Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

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While your Netflixes and Amazons are getting into the original “TV” series game, other popular websites have worked out there’s money to be made by producing their own movies. So far, we’ve had College Humour making “Coffee Town”, Splitsider and “The Exquisite Corpse Project” (plus a standup compilation movie, but that barely counts), and now this. Crackle were known for distributing old, forgotten TV and movies for free – so, years ago, you could watch “The Tick”, “Battledome” (I loved that ridiculous show) and a ton of anime, with the only cost being adverts – a business model which clearly did pretty well for them. Saying that, Crackle also made the “Joe Dirt” sequel, but there’s no way in hell I’m deliberately watching a David Spade movie.

So, “Dead Rising”. I’ve played the first game, a bit, but I got bored of how quickly your weapons would break and how there’s no end to the zombies, ever. I presume someone (should anyone read this) would tell me this isn’t the case, but I’ve killed every zombie in *enclosed area* only to turn round a few seconds later and find it full of the shuffling bastards again. But this isn’t “Mark’s Computer Game Reviews”, because they’d all be “why is this happening so fast? Stop making it so difficult to control!”

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I know enough about the games, though, to know that there are a ton of references in here for fans. Making bonkers weapons out of two unrelated weapons (a sledgehammer taped to a chainsaw, for example) is the main one, and there are a few props and “scares” lifted from the game too. But, the one I was most interested in, and the thing that got me to watch the movie from the trailer, is the presence of comedy superstar Rob Riggle as the first game’s protagonist, Frank West. He became something of a star after surviving the mall outbreak and is in the studio, being interviewed by UBN news. He’s like the expert interviewee as the small town of East Mission, Oregon is in the middle of its own zombie outbreak, with quarantine areas and distribution of the anti-zombie drug “Zombrex” and so on. His bits are hilarious, as he gives advice based on how he survived the first game, ignoring the calming attempts of the news anchor (Carrie Grenzel, also funny).

The rest of the movie is every other zombie movie you’ve ever seen. Two reporters (Jesse Metcalfe and Keegan Connor Tracy) for an online news site are in East Mission, doing a story about the government attempts to control the outbreak. The town is being evacuated, slowly, but this all goes to pot as the Zombrex appears to stop working, leaving people to go full zombie right left and centre. Add in a beautiful and mysterious woman (Meghan Ory, “Once Upon A Time”) and a grieving mother (Virginia Madsen, and yes, I was surprised to see her in this too) and you’ve got yourself a group of protagonists! Then, because Capcom – the game company behind “Dead Rising” – seem determined to plagiarise every last bit of “Dawn Of The Dead”, we get an evil biker gang; and for a little “Day Of The Dead”, we’ve got a morally ambiguous group of soldiers too, led by Dennis Haysbert. Our heroes are trying to find evidence that Zombrex was made bad on purpose and to stop the firebombing of the town, and the people on the outside are feuding about how to deal with it.

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It starts off surprisingly well, I think. Riggle is brilliant, and the movie as a whole has a strong sense of humour, moves quickly, is well acted and has clearly had a lot of money spent on it (I reckon Capcom must have ponied up quite a bit of money for this, because Crackle Original movies shouldn’t look this good). There are some wonderfully horrific images from time to time as well, such as a zombie Dad with his baby in a carrier, taking the occasional bite as he’s strolling along. Okay, the characters are a bit generic, but one shouldn’t expect too much in a movie based on a computer game.

It does get sluggish, though, and part of that is the almost 2 hour running time.  There’s a rather long opening sequence that then cuts to “24 hours earlier”, but they then repeat most of that sequence as well as have the moment where the movie catches up to the opening come at around the halfway point, leaving it sort of pointless. It didn’t teach us anything and wasn’t directly related to the ending, so it just feels like padding in a movie that really didn’t need it – and I’m beyond tired of that device being used in movies. I could have done with a bit less of the weapon POV camera as well – a fun device once, but adds nothing the tenth time.

