Zombie Wars (2007)

In a job like this, you realise after a thousand or so reviews that the bottom of the barrel is a sliding scale, and even though you’ve seen what you think is the worst, there’s always new depths to sink to. You may have thought “Mutant Species” or “The P.A.C.K.” was as bad as David A Prior could get, but I am sad to report that is not the case.

Thanks to a voiceover, we discover that “Zombie Wars” is set 50 years after an unspecified event caused the dead to rise up and start eating people. Humanity has been reduced, at least as far as we know, to 12 small settlements, and they’ve kept and maintained enough guns to form a strong militia that goes out, kills as many zombies as possible and rescues humans. From whom? Well, the zombies in this movie appear to have a rudimentary society and breed humans for food, so occasionally there’s a group of model-beautiful women in their mid-20s being led through the woods for our heroes to help out.

This is, I suppose, an interesting take on the zombie story, but the least thought reveals it’s not. Why are zombies hungry, not being alive and all? Well, because George Romero showed they liked eating people, is the simple answer, because otherwise it just makes no sense. If you do need food, why not just breed some animal that provides a bit more sustenance than skinny humans? If the hunger is some supernatural thing, why do they wait for the humans to get to adulthood before eating them? Why does the human farm not have any children in it? Too many questions for too early in the movie.

Our heroes are two cool brothers, David (Adam Mayfield, best known as a soap actor) and Brian (Jim Hazleton, a Prior semi-regular who retired from the acting biz around 2011). They wisecrack and shoot zombies, all the while continually getting jumped by zombies with incredible stealth powers. Over and over again, to the point you really wish one of them would suggest covering each others’ backs or something like that. The General of their little gang is the helpfully unnamed “General” (Kristi Renee Pearce, who’s a totally good actor and has like two credits, so I assume she works more regularly under a different name in union productions).

I was trying to think of something to say about the vast majority of this movie, but there’s really nothing to it. David gets captured by the zombies, along with one of the women he rescued earlier on, named Star (Alissa Koenig), and taken to the zombie town. Because people who can talk are dangerous, they’re killed straight away, so David keeps his mouth shut; he meets a guy called Sliver (a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Badeen, who appears to be doing an impression of Christian Slater doing an impression of Jack Nicholson) who is a sort of double agent but has a heart of gold.

The General and Brian organise a rescue, there’s a mysteriously well-stocked town with nice clean humans in it which is occasionally glimpsed, and, er, that’s it. So let’s discuss, briefly, the logic behind “Zombie Wars”.

The voiceover tells us that the zombies eat 5 people a day. That’s around 1800 people a year, and if this has been going on for 50 years, we’re talking 90,000 humans eaten. And that’s just this tiny gang of the undead (the settlement appears to have 30 or so zombies in it). The only evidence that the zombies are feeding the humans comes from one small carrot patch tended to by human slaves, and there’s no evidence of a mountain of human bones anywhere either. They say they’re breeding humans but the problem is, humans take a long time to mature compared to other animals, need years and years of parental interaction to stay alive, all that sort of thing.

Also, if you were a human and zombies were everywhere, where would you live? Would you find a nice easily defendible hill, or fortified building, or just some clear area with plenty of sight of things coming your way? Or would you stay in some tents in the middle of the woods, giving approaching zombies all the cover they needed to come and eat you?

I was just really bored of “Zombie Wars”, really quickly. The undead are almost always used as a metaphor in movies, but giving them the rudiments of society while keeping them the same shambling, mindless group, just seems silly. I’m not even mentioning the pathetic makeup effects or the fact we’ve got another damn military base in the middle of the forest in some tents, because it’s par for the course in the Prior-verse. Oh, for those of you keeping count, Ted Prior pops up for a five second wordless cameo as one of the good guy soldiers, right at the very end.

Forgive me for spoilers, but the ending is so utterly stupid I have to mention it. We’ve seen the two guards of the “bad” human village (they taught the zombies how to farm humans so they’d apparently leave them alone? Sure, why not) a few times, sniping zombies as they approach, and right at the end David is emerging from the wilderness, having tried to find Star. First up, the “good” soldiers leave the two guards with their rifles as they walk into the village, even though they could have been shot with those rifles as soon as their backs were turned; then, they see David, a perfectly clean human who doesn’t look anything like a zombie, and just shoot him. Now, this is perhaps a reference to the ending of “Night Of The Living Dead”, but it’s a really cloth-eared one.

I’d say the acting is pretty strong, but absolutely nothing else is. Prior really should have quit in the late 90s, I’ve got no idea why he’d wait all that time and come back with something like this. A waste of time on every level.

Rating: thumbs down

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Nudist Colony Of The Dead (1991)

In a sense, a title like this is critic-proof: you’ll see it and instantly decide whether you’ll want to watch it or not. So, this review isn’t really aimed at those people who’ve already stopped reading this and have headed to eBay (or to www.pirromount.com, where I’ll be spending some money in the upcoming weeks), it’s aimed at those who’d immediately dismiss such a weird title.

