Zombie Reviews . . . Rise of the Zombie (2013) By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains violence, gore)
Starring: Luke Kenny, Kirti Kulhari, Prem Thapa, Pinky Negi, Ashwin Mushran, and Benjamin Gilani
Language: Hindi and English
Let’s see what happens when someone takes a micro-budget film and does the genre justice, just for once. Please. My brain couldn’t take another poorly executed script. Luckily when deciding to take a chance on Rise of the Zombie, it didn’t end in utter disappointment. That’s not saying this is an insanely great film, but for what they accomplished, it’s not awful. It may even be—dare I say it? Re-watchable.
Here’s the abbreviated storyline:
Relationships are difficult to maintain when Mother Nature calls to your soul, even more so when that love leads one to become a wildlife photographer. Neil Parker’s love life isn’t anywhere near as stunning as his work in the field. Matter of fact, it’s become extinct. Vinny Rao is tired of spending days, sometimes a week or two, wondering where Neil disappeared to this time. In typical Neil fashion, he makes an appearance at his buddy’s bachelor party right after the breakup and before his hangover’s played out, he is on his way to his favorite place out in the middle of nowhere. Does he tell anyone? There’s Thapa and a few others from the nearby village who bring him supplies when he doesn’t want to bike in, but no one from home has a clue.
While on a hike, Neil is bitten by an aggressive bug. The wound festers, no matter how much he cleans it. Neil hallucinates, falls into a fugue state, and suffers intense nightmares. A few times he goes into town, inspired to reach out to Vinny, but she ghosts calls made from unknown numbers. The infection on Neil’s arm spreads. His lucid moments are fewer and fewer. A shift in his appetite leaves him scrounging for bugs. Unaware of any changes, the villagers invite him to party with them. He leaves with a woman at his side . . . then wakes with her bloody hand, only the bloody hand, in his tent. Neil’s appetite grows unchecked. Anytime someone comes to help him, he attacks. The nutrition gives him blessed few aware hours to try and reach Vinny, pushed by visions of their relationship.
Two weeks pass before Vinny realizes there’s actually something wrong this time. With the help of Anish, Neil’s soon-to-be-wed friend, and Dr. Dave Parker, his father, they eventually track down a phone Neil uses often in the village. Unfortunately, luck’s not on their side after that.
For the budget, this film is beautifully shot—with a few exceptions toward the end where the quality intentionally degrades to heighten the weight of Neil’s transformation. The overly-shaky attacks aren’t how I’d handle that transition, but it still works for this story. The opening sequence is mesmerizing, making the audience forget for quite some time that they’re watching a horror movie. They play a lot with the overall tone of the film. It’s very much a romance at the get-go with the gorgeous POV shots as Neil works, then shifting into the break-up scene after, followed by the raucous bachelor party. Even Neil’s decision to bolt to the middle of nowhere fits a romance outline. Everything changes after the bug bite. Gone are the crisp landscape shots. The world is unfocused. Neil’s attention shifts down, down, down as his appetites change, taking the camera with it. It’s rare to see this much attention in a genre film this size.
The use of quiet time in the script is probably what saved the film from being tedious. Neil is alone a lot. When he is around people, the discussion is all mundane because there is no mass outbreak. Neil’s the sole threat to the villagers and up until the end, he has no clue just how dangerous he is to those around him. The heavy lifting on the speaking end is left to Vinny and the others in Mumbai. They’re always pushing the urgency to find Neil, though we know he’s too gone to care. Where everything, unfortunately, falls apart is the final act. The resolution isn’t satisfying because there’s no resolution. Vinny makes it to the village and it more or less ends there. Five more minutes of story to wrap it up wouldn’t have hurt.
Special effects and makeup are the weakest link in this movie. Neil’s wounds are simplistic and don’t stand up to close-ups. There’s a moment where he angrily rakes the flesh off his arm, except the makeup is obviously nothing more than greasepaint over liquid latex so it’s not graphic, as intended, but more like we’re watching the actor clean up at the end of the shooting day.
Where the makeup falls short, the actors pick up the slack. Kenny does a bang-up job bringing a unique physical presence to Neil’s transformation. When he plays through the lucid moments, it’s gut-wrenching. Honestly, this single performance makes the film worth at least one watch. He’s bringing a lot to the table in a film most people won’t give the time of day, which is a disservice to oneself as a genre fan, honestly. Cringe through the makeup and watch Kenny deliver a zombie acting class. Seriously.
