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 28 DAYS LATER... (2002)

Dir: Danny Boyle

A hospital patient awakens to find himself seemingly alone in an empty city in this impressive and influential British shocker.  Searching the deserted streets for more survivors, our hero finds only the occasional unkempt straggler who chases and attacks him without provocation.  The understandably confused chap eventually meets up with a few other surviving humans and learns that most of the population of London has either been killed, evacuated or truned into hyper-violent zombies with mottled skin, red eyes and an overpowering urge to kill on sight.  The strange new epidemic that caused all this is highly contagious and is spread through contact with blood.  Even a single drop of blood from a contaminated cadaver is enough to turn a person into an unreasoning monster in seconds.  A series of radio broadcasts promising shelter leads the few survivors to attempt an escape from the ruined city to a possibly 'clean' area.  Taking its basic scenario from Richard Matherson's "I Am Legend" (previously filmed in 1961 as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, in 1971 as THE OMEGA MAN, and eventually as I AM LEGEND in 2007) and adding elements of OUTBREAK and Romero's DAWN and DAY OF THE DEAD, this violent movie uses trendy kinetic photography techniques and superb acting to create a gripping, suspenseful look at some desperate people and their reactions to a world gone mad.  The characterizations and behavior here are more believable than one usually finds in zombie films and there's just enough internal logic to make it all hold together.  I'm not sure a bloodborne contagion would really work (or be dealt with) in quite the manner shown here, and it bothered me that so many of the survivors kept deliberately choosing to fend the undead off with weapons that would cause a lot of that deadly infected blood to splatter in all directions without even trying to cover their own exposed skin, but things keep moving along at such high speed that there's little time to think about it, and the consistently interesting dialogue is another of the movie's methods of keeping you distracted from the plot's scientific particulars.  One wishes they hadn't relied quite so heavily on material from previous movies, as a lot of the 'scientists-vs.-militarists' bickering from DAY OF THE DEAD is more or less replayed here and the film even has its own equivalent of that film's experimental zombie "Bub".   But the strong cast and thoughtful, rational sounding dialogue will hold your attention.  Some of the sudden zombie attacks are cleverly staged and perfectly designed to make you jump, but zombie fans may be disappointed by the relative lack of attention paid to the ghouls.  They only appear sporadically and then only in quick, fast-moving jumpy scenes that rarely allow a good look at their bloody faces.  Most of the time that's OK, though, since this movie isn't really about the zombies.  It's about the human characters and how they react to the stress of their predicament.  Although much of this ground had already been covered in earlier movies, this one seemed particularly timely when it was released to theaters in a world of post-9/11 anxiety and public worry about the spread of AIDS, SARS, anthrax, and chemical weapons.  Technically I'm not sure this quite qualifies as a zombie movie because there's no real indication that the attackers are dead or possess any supernatural qualities.  But since the filmmakers chose to promote it as "zombie horror", let's give them the benefit of the doubt.            

 
 

 AFTER DEATH (1988)

Dir: Claudio Fragasso

 When this empty-headed, cheerfully bloody Italian feature isn't busy copying Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE, it  manages to borrow from DAWN OF THE DEAD, GATES OF HELL and THE EVIL DEAD too. I guess that qualifies it as "ambitious". Sometimes called ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (although it's totally unrelated), it opens on a remote tropical island where a team of scientists have set up a research facility to find a cure for either cancer or death itself, depending upon whether you listen to the script or the opening narration. The local voodoo priest, blaming the doctors for the death of his daughter, decides to set things right by opening  "the third door to hell" (I think that's the one out back behind the dumpster), thus causing the island's dead to rise up and devour the living. A woman is turned into a fanged, blood-drooling, face-ripping monster in a startling scene. The scientists end up as zombie chow and then we jump ahead twenty years. We're told that the only survivor of the opening massacre was a little girl. No explanation is given for how she managed to get off the island. Now she's a good-looking young woman who still wears the key to hell as a pendant (a fashion statement?). She and a handful of other characters with interchangeable personalities arrive at the island just in time for some wiseguy from a research team (made up of three other people who are equally devoid of characterization) to read a brief incantation from the book of dead, which is helpfully labeled "The Book Of The Dead". Since zombies were already active on the island anyway, this additional excuse for their presence is unnecessary and makes no sense. Neither does the fact that the corpses who were resurrected twenty years earlier and who supposedly killed all the humans on the island are now buried in the ground again, but there they are, clawing their way up out of the earth to the strains of the most repetitious score in zombie history. Most of them wear either black robes or what appear to be ninja uniforms, and all of them are way too energetic to be believable as ancient, decaying corpses. Lack of characterization is a recurring flaw in Italian horror films and it really ruins most of the drama here, but the brisk pace, crisp photography and colorful lighting keep things entertaining as long as you're not in an especially demanding mood. People get their necks bitten, their hearts yanked out and their faces peeled off, usually while just standing with their arms down at their sides instead of making any real effort to escape. The abrupt ending struck me as confusing. As far as I can tell, hell's door gets triumphantly closed but one last zombie still finds time to mangle one last victim just for the heck of it. And the monster makeups? They're a wildly varied lot but many of the gray-skinned, crusty, bloody faces are made to look pretty hair-raising thanks to dramatic lighting.
 