It has “nudist” in the title, but isn’t remotely titilating, and indeed features almost no nudity. It’s a musical comedy, for heavens’ sake! Made for a cost of around $35,000!

It starts off with an apology for the quality of the film stock used! Mr Pirro shot on super-8, but when he came to re-release it on DVD many years later, realised the picture quality of some shots was so poor that it was basically unusable – so he replaced some scenes with video-taped shots of the same scenes, made for a behind-the-scenes documentary, and tried his best to clean it up. While it’s safe to say it’s not DVD quality, it looks a lot better than some micro-budget super-8 movie has any right to look on a 2018 55” screen.

A group of nudists are in court, defending their right to be nude all the time in front of Judge Rhinehole (Forrest J Ackerman); on the other side are the sort of religious busybodies I hoped didn’t exist in real life when I lived in the UK, but have encountered several times since moving to the US. They’ve collected signatures and the Judge sides with them, ordering the nudists off their property.

That’s the last moment “Nudist Colony Of The Dead” could be called sensible, in any way. The remaining nudists, led by Mrs Druple (a young lady by the name of Rachel Latt in a genuinely hideous body-suit), decide to commit suicide en masse, rather than, I don’t know, buying some other land somewhere else, and before they drink the poison, say they’ll be back to wreak their revenge on the town scumbags.

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING: the custom written theme song! I love a song which talks about the plot of the movie it’s the theme to, and this one is a doozy. Favourite line? “Exposing gonads, with no shame”. Beautiful.

If further evidence of writer / producer / director Mark Pirro’s view on religion was needed, the main body of the movie is the setting up of a…I think religious re-education?…camp on the site of the old nudist colony, and the group of “kids” who are sent there. The one parent we see just endlessly packs crucifixes into her daughter’s case while ignoring her repeated requests to not go; and the two people in charge of the trip were the two main women from the case against the nudist colony, years ago (I think the movie says it was two years, IMDB says five). The gang of “kids” goes there, along with the two old ladies and a couple of hillbillies who are, I guess, camp counsellors, and pretty much immediately all the nudists rise from their graves and get to killing, in a variety of interesting ways.

Let’s do the good stuff first. The songs are often hilarious, and while it’s not quite at the level of a Rocky Horror, they’re a great deal better than you’d expect from a no-budget zombie-horror-comedy. “Inky-Dinky-Doo-Dah Morning” is fabulous, for example (and does the classic thing of introducing a couple of characters to bulk out the chorus who are never seen before or since – a black guy and a red-headed woman, primarily).

The effects are hand-made in the best possible way, too, so kudos to Pirro for making a budget stretch a long way. It feels a little like “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” (mercifully, it looks like Pirro’s career went better than that one’s director). I particularly liked the set of legs still moving after their top half was sliced off.

And then the bad. The acting is a wash, because what do you expect from people prepared to work on a movie with zero budget? But the script is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, and so many of the jokes fall completely flat. Chief among these is Billy McRighteous, who has maybe 100 lines in the movie, and 95 of them are variations on this:

“The Bible says ‘he who turneth the other cheek, needeth more toilet paper’. Jeremiah Chapter 2, verse 5, Rocky 4.”

One of those, maybe, but after the tenth one you’re filled with a desire to sit the writer down and try to explain to him how jokes work. After the last one, you’re begging for some payoff – like, maybe the character isn’t reading the Bible at all, and is a lunatic who just wandered onto the bus before it set off for Camp Cutchaguzzout – but no.

I mean, it’s not all terrible. One exchange goes – “we’re Christians! We’re not supposed to think!” and the reply “or be rational!” and that’s nicely written and delivered. But it’s definitely the weak link, and I wish Pirro had gotten a little help with the script beforehand.

Also, it’s kinda racist? A few commenters have mentioned the black park ranger, but he not only saves the day, but his sweet 80s rap is a lot of fun too. He’s fine. It’s not the anti-religious stuff (my wife’s ears pricked up at a reference to Judaism, but neither of us really heard it) because I pretty much agree with it. It’s represented by the character Juan Too, who’s half Japanese, half Mexican. He’s a collection of wacky mispronunciations and, while he’s slightly better than the all-time most racist depiction of a person from that part of the world – Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” – the fact I can mention them both in the same sentence isn’t a good thing. I’m prepared to give Pirro the benefit of the doubt, like maybe it was a joke that just didn’t work, or fell flat in the edit, but it just looks bad today.

Anyway, should you watch it? Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun, and if you can forgive the occasional fallow patch, you’ll have a heck of a good time with it.

Rating: thumbs up

Dead Country (2008)

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Thanks to the internet and the reduction in price of decent filming equipment, we’ve seen a democritisation of entertainment production, allowing all sorts of new and previously marginalised voices to get their work seen and appreciated. A negative aspect is this has led to a reduction in the profits of the traditional B-movie companies, forcing them into cheaper and less polished product, but a perhaps even bigger negative is that it’s allowed people like Andrew Merkelbach to make and release movies.

