmmakers are minorities made me wonder why they didn't at least try to balance them out with three-dimensional characters.) The end result, which boasts "zombies" consisting of extras with mouthfuls of red dye, is too ridiculous to be taken seriously, much less be scary.


Keeping your minds out of the gutter for a second--and I know just how tough that can be sometimes--the title for this 2005 Irish production suggests not just an undead romantic comedy, but a fairly outrageous one at that. Maybe something on the level of Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, or Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY? That was the impression I got, which might explain why I was so disappointed in BOY EATS GIRL.

It wasn't because director Stephen Bradley didn't go over the top, but that he didn't bother to break any new ground. Practically every facet of this film has been taken directly from other movies, borrowing so heavily on teen-hijinx flicks and well-worn zombie classics that when it does offer something novel (such as zombie-slaughter-via-backhoe) it fails to generate much enthusiasm. It mirrors its influences the same way NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS did, so much so that I'm having trouble telling the two apart.

BOY EATS GIRL hews so close to the teen-zombie formula (and I hadn't realized there was one until now) that you can predict each scene right before it happens: our newly-zombified heroes experience hunger pangs that can't be sated until--oh, no!--they dine on human flesh, there's the obligatory scene in which characters discover they have no vital signs, etc. Had Bradley injected any genuine humor into these tired proceedings it might've made them more interesting, but instead lets the acute familiarity grind the film to a halt. And I might not go so far as to call the picture an idiot plot, but it relies enough on simple misunderstandings to come pretty damn close.

There are too many zombie comedies out there that do more to make BOY EATS GIRL worth your time. Although its solid, photogenic cast does what they can with the material, it's too weak to compete with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, etc.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I believe I'll be keeping this one short, since 1981's DEAD AND BURIED is one of those movies that holds more impact the less you know going in. Written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon (the pair's first major gig after their breakthrough success with ALIEN) and directed by the criminally underappreciated Gary A. Sherman, it's a film that works best as a mystery, revealing its secrets one layer at a time until the full picture is shown.

Watching just the opening scene is a treat; not only is it a beautifully understated work of misdirection--what appears to be the beginning of a romance segues without warning into a particularly nasty murder--but it's the kind of slow build that rarely gets made these days.

DEAD AND BURIED also boasts a strong cast, including James Farentino (who seems to be channeling Christopher George), Michael Pataki, Jack Albertson, and Robert Englund in a pre-Freddy turn. Their work, along with superior cinematography and an effective score, make this a worthwhile example of fun '80s horror (that didn't involve knife-wielding maniacs).

I will say, though, that I'm not 100% sold on the story's resolution, but getting there is an enjoyably macabre ride.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Casual movie-goers, be it those who don't watch many movies or whose tastes run closer to the local multiplex or Blockbuster outlet, will often gripe about film critics. "They don't like anything," they'll say, as if finding fault with GOOD LUCK CHUCK or TRANSFORMERS is some kind of profound character flaw. They're snobs, they say, interested only in subtitled arthouse flicks and not "real" movies.

Know why critics are so cranky and hard to please? Because they watch movies a lot, and by doing so encounter cliches and mediocrity more times than they'd probably like. And when you're watching films not for leisure but as part of your job (or a project such as this one), it becomes difficult to tolerate stories and plot elements that are weak and trite. Familiarity most certainly breeds contempt when it comes to watching movies.

Take for example the 2007 shot-on-video production AWAKEN THE DEAD. Were I to throw this on during a slow night to pass the time I might've been able to wring a little enjoyment from it, but having suffered through this very same movie time and again over the last eleven months I found myself rather antagonistic.

Amidst the same ol' virus-generated zombie wasteland a prostitute and a preacher-turned-assassin team up to survive. And within this well-trod territory writer/director Jeffrey McMichael Brookshire takes us on a journey we've been on before, revisiting every familiar stop like a veteran tour guide. It's the kind of film that inspires boredom from the very beginning, when it becomes apparent we're getting nothing new. I'm as tired of man-of-the-cloth anti-heroes as I am of those two-fisted action sequences that work in Honk Kong films but look ridiculous in DIY flicks like these. Nor is the single-set story any help, creating an atmosphere that's claustrophobic in all the wrong ways.

The story's not the only moldy-oldie on display, either. Think of any technical flaw found in micro-budget cinema and it's bound to be in this movie. We've got terrible acting, pedestrian direction, and grainy, cheap-looking videography, not to mention the ever-reliable shitty audio. (Note to no-budget filmmakers: if you're going to tell your story mostly through dialogue--and God knows most of you will--make sure you film said dialogue so that it's audible.) All this, and Brookshire even resolves his tale with a simplistic, pat ending loaded with cheesy symbolism.

Pass on this one, even if you're not weary of cheap zombie flicks.