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“Dead Rising: Watchtower” has a nice occasional comedic tone, which makes the lurches into military conspiracy a bit odd to watch. And it obviously had no idea how to wrap things up, which leaves us with a world which is worse at the end of the movie than it is at the beginning, and no real resolution to any of the stories. I imagine if this does well (and I’ve got no idea how they’ll judge the success of a movie which was released effectively for free) we’ll get a sequel, which will no doubt leave a bunch of hanging threads for the end of the trilogy, and…it’s good enough to bother getting annoyed with the things it does wrong.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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The Walking Deceased (2015)

Imagine a world where dead people could make a funnier movie than this

Imagine a world where dead people could make a funnier movie than this

In our review of “Scary Movie”, I spoke out sort-of in defence of Friedberg and Setzer and their dreadful parody movies, a defence which boiled down to “we get the sort of entertainment we deserve”. But their guilt lies not so much in their movies, but their hideous demon spawn, people who – if you can imagine such a thing – see the two of them as an inspiration. Do you remember “Not Another Not Another Movie”? “Stan Helsing”? Be glad if you don’t, my friends. To add to this list of shame, we now have “The Walking Deceased”.

 

When you long for the days of “Epic Movie”, you know you’re in trouble. Most of the parody movies follow a rough template – the main plot will be recognisably similar to something big (“Scream” begat “Scary Movie”, “Twilight” begat “Vampires Suck”, and so on); but then the plot for that movie will keep getting interrupted by skits and appearances by characters and situations from other movies. Simple, awful, but effective. What this movie does is something a little different. Three movies meet, sort of interact, then tell what’s largely an original story (well, “original” in terms of rotten bargain basement parody movies, but you get the idea).

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R (the zombie with an interior monologue) from “Warm Bodies” falls in love with the Emma Stone character from “Zombieland”, which introduces that movie’s four main characters. As they’re wandering through a hospital, they disturb the Sheriff from “The Walking Dead”, which introduces him, his foul-mouthed son and a few hangers-on, replicas of people from that series. They start off in a mall (“Dawn of the Dead”) then go for a drive (every zombie movie ever) and end up at a farmhouse (that boring season of “The Walking Dead”).

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That’s really sort of it. Much of the humour that isn’t just “hey! Remember this thing?” relies on people shouting abuse at each other – plus, they do a “29 days later” joke, a good decade after Uwe Boll did it in “House of the Dead”. Uwe Boll! But mostly it’s just a laugh-free cover version of scenes you’ll remember from better movies, with the biggest name being Dave Sheridan, the simpleton cop from “Scary Movie”. The rest of the cast are fine, and it’s not the cheapest looking movie ever by a long shot, but it’s all such a waste of time! In fact, I’m not really sure why I spent this long writing about it. I highly recommend watching some “Walking Dead” outtakes if you want a laugh, and leaving this film to fall into justified and complete obscurity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Life After Beth (2014)

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Directed by: Jeff Baena

I like zombie films, and a part of me will always love films that feature bumbling over-zealous Security Guards  (after my five years spent in the industry); so in a way ‘Life After Beth’ was already on to a winner since it ticks those two boxes.

‘Life After Beth’ a rom-zom-com, to steal a phrase used in the promotion push for ‘Shaun of the Dead; featuring the mostly nearly always charming Aubrey Plaza and the solid acting chops of Dane DeHaan, who usually steals some sunshine from even the cloudiest of directed movies (***cough ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ cough coughMetallica Through the Never’***).

Plaza plays Beth Slocum, who is fatally bitten by a snake when out hiking. The early part of the movie centres upon Zach (Dehaan) who is grieving for Beth, who was his girlfriend. He spends a fair amount of time hanging around with Beth’s parents after the funeral. Then suddenly he is unable to contact them. The Slocum’s ignore his phone calls and don’t answer the door. Zach calls round one evening, and snoops about outside the Slocum residence. At the thirteen minute mark of the movie he sees Beth. She’s ‘alive’!

There’s been a plethora of zombie comedies, lord knows we’ve covered several of them on the site, what helps ‘Life After Beth’ stand out is that it perfectly captures this little indie viewpoint of life in the suburbs. Everything is sterile and safe for the characters, their lives are dulled so much that even a zombie outbreak struggles to induce hysteria. One by one more dead people begin returning, and hardly anybody raises an eyebrow. Like Zach’s Mum, half of the population are medicated and drowsily sleepwalking through their days.