There’s a lot which could’ve made Rise of the Zombie a higher quality genre offering. However, for the budget, they managed to deliver a better movie than domestic releases with the same kind of money. I’m giving this film three disemboweled torsos out of five.
Zombie Reviews . . . The Z Effect (2017) By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains adult language, violence)
Starring: Michael Navas, Scott Schlueter, Steffie Grote, Douglas Wilcox II, Charles Gordy Swalm, and Cali De La Rosa
Sometimes, just sometimes, a bunch of people need to band together to shoot a zombie movie. No rhyme. No reason. Just the unrelenting want to add to the genre in a small way. Which is why it feels like there’s more and more micro budget films flooding the streaming market. Camera technology put this burden in our eager, capable hands. Mankind will ride this idea into the ground and back again. Got no money? Doesn’t matter. Apparently zombie films practically make themselves these days. The Z Effect takes the mico budget idea and does its best to stretch the limits of what they can do on-screen.
Without warning, the dead return to attack the living. Missing not one beat, Mike and Scott band together to stay alive in the face of so many horrors. It’d be easier to go on if Scott knew whether his girlfriend Natalie survived the initial undead wave. Nevertheless, there’s nothing they can do about being separated. Scott can either move on, or get bit by one of the numerous adolescent zombies who keep tripping him up morally as they search for supplies and a viable car. Along the way, Mike and Scott encounter a few zombies whose backstory we learn in vignettes. There’s also two other survivor groups nearby, but one doesn’t play well with others. Especially when those others happen to shoot two of their members because they’re loudly harassing a zombie woman. Everything changes when Terrance, from the good group, tries to boost Mike and Scott’s car. They talk things out and decide to pool resources, which includes a guaranteed roof over their heads and more living people to talk to. Lo and behold, Natalie’s living with the good group, along with half a dozen others. There’s not much time to bask in their reunion. When the Crazies find Mike and Scott a few days later, they hatch a plan to get revenge for their fallen bros.
The greatest enemy in this film is the editing. It’s choppy. It’s confusing. In order to artificially complicate the plot, the editor decided to tell the end of each vignette first, then go back to fill in some of the gaps. This leads to things like wondering if they’ve misused an insert clip of a hand holding a gun in some scenes, or trying to figure out if Scott’s having flashbacks compared to vivid nightmares. Thanks to this “edgy” editing style, it’s hard to figure out which zombie is which, and even harder to recognize those zombies when they come back to face the heroes. The whole point of presenting the film this way was to be able to tell those zombies’ stories around the hero’s plot in self-contained bursts, but they lose focus once the human drama outweighs the dead drama and the hyper-stylized editing system winds up killing the tension leading into the final fight.
Technically, the film shows its budget big time. The digital effects are as basic as one can get. Zombie makeup consists of artfully splattered fake blood, with little more attention brought to the clothes—which were probably made in bulk by just slashing random holes in thrift garments and dousing them in blood. Also pretty sure the sound was caught on one boom mic or the camera’s mic because for in-car scenes, you can only really hear whoever is closest to camera. Thank goodness for subtitles and the shining few actors animated enough to sell their lines despite shoddy sound recording.
Like many of the films I nabbed recently, this one delivers as best as it’s able to with what was available. If effort could win prizes, they’d have a shot. That’s not really how this goes, though. In the grand scheme, The Z Effect, even with the catchy song at the end, only gets one dismembered hand out of five.
Zombie Reviews . . . Dead Inside (2006) By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains violence, gore, adult language)
Starring: Tyler Austin, Cynthia Gerber, Madison Ranne, Noah Wisniewski, and Tommy Walters
One never knows what to expect when grabbing something Troma distributed. Given the blurb, it seemed like it’d be okay. Different, at the very least. It’s different, all right. I’m still not one-hundred percent sure what I just watched, but it surely isn’t what the synopsis promised.
The lying, fabricated, fibtastic blurb from Troma’s site reads:
When a group of survivors take refuge in a friend’s home to protect themselves from the Zombie Apocalypse, they must learn to confront and destroy not only the evil lurking on the outside, but also the menace that stalks them from within!
First false statement: Friend’s home. The only people who know each other were involved in a murder, and technically only one of the three knows the truth. Secondly, they learn nothing over the course of their imprisonment in Katrina and Danny’s home. Lastly, the maniac in question settled their score a year before the apocalypse and it’s only brought up at the very end to justify yet another gratuitous death.