 

If only I were being overly negative for the purposes of getting a laugh. I’ve used this explanation before, but I genuinely think the only reason this movie was made was so the director could hang around with beautiful naked women. If we’re going by “unnecessary nudity”, then every woman in the cast (barring the reporter right at the end) qualifies; there are also a few scenes where Merkelbach (who’s also the “star”) has naked ladies running up to him from nowhere.

 

The thing that pisses me off about garbage like this, is that every criticism can be countered with “well, we were making it bad on purpose” or “we were just having a laugh”. It’s not so much incompetent as it is anti-competent, some sad horror movie obsessive with absolutely no aptitude for this line of work at all, with a pocket full of money, wandering around the woods for a few days. The bits that are supposed to be funny are miserable, and the bits that are supposed to be tense are miserable. All the other bits are miserable.

 

Before we get going, though, I want to discuss how, if you’re too stupid to spell the name of one of your top-billed actresses correctly, you probably shouldn’t be making movies. An example? The genuinely decent Jacqueline Lovell (“Hideous!”) appears in this, and here’s how her name looks in the opening credits:

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Then, just in case you thought that was a fluke, one of the “comedy” subtitles from later on provides us with this gem:

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So, the movie. Merkelbach, pasty and unappealing even by the standards of self-funded cinema, is an alien of some sort, and his spaceship is shot down over the Earth. He’s able to beam out, but the debris from his ship turns people into zombies, then they turn other people into zombies, then 70 minutes later it ends. There’s a narrator, who introduces himself with his real name at the beginning (perhaps a first?) and lots and lots of cameos.

 

Might as well mention those. If you look at this movie, you’ll notice two things – it’s Australian (see the poster above), and there’s a cast of B-movie heavy hitters. We’ve got the aforementioned Lovell, Lisa Wilcox (“Nightmare On Elm Street” 4 and 5), then there’s Janet Keijser (“Witchcraft 12”) and a number of directors in acting roles – Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman, Ted V Mikels (“The Astro-Zombies”) and William Malone (“House On Haunted Hill”). I was thinking “how much of the budget was spent flying this lot out to Australia?” but the answer would, of course, be none. They all just appear in what amounts to skits, filmed probably in their own homes in LA; Keijser’s is basically incomprehensible, as she’s filmed in the bath, takes a phone call, goes outside to talk to her gardener (Malone) and then disappears from the movie. Kaufman’s is just audio, as he plays himself reading a joke advert for his book “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” called “Kill Your Own Damn Zombie!” over the radio. And he’s fourth billed! So not only did the director / star want to hang around with naked women, he also wanted to associate with horror “icons” too, and the easiest way to do that is to pay them. Unless I missed her in the course of things, Lisa Wilcox’s contribution is entirely limited to after the end of the credits, where she’s interviewed about how she’d deal with zombies.

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Crammed in the middle of the pointless cameos and unappealing lead cast are tons of basic errors. Early on, there’s a sex scene (where everyone stays fully clothed), where the woman is on top. They occasionally show what would be the man’s eye view, because the woman looks lovingly right into the camera…only she’s looking straight ahead when she should be looking down. Yes, it’s small potatoes! But someone should have spotted it! There’s a character saying “one of those arseholes bit me”, then a two-second flashback of him being bitten, in case you weren’t in the mood to trust him; and there are dozens of examples of the actors frozen in place at the beginning of a scene, purely because their editor couldn’t be bothered to do his job properly.

 

I sincerely hope that Andrew Merkelbach spent all his own money on this, and he lost the lot (that he hasn’t made anything worthy of mention since on IMDB would seem to bear this out). He seems to not be the most liked of filmmakers (check out the IMDB discussions related to this for a few fun stories), or, it must be said from the experience of “Dead Country”, one of the most talented. There’s actually a sequel, with none of the “famous” names involved, so I’ll only watch that if someone makes a donation to charity on the ISCFC’s behalf. Perhaps the best reason for not allowing everyone who wants to the chance to make a movie.

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Rating: thumbs down

Dorm Of The Dead (2006)

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There’s a scam in the low-budget movie world. It’s a variation on the Cannon model of “make a cool poster, sell that to distributors, then make a film based on the poster”, only a little more advanced. Have you ever watched a movie which started off well, got you interested, then suddenly dropped off a cliff of quality after the first five minutes? This is often associated with a change of location or characters, or both, and is usually the pre-credits sequence.

 

The big secret is, they make that first five minutes to secure funding, and distribution; when they’ve got their money, based on the expectation that the rest of the movie will be as good, they knock out any old piece of cheap crap. This crap will then get sold to cable channels, video rental places (now streaming services, I guess), eke out a meagre profit and the cycle will continue. The ur-example of this is Fred Olen Ray’s “The Tomb” from 1986, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before switching to an hour of people talking on telephones, but there’s a case to be made for “Dorm Of The Dead” being a member of this group.