 

 

 

 ALIEN DEAD , THE (1980)

Dir: Fred Olen Ray

Shot on a budget that makes THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN look like STAR WARS, this forgotten movie was the first releaseable feature by the busy Fred Olen Ray, a sort of latter-day Ed Wood who continued to crank out derivative horror and sci-fi cheapies throughout the '80s and '90s and beyond. When the alligators disappear from a Florida swamp, a reporter and a few ignorant smalltown hick stereotypes investigate the mystery and encounter a gaggle of flesh-eating zombies. It is revealed that a houseboat was recently hit by a meteor (offscreen), which somehow turned the young people on board into silent and violent undead monsters who can breathe underwater. Ray also began his regular practice of hiring elderly, out-of-work actors for his films with this one, but poor old former FLASH GORDON star Buster Crabbe seems distracted and disinterested in his role as Sheriff Kowalski, a character who shows up a few times to grumble and insult his goofy deputy but who never actually does anything at all. (Stills of Crabbe fighting a zombie exist but no such scene appears in the film.) The zombies are a varied lot. Some are people in simple greasepaint makeups, others involve gory prosthetics, and still others are actors in full-head rubber masks. In at least one scene the back of a mask, with a large vertical slit and flaps that aren't tucked into the actor's shirt, is clearly visible. And you'll have to laugh when a zombie who gets a harpoon through the chest whirls around to give us a good look at the back half of the harpoon, which is sticking out the back of the shirt at completely the wrong angle. Although ALIEN DEAD contains some of the worst acting in the history of the human race, it should be noted that much of the deliberately dopey comic dialogue is actually pretty funny and helps make the rest of this shoddy film sporadically watchable. Oddly, the geeky sense of humor that would go a long way toward spoiling some of Ray's later features actually works here, and ALIEN DEAD, despite the lack of money and skill, shows more sincere enthusiasm and love for the genre than many of the director's later, slicker looking but more cynical 'make-a-fast-buck' efforts. Unfortunately, Ray seems to have run out of financing (or film) before the movie could be truly completed. There's no climax and no ending--not even a dumb one--to the story.  The heroes are tired out but okay, the zombies are still on the march, and the grouchy (notice I didn't say 'crabby') sheriff calmly walks away without ever learning what's been going on. So the movie ends with a simple, unsatisfying freeze-frame of a zombie rising up out of the water, an ending that's guaranteed to get a wearied groan from even the most patient of viewers.  Listen carefully to the lyrics (inspired by INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) to an otherwise ordinary-sounding country tune playing on a car radio.

 

 

 

 BACK FROM HELL ( 1992)