Alright, so the copy writer gave the plot an extreme glow-up. What’s the movie actually about? [Spoilers below]
A year prior to the world going to the dead, Jill’s guy calls it quits in the middle of a crowded diner—with patrons randomly quoting other genre films as the scene unfolds. It’s not such a good idea because Jill’s not quite right in the head, seeing monsters everywhere she looks. This woman also just happens to have a serial killer’s shrine to her now-ex. Jill takes her revenge, with the guy’s kid in the house. Fast-forward a year. Danny’s mother Katrina has moved on after the murder. Gerry fills an essential gap in their lives. But just like her former husband, this one dies under mysterious circumstances after something eats their babysitter. The mourning family isn’t alone for long. Albert, a stranger, rushes in the front door having just witnessed his father being attacked by the dead on the road. Elsewhere, Jill’s going through undead hell with her lover. She makes it out of their home in one piece, sans lover and pet, only to find a zombie in her car. Jill run and runs and runs, eventually landing at Katrina’s—at first the editing makes it look like they’re neighbors, though. Outside, an officer naps in his car, awakened only when crap hits the zombie fan. He flips his lid and makes a run for shelter—Katrina’s house, of course. From there out, the group tries to make the best of it. Officer Dearborn’s courage flatlines, triggering their safe haven’s eventual downfall. Jill is bitten on a supply run. On her death bed she admits the truth to Danny about his father’s murder. He shoots her and here come the zombies. Albert and Katrina do their best to survive on the run, but she doesn’t make it. The boy and Albert continue on, meeting another pair of survivors making the best of the apocalypse along the way. Just when things look bleakest, Danny and Albert are saved.
On paper, it’s good. In practice, it’s a mess. The editing obscures the plot unnecessarily during the introduction phase. Dialog is cringe-worthy eighty percent of the time thanks to Officer Bigot’s constant gay jokes just to poke Albert. Jill’s story is so convoluted that we need a series of flashbacks just to have any hope of figuring out who this woman is. The makeup is another Greasepaint and Dirt Special, with little to no time spent on each zombie. It’s like they painted a tarp and made each actor roll for five seconds, then shoved them on set without another glance. Even the sound mix is presented as something spliced together in an old garage with dollar store headphones.
Save yourselves. Don’t be the guy on Troma’s site simultaneously praising and hating this film. There’s no need for brand loyalty when they put out stuff like this and then think people should pay them to see it. If it were edited better, I may be more forgiving. As-is, this is the worst film I’ve reviewed to date. It doesn’t even get a rating. It gets my eternal regret.
Rated: NR (Contains adult language, violence, gore)
Starring: Steve Hudgins, P.J. Woodside, Grey Hurt, Randy Hardesty, and Cindy Maples
When I grabbed the movie, someone mislabeled this 2010 film as a 2016 release, so I’ve had to marinate on what I saw for a little longer before delivering a final verdict. Six years, believe it or not, makes a difference when debating these ultra-low budget films. A current iPhone in place of whatever they used here would’ve greatly increased the film’s quality . . . and maybe spared more cash for makeup. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, the story.
A fiery object falls from the sky, landing in the front yard of home in a small Midwestern town. The curious family calls Uncle Brad, with his university connections, to investigate. He burns himself on the frigid bucket holding the mystery lump, but has no other issues driving it away . . . for a few miles. Brad makes it to the hospital, but no further. From there, chaos invades their quiet town. A sickness spreads through bodily fluids—and given half the town’s proclivity for cheating, it takes no time at all for things to get out of hand.
It’s not a very original story. So how’d they punch it up? By presenting the entire plot backwards. Each citizen in town who turns zombie gets their own death vignette, starting with poor Joe. Joe’s girl is cheating on him and her sister has the hots for him, but he’s just so loyal to his gal. He’s also a pretty good neighbor, bringing Johnny his truck after finding it on the roadside with mystery stains—he, no joke, asks an obviously ill Johnny if the red stuff on the truck is blood, so be prepared for some interesting dialog choices throughout the film. As the story winds back to the outbreak’s origin, we’re taken on some misadventures with the locals. Brace yourselves for quite a bit of lowbrow humor sprinkled throughout. Any time a man gears up for a joke, assume it’s insulting on fifteen different levels. Just so it’s not completely predictable, the plot does wrap back around to the present for an epilogue of sorts. Format wise, it’s not bad. But the writing itself is . . . not award-winning. It’s an easy script for a small-ish group to shoot in a reasonable amount of time. Could it be better? Definitely. Could it be worse? I’ve survived far worse indie films than this and decided they weren’t even worth writing about, so it has that going for it.
