Archive for the ‘Capsule Review’ Category

Review: Invisible Invaders

Posted by Cory Casciato On September - 8 - 2010

Look! A zombie!

There’s not a lot of reason to seek out the forgettable and forgotten zombie-alien invasion movie Invisible Invaders. Maybe if you were on a quest to see every movie John Carradine ever made? Or a quest like my own, to see every zombie movie ever made? Both would suffice, but in either case, put it near the end of your list — it sucks.

Its primary sin is it’s boring. A story about unstoppable aliens who can reanimate the dead should not be this dull. But if you tell that story largely via voiceover and stock footage, I guess it isn’t too surprising. The majority of the rest of the “action” takes place in a bunker, where four people argue, fight and “do science.” The result of their “science” is a goofy looking sonic raygun prop that can stop the aliens, thus saving the Earth. Also, two of them fall in love and the asshole guy dies.

Zombies? Yeah, there are zombies. They’re pretty incidental, though. The aliens occupy dead people in order to … uh … occupy dead people? Once they strangle a guy and they seem to cause some trouble elsewhere, but mostly they just stagger around looking vaguely creepy. I guess cinematic scares were hard to come by in the ’50s and maybe this was enough? Anyway, these are among the least interesting zombies ever. Even Plan 9 from Outer Space has them beat.

To reiterate: don’t watch this, it really isn’t worth your time.

Invisible Invaders/US/1959

This movie was viewed as part of my third annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month — read the initial Invisible Invaders reaction piece.

Review: Night of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 21 - 2010

Once upon a time there was a porn star named Jamie Gillis. And that porn star went on to try his hand at acting in a zombie movie called Night of the Zombies (aka Gamma 693, Night of the Zombies 2 and probably a handful of other names). And since Gillis had the acting range and skill of a heavy, wooden plank, that movie was bad.

Oh, and it didn’t help that the story was nonsense, the writing was shit, the effects crappy, the pacing painfully slow and the sound and lighting totally deficient. So is there any reason — any reason at all — to see Gamma 693?

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mulberry Street

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 16 - 2010

When there’s no more room in the sewers, the rats will walk the Earth. Or so might run the honest tagline of Mulberry Street (aka Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street), one of the selections for the 2007 edition of After Dark’s Horror Fest.

The story focuses on the tenants of a Manhattan apartment building that are about to lose their apartments to make way for upscale development. Before that happens, there’s an unfortunate outbreak that turns people into zombie-like rat mutants. Together, the tenants must face the zombies. Er, rats. Whatever. In other words, it’s a basic zombie siege film, with a rodent twist.

At first the creatures look and act like zombies; later they go all ratty (elongated faces, big incisors, pointy ears) but still love biting the shit out of everyone. It’s a weird twist, and while I appreciate the desire to do something different, it comes off as being different solely for the sake of difference — there’s no real effect on the story, tone or even look of the movie except for the rat makeup near the end.

It’s a symptom of the film’s real issue, which is lack of focus. Weird subplots never get resolved and odd character notes go nowhere. The intent may have been to add depth, but the result is to simply distract from the heart of the film. Despite those issues, it’s a decently paced and quirky, if unremarkable, zombie movie that just ends up feeling a little muddle-headed.

Mulberry Street/US/2006/

Review: Sugar Hill

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 2 - 2010

In 1974, two of film’s greatest movements — Blaxploitation and zombies — combined to form Sugar Hill, one of the most unjustly forgotten movies in film history. It’s the story of a woman (Marki Bey as Diana “Sugar” Hill) who turns to voodoo to get revenge on the powerful mobsters who murdered her boyfriend. With an army of chrome-eyed, cobweb-festooned zombies commanded by voodoo god Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), Bey dons a funky jumpsuit and takes out the mobsters in inventively horrible ways. The incredibly loud clothing, unique creature design and stylish camera work result in one of the most visually stunning entries in zombie film history.

In an interesting and rarely used twist, this movie really played up the voodoo angle, utilizing not just zombies but voodoo dolls and rituals, a voodoo-drum heavy soundtrack and a starring role for voodoo god/spirit Baron Samedi. The zombie design is unique — and awesome — as well. The cobwebs, blank expressions and weird, silver eyes were both cool and creepy. I’m actually somewhat surprised no one has used that look since. It’s very effective.