Dir: Matt Jaissle

This obscure oddity fom Michigan is an attempt to deal with a wide-scale invasion of the world by Satan's army of zombie slaves, done on a budget that wouldn't pay for a decent lunch at Denny's. A very young Hollywood celebrity (who claims he's met Burt Reynolds and smoked pot with David Letterman) failed to keep his end of a pact with the devil and is now being punished with a bizarre curse. Whenever people look directly into his eyes, they're suddenly overcome with an insane urge to kill him. Right away  I wondered why he didn't just start wearing sunglasses, but about halfway through the movie he thinks of that too. His best buddy from high school is a black priest who travels to the remote shack where the poor lost soul is hiding out and tries to help. The understandably confused, heroic young man doesn't get much of a chance to intervene, though, as the two find themselves under attack by sadistic demon-possessed FBI agents, a squadron of zombielike killers in black masks, and a basement full of bloody-faced zombies. A clawed hand springs from the pages of a cursed demonic Bible and attacks the priest in a scene that contains some truly clever and creative low-budget effects work (proving once again that shocks can be better brought to the screen by means of imagination than with costly, overdone computer effects). Apparently by sheer coincidence, Satan's latest bid to take over the earth has also just begun, signalled by a string of murders of prominent clergymen and Christian politicians. There are a number of good ideas here, but nothing much ever really happens in the whole movie. The same piece of soundtrack music drones on and on and on in the background while the guys walk around outdoors and fight off the undead assassins in some of the worst gore scenes ever staged. The stabbings, dismemberments and chainsaw attacks in this movie are the lamest since the heyday of H. G. Lewis, done with silly squirting blood and ludicrous prop body parts. A guy who gets shot between the eyes at close range comes back to life with only a small round smudge of blood on his forehead (it doesn't even look like a hole was made, much less an exit wound). Much time is devoted to footage of guys being tied up, and there are no women in the cast at all.  A nightmare sequence filmed in negative is effective and so are the slowed-down, backwards devil voices that turn up on the soundtrack near the end, but this movie plods along at the speed of a zombie with both feet stuck in cement blocks and never does get to the point. Good story ideas are given only brief mentions and even the whole incoherent narrative ends up carelessly buried beneath the gore. Evidently intended as the first of a series, it has an inconclusive ending that hints at the possibility of sequels. To the best of my knowledge, none have been made (yet).  Maybe they should try for a remake instead.

 

 

 BEYOND TERROR (1979)

Dir: Tomas Aznar

In its pitting of degenerate trigger-happy criminals against supernatural ghouls and in its two-part structure featuring a crime spree and getaway during the first half and an encounter with the undead in the second, this obscure Spanish cheapie suspiciously resembles the big-budget Hollywood bloodbath FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1995). It's a little more coherent than that film and goes for ghostly atmosphere instead of noisy action, but it's missing DUSK's fabulous array of visual effects and name actors. BEYOND TERROR owes a lot to the formula of the old EC Comics horror stories, which frequently concerned thieves, murderers or other wicked people who would get their just desserts via the walking dead or some other supernatural force at the end. As with most such tales, you'll be able to tell where the story is headed from pretty early on. A gang of vicious bikers brutally kills a number of innocent people during a bungled robbery and goes on the run, taking a couple of hostages along. When they attack an old woman who lives with her grandson and their dog, killing the dog and setting fire to the house, their plans start to fall apart.  They soon end up stranded at the lonely, windblown ruins of an old church. The throat-ripping dog returns from the dead for revenge and the little boy (who apparently died in the fire) materializes and burns one guy alive (the victim later shows up very briefly as a crispy zombie). The gang disturbs the church's ancient catacombs, and sure enough, the dark, skeletal, cobweb-covered corpses slowly creak to life. The living dead don't get much screen time in this movie and don't actually get a chance to do much other than paw at one of the heroines, but at least they're a bunch of scary, realistically unglamorous creations. The dusty, dried-out, colorless, hollow-eyed look of the zombie faces is sort of along the lines of the ghoul makeup worn by Peter Cushing in the 1972 movie version of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. One woman ends up embedded in a wall of corpses and several of the bad guys get their comeuppance at the fangs of the vengeful canine. There's even a gruesome 'exploding head' scene that's remarkably similar to the (much more effective) one in SCANNERS (1981).  Just like FROM DUSK TO DAWN, BEYOND TERROR has a very thin plot padded to feature length and offers little in the way of likable characters. Instead of adding to its running time by having people shout obscenities at each other, though, this one kills time by having the bikers walk around the barren landscape while blowing wind noise fills the soundtrack. The most intense moment comes early on, when a speeding car very narrowly avoids smashing into a building. This forgotten film is a long, long way from being a classic but if you watch a lot of zombie movies you've probably seen worse. A/k/a FURTHER THAN FEAR.