 

Ignoring (for now) the framing device, we get the first segment, where a guy tries to persuade his girlfriend to have sex before leaving, frustrated, only to then meet a couple of zombies, start making out with them, and get eaten. It’s well lit, filmed on decent equipment and (by and large) well acted. Now, the makeup is abysmal, even for a no-budget zombie movie – a bit of grey paint on the face, dark rings round the eyes, which looks even stupider when it’s a woman in a small top and you can see acres of perfectly healthy flesh – but everything else looks good.

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Then, after the credits, we hear that distinctive hum that means someone is using their camcorder’s on-board sound recording, and all bets are off. It’s ISCFC favourite Donald Farmer, who’s been entertaining us since the mid 80s, and just like with most of his movies there’s an absolute ton of things to talk about. Playing over those opening credits, for instance? “Eat The Living”, the same song that so dominated the last Farmer movie, “Red Lips 3”.

 

After a 15-minute segment that has nothing really to do with the rest of the movie, where B-movie regular Tiffany Shepis cheats on her boyfriend, then the boyfriend’s a psycho, then they all get turned into zombies anyway so who cares, we get to the plot. Sarah, a goth girl, mildly insults Clare, a “townie”, in class one day (their verbal jousting is embarrassingly wooden), so Clare decides to get her revenge in the most insane way possible. The professor has a vial of zombie blood, sourced from Haiti, so Clare and her friend steal the vial, find Sarah in her dorm and pour the blood down her throat – this slowly turns her into a zombie, although I suppose Clare couldn’t have expected it to actually be real.

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Where to start? Let’s talk about the editing of a couple of early scenes – the aforementioned classroom scene, then one right after it, where Sarah’s tuition cheque bounces and the principal takes great delight in telling her she’s kicked out of her accommodation (she has to move to Arkham Hall, where all the broke kids are). Anyway, it looks like Farmer filmed everyone in these scenes individually then spliced them together but did it with different cameras and lighting, in different locations, and it’s so obvious, for no real reason. It’s not like any of the actors were famous or good, so why not just hire people who were all able to show up at the same time?

 

In a film which barely hits 65 minutes before the credits roll, there’s also a heck of a lot of padding – check out the scenes where Sarah walks through a funfair, or the one where Farmer regular Jim O’Rear (surely a name more appropriate to a porn star?) escorts her through an enormous convenience store, where nothing happens, slowly. And the acting! Although I can’t use any of my trademark hyperbole, as Farmer has already previously employed the worst actress I’ve ever seen in my life (Kashmere, in “Red Lips 2”), there’s still a wide range of rank amateurishness on display. Ciara Richards (Sarah), Adrianna Eder (Alison) and Jackey Hall (Clare) feel like Farmer was just wandering through campus one day and picked them at random; they appear to have no desire or aptitude for acting. The men in the movie, all scumbags or rapists or both, fare no better.

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Endings in movies are tricky beasts. A great one can elevate a weak movie, and a terrible one can do the opposite. It’s nice to actually have one, though, even if Donald Farmer disagrees. “Dorm Of The Dead” doesn’t so much end as just abruptly cut off, in the middle of a news report where the on-location reporter is unsure what a safe distance from a group of zombies is. There’s been no character development, no resolution to any of the plotlines, no sense of closure, nothing. It’s so poor, if it were anyone other than Farmer, I’d think it might be a deliberate audience alienation tactic. But there’s one crucial part of the ending we’ve not yet discussed.

 

Framing the movie is a Criswell-like narrator, Alf, played by a chap with the delightful stage name of Dukey Flyswatter. He supplies no useful information in the beginning, and just cackles with laughter before saying “get out!” at the end, but it’s his review on IMDB I wanted to mention. He says the film was terrible, only good for ogling the women, and mentions how he supplied his own outfit and improvised his own dialogue. I wouldn’t brag about that, mate! Anyway, he also mentions improvising a scene where he’s the father of a teenage girl, she’s on a date, her date is trying to get her to have sex with him and she’s completely (deliberately?) misunderstanding everything he says. It’s comedy for the severely head-injured, but he says the scene was cut short thanks to some “old woman” on the set complaining about the content, and it never made it into the movie anyway, not even the special features. Well, he clearly turned off the movie the second it faded to black, because the scene he talks about appears in the middle of the credits. And it is bad! It goes on for almost ten excruciating minutes, although I’m really not sure why it wasn’t just put in the movie – it’s no worse than any of the other terrible filler scenes.

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This is, by any reasonable assessment, worse than Donald Farmer’s late 80s movies. The effects are worse, the acting is worse, the dialogue, the editing…it’s a rare director who seems to devolve, but Farmer has managed it. I take no pleasure whatsoever in saying this – he seems like a decent guy, a real film buff, but after wildly bizarre early efforts that never failed to entertain, there’s no sense of adventure or fun in these later ones. Aside from that well-lit first five minutes, the entire rest of the movie seems to have had no money spent on it at all – the sets are all whatever they could get access to for ten minutes, the makeup is just a bit of dirt rubbed on faces, the blood and guts could be freebies from a local butcher (or just Karo syrup)…you could tell me “Dorm Of The Dead” had cost less than $500 and I wouldn’t be surprised.