Okay, the plot is paper thin, the acting is generally mediocre with occasional flashes of scenery-chewing insanity and it’s non-PC to the point of being embarrassing to modern sensibilities. But you don’t go to a Blaxploitation/zombie film looking for deep plot, deft characterization or a message — you go for jive talking, corpse raising, and ass kicking, and it delivers all of that in abundance.

Sugar Hill/US/1974

Parts of this review originally appeared in my initial reaction piece when I viewed it as part of the 2009 Zombie Movie Marathon Month and in a piece I wrote for Westword.

Review: Revolt of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 12 - 2010

The pre-Romero history of zombie film is a litter of dull, sleepy films studded with the occasional gem. Revolt of the Zombies is not one of the gems. Revolt is the second zombie film from White Zombie director Victor Halperin but it lacks even that film’s somewhat dated charms and plays like a third rate ripoff of it. Clearly Halperin was out of ideas and hoping to capitalize on his previous success (he even “borrowed” the effect of superimposing Bela Lugosi’s eyes over certain scenes, despite the fact Lugosi is not in this movie).

Supposedly, Revolt is the tale of an expedition to discover the source of a zombie-creating agent to make an army of zombie super soldiers. There is one cool early scene of a horde of Cambodian zombie soldiers getting shot at and not dying or even reacting. Neat! In reality, the rest is a turgid, melodramatic love story about a guy, the girl he loves, and his best friend. Who she loves, naturally. Blech. Anyway, the guy who loves the girl learns the zombie secret and uses it to … try to get the girl. Really?

He controls everyone around him but the girl, creating a massive zombie army. And uh, does nothing with it. Then he realizes she will never love him, he releases his zombies (they aren’t dead, just hypnotized into a mindless, obedient state) and they turn on him. The end. Lame. Next time, more zombie army, less retarded love story, please.

Revolt of the Zombies/US/1936

Review: King of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 26 - 2010

The pre-WWII potboiler King of the Zombies is more spy movie with zombies as a plot device than zombie movie, and it’s a dull, plodding spy movie at that. Two men and their faithful, comedy-relief black servant (I mention his race because it’s a constant theme in the movie) crash land on an island somewhere in the Bahamas. There they find a Nazi (not identified as such, but not hard to decipher) scientist who’s using voodoo to raise a zombie army and interrogate a captured admiral. A lot of not very much happens, the black servant (played by Mantan Moreland) does a lot of icky playing to broad stereotypes, some “zombies” shuffle around not very menacingly, the scientist gets caught and killed, the end.

I’m not one to hew to political correctness, but the way blacks are presented in this movie is hard to ignore. I know it was a different time, but it’s a very “gee, aren’t uppity negroes just hilarious! And isn’t it even more hilarious when they get put in their place!” kind of thing. It essentially takes over most of the movie, making it into a grotesque, anachronistic race-relations slapstick. Moreland seems a decent, perhaps even gifted actor, but he’s given a shitty row to hoe, here.

The bottom line is, this isn’t much of a zombie movie. The zombies are just stiff-shouldered black guys who don’t do anything. Pass on this one unless you’re determined to thoroughly explore the history of zombie film.

King of the Zombies/US/1941

Note: King of Zombies has entered the public domain, so if you’re curious, you can watch or download it from the Internet Archive.

Review: Awaken the Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 19 - 2010

In Awaken the Dead, a priest with a dark past teams up with a shut-in prostitute (the daughter of the man he worked for in said dark past) during a citywide zombie infestation. Together, they rescue survivors, kill zombies and eventually uncover the secret behind the zombie outbreak.

Sound promising? Perhaps, in its small way. But the execution here was so flawed that any promise of the premise was quickly squandered. For starters, the whole thing was shot in the ugliest, blurriest, shittiest style I have ever seen. At least 90 percent of it used this horrible faux sepia tone effect. As a result, it was often difficult to tell what was going on. I couldn’t tell you if most of the zombie makeup and effects were good, because I could barely see them. The zombies did seem inconsistent — some had a sort of a demonic visage, others just looked like people with bloody faces.

The story was flimsy, but not terrible. The writing was frustratingly inconsistent: fairly solid at one minute, ridiculous the next. Same with the direction. The acting was actually decent, at least in the case of the leads (the priest, the prostitute and a Jehovah’s Witness they pick up early on). It was nothing special, but higher than usual quality for a film of this caliber.