 

 

 

 BEYOND, THE (1981)

Dir: Lucio Fulci

Fulci, the man behind the extremely gruesome (and, of course, recommended) ZOMBIE, returned to the walking dead genre with his often-misunderstood THE GATES OF HELL and this similar but much better tale of gory supernatural horror.  Leave your Hollywood-fashioned notions of storytelling at the door, because Fulci had his own ideas about how to scare people, and THE BEYOND finds him at the height of his craft as he takes the audience by the hand down an ever-darkening, ever-more-hopeless path into madness and terror.  A young woman inherits an old hotel where, in 1927, an artist named Schweick was tortured and killed by the townspeople for practicing witchcraft.  The decaying corpse now haunts the premises and (even worse) has acquired the power to resurrect the dead and send the souls of his victims into a dark, endless limbo of horror that was depicted in the painting he was working on at the time of his death.  Fulci has taken elements from THE SHINING, THE SENTINEL and the works of H.P. Lovecraft and reshaped them into a new and different horror mythology that includes an ancient book of evil prophecies, OMEN-style deaths, and plenty of scary rotting zombies.  As with GATES OF HELL, the real subject here isn't so much the zombies themselves as it is the very nature of physical reality as determined by the laws of time and space, which are shown to be barely sufficient to hold back the unknown horrors of the supernatural hidden just beyond the sight of humans.  When the barrier between the real and the unreal is disrupted--in this case, by the decision to reopen the hotel--seemingly impossible things start to happen as the forces of evil push their way into the lives of those nearby, pulling them deeper and deeper into "The Beyond".   The makeup and special effects range from excellent (cool zombie makeups and gore trickery) to really shabby (an army of supernatural killer tarantulas augmented by a number of obvious toy spiders).  Most of the characterizations are weak and the dialogue isn't anything special, but this movie is almost entirely a visual experience anyway, and the performances of the genuinely terrified-looking cast are good enough to carry the doom-laden material.  Also helping things along are moody lighting and an outstanding, eerie soundtrack that highlights the feel of the important scenes perfectly.  The most memorable images are those of the rotted body of Schweick crucified to a wall (revealed only briefly by flashes of lightning) and a ghostly blind girl standing motionless in the middle of a long, empty stretch of highway.  Its shortcomings aside, the barrage of spooky imagery, constant sudden shocks, and totally unpredictable action come together to make THE BEYOND one of the better walking dead flicks as well as one of the very best Italian horror films of the 1980's.  An American video version was re-titled SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH, but it's reportedly been cut, so hold out for a print titled THE BEYOND instead.
 
 

 

 BIKER ZOMBIES (2002)

Dir: Todd Brunswick

An almost total lack of suspense, thrills, plot progression or even rudimentary storytelling makes this cheap, careless production one of the worst ever. Taking its cue from 1968's PSYCHOMANIA, this is such a lame attempt to scotch tape the two genres of its title together that it makes the older film seem like a work of genius. Showcasing enough raw energy and inspired creativity to fill a thimble, it opens with one of the staples of post-EVIL DEAD horror ripoffs: narration provided by an electronically-enhanced reverberating voice that can barely be understood. In this case, the Devil himself (I guess) roams around a Michigan city (identified in the film as Grosse Pointe, although the video sleeve carries the title BIKER ZOMBIES FROM DETROIT) searching for the lowest, most irredeemable and inherently wicked individuals to join his tiny army of motorcycle-riding living corpses. How Satan ever hopes to destroy all of humanity with a handful of decomposing thugs who ride around Michigan strangling and decapitating folks who hang out at all-night diners is beyond me. But then, like God, I suppose the Devil works in mysterious ways. After devoting a considerable amount of time to showing us only the most evil and depraved criminals being hand-selected for the gang, the movie senselessly switches gears as Satan sets his sights on the film's nominal hero, a new kid in town who seems to be a nice, sincere guy who's about as evil as the average hamster. Supposed comic relief comes in the form of a local trio of chopper-riding lowlifes who look far too clean-cut for their scuzzy character roles and whose influence on the plot, just like everything else in this project, goes nowhere. In the film's favor are a number of surprisingly clever, memorable bits of sharp dialogue between incidental characters, the only hints at what this movie might have been. The witty exchanges are so well-presented and funny that they seem to have stumbled into this clunker from a different film, and they pop up often enough to keep you watching in the misguided hope that any movie able to come up with so many good lines and relatively sophisticated instances of character development will eventually take off and get around to being scary, telling a story, or at least expressing some kind of consistent point of view. The dead makeups, it should be admitted, are very good, featuring lumpy blue faces and white eyes with creepy, tiny black pupils. It's too bad they're not onscreen much, as the majority of the film's brief 71-minute running time is devoted to characters making small talk, only occasionally interrupted by the odd and lethargically staged zombie attack. The film feels unfinished, not just because of the short running time but also due to an anticlimactic, unsatisfying ending in which Satan is finally revealed to look like, well, Satan. Maybe the filmmakers ran out of money. Or maybe they just lost interest.  I'm betting you will.
 