What the film doesn’t have is any makeup. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. The makeup present is just super subtle. With a few exceptions, the zombies rely on fake blood and movements to sell the gag. Within those zombies, only a handful really stand out as astounding creature actors. Playing dead is harder than it looks; kudos to anyone shuffling the good shuffle under all that makeup. There’s no real standard look or movement style. It’s like they let the actors do their own thing most likely just to save time, which leads to some amusing bits. Unfortunately, the camera angle sometimes obscures what’s going on and only half an undead performance makes it on-screen. I suspect this is due to space issues shooting inside real locations and not sets with cut-outs to position cameras “inside” walls for better angles. Paired with whatever they filmed with, it makes some scenes the very definition of “uhm . . . that’s creatively shot.”
Overall, I get what they wanted to do, but the script and budget just didn’t do the concept justice. Hell is Full gets one and a half mangled mandibles out of five.
Zombie Reviews . . . Clash of the Dead By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains adult language, violence, gore)
Starring: Ray Panthaki, Robert Bladen, Wendy Glenn, Ben Shafik, and Eva Solveig
Found footage films are not my bag. Just getting that out here as a reminder. The camera movements jerk too much and my rotting brain can’t keep up with the action. Good news, the action in this movie is so slow, the POV movements don’t obscure anything of note. That’s also the bad news.
What are they trying to do in this film? Here’s a quick summary:
There’s money to be made from war documentaries even a century after peace talks ended. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s there. The trick is to make old stories shine anew, and maybe stage a few “surprises” for the hosts to stumble upon to up the ratings—it’s only fraud if one is caught doing something like, oh, making a UFO fly over a well-known wonder of the world. Aiming to cash in, Marcus takes a film crew to the Somme with the goal of digging into some of the more obscure myths. Their expert, Brian isn’t so sure that’s the right path, but he and the others get wrapped up in the moment when they stumble across a chained and submerged soldier’s body bearing a totem said to revive the dead. When darkness falls, the crew unwinds with a little soccer to recreate the fabled No Man’s Zone soccer game during an early WWI Christmas Truce. Another team joins them on the field, but these guys are only after a warm meal. The undead soldiers attack the film crew. Four make it into a tunnel system for safety. Only two make it back out with a possible plan to put the dead back in the ground—they have to bury the body they disturbed. Unfortunately, the dead are all about thwarting that plan.
As straight forward as this seems, it’s a mess. Due to half the cast being behind the camera, it takes most of the film to figure out who’s who, and only then it’s thanks to process of elimination as they keel over. What could be quick action beats to drive tension up is wasted on characters squabbling over past events in a failed attempt to ground the characters in what’s to be an unreasonable situation. Why waste time to ground these characters in the first place? They’re stereotypes, of course, so the dialog has to make them stand out some way or we’ve got nothing invested in these people as their doom shuffles out of Delville Wood. Spoiler: It doesn’t work. This is like watching an army of NPC die in a game.
But it’s a game with decent graphics. The camera work is actually quite beautiful during the earlier parts. All those establishing shots in the woods make for some of the best cinematography I’ve personally witnessed in a found footage horror film. That all ends once the undead enter the picture. Slowly the cameras, our narrators essentially, fail. It takes the notion of unreliable narrator to another level, forcing us to wonder if the first contact moments are real. On the downside, the animation used to establish the camera failures are cheesy, obscure the fights almost completely, and there’s one sequence which may actually be so choppy with the lighting it can harm viewers with epilepsy. We miss the jump scares nine times out of ten due to the cameras jerking around. When they stay still, though, it completely kills the magic.
Why does the magic die? The zombies. They’re awful. Shoddy makeup makes them impossible to take seriously as a threat. Costuming for the old dead is okay, and likely where the focus went during pre-production for costumes/makeup. When one of the film crew is finally shown as a zombie, it’s downright laughable. Guy looks like he smashed his face in a makeup pallet called “DIY Zombie” and the primary color in it is “Old Bruise Yellow.” What could be a great kick-to-the-gut moment dissolves into chortling and hanging onto the couch for support.
Sometimes we see filmmakers trying to do the thing, only they fall short. With a little more money and time, they may have produced something worth a second viewing. As it stands, I’m giving Clash of the Dead two and a half soggy skeletons out of five.