 

So, I give my shoulders a hearty shrug for this one. It’s abysmally bad, even if (like almost all Farmer’s movies) it manages to find new ways to fail, and is therefore sort of interesting for the bad movie enthusiast.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012)

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If I was given a time machine, after I’d done all the important stuff (stopping wars, recording the lost episodes of Doctor Who), I’d pop over to Pittsburgh in 1968 and make sure George Romero filed the copyright paperwork for “Night Of The Living Dead”. Due to its seeming public-domain status, it’s been the subject of several remakes, a million ripoffs, and full-length parodies, along with many many awful VHS and DVD releases, both colourised and not. In 2006, we were treated to a 3D remake which I never bothered with because it looked terrible; but 2012 brought us a 3D prequel to that movie, and as it starred Andrew Divoff, Jeffrey Combs and Sarah Lieving, I decided to check it out.

 

Divoff is Gerald Tovar Jr, the boss of a cemetery / crematorium / undertaker’s. We know he knows about his rather unusual problem from the very beginning, as the local Health & Safety Inspector is bitten by a zombie just wandering round the graveyard, and there’s quite a lot of the movie which is sort of farcical, as Gerald runs round closing doors and stopping people from walking down certain corridors and so on. He’s got a few staff members – the possibly necrophiliac DyeAnne, pothead Russell, and Aunt Lou; and into this mix walk two people. There’s new hire Cristie (Lieving, whose character is named after Romero’s wife, fact fans), a mortuary expert; and the other Tovar brother, Harold (Combs), down on his luck and needing some cash.

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So you’ve got live bodies and a potentially enclosed location. Everything we need for a zombie movie! And here’s where the logic starts fraying round the edges somewhat. Tovar Sr apparently did jobs for the Government, involving the disposal of “unusual” corpses, but the problem is we see lots of communist paraphernalia round the place, and I find it at least a little unlikely that a communist would agree to help the US government, or that they’d want his help in the first place.

 

The second, and far bigger, problem, relates to how the plague spreads. Gerald carries on helping Uncle Sam after his father’s death, but one bodybag leaks green liquid, it falls on a corpse, that corpse reanimates. The movie’s blurb calls Gerald pyrophobic, but the only explanation the movie gives us is that he can’t work the oven (perhaps I missed that bit?) So, he’s got a basement room absolutely packed with rotting corpses, which he videotapes to see if any of them start coming back. If he sees movement, he blows their head off, job done. Now, peeling that onion, why doesn’t he get the oven fixed, or just ask someone else to operate it? Why doesn’t he decapitate everyone who passes through his doors, so to speak, preventing this being a problem? Why not chuck the corpses in a lime pit or something?

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If you can ignore this logic, there’s a surprising amount to like. Harold is a right-wing conspiracy nut, and loves “Fixd News” with its most famous correspondent, the Alaskan platitude-spewing “Sister Sara”. As well as being the second movie we’ve covered with a Sarah Palin parody in it (the other being the tedious “Iron Sky”), she’s another ISCFC link, being played by the great Denice Duff, last seen by us in the “Subspecies” sequels, and looking like she’s not aged a day in the intervening 20 years. There’s a ton of references to Romero and the previous movies in the series, which is done with a nice amount of tongue-in-cheek; and there’s a scene where DyeAnne, Russell and Cristie smoke weed after embalming a corpse, which is pretty funny.

 

Divoff and Combs are B-movie royalty and do their parts rather well (even if one suspects they could do this in their sleep) and everyone else is fine too. Lieving, though, deserves better. She’s got that combination of talent, physicality (she looks like she could kick ass, in other words) and beauty that mean she ought to be doing roles like this in much bigger budget movies. I mean, it’s nice we get to see her in trash, but it’s time for her to fly!

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I’ve skated round it a bit, but simply put, this is boring. The plot doesn’t really make any sense, and such action as there is is pretty much confined to the last 20 minutes (not enough zombies, guys), with people dying haphazardly and the ending being terrible. That enough bad stuff for you? Okay, more. The special effects are not helped by being in HD – there’s one scene where a zombie’s jaw is punched off but you can still see the actor’s perfectly okay mouth underneath, coated in black paint, for instance.

 

What a shame. I wish they’d doubled down on the comedy personally, or had more zombies in it, or done anything other than what they did with the first hour (which was pretty much nothing). A completely wasted opportunity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies (2014)

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I have complained in the past about movies which feel like they were designed for a very specific audience, and I wasn’t part of that audience; but here comes a movie where I get most of the deep-inside references, am familiar with nearly every one of the cast and am a long-term fan of the activity portrayed. So this should be great for me, right?

 

Oh dear me, this was absolutely terrible. It only has its concept going for it – indeed, most of its positive reviews state “pro wrestlers vs. zombies, what more do you need?” – and fails miserably in every possible way. I was about to say that I felt bad for the people who committed to the Kickstarter for this movie, but screw ‘em as it was never going to be anything other than terrible and they all deserved to lose their money. Anyway, let’s recap. This review will be full of spoilers, so if you’ve not seen this yet, congratulations.