 
 

 

 BIO-ZOMBIE (1998)

Dir: Wilson Yip Wai Shun

Because of its shopping mall setting, this Hong Kong production is something compared to DAWN OF THE DEAD, although thetwo movies are worlds apart in tone. Woody and Crazy Bee are two rude, lazy, stupid losers who work (as little as possible) at the center's video store. Their consistently short tempers, habitual lying and basic cowardice provide an ongoing stream of goony, juvenile humor that manages to feel funnier as the story unfolds. There's a LOT of comedy here and although it interferes with the horror, it's honestly pretty amusing most of the time. Our non-heroes' reckless behavior puts them in the middle of a zombie invasion when they unknowningly encounter a plot by some wholly explained bad guys in business suits to unleash a new chemical weapon produced by Iraqis(!). We never find out just who ordered the zombie drug or exactly whose side they were on in that conflict, aas the broader story is jettisoned in favor of the more personal viewpoint of the handful of characters trapped in the mall when the zombie problem starts. The biochemical agent is disguised in soft drink bottles for easy mass distribution amung the unspecified enemy. In one quick shot the product name "Lucozade" can be seen on the label of one of the bottles; could this be a slightly misspelled reference to Italian zombie movie auteur Lucio Fulci? In any case, people who drink the stuff die shortly afterwards and then re-awaken as growling flesh-hungry zombies. The contagion is also spread by bite so, just like in Romero and Fulci zombie films, those bitten soon become zombies too. Once everyone is finally aware of the danger at hand, Woody and Crazy Bee must try to overcome their bad attitudes to become heroic zombie fighters working with a small group of other survivors, one of whom turns out to be an even bigger jerk than they are. In spite of the humor, which includes off-the-wall visual techniques late in the film that self-mockingly compare the onscreen action to a video game, this free-wheeling shocker offers plenty of tension, suspense and real scares for viewers who don't mind having their horror seasoned with goofy comedy. The zombie makeup, however, is a disappointment, consisting of hastily-applied blue and gray greasepaint and crude latex globs on the actors' faces passing for dead skin and gruesome lesions. in keeping with the rest of the movie, the ending manages to be sad and nihilistic but still funny in a sick kind of way. I recommend BIO-ZOMBIE enthusiastically even though I know some zombieholics will hate it because of the 'Beavis and Butthead' style of humor and the relative lack of graphic gore. In one scene you can see a large U.S. flag visible in a shop window. There's also a pitiful lovestruck zombie who gives a pretty girl a "Precious Moments" figurine and, sticking with the soft drink theme, a frustrated zombie attacking a Coke machine. Burp.
 

 

 

 BLACK DEMONS (1991)

Dir: Umberto Lenzi

Three friends traveling in Rio de Janeiro run into trouble when one of their number witnesses and tape records a voodoo ceremony complete with hysterical dancing, shrill chanting and the dreaded ritual chicken sacrifice.  When the tape is later played back in a cursed cemetery, the corpses of six black slaves who were slaughtered by an evil plantation owner 100 years before are awakened as vengeful zombies.  Emerging from their shallow graves, they set out to kill six white victims in retribution for their own wrongful deaths.  There then follows a great deal of atmospheric footage of the ghouls shambling slowly around the estate wielding axes, machetes and metal hooks while the surviving humans take an amazingly long time to react.  It took more than a decade for this Italian zombie movie to make it to America.  Directed by Umberto Lenzi (CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD, CANNIBAL FEROX), this comparatively low-key zombie tale offers passable story concepts and nice spooky cinematography but is too slow-paced and stagey to offer much in the way of fright.  In an interview included on the U.S. DVD, Lenzi admits his disappointment with the finished film but blames its failings on his actors.  It's clear to see, however, that the lack of suspense and the clumsily staged action scenes that keep this from being anything exceptional are much more Lenzi's own fault than that of his cast.  The lighting looks consistently artificial and the zombies always seem to be keenly aware of the camera, holding their weapons up in self-conscious, unnatural poses that look more like they're waiting for the still photographer to snap some publicity shots than like they're really working at killing anybody.  The gore effects are well done but the mediocre photography and editing weaken their effectiveness.  In one murder scene, a zombie rakes a hook across the face of a victim but you can clearly see him swing the weapon well past the actress's head in the split second before before the shot cuts to a closeup of a prop head with the hook stuck in the eye socket.  Hardly the sort of deficiency that can be blamed on the performers.  Several of the zombies have blank white eyes, one appears to have empty sockets and a couple more have eyes that look perfectly normal even though the script tells us the slaves were cruelly blinded just before they were killed.  Why were they blinded?  The only reason that comes to mind is to help the movie borrow an element from the BLIND DEAD film series from Spain.   One of the killings takes place offscreen and happens to a character we never even meet.  While not a disaster or a terrible film by any means, BLACK DEMONS remains a disappointment for its failure to achieve the level of terror its gruesome, potentially racially-themed plot seems to promise.  It was initially renamed DEMONI 3 (DEMONS 3) by a distributor who hoped to pass it off as a sequel to the Lamberto Bava DEMONS movies.  
 