Zombie Reviews . . . Zombie Wars (2007) By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains zombie violence, gore, and adult language)
Starring: Adam Stuart, Alissa Koenig, Jim Marlow, Kristi Renee Pearce, Billy Hayes, and Jonathan Badeen)
Sometimes, just sometimes, I regret closing my eyes and jabbing a finger at the TV to determine what film to watch next. This time around, Fate brought Zombie Wars to my attention. Fate is fickle and persnickety and if they know what’s best, they’ll avoid dropping any such movies into my path again. Yes, I feel betrayed by the universe for not making an executive decision—this film is that painful to sit through.
The premise is, surprisingly, not half bad: Fifty years after the undead rose and swept the cities clean of humanity, the struggling few left alive have banded together in militias or small settlements. Brothers David and Brian, under the leadership of General, take it upon themselves to track a zombie gang who’ve been kidnapping droves of humans then herding them to a farm not far from two human settlements. During a mission, the brother rescue half a dozen women. The heist doesn’t go unpunished. Pushed from their camp by vengeful dead, the militia regroups, but David and newly-rescued Star don’t make it. They’re put into the breeding program at the intelligent zombies’ farm. Eventually word gets to Brian and General. A rescue plan kicks into gear, despite no help from the human village nearby. Inside the farm, the humans who speak out are eaten. Those who behave work on growing food or growing babies. David and Star find an ally, Sliver. But he’s not who he says he is, and once everyone learns the truth about Sliver’s purpose with the undead, the farm’s days are numbered. That being said, what’s captured on-screen doesn’t live up to the potential.
The sudden twist audiences are always begging is right here. Unfortunately, the execution lacks everything, especially a budget. The sets are mostly tents or on location at a rundown farm with little built for the production and Spartan set dressings. Costuming is all straight out of a thrift store, dragged through a hasty apocalypse makeover, and tossed onto whatever actor passed by—the exception is General who gets a stereotypical Tough Woman wardrobe, complete with cleavage for the few scenes where the script tries to make her and Brian a thing. As for the zombie makeup? I’ve seen better at a school haunted house. Some zombies look like they went the DIY greasepaint route. Featured zombies were only slightly better. Some have homebrewed FX appliances to make elaborate wounds . . . which unfortunately looks little better than ye olde classic liquid latex and toilet paper bite marks.
Then there’s the downtime in the script. It takes so long for David to reach out to Brian and General, the rescue squad pretty much literally twiddles their thumbs for more than half the film. Every time we cut back to them, it’s another awkward conversation about how they should do something, or they’ve cram in a scene which is in the end meaningless because it’s an excuse to plant a romance subplot which is eventually resolved, but not in a satisfying way. However, over on the farm there’s this whole intrigue with the supply chain and Sliver’s seemingly magical ability to get whatever he needs without being eaten. The characters spend so much time in so few locations, all the scenes blur into one long, droning memory when looking back. Instead of breaking the action bits into smaller scenes and dispersing them through the whole film, it’s bookended by fighting, leaving the middle lacking tension.
Overall, the film’s potential doesn’t outweigh the execution. I’m giving Zombie Wars two crumbled skulls out of five. This isn’t even a good film to torture friends with after copious drinking.
A. Zombie Reviews . . . Children of the Living Dead By A. Zombie
Rated: R (Contains violence, gore, and adult language)
Starring: Tom Savini, A. Barrett Worland, Damien Luvara, Jamie McCoy, Sam Nicotero, Marty Schiff, and Heidi Hinzman
Often when artists strive to find inspiration, they look to the past. For genre fans, there’s only a few franchises which define zombies in pop culture. Unfortunately, when it comes to grasping the same energy as the original films, that’s like trying to wrestle a greased zombie rabbit into a tutu. Sometimes the heart behind something can push past an obstacle or two. Children of the Living Dead doesn’t have that to fall back on. It’s a lackluster homage to the more ridiculous side of the living dead.
Life in a small town is hard enough, what with the gossip networks having so few souls to pick on and all. One town in particular has it worse than most after an incident in the late 60s left them fending off the living dead. They won, but only for a little while. In ’87, the dead rise again. This time notorious rapist Abbot Hayes returns and promptly resumes his kidnapping ways. Hot on his trail are deputies Hughs and Randolph. Only Randolph and the rescued children survive the encounter. Hayes gets away, laying low for fourteen years. One afternoon, he’s intrigued by a group partying on his mother’s grave, then he gets angry. The concert-goers make it less than a mile down the road. Hayes scares them over a cliff. After the funeral, he interrupts a couple grave robbers in order to collect the accident victims, turning them into his personal army. A year later, Hayes’ family property is sold to a car dealership. In order to build the showroom, the crew first has to remove the family cemetery’s occupants—they opt for mass burials over the hefty cost to move them to another cemetery, as any scuzzy contractor would. Hayes doesn’t take kindly to the Michaels’ family and their plans for his home. His army attacks, ever-growing as they move further into town seeking revenge . . . and a snack.