 

We start off at a wrestling show, where some formerly famous guys, now working in front of 30 bored people in a high school gym, display their skills. Given the number of zombie extras in this movie, they really should have got some of them in to pack the audience of this show as it looks absolutely terrible, beyond low rent. “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, former star of WCW and ECW, kills a guy in the ring after seeing him kissing his girlfriend in the locker room, but unfortunately this guy has a brother, Angus, who chooses to perform with a shockingly bad Irish accent (well, that’s not the unfortunate part).

Feel the atmosphere of that packed house!

Feel the atmosphere of that packed house!

Angus wants revenge on the Franchise so, rather than shooting him or anything sensible like that, formulates a somewhat different plan. I know, everyone who’s wronged does this, so I barely even need to recap it, but he makes a deal with a demon who gives him the power to raise the dead; then pays the local wrestling promoter a wad of cash to send Douglas, the dead guy’s former girlfriend (who left him for Douglas, or something) and a bunch of random wrestlers, to a show in a disused prison. That the promoter offers him a bunch of fairly famous guys when he had no reason to, cutting into his profit, is like the tenth stupidest thing this movie does. Anyway, while they’re on the bus to the show, Angus sends his zombies to kill Douglas’ entire family, then ships those zombies to the wrestling show, where he creates a bunch more zombies; then sets his horde of the undead on the assembled pro wrestlers.

 

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is one of the most famous pro wrestlers in history, who quit being a full-time bone-bender in the late 80s to concentrate on movies (although he came back plenty of times, often for extended periods). He remained a legit B-movie leading man for the rest of his life (his last starring role, best as I can see, was in 2012), so it’s super-sad to see him in this, presumably done as a favour to one of his old wrestling buddies. His part, originally written for Mick Foley, is sort of the romantic lead for the movie, which with the substantial age difference feels curious at best. His lady friend is Sarah (Adrienne Fisher, the only person who looks like she’s trying throughout) and her arc is a tad…under-developed? She gets a job with Angus, as her marketing savvy will take pro wrestling to the top, but Angus isn’t interested in the wrestling biz as much as he is in slaughtering two particular pro wrestlers. Or did I mis-remember that bit? I’m certainly not going back to check. Anyway, either Angus or the neck-bearded promoter (who’s the writer-director of this movie, in case you ever see him on the street and have a bag of flaming poop close at hand) takes her into the back room for a blow job, and then she just joins the wrestlers on the bus the next day, for no reason other than “why not?” Luckily, she’s an extreme badass – way better than most of the male professional fighters – and bonds with Roddy quickly.

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Oh, when the wrestlers arrive at the prison, the driver (who is also the demon) tells them first to surrender their phones, that these fights will not be predetermined, and the prize for victory will be wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Now, if I’m any of those pro wrestlers, who rely on being physically able to work multiple times a week, and was presented with a plan that shady, I would be telling the bus to turn around and take me home. No doubt. But because the script said so, these guys are all fine and trot off inside, where they’re almost immediately set upon by the undead.

 

So, by 32 minutes, it’s full on war, as the prison is packed full of pro wrestlers and zombies; and for the next hour or so, we’re treated to the same thing, over and over again. Group of people run, fight zombies, and either die or escape to run, fight and die slightly later. One chap, the “Neon Ninja” Michael Façade, got a lot of time to showcase his wrestling skills on a variety of zombies, and I hope he did quite well out of his appearance (although the fact I had to look his name up indicates otherwise). We’re treated to some extremely well-preserved civil war dead later on, people turning on each other to save their own skins, and revelations about Angus’s plan – sadly, no-one goes “hold on, slaughtering hundreds of people seems a bit over the top just to get to the guy who killed your brother and his slutty ex-girlfriend, doesn’t it?”

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How do the pro wrestlers do in this? Roddy Piper is, of course, excellent, doing world-weariness well; although he has a scene where he attacks a zombie while sporting a completely blank expression, a shot he must have expected would be cut from the final movie. Shane Douglas tries but can’t really act, Kurt Angle is decent in his few scenes, and Matt Hardy seems high the entire time. Some of the indie guys are fun, like The Mountain, and I had a soft spot for “Thomas Rodman”, who may well be a brother of the famous Dennis (who has at least 20 brothers and half-brothers, apparently), and certainly dresses and acts like him. The non-wrestlers are, excepting Adrienne Fisher, absolutely terrible, with nothing to set them apart from every other garbage non-professional bargain basement horror movie cast ever.

 

Obviously, only pro wrestling fans will be watching “Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies”, so it’s kind of unfair to judge it the way you would a normal movie. They’re not trying to rip people off here, it does exactly what the title says it will, but…boy oh boy, this is still such a bad movie. If they’d bothered to have the pro wrestlers and zombies actually wrestle, then resort to run, fight, eat when the wrestlers started beating them, it could have been a lot of fun; as it is, it was just one thing, over and over again, which made it feel a hell of a lot longer than it actually was – I checked the clock, convinced there were maybe ten minutes left, to find I was barely at the halfway mark, and groaned.