 

 

 BLOODSUCKERS FROM OUTER SPACE (1985)

Dir: Glen Coburn

On the heels of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD came this cheap-looking  littlefan-made Texas entry that utilizes the same plot device of trigger-happy inept military officials electing to deal with a zombie plague by dropping a bomb on the infected area.  A strange movie that never quite makes up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy or not,  BLOODSUCKERS has alien microbes that travel on the wind turning a small town of backward, ignorant redneck stereotypes (who initially blame the area's recent mysterious events on "devil-worshippin' homos") into bloody-faced zombies with greenish-blue skin.  The fact that the alien threat is invisible, appearing only as the occasional gust of howling wind, means nobody had to come up with any interesting (or costly) monsters or visual effects.  The dialogue is often intentionally comic in nature and occasionally offers some funny lines, but the scenes in which innocent people violently cough up gouts of blood until they finally collapse in death are really sick and disturbing and don't belong in a comedy.  Most of the acting is amateurish, but those gross-out death scenes are played a little too realistically.  The alien-possessed, bloodless (but bloody) bodies of the victims get back up and set out in search of some nice fresh blood, shambling around the bland countryside locations in cliche zombie movie fashion.  Some of the scenes in which the growling zombies parody the daily routines of their former smalltown farm lives could have been funny, but the makers of this wishy-washy feature were more concerned with showing off their (strictly average) gore effects than making any sort of real satiric point.  The funniest part is a great inside joke that has old Pat Paulsen, a popular comedian from the seventies whose schtick always revolved around his ongoing presidential campaign, making an appearence as the U.S. president!  It was a marvelous casting coup, but unless Paulsen was somebody's uncle I don't know how they got him to appear in this home-movie style project.  The main charaters, who are trying to escape both the attacking undead and the imminent nuke blast, don't have enough personality, comical or otherwise, to make them interesting as heroes, but their one-dimensional behavior was probably intended to make them identifiable as the kind of wooden young people who served as the heroes of many fifties-era drive-in horror and sci-fi cheapies, to which this film is a throwback.  Despite some honest attempts at gruesome shocks and a handful of good jokes (some of which you've seen before), this is best described as too stupid to be scary and too sick to be funny.  It's kind of like watching THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN or THE CHILDREN only with the odd joke tossed in here and there.  If you want to see good zombie satire, check out DEAD ALIVE or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. 
 
 
 

 

 BONE SICKNESS (2004)

