Archive for the ‘Capsule Review’ Category

Review: The Grapes of Death

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 27 - 2009

GrapesOfDeathThe French may make great wine, but I have yet to see any evidence they can make a decent zombie movie. The best thing that can be said for Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death is that it is much better than his other undead attempt, Zombie Lake. Considering Zombie Lake is one of the worst films ever, that’s the very definition of damnation by faint praise. The other thing that can be said for it is Brigitte Lahaie naked. Of course, the woman made porn, so it’s not like this is your best chance to see that.

The Grapes of Death is about a nasty pesticide blend that poisons a batch of wine so thoroughly that everyone who drinks it becomes a rotting, sore-covered maniac/zombie. The film begins with our heroine on a train. A rotting dude gets on the train, kills her friend, and kicks off an interminable series of painfully slow pursuit sequences. Each is the same: our girl runs; meets up with another woman; the other woman gets killed and naked; repeat. Okay, near the end she meets up with some dudes who don’t get naked but do get killed. Wow, what a plot!

The languid pace strips any tension out of the already meager formula, leaving us with a cheap, sleazy and boring exploitation flick. At least the naked scenes are more or less evenly distributed and all the girls are hot, but a few gratuitous nude scenes and some tainted wine are all this zombie movie has to offer.

The Grapes of Death/France/1978

This movie was viewed as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month — see the initial reaction piece here.

Review: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 23 - 2009

plan9 It’s probably a bit of a stretch to say that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever made – not in a world with Uwe Boll and Troma films. Still, it’s not difficult to see how director Ed Wood’s disasterpiece earned that reputation. This is a bad movie. At points, it is so bad it’s good. But for the most part, it is just bad.

The movie is the story of a half-baked alien plot to resurrect the dead to convince Earth people of the existence of aliens, or take over, or both (it’s kind of unclear) and to stop them from discovering how to make sunlight explode and thereby destroy the universe (yes, really).

This story is told in voiceover, through lots of exposition by the characters and with a few weak action scenes. We do get some dead people wandering around – one of them, Tor Johnson, is actually even kind of menacing – and occasionally attacking people, but we get a lot more talking: poorly written, terribly acted, interminable talking. And then the occasional terrible effects sequence, including the pie plate on fire that serves as the movie’s climax.

If you love bad films for their badness, there are a few laughs here. If you are interested in film history, especially zombie film history, it’s worth seeing. But don’t expect much in either case or you’ll be disappointed.

Plan 9 from Outer Space/US/1959

This movie was viewed as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month — see the initial reaction piece here.

Dumb but fun:Dead Heist

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 25 - 2009

dead-heistLook at that cover and read the title and you’ll know pretty much what you are getting with Dead Heist. It’s an exceptionally cheesy blacksploitation heist movie with some zombie-like creatures thrown in. And it has Big Daddy Kane as some sort of one-man anti-zombie army.  It’s a brain-dead b-movie action flick with a chewy, undead center, but hey, that can be fun. In it, a band of none-too-bright dudes rob a bank, get stuck inside and then the pseudo-zombies come. Then Big Daddy Kane comes to kill the zombies.

Those zombies seem lifted directly from the old Vincent Price chestnut The Last Man on Earth (itself an incredibly important film in the development of the zombie genre!), which is to say that they are sort of weird zombie/vampire hybrids. They only come out at night and they hunger for blood — which implies vampire — but they are dumb and they are many — which is more zombielike. Regardless, this isn’t the kind of movie that necessitates deep analysis. It is the kind of movie you can enjoy while drunk, or high or perhaps both. I think the highlight is the climactic fight. It is one of the worst choreographed fight scenes I have ever witnessed: so bad, it circled around to being good.

Dead Heist/USA/2007

Utter shit: Zombie Doom

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 20 - 2009

violentshit3infantryofdoomThe alternate/original title for Zombie Doom is Violent Shit 3: Infantry of Doom and it is infinitely more informative than the title it is marketed under. This movie is violent, it is shit and, although it certainly does have zombies, there aren’t enough to qualify for the name Zombie Doom.

This movie is the work of the infamous Andreas Schnaas, a low-budget, ultra-sleazy German schlockmeister. It’s shot on video, it features the worst dubbing I have ever seen (conceivably it’s more tolerable in the original German, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it is just as bad) and it is one of the more painful movies I have ever endured. The plot shipwrecks three guys on an island populated by an army of machete-wielding, zombie-breeding nuts. The army of crazies is led by an enormous fat man in a fur thong. There is a mad scientist. There are some kung fu masters fighting the nutjobs. And some ninjas fighting the kung fu guys. And a lot of other random shit. None of it is really explained, and it makes very little sense.

I suspect the plot was a last-second addition to give the ultra-cheap — yet still somehow disturbingly graphic — gore, the  brutally graphic rape/murder/necrophilia scene and the regular violent deaths something to stick to: story as an excuse for the fact that every frame of this movie is suffused with sleaze, to the point where you want to take a shower after watching it. The main takeaway from this for me was to avoid everything else Schnaas has ever done. I suggest you do the same.