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After a brief moment to ponder the ending (killing all my friends, hundreds of zombies, then bringing down a demon gets me pretty horny too), would I recommend this movie? Nah. Even the hardest-core of wrestling fans among you would be better off re-watching a classic Roddy Piper movie than popping this on. Don’t let people make money by pandering to you. Demand better.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Redneck Zombies (1987)

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I really thought this was going to suck, after the newly-filmed opening. Lloyd Kaufman, Troma head honcho, does the “hilariously” named Kaufman’s Kultural Korner (KKK ohmygodmysides) and interviews director Pericles Lewnes. As far as I’m aware, Troma had nothing to do with the production of the movie at all, only picking it up for distribution after the fact – one can admire Troma’s dedication to independent cinema, while finding their business model a little…sleazy? Plus, several honourable examples aside (brand new “The Slashening”, for one, which is amazing) their quality control can be non-existent, as I’ll never be able to truly love the company that tried to fob “Surf Nazis Must Die” or “Rabid Grannies” on their own fans.

 

But wow, was I ever wrong about my initial guess on the quality of this. One of the earliest shot-on-video movies, while it’s very obviously not the highest-budget movie of all time, it’s inventive and funny and has a cast of almost complete non-actors who, rather than looking bored or nervous like so many other low/no budget epics, commit to their roles with great gusto. Plus, it’s got a title that’s fun, and delivers on its promise!

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Argh he sucks

Saying that, the beginning is confusing. We get an info dump about a missing barrel of something so toxic it could kill everyone on earth, but then a bit later the barrel is seen being driven around by an army guy. Anyway. For some reason (perhaps the most used phrase in movie reviewing history), the army guy is driving down dirt tracks in redneck country, in a jeep, with this super-toxic barrel just sort of casually placed in the back. When it falls off the back of the jeep, it eventually finds its way into the hands of a group of rednecks, who decide to use the barrel as the heart of their moonshine still. They can’t read, obviously, so the warnings painted on the barrel mean nothing to them.

 

The rednecks aren’t your average bunch, as since they got satellite TV all the “boys” have got odd ideas. In fact, one of them now wishes to be known as Ellie Mae, which annoys the Dad but is completely fine to the numerous customers the family has for their moonshine. Isn’t it sweet, with understanding, welcoming rednecks? But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. The new moonshine turns everyone who drinks it into a zombie, and Ellie Mae delivers it to a lot of local families (including, memorably, a couple of cannibalistic serial killers, who have a living soon-to-be victim tied up in their lounge). The army guy finally gets back to base and is told to go back out and find the barrel: he takes a bored lunatic and the campest stereotype I’ve ever seen. In the era before even “don’t ask, don’t tell”, this is a bold directorial choice. And rounding out the cast is a group of hikers.

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Well, I think they’re hikers. IMDB lists them as sophisticated city slickers, but some of them are definitely students…they have someone with them who’s either a guide or used to live in this area (again, unclear) so off into the wilderness they go. Thanks to this group, we get some quite clever video effects – first, when the “guide” lights a joint which is so potent it knocks everyone out (accompanied by every multi-colour video effect the director could manage), and second when they’re trapped in a shack with a corpse, and one of the group decides then would be a good time to drop some acid. His five minute, definitely improvised, bit where he pulls entrails out and his acid-fried mind imagines the handfuls of guts to be shoes, cans of beer, and so on, is exhibit A in “why you shouldn’t let some guy who says he’s hilarious have free rein to prove it on camera without checking first”. Or “film enough, so if one of your bits is terrible, you can cut it”.

 

Lewnes really goes out of his way to offend and disgust, and does it with some style. One of the moonshine customers is watching what I suppose you’d describe as porn, but super-weird; and the serial killers are watching footage of animal cruelty to really get them in the mood. Plus, there’s a zombie baby! It takes a while to get going (no zombies til about 40 minutes in) but when it gets going it just doesn’t stop. Entrails everywhere, blood and gore soaking everyone and everything…it shows they made every penny of the apparent $10,000 budget go a long way. The zombie makeup is wonderfully bad, on purpose apparently, and shows Lewnes probably deserved better than going on to be special effects supervisor on a bunch of Troma’s in-house productions.

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Of course, there are a lot of bits where you’re scratching your head in puzzlement, which is probably why it’s not that fondly remembered, even by some Troma fans. The hikers seem intent on burying their friends, implying they’re a long way from civilization. But, you know, they only set out that morning! And the rednecks are able to drive into town fairly easily, so if I saw the bottom half of one of my friends in the woods, I’d probably run like hell to the nearest road and get some help. And if we’re talking things that put you off, the camper who takes the acid is so far over the top that it’s almost impossible to like him. And there’s the way the gay soldier runs into the middle of the redneck zombie horde, without realising their zombies, saying “you ever seen Deliverance?”, the implication being he wants them all to rape him. Oh dear.