Dir: Brian Paulin

Boneheaded is more like it.  Granted one doesn't look to low-end splatter movies for intellectually stimulating material or social relevance, but this one is so jaw-droppingly stupid it's almost unbelievable. How do people raise the money to create and stage complex gore effects, not to mention secure the use of lights, microphones, camera equipment and editing facilities, when they're starting with a premise that would insult the intelligence of a skunk? Many zombie movies have dumb stories, but this one might be the most brainless ever. If the characters in this movie were any less intelligent, somebody would have to water them three times a week. A chesty blonde tends to her husband who is dying of a (fictional) disease that makes his bones rot. Since she's an idiot, she goes along with the idea of an idiot friend (a mortuary employee played by writer-producer-director-sound man-special FX artist Brian Paulin) of robbing graves, grinding up the corrputed old bones, and feeding them to the poor guy. (Yeah, that would help.)  After some brief nudity and tons more stupidity, some impressive looking dusty zombies crawl up out of their graves in the cemetery with the high-powered fog machines. For once the zombies aren't just people with greasepaint smeared on their faces, and it's good to see living dead that look like actual monsters, with tattered dirty clothes and scary gray and brown rotted faces. (But it's a shame about the zombie who kills a girl next to a pool. He has a gray-white, skull-like head and absolutely nothing wrong with his hands, which get oodles of screen time as he pulls wads of pig intestine out of her.) Paulin goes out of his way to make this idiocy as disgusting as possible, but it's all so incredibly mindless that he isn't able to make it really scary. None of the characters have anything like a personality, but in fairness it should be noted that the acting is better than you'd expact of such an amateurish project.  The film has no sense of humor, but unintentional laughs come along when gun-toting soldiers wear jungle camouflage makeup on their faces when they're in the middle of a city. The entire second half of the movie is a long series of gore shots as everybody in the cast gets their flesh peeled off and closeups of blood-spewing skulls and body parts are given full attention in scenes that seem to go on forever. It's weird when you realize that virtually everybody has been killed off and there's still something like 20 minutes of the film left. Some of the stunt work in the last section is pretty amazing, including burning and crashing cars and explosions that are well-staged and surprisingly ambitious and complicated. But since there are no characters, they're not particularly involving. I don't think I've ever seen better stunt work nor more carefully staged action choreography in a home-movie with the IQ of a lawn gnome. Near the end a couple of unnecesary and unexplained demons show up. Sporting hooded robes, bright green teeth and extra-long fingernails that require them to wiggle their fingers a lot, the two creatures are apparently responsible for releasing the zombie horde in retaliation for the idiot characters digging up graves and feeding bones to a human back in the beginning. The demon angle should have been left out. It would have worked better to have simply had the dead get mad about the whole bone-eating nonsense and awaken on their own. Give this one an "A" for effort but spare your intelligence the insult and give it the cold shoulder too. The best scenes are the closeups of somebody's real pet scorpions crawling around.
 
 
 

 BOY EATS GIRL (2005)

Dir: Stephen Bradley

Director Stephen Bradley's Irish-made zombie satire successfully spoofs the many American horror films about stereotyped high school kids and those about flesh-eating ghouls. The result may not be as clever as SHAUN OF THE DEAD but it's funny and entertaining taken on its own terms. It's along the same lines as MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK only more knowing and reflective of post-BUFFY adolescent horror. A put-upon teen mistakenly believes the girl he loves isn't interested in him and, in a moment of self-pity, toys with the idea of suicide. An ill-timed accident causes him to die for real, but he wakes up the next morning feeling slightly dazed and confused. It seems his well-meaning church librarian mother borrowed an ancient book of voodoo spells and used to one to resurrect her son. Unfortunately for everybody, she failed to notice that there was a page missing from the book and thus only partially completed the re-animation ritual. Instead of being fully restored to life, the luckless dude is now a living corpse with a growing hunger for human flesh. The teen bullies, bimbos and boneheads he bites become lesser zombies of the growling deranged animalistic variety. As the plague spreads, scares and jokes both occur with impressive regularity and the climax even provides for the accidental discovery of a cure for zombieism: a bite from a certain type of venomous snake!  Since the ghouls were created by voodoo magic in the first place, the snakebite cure works quite well within the story and seems every bit as plausible as the whole idea of zombie transformations.  The hapless hero has two dopey but loyal friends who provide plenty of laughs (when he explains his horrible new condition to his pals, describing his lack of a heartbeat and total insensitivity to pain, one of them asks, "Can you fly?"). Gorehounds won't be disappointed, as plenty of characters get bitten, chopped and hacked up before the incredible extra-splattery climactic zombie tractor massacre that rivals the lawnmower sequence in Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE. There are a few minor plot inconsistencies, but since this is obviously a spoof they really aren't major distractions from the sick fun.  If you're ready for a zombie epic that doesn't demand to be taken too seriously, this one comes highly recommended. 

 

 

 BREAKFAST AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974)