This is probably the slowest zombie movie I’ve seen to date. Not even the opening sequence with Savini is punchy enough to grab the audience and drag them along for the ride. There’s rarely a viable sense of urgency which isn’t artificially inflated with awkward dialog. For heaven’s sake, there’s a five minute scene with Hayes—a mute zombie who moves slightly faster than a slug—shuffling through the woods outside his family home, like that’s supposed to make us lean in for the kill that’s surely about to happen. It’s like watching Deadpool kill that guy with the Zamboni, but without the witty dialog to save it from being laughably bad. The final fight is such a waste of time, as well. Nothing of note happens. [Spoilers!] Hayes walks off unscathed. Our heroes live to see tomorrow. The dead are, for the most part, contained. What is at stake? Humanity wins the day again. Without his father in the way, Matthew Michaels can build the family empire in his name. Laurie yet again escapes Hayes’ grasp without injury. I’m all for a happy ending occasionally, but there has to be a resolution to at least one story line which isn’t so open-ended it’s like they assumed people would clamor for a sequel instead of calling them out for failing to commit to the story. The poor time management and overuse of time jumps is likewise to blame for limp motivation for the characters. For example, here’s Hayes, a guy who just loves to kill and he’s been reanimated, given a second life where he can wallow in gore. Yet we’re supposed to believe he’s content to live alone in his house, next to a major road, without incident for fourteen years. His brand is murder and mayhem, that part obviously doesn’t change after his death, so why does he twiddle his thumbs?
There’s some decent FX makeup in this film. Hayes’ face will stick in your memory thanks to the detail work. As will the awkward as hell gloves the poor actor has to wear. Watching him “grab” things is cringe-inducing. The wound appliances for the undead are great, but often the detail is lost in the poor image quality and copious blood. That’s where the good makeup ends. The standard for these zombies is, for some unfathomable reason, pale greasepaint and blood. On the same zombie we’re getting quality wound work, and a teenager’s attempt at Halloween makeup. It’s a head-scratcher, that’s for sure.
Honestly, this script needed a hefty revision before they started shooting. There’s so many plot holes, and even more plot threads left in the wind at the end in a most unsatisfactory way. Cliffhangers are a cop-out. Even with how slow the film is, plus the ever-repeating dialog, and underwhelming zombies, if they just stuck a solid ending I was ready to forgive a lot of the bad. But they didn’t. Children of the Living Dead gets one bloody, matted clump of hair out of five.
Zombie Reviews . . . Birth of the Living Dead By A. Zombie
Rated: NR (Contains adult language, gore, brief nudity)
Starring: George A. Romero, Gale Anne Hurd, Elvis Mitchell, Mark Harris, Christopher Cruz
There’s days when one wants to sink into something comforting. Short a stack of fresh ribs, I went looking for the zombie classic and stumbled across this 2013 documentary. Birth of the Living Dead is a made-with-love documentary delving into Night of the Living Dead, its director, and the lasting cultural changes ushered in by this most unusual film.
The documentary itself is edited for peak attention-grabbing. What could’ve been an hour and change of people chatting on black backgrounds is mixed up with a metric ton of clips from NotLD, other zombie films and shows, and at the end there’s footage from a comic-con interview with the late Bill Hintzman. One of the stand-out moments is the segment where they check in with an instructor who teaches literacy through film and his subsequent discussion with the kids about the film’s impact on a generation so far removed from the political maelstrom which birthed it. Not to mention fresh reactions to the cult hit are always entertaining. How many times have you introduced NotLD to new people and waited for them to yell about the gas scene? That’s the kind of excitement this documentary captures. Yes, they’re talking about a film from 1968, but so much of what it says speaks to the uphill battle we’re fighting yet again.
Guests interviewed range from top television producers to novelists and film critics, all of whom share a deep appreciation for Romero’s work. However, the interview with Romero himself is what steals the show, here. He’s having a grand ol’ time. His interview isn’t really an interview so much as a hangout session with a bunch of other filmmakers to shoot the breeze and, oh, the topic of his film just happens to come up while cameras are rolling. There’s countless instances of gut-bursting laughter from off-screen crew when Romero lets a zinger fly. And while yes it makes one smile, there’s always that tug when the laughter fades—we won’t get any more of these gems again. George’s levity in his segments is probably one of the best gifts he left behind. Without the razor wit, all this war/death/zombie talk can get too serious.