The critical response to ‘Life After Beth’ has been lukewarm, and though Plaza and DeHaan deliver alongside a strong supporting cast, the second half of the movie curdles into a bloody average predictable mess. It reminds me a lot of how I felt about ‘Zombieland’ after the Bill Murray scene. As a viewer I’m hooked, laughing along, and then suddenly it hits me. Oh, I don’t think the director knows how to end this. I predict it’s going to end like this. Shit, I’m right, it has ended like this. When I can see the end a mile out, it’s a bad thing. I hate that. ‘life After Beth’ has a good premises and is full of good acting performances but it fails to deliver a satisfying finish.

‘Life After Beth’ is one of those movies where the director will probably  look back and think – I could’ve done better on that one.

 

– RJW

6/10

 

Life After Death on IMDB

 

Zone of the Dead (2009)

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If you only remember Ken Foree as the awesome Peter in the original “Dawn Of The Dead”, then…you’ve been pretty lucky, as his IMDB page for the last 15 years is “Kenan and Kel” and a long list of really bad-sounding horror films. Is this another of that long list, or did he buck the trend and make something decent with this very originally-titled film?

First off, we’re assaulted with some of the worst dubbing I’ve ever heard. The different people in this conversation appear to have been recorded at different times, using different equipment, even though it appears that a few of them are actually mouthing the right words (presumably an issue with the thickness of their accents, this being filmed somewhere in eastern Europe). These dubbed people are archaeologists and police – some Black Death victims have been found, and everyone’s pretty casual about the fact that one of the researchers died after exposure to the corpses. Anyway, dead guy gets up from his gurney, blood pouring from mouth, white eyes, guttural growl, you know the drill.

Two years later, and I’m already a bit confused. At least I think it was two years later, if it’s not then I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. A small town in the former Yugoslavia, a small train station, a few people dotted about. If you were collecting really stupid reasons for the beginning of the Apocalypse (this film’s alternate title- “Apocalypse of the Dead”), then this ought to be right up there – thanks to two years of experiments, they’ve figured out a way to turn the Black Death into an airborne zombie creator, and are transporting it on the railway, stopping at the tiny little station; a passing group of drunk soldiers have a scuffle with the station guard, a gun gets fired, a tube gets pierced, gas escapes, and we’re on.

The main group in the film is led by Foree, as a police officer of some sort, who’s transporting / extraditing an unnamed prisoner. He has a beautiful young sidekick who’s never been in the field before; a couple of local cannon fodder types, and the guy who survived the initial gas blast at the station. They take a heck of a long time to figure out what’s going on, and when they do survival is the only thing on their minds.

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This movie divided opinion at my house. I was so bowled over by its technical inadequacy that I immediately dismissed it, whereas my wife decided it was actually pretty decent. I think, ultimately, both opinions are correct. But I’ll talk more about mine because I’m the reviewer in our marriage and she had a magazine to retreat behind when things got too boring.

It’s one of the most technically shoddy films I can remember. For one thing, there’s no lighting. I’m not exaggerating, either – a few scenes just aren’t lit, some use whatever streetlight or lamp they can find, and one scene is lit with a spotlight, only the guy controlling the spotlight occasionally forgets he’s supposed to be lighting the people in the scene so we can see them, and just wanders off (maybe it’s a prison yard, but it really doesn’t look like it). If I had to guess, I’d say the filmmakers were sold some digital cameras on the basis they worked with natural light, and were scammed big-time.

Talking of the cameras, almost everything is handheld. It’s not like the camera “exists” in the world of the film, so there’s no real need for it, and all that happens is even someone like myself, never travel-sick, started to feel a bit queasy. It makes some of the scenes very difficult to see, and the difference with the few scenes that seem to be “normally” shot is enormous. The script, written by a Serbian, seems to have been translated poorly into English. And lastly, no-one bothered training the zombie actors. Some of them run, some of them shuffle with their arms out, and the sound effects guy mistook his “horror groaning” CD for a “weird animal sounds” one.