Dir: Jorge Grau

 After seeing some really scary stills in old issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS, I was so determined to see this film that I searched for it for years.  When it finally turned up on video in the mid-'80s, I wasn't disappointed.  Also known as LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE and ( in poorly cut edited versions) as THE LIVING DEAD and DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW(?) and sometimes even as THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, this Spanish-British co-production is a compelling, well-made horror story that brought graphic gore effects into the zombie genre five years before DAWN OF THE DEAD.  Characters are cleverly introduced in ways that make them seem unsympathetic at first and then brought into sharper focus as the story progresses.  The creepy sound effects are unsettling, the subtle zombie makeups quite convincing and the blood (for a change) looks remarkably like real blood!  What more could you ask for?  Director Jorge Grau's stylish work even makes the pleasantly green English countryside setting appear somewhat sinister and distant.  A smart-aleck hippie finds himself thrown into a series of increasingly mysterious events after he meets up with a young woman who accidentally wrecks his motorcycle.  Meanwhile, agents from the Ministy Of Agriculture are nearby testing a new machine that's supposed to kill harmful insects in the soil using only sound waves.  It takes a long time for anyone to catch on that the device also stimulates the nervous systems of the recently dead, bringing them to bloodthirsty life!  The initial appearance of the film's first zombie, while too reminiscent of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is very effective and the film keeps building an ever more suffocating mood of doom as the ghouls increase in number while the stupid, bull-headed authority figures in the area refuse to accept the truth about the sudden plague of cannibal murders, choosing instead to blame the hippie for the crimes, accusing him of devil worship!  Arthur Kennedy as the Irish cop on the case is so incredibly mean and unreasonable that he gets pretty annoying after a while, but the zombie scenes are truly unnerving. There are a few holes in the plot, however.  For instance, can anybody figure out why the old bum who's drowned in the lake was still there even after his funeral had been reported in the papers?  And if the ghouls are three-dimensional resurrected corpses, why don't they show up in photos?  For that matter, since a number of early scenes compare the shuffling zombies to the dull, mindless human society of the city, then how come the ending makes it seem as though the only way to get rid of unfit leaders is to join the unthinking masses and become a zombie oneself?  Or was the message simply that those unthinking masses will inevitably destroy their oppressors any way they can?  In any case, this scary film deserves more recognition.  Highly recommended.
 
 

 

 

 BURIAL GROUND (1980)

Dir: Andrea Bianchi

An incredible Italian bloodbath that was released under numerous alternate titles including ZOMBIE 3 THE NIGHTS OF TERROR and THE ZOMBIE DEAD. U.S. prints were re-titled BURIAL GROUND, but be aware that the U.S. distributor not only cut down the gory makeup effects but also darkened the film in order to make the blood appear less red, which for some reason was thought to be less offensive. So, prints called BURIAL GROUND feature murky, hard-to-see night scenes as well as victims who appear to be bleeding hot fudge sauce. (Leave it to American distributors to come up with the idea of buying a gruesome horror film and then immediately setting about making it less gruesome and horrible.) If you want to see this one, look for it under the titles THE NIGHTS OF TERROR or ZOMBIE HORROR, sold through various mail-order sources. Perhaps the most depressing and mean-spirited of Italian zombie movies, this 100% Story-Free import from director Andrea Bianchi is a favorite among Sick Video Collectors and is the first zombie movie that actually functions as a zombie itself.  Just like its own worm-eaten, skull-faced corpses, BURIAL GROUND has no goal other than to simply plod along at an even pace, engaging in killing and more killing.  Also like a zombie, it has no emotional depth, no characterization, no point to make, and no sympathy toward humans. The movie-as-zombie parallel is further reinforced by the film's disinterested and merciless conclusion, in which the last survivors of the creatures' attack look like they're about to be finished off too, when all of a sudden the movie just stops, without ever quite revealing if they actually die or not.  As for the--uh, I hesitate to call it a 'plot',-- it can be summarized thusly: a fat, bearded professor enters a cave where some rotted zombies are hanging out. They decide to eat him.  Then more zombies exit the cave, and still others emerge from an adjacent cemetery. At the professor's nearby mansion, a group of jet set nobodies arrives to spend the weekend. The zombies decide to eat them too, and spend the remainder of the film finishing them off one by one in scenes of excessively brutal violence.  Terrible English dubbing results in moments that are so awkward as to be surreal, like when a guy sees a maggot-covered corpse shambling toward him and calmly asks "Who are you?" As for the zombies themselves, there's a huge number of scary masks and makeups here, frightening visages with decayed, wormy faces, big black eye sockets, and just about every type of rotted head you can imagine.  Unfortunately, the camera tends to linger on some of them too long, so they seem less impressive as the film progresses.  The extras in the zombie outfits must not have recieved any direction, since some wobble slowly and robotically around while others appear clearly evil and agitated.  They wear green or brown robes, work together and even know how to use tools. Bloody effects include a decapitation, a facial mangling by broken glass, entrails torn out and eaten, and lots of smashed-open, slime-filled zombie heads.  The grossest scene is when a woman's breast is bitten off by her zombie son, a 12-year-old pervert played by an ugly 35-year-old midget because of laws against children appearing in movie scenes that feature nudity and graphic violence. The whole thing may be utterly pointless, but it's still a disturbing, grueling, impossible-to-forget experience.