This documentary also gives fans a look at exactly how difficult it was to make the film happen at all. Romero isn’t afraid to admit he didn’t think they’d finish the film. There’s no shame behind those glasses when he declares he’d never, ever take up playing a zombie because the real guts used in NotLD were flat-out disgusting. We learn cast doubled as crew and equipment suppliers all in the name of Getting It Done. By far the best did-you-know story details how they finally “paid” for the sound mix; but the most noteworthy tidbit for curious filmmakers is how easily NotLD fell into the public domain because someone failed to put one thing on the title card. Yes, most of the stories are ones we’ve heard before, but this is a nice compilation of them and the editing mixes it up with insight from others who make a living in the horror genre.
The most detailed part of this documentary pokes at the cultural and racial questions raised by NotLD. Casting Duane Jones was easy because he was the best for the role of Ben, but Romero himself admits he never, ever went into the filmmaking process after hiring Jones with the intention to use his race as part of the story. Which, honestly, probably makes a lot of fans sit back and say, “What? You didn’t mean for this to be one of the best statements on the racial divide in that era?” Lest you think they just blow by the topic, other interviews dig into how Ben’s bravery and heart-rending fate affected young black men who at the time had no character like him to look to in the media. Representation matters, even if the folks pulling the strings aren’t as clued in to the significance as they should be. Art is subjective, after all, and in this case a large portion of the audience sees equality in the production’s lack of rewrite to fit the cast.
If you’re like me, frozen to the core this winter and looking for a way to warm your heart, take a look at Birth of the Living Dead. I give it four and a half mangled faces out of five.
Rated: R (Contains intense violence, gore, adult language, sexual situations, and nudity)
Starring: Roger Cross, Daniella Alonso, Bruce Payne, Scott Adkins, and Jesse Garcia
What I love about the promo for Re-Kill is it presents the film as a serious Cops/SWAT team action flick. It really isn’t. The format is far, far different. We’re watching a reality TV show within a movie, essentially. There’s even a slew of eyebrow-raising commercials, including promotional material from an agency tasked with promoting procreation. So after some serious bloodshed, it flashes to a steamy boudoir scene used for sexual propaganda. The first time it happens, it’s a tad startling. Each subsequent time, one’s mind treats it like an actual commercial and tuning out to do something else is an impossible urge to fight. It’s not until the final act that things get serious enough to really snag one’s attention, primarily because the commercial breaks are so outlandish, it kills the tension and they’re forced to start all over again to put viewers on the edge of their seats. Sometimes doing something quirky doesn’t work as planned.
Five years after the zombie outbreak, the entertainment industry has found a way to make a buck from the catastrophe which killed 4.5 billion people worldwide. Case in point, a popular reality TV show called Re-Kill, which follows random squadrons in the newly formed R-Division. The R-Division are the frontline when it comes to containing the undead within the quarantine zones, as well as taking care of any pop-up outbreaks in the United States. Being on the frontline means they’re also painfully aware that things are getting bad again. One squadron is wiped out on live-TV, save Alex Winston. Winston’s new squad has much better luck remaining with the living, completing a couple missions before things start to get weird. Why would someone drive a truckload of re-ans (zombies) into a quarantined zone? The government interrogates the truck drivers and learns of something called the Judas Project hidden in the middle of re-an occupied territory. Since the squad is already familiar with what’s going on, they’re tapped to venture into The Zone, formerly New York City, to investigate. They never expected to find a city of undead who’re smart and forming an army under the leadership of a re-an nicknamed Elvis by now-dead scientists in the failed Judas Project.
Without the commercials breaking up the action, the premise has promise on paper. The actors are pretty stellar; it’s a pleasant surprise to step into the last half of the movie and realize Dark Matter‘s Roger Cross is the new squad’s leader, Sarge. Bruce Payne really nails Winston’s complex moral code, all while being creepy as hell. There’s some characters who’re a tad too abrasive, like every dudebro stereotype is crammed into gun-wielding nutjobs who get their rocks off killing former humans. As for plot? There’s really not one until the final “episode” begins, which is far too deep in a film to finally go, “Oh, by the way, there’s this bad thing happening and we should stop it somehow.”