 

So, you have to take the rough with the smooth. But it’s so wild, and tries so hard, that I think you’ll enjoy it. Or perhaps I’m so far down the rabbit hole of crap that I can’t see daylight any more. Either way, check it out!

 

Rating: thumbs up

The Video Dead (1987)

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There’s a scam in the low-budget movie world. It’s a variation on the “make a cool poster, sell that to distributors, then make a film based on the poster”, but it’s a little more advanced. Have you ever watched a movie which started off really well, got you interested, then suddenly dropped off a cliff of quality after the first five minutes? This is often associated with a change of location or characters, or both.

 

The big secret is, they make that first five minutes to secure funding, and distribution, and all those other fun little ways low-budget people stay in business. Then, when they’ve got their money, based on the expectation that the rest of the movie will be as good as that first five minutes, they knock out any old piece of cheap crap. This crap will then get sold to cable channels, video rental places (now streaming services, I guess), eke out a meagre profit and the cycle will continue. The ur-example of this is Fred Olen Ray’s “The Tomb” from 1986, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before switching to a series of people talking on telephones, but I think “The Video Dead” is a dishonourable member of this group.

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The scam in this instance is a first five minutes featuring a writer, depressed-looking, sat in his scruffy house with real dead goldfish when the doorbell rings. A couple of delivery guys bring him a TV, even though he didn’t ask for one. Or, indeed, anything – which makes the bit a few minutes later when the delivery guys realise they mixed up a delivery for the local Occult Studies Centre not really make sense – but never mind that, the TV keeps turning on and showing “Zombie Blood Nightmare”, which looks like a fun movie. One of the zombies emerges from the TV, a pretty cool effect if we’re being honest, and when the delivery guys come back for their TV they find the corpse of the writer. Boom!

 

And then they make the switch. This first part is well acted, filmed, tightly edited and has tons of promise – I actually turned to my wife, smiling, and said “I think this is going to be a good one”. But then logic gets thrown out of a window, and the movie goes down the toilet.

 

Now, you might be thinking “why do you expect logic from a movie about zombies coming out of a TV?” but that’s just letting crappy low-budget movies off the hook. The more times you ask “why did X just happen?”, the more you’re drawn out of the movie, and when there’s no reason for it, it just comes across as lazy. So, to begin, the zombie TV. The local occult place is aware of it, even if they allow it to be transported by the world’s dumbest delivery company – so when the writer dies, one would assume they’d ask for it back, or at the very least it’d be taken away by the police, the estate agent or the writer’s next of kin. But no, it’s just in the attic! Did it teleport itself up there? For what purpose?

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Three months later, and a new family moves in – a woman in her late teens and her slightly younger brother. It appears the woman is going to be the star, then the movie decides to concentrate on the brother and “The Garbage Man”, who’s apparently a zombie tracking / supernatural TV set expert (even though he waited three months before trying to track the TV down)…before switching back to the woman for the last 15 minutes or so. The Garbage Man tells them the rules of the zombie game, and the movie helpfully ignores both his most important instructions.

 

First up, zombies can apparently take on human “shells” and trick us living folk. This would be an interesting idea if the movie ever used it, but it’s just mentioned once and then ignored. They sort of hint one of the main characters might be one of these zombies right at the beginning, but it’s just a red herring. Boo, movie! Secondly, zombies can’t be killed by normal weapons, but if you do enough damage to them you might trick them into thinking they’re dead. Can you then just re-bury them? Oh hell no, that would be bad, you just have to leave them lying out to let nature take it course – but when our “heroes” do this, the zombies just lay there for a few minutes, before realising they’re zombies, waking up and getting back to killing.

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What else can we add to the cavalcade of stupidity…how about the way the Garbage Man, after baiting a trap with the brother, immediately falls asleep, managing to stay that way through the sound of a shotgun blast from thirty or so feet away? Or how the brother, despite apparently being a horror movie fan, knows none of the rules? Or the way the Garbage Man prefaces the request to hang brass bells everywhere as a zombie detector with “Don’t ask me how or why, but…”

 

There’s the faintest whisper from time to time that this is a self-aware comedy, but there just aren’t enough jokes in it to warrant the description. The way the daughter handles the zombies at the end is great, but it’s a funny situation with nothing to back it up. Such a miserable shame of a movie, with an ending that manages to be deeply nihilistic and utterly pointless at the same time. And the name! I guess video shops were right at the peak of their popularity in 1987, so I understand the filmmakers were using something in the zeitgeist, an ancient and honourable tactic. But…there’s no video in it. It’s a zombie-infested TV – which I admit is splitting hairs slightly, but with such a cool title I at least wanted to see it delivered on!

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For such an extremely low budget movie (estimated cost $80,000, filmed on weekends when the cast was free over the course of a year) some of the flaws are kind-of explained. Actors would disappear for great swathes of the movie because they just weren’t available when the crew were; and the zombies themselves look excellent for the money. But it’s still boring and stupid, and you don’t need cash to avoid that.

 

Rating: thumbs down