That’s the technical stuff, while the meat and drink of the film is a slightly different animal. It seems they weren’t sure about their timescale – from the gas escape in the tiny train station to what would appear to be later that same night, society has completely fallen apart. The police station is empty and ransacked and seemingly thousands of people have been turned into zombies. There are evidently no zombie movies in this universe, because everyone is stupid about the undead, with the exception of two people. One is the unnamed prisoner, who seems to know a lot about what’s going on, is a kickass fighter, and so on. The other is a mental patient WHO WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG, and is presumably a former soldier due to his knowledge of weaponry (and how easily he kills the zombies). The mental patient does his own thing, pretty much, including getting himself on TV, and they only meet up near the end.

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But here’s the thing – the actual plotting of the film isn’t that bad. The main English-speaking cast are all fine and their motivation is pretty clear. There’s some fun stuff too – one of the characters does that “diving through the air shooting” thing so beloved of 80s action films, for no reason whatsoever; and Foree slips in a reference to “Dawn Of The Dead”, despite it not really making much sense in the context of the conversation it’s in. They use the Chernobyl disaster in a very interesting way too, to drive the plot along.

Add in some really good gore effects and the overall effect is a really confusing one. On the one hand, it’s so poorly made that I feel unable to truly recommend it, and on the other hand there’s a germ of a good film here. Take out the non-acting Eastern Europeans and replace them with actual actors, and hire a few people who’ve actually made films before, and you might have something. Apparently, the trailer for this film is one of the most viewed of all time (over 9 million Youtube hits) which I have no explanation for; and to say the ending set itself up for a sequel is putting it mildly. Having “These Characters Will Return In Zone Of The Dead 2” in ten-foot high neon lights would have been more subtle.

Rating: thumbs down

Night Of The Living Dead: Resurrection (2012)

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“Hey guys, why don’t we make a zombie movie? I’ve got a bunch of fake blood and a few digital cameras.”

“But we don’t have a script, or any actors, or any talent”.

*CUE UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER*

“We don’t need any of that! The original “Night Of The Living Dead” is in the public domain now! And horror fans are idiots, they’ll hoover up any old garbage with “living dead” in the title!”

And so we are blessed with “Night Of The Living Dead: Resurrection”, a remake / reimagining of George Romero’s original zombie classic. I used “blessed” in the loosest possible sense, of course. We start off outside a Welsh corner shop, where a group of people clearly in their 20s have to ask a passing adult if he’ll go into the shop and buy them some beer. Blah blah blah zombies, so they all scatter to the four winds as who we think is the film’s real hero tries to help them out. He’s Ben, and he’s driving to find Barbara, despite society rapidly collapsing around him.

There’s a rather nice touch here, which led me to believe this might not be a massive waste of my time. He calls and says “I’m coming to get you, Barbara” which is a reference to an early line in the 1968 film, and as he throws the phone down, we can see his contact photo is an early publicity still for it too. He’s also black, which is probably a callback to the original’s groundbreaking casting (or maybe it isn’t and I’m just oversensitive?). So, nice subtle touches, so far so good.

Then he spends three minutes of the film trying to steal some petrol from a car with some dead people in it. The film, not exactly speedy up to this point, grinds to a halt and it never really bothers starting up again. To get to the root of it, I’m going to have to spoiler it slightly, but nothing past the first 30 minutes. So, Ben is seen driving down deserted roads, and finds a farmhouse. He takes his petrol cannister…and the family inside the house shoot him. So long, Ben! Now, it might reasonably be said at this point “why the balls did we just spend all that time watching Ben do nothing if you were only going to kill him off?” but we’re all wasting our time here.

Feel the excitement!

Feel the excitement!

So, we get the same old familar zombie movie beats, but with Welsh accents and the occasional “twist” to keep you guessing. There are some half-decent ideas in it, but buried under rotten acting and a budget of around zero.

If you were thinking of watching this, almost certainly due to the title, don’t bother. Please. It’s not good, or especially bad, it’s just really really boring. By the end, I was desperate for the credits because it meant I could get on with organising my sock drawer. It’s really that “nothing” a film, and it seems these filmmakers have form with doing “sequels” to “Silent Night, Bloody Night” and “House on the Edge of the Park”. Shame on them, really. It’s nothing to do with actually making sequels to beloved old horror classics, but using titles that have apparently fallen into the public domain in order to rip off people who aren’t paying attention.

It’s all so thoroughly depressing and pointless. I’ve been watching my sleeping dog for the past few minutes, and doing that was more entertaining than this. Avoid avoid avoid.