The production didn’t expend too much effort on the re-an FX makeup, probably because this film is shot first-person POV and once the action starts, hardly any of the zombies get a decent close-up. The basics are good enough here—pale and mottled skin, dark veins, and jagged teeth provide just enough visual cues to sell the look. There’s a small group of hero zombies, but the only difference is they’ve got more veins or a very specific facial wound. Like a lot of shoot-’em-up zombie films, these zombies are terrifyingly fast and move erratically. If they’d used shambling re-ans, the film would have been intolerably slow.
For failing to be what is promised in the promotional material, Re-Kill still manages to check a few boxes on the list genre fans keep in order to determine if a film is worth their time. At the very least, it’s a great excuse to watch people mow down zombies. However, be prepared for a fight to stay interested once the faux commercials kick in. Overall, I give Re-Kill three shattered jaws out of five.
Rated: TV-MA (Contains nudity, adult language, sexual situations)
Starring: Lucy Watters, Gina Piersanti. Adam David Thompson, and Shane West
A mysterious virus spreads across America. It starts out as a simple rash, but eventually the infected become angry, ravenous creatures set to fill a hunger which can never be sated. Ann and Jason thumb their noses at the government’s suggestion that they stay put and instead take off into the woods where Jason grew up to wait it out. If only surviving were as easy as taking off when things get bad. Their foraging skills aren’t enough. Desperation pushes Jason to venture on a one-way mission to get food and medicine. Ann is left alone in the woods with a baby . . . and then by herself completely not long after. Eventually she manages to work out a system to keep herself alive. Time passes. She avoids the insatiable, diseased creatures slowly roaming away from the cities while making daring dashes into abandoned houses to find food. That’s when Ann finds Chris and his stepdaughter, Olivia. The trio start off wary survivors banding together just to stay alive, but tangled emotions and the monsters have a way of turning strangers into family—a really dysfunctional one.
I went into this film expecting more of the same zombie stuff that’s been done before across the genre, especially since low-budget films like this tend to only have the capacity to tell exactly one story. Boy was I surprised once the movie found its footing. First off, Ann is the survivor from the family, not Jason who’s marginally more skilled at outdoor survival. She’s all-in when it comes to doing what’s necessary, including smearing god knows what on herself to mask her scent while on trips to find food. There’s very few moments where the writing made it feel like, “This woman would be a mess and die without her man and child.” Which is refreshing. We know those moments exist, it’s human nature to mourn and fall into depression in the face of so much adversity, but they flit by quick enough to keep the story rolling along. That being said, failing to focus on Ann’s mental anguish doesn’t mean there’s no emotional impact from her losses. That final scene with the baby is gut-wrenching for any parent to endure.
Where things go sideways in this film is when the dynamic between Olivia and Ann is fully flushed out going into the final act. Honestly, the whole emotional twist here leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Everything about this film is solid, except the stepfather fetishism. It’s creepy and unhealthy. Not to mention completely unnecessary. There’s countless ways for the women to fall out with each other which doesn’t demand a love triangle where there shouldn’t be one. Can we stop doing this, writers? It’s not titillating. It’s just gross. Women don’t need sexual rivals in order to find each other’s company problematic—this is one trope I wish would die in a fire already.
Adam David Thomspon as Chris in HERE ALONE. Cinematographer: Adam McDaid
The infected aren’t on-screen much. They’re brought in sparingly because the story is about Ann, not the outbreak. That being said, these zombies are some tough mothers. They’re quick, jittery, ready to eat anything fleshy which lands in their path. The makeup is pretty basic, but well done. These zombies are, for the most part, intact so there’s not a load of gore to dress them up. Primarily it’s all mottled skin, black veins, and whatever blood came from their last meal. Simple. Effective. The zombie makeup didn’t break their budget, but despite that it doesn’t look like something a harried mother slapped on their kid after school because of course Halloween is on a Tuesday—yes, I’ve seen films with makeup that bad. The extras brought in to play the dead are energetic, adding their unique spin on zombie movements which seriously helps raise the tension in the final scenes.
Here Alone starts off a little slow, builds at about the same speed, then rams a car into your knees and takes off toward the ending before you’re sure what’s actually happening. Yet there’s a huge misstep with how the women in the film interact which cannot be overlooked—we must do better as writers to strangle these tropes pitting women against each other, their mental well-being, and their own safety in order to secure a man. That being said, as much as I’d like to give this a higher rating, Here Alone gets three and a half gnawed-on femurs out of five.