All told, Awaken the Dead is entirely forgettable and not really worth your time. Its few positive points are outweighed by the terrible look, inconsistent execution and general dullness.

Awaken the Dead/US/2007

Review: Deadlands 2: Trapped

Posted by Cory Casciato On November - 5 - 2009

deadlands2The second film in auteur Gary Ugarek’s Deadlands series, Deadlands 2: Trapped, manages to improve in almost every way from the original Deadlands: The Rising. The zombies look decent, it moves at a much better clip than the original and it’s well shot considering the minimal budget, with an oversaturated and washed-out look that’s questionable, but not necessarily bad. The acting is passable for a microbudget zombie flick, but the dialog is execrable and the story is derivative and meandering. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of strangers are trapped by the strange, murderous mobs of zombies that are suddenly everywhere as a result of a government test… Derivative can be okay, but you have to execute well enough to make it enjoyable, and D2:T simply does not.

In my review of the original Deadlands, I noted that apart from a whole lot of enthusiasm for zombies, writer/director/producer/star Ugarek had little or no skill in any of the areas needed to bring a zombie movie to life. That’s no longer true. He’s wisely abandoned acting. He’s a competent producer. His direction is decent, but shooting his own writing, he doesn’t have the distance to see where it doesn’t work, leaving us with interminable stretches of back story and needless setup. I’m pretty sure Ugarek could take a decent script and make a decent movie, but his inability to write either dialog or story torpedoes any gains made in other areas.

Deadlands 2: Trapped/US/2009

Review: The Earth Dies Screaming

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 15 - 2009

earthdiesscreamingI do love a movie with a great name, and The Earth Dies Screaming is a great name if I ever heard one. The movie itself? Not bad, but not great either. The whole thing kicks off with a sequence where everyone dies. Trains crash, planes crash, people fall down dead in the street — your basic apocalypse. A few survivors in England group together and figure out that it’s some kind of gas attack, perpetrated by robots — alien robots to be more specific. And the alien robots reanimate corpses to use as slaves, which is where the zombie element comes in.

earthdiesscreaming_zombiesIn terms of rough plot outlines and imagery, TEDS seems a clear predecessor to Night of the Living Dead. You have the same ragtag group of survivors thrown together by circumstance — and a very similar interpersonal conflict within the group fueled by its more weaselly members. You have the same staggering, reanimated corpses — although these don’t eat anyone and can be dispatched with a few shots in the gut. But what it really lacks is the grim, gritty realism that made NotLD so special — this feels stagy and typical of movies of its era. Everyone is remarkably chill considering they’re the last  people on Earth and are being stalked by both alien robots and the walking dead. And it has a resolutely upbeat ending that’s pretty cheesy. As I said, not bad — just a little slow and finicky, and a bit hard to swallow.

The Earth Dies Screaming/UK/1964

Review: Deadlands: The Rising

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 31 - 2009

deadlandsTake a whole lot of enthusiasm for the zombie genre and a complete and utter lack of talent or skill in any of the disciplines needed to make a movie, stir well and you will get Deadlands: The Rising. The debut feature from director/writer/producer/star Gary Ugarek, D:TR is a run of the mill zombie apocalypse tale. Bioweapon is used, the dead walk, society crumbles. Ho hum. The story is not only utterly pedestrian, it’s executed poorly. For example, I do not need interminable scenes of dudes shooting guns at bottles. This does nothing for me, or for the movie.

As apparent as it is that Ugarek loves zombie movies, it is also painfully apparent he has no idea how to write, act, direct or produce one. The movie is technically shoddy, the makeup is perfunctory, the acting is … well, the best actor is the wild-eyed, scenery-chewing redneck that tries to organize a shelter full of refugees to prepare for the onslaught of zombies. And despite being the best here, he is, by all standard measures, one of the worst actors I have ever seen. Everyone else is just listless and boring; at least he’s good for a laugh. The whole thing meanders, and even at a brief 63 minute runtime, it still feels slow. It’s not the worst zombie movie ever made (I still give that nod to Zombie Night) but it’s also pretty much without merit as entertainment, much less art.

Deadlands: The Rising/US/2006

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