Rating: thumbs down

Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009)

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I wonder sometimes about publicity, even from a site as small as ours, being bad for some films. Like, they’re so *nothing* that just mentioning them, keeping their name out there, is a negative act. But let’s suffer through this one together.

Zombies attack people in the flat, boring bit of LA, and there are some cops who both love the same woman. Well, two cops. “Some” cops might have been interesting. Anyway, a fairly well-written story of a love triangle is bolted on to a boring zombie movie. This film features different sorts of zombies, but the main ones are fast ones, and I consider myself a slow-zombie purist.

I’m getting better at summing up films quickly! A few famous names from B-movies pop up for extended cameos, and if you’re really really starved of entertainment, or you’ve fallen and can’t reach the remote when this film comes on, you might have a third of a good time.

The main thing about this one is the sheer sense of pointlessness that runs through it like words through a stick of rock. One asshole went to another asshole “hey, how about a Christmas zombie movie?”, that guy’s Dad maybe knew someone at a production company, lo and behold, we get this. The sheer amount of effort that must have been spent on getting this film made is staggering when you get to the lack of any sort of reward for their action. It’s not bad, by any stretch, but badness is its own sort of entertaining, as readers of this site will know. It’s not good either. It’s just nothing.

I don’t think a single person has a strong opinion on this film. Not any of the people who made it, not any of the people who starred in it and certainly not any of the people who saw it. I’d like a ten-year moratorium put on zombie movies, and after that, we just pick the scripts that are worth a damn to make. Not this. Seriously, watching this has bummed me out more than “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” ten times in a row.

Rating: thumbs down

His duckface impressed no-one

His duckface impressed no-one

The Zombinator (2012)

Of the caption, the only word I agree with is

Of the caption, the only word I agree with is “A”

I wish this was a real documentary, and everyone involved was really killed for real by a bunch of zombies. Or, failing that, the wrap party was blown up by people who love cinema. This is probably one of the five worst films I’ve ever reviewed for this site, and it’ll take a really really bad one to bump it down the list.

My review notes are full of questions, like “why are they doing this?” and “why did they make this film?” But it’s my job to try and formulate coherent thoughts, otherwise I could just replace this review with one long fart sound and it would be the same.

A film crew is making a documentary about a fashion blogger. If your first question is “why would anyone make a documentary about a fashion blogger?” then you’re keeping pace with me. The blogger and her friends take the crew to a patch of wasteland just outside town, and while the girls go off for a stroll, the cameraman spends a few minutes interviewing the sound guy. Why would anyone leave this clip in a film, presuming in this film’s world this footage was edited after the fact? Who knows? They then go to a party, which turns out to be a wake for a local guy who joined the army, and they carry on making the documentary at the wake. Huh?

A couple of points become immediately apparent – one is that not all of the people in this film are good at pretending they’re in a documentary; and two is that the filmmakers are bad at pretending this is a documentary too, as there’s multiple camera angles on lots of shots, and it gets way worse later. They appear to abandon the documentary concept when a band starts playing at the wake, but no – they sort of try to maintain it right to the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This garbage “Cloverfield” really kicks off when zombies start attacking people at the wake, and everyone loses their minds. The survivors run off to what they claim to be a school, and meet a group of people filming a ghost-hunting documentary with a couple of priests along for the ride; this group say they got permission from “the homeowner”, a weird choice of words when you’re in a school. They stay there way too long, no-one says “hold on, when did the church start believing in ghosts?” and after wandering round a few derelict rooms, they head off somewhere else and meet the Zombinator.

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He’s an army guy who fills us in on the plot, which I’m going to spoil to hell because none of you should be watching this garbage. Zombie-ism is a military-created virus which they were going to sell to the highest bidder – one of several examples of a sort of extremely naive left-wing ideology that runs through this movie (as a leftie, I found myself embarrassed for the 16-year old who apparently wrote the script). Anyway, even though he looks nothing like the Terminator at all, one of the kids makes the comparison so this film can have a better title than “Not Another Awful Fashion Blog Documentary Zombie Movie”.

There’s bad army guys in town checking on their investment, so while there’s a fairly lengthy religious scene in the middle of the movie, we see them trying to capture the Zombinator and make sure there’s no evidence of their crimes. Blah blah blah.

This film made me angry with its badness. Firstly is the pointlessness of the documentary concept, when you’re just going to abandon it ten minutes in but keep every bit of footage in the movie cheap-looking and handheld. There are times when the camera is clearly not supposed to “exist” in the world of the movie, like when it’s right next to the bad guy who has a gun, but this is mixed in with scenes where the cameraman is part of the action. A scene where someone films a guy get snuck up on and eaten, five feet away, AND DOES NOTHING makes this impossible to accept. It makes no sense whatsoever, but this pales in comparison to my chief bugbear with all found footage movies – there comes a time when continuing to film everything that goes on is severely detrimental to your health. Someone asks this in the movie, and gets the answer that they need to film this in case it’s a government conspiracy. Okay, I get that, just, but when you’ve filmed an hour of people getting eaten, do you never think “well, I’ve got enough footage now, time to put the camera down and concentrate on not dying”?

We’ve got poor acting, a plot that doesn’t stand up to the first second of scrutiny, a concept the movie itself doesn’t seem to be bothered to maintain, and a stupid non-ending. Have I covered everything? Oh, there’s the couple that breaks up, on camera, hinting at some deeper backstory, then three seconds later are fine again and in each other’s arms. There’s the way hundreds and hundreds of zombies stealth-attack people, again and again. There’s the OH MY GOD THIS IS BAD PLEASE STOP THINKING ABOUT IT

The sole interesting thing about this movie is its creation. The director, Sergio Myers, is a fairly successful reality TV producer, and shot this movie in four days while in Youngstown, Ohio to make an actual documentary, working with volunteers from the fashion website he was covering and no script (I guess that answers the question “who’d make a documentary about a fashion blogger?) I said interesting, I didn’t say worth watching, and I kind of have an inkling that there’s some stretching of the truth going on there – there’s too many locations and too many zombies for them to have managed to pull it off from a standing start in four days.

I hope Myers sticks to producing TV I have no interest in, or that he bothers to write a script for his next one. For fun, though, go read his IMDB profile, and if anyone thinks it was written by someone other than Myers, I’ve got some good real estate on the moon to sell you. What a thoroughly boring, depressing film this is.

Rating: thumbs down

Knight Of The Dead (2013)

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You’ll notice that the poster above says “Black Death was only the beginning”. This seems to be a reference to Christopher Smith’s extraordinary film “Black Death”, starring Sean Bean, which is set in the same period. Now, a film that makes such a boast about one of my favourite films of the last decade really ought to be amazing, right?

Almost by definition of it being on this site, I’m afraid not. A group of knights and their priest go on a mission to carry what turns out to be the Holy Grail to…somewhere? It’s never really made clear, or maybe it was and I wasn’t paying attention by that point. Who knows?
Right at the start of their mission, they try and stop a woman from getting beaten up, by killing the guy doing it. The upshot of all this is this entire clan of people decide to go and kill them…and they also have to deal with some gang of people with weird masks on, who may or may not be the same people. Oh yes, and the black death actually turns people into zombies.
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Enough with that plot stuff, anyway. One of the characters uses a telescope despite them not being invented for at least another 200 years (this makes the historical woes in the latter Puppet Master films seem like very small potatoes), but without the telescope they wouldn’t be able to see the endless grey expanse the film is set in. It’s the dullest looking film I’ve seen in a very long time, and I presume someone made the (wrong) decision to put some sort of colour filter on the camera. It’s just a long trudge through murky rocky forests which is occasionally broken up by a fight with a group of people who look exactly like our heroes so it’s really difficult to tell who’s who.
There is literally no time in your life when you should pick this film over “Black Death”. If you’ve seen Black Death a thousand times already, or if Sean Bean beat you up once, you should still pick that over this. I felt bad hating this film initially, because of the good feeling I had built up towards “Black Death”, but I got over that pretty quickly, and you should too.
It’s not so much bad as utterly pointless. Why do this? How did such a nothing idea get all the way from page to the screen? Did they look at the rushes at the end of each day and go “yes, this is the best we could possibly be doing”? Eh, never mind any more. Let this film disappear and let our future film reviews at least be moderately entertaining rubbish.
Rating: thumbs down