Violent Shit 3: Infantry of Doom/Germany/1999

Monster mash: Zombie Holocaust

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 18 - 2009

zombieholocaustWhat do you get when you cross an Italian zombie movie with an Italian cannibal movie? You get Zombie Holocaust (aka Dr. Butcher M.D.). And it literally borrows from at least one other movie — footage, actors, characters and plot elements are all lifted. I recognized footage and actors (reprising basically the same characters) from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) and I’ve heard some of the cannibal stuff and padding footage is lifted, too, although I can’t confirm it first hand. Besides stealing from at least one really great movie, it offers plenty of gratuitous gore and nudity. There’s one great kill scene with an outboard motor that basically justifies the entire movie’s existence. Also, lots of boobs and a bit of full-frontal nudity from a passably attractive actress.

The plot gives us some cannibals in New York City, who come from an island full of cannibals and zombies. Some people go to the island to investigate. Cannibals chase them. Zombies show up. Its tidy plot “twist” is a mad scientist who’s creating the zombies and converting the natives to cannibalism simultaneously; that’s right, he’s responsible for the whole thing!

For reasons I don’t really understand, I find all Italian zombie movies far more watchable than they have any right to be judged strictly on their quantifiable merits. It’s not of much interest for casual fans of the genre, but of moderate interest for the more dedicated student.

Zombie Holocaust/Italy/1980

Too slow: Undead

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 12 - 2009

undeadIn Undead we have yet another horror-comedy hybrid. It had some potential, but squandered it via uneven pacing that progressed to glacial by the midpoint of the film and an overly long run time. The story gives us zombies created by a meteor, some aliens and lots of crazy redneck/outback characters, most notably the fucking ninja-like nutjob hero in overalls with the triple-barrel shotgun. The characters all hole up with our hero and slowly succumb to the zombie menace as we even more slooowly discover what is really going on. The film is Australian and it definitely looks to Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s work for inspiration — a bit too much, really. It goes beyond inspiration, beyond homage and veers dangerously close to slavish imitation. Still, despite the problems it is probably worth a look, if for no other reason than some great visual gags including a killer zombie fish and an old lady that takes a meteorite straight through the head. Just be forewarned, that pacing is fucking slow. It’s a movie that would have been benefited greatly from an enthusiastic editor and a slimmed-down run time.

Mostly dead: Undead or Alive

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 7 - 2009

undeadoraliveIs the world ready for a zombie/western comedy with Chris Kattan? Will it ever be ready? The makes of Undead or Alive didn’t bother to ask that question, they just plowed ahead at full speed. The plot give us one of those cliche odd couples on the run, plus an Indian curse that creates zombies, a corrupt sheriff and lots and lots of stupid.

Not surprisingly, the humor here is largely slapstick and juvenile. Surprisingly, some of it actually manages to be funny. And despite being essentially worthless and mostly terrible, I have to admit it was strangely watchable. It was also pretty weird. The ending in particular was just fucking odd — I can’t really say anything about it without spoiling it, but it ranks up there with some of the weirder shit I have seen in any zombie movie and seems wildly out of place in such an essentially lighthearted movie.

I can’t exactly recommend this movie, and I definitely didn’t like it, but it had something … maybe with better leads, or a slightly more polished script, this could have been something worthwhile. As it is, it’s just odd. But if you’ve already seen everything else at the video store or you’re having your own thirty-day zombie fest, it might be worth watching.

Schlock waves: Shock Waves

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 5 - 2009

shockwaves You need proof that the Nazi zombie subgenre is cursed? How about the fact that Shock Waves is widely considered the best of the bunch and it sucks. It’s Ken Wiederhorn’s directorial debut and I have no idea how he was ever allowed behind the camera again afterward. He hasn’t worked since 1998 if IMDB is to be believed, so eventually folks caught on. If they had stopped him after this crap, maybe he wouldn’t have destroyed Return of the Living Dead II.

The problems of this movie are legion. The zombies are frequently referred to as “stylish” but I was unimpressed. They move in rigid sync with each other, wearing dumb goggles and looking for all the world like refugees from a Kraftwerk parody video. They aren’t scary and they’re easily the best part of the movie. The bastards don’t bite, preferring to drown their victims for the most part. The killings are ridiculous and unbelievable.

The movie gives us a creaky tour boat full of Americans who stumble on an island inhabited by former Nazi officer watching over a sunken ship populated by Nazi zombie super-soldiers. Then they get killed. Far too little happens and the movie jumps around a bit due to poor editing, direction and writing. It wasn’t quite incoherent but it was definitely befuddled. It wasn’t suspenseful, gory or funny. It also wasn’t interesting. But it did have Peter Cushing and John Carradine, for all the good it did. Worthwhile only for historical interest.

Slow ride: Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 29 - 2009

chopperchickszombietownOh, Troma, your films are so crazy. So self-consciously crazy, and so cheaply and shoddily put together with only the barest hint of competence. They always seem like the kind of thing that was conceived over a lunch of cheap booze and bad tacos, written and produced during a two-day cough syrup bender and shot over a long weekend fueled by trucker speed, Old Milwaukee and shitty weed. Case in point: Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town, a melange of wacky elements thrown together haphazardly in the vague hope that something cool will emerge.

Those elements include an evil scientist/mortician making zombies to work in a poisonous, radioactive mine; a gang of women bikers called the Cycle Sluts; a busload full of surly, blind orphans; a dwarf. All of these collide in the kind of secluded, small town that only exists in bad movies and, predictably, mayhem ensues. Despite the promise of the ingredients, the film manages to be pretty dull, due to the slow pacing and generally inept direction and editing. It just took forever to get anywhere, the payoff once it got there was minimal and for a zombie movie, the zombies sure took their time joining the action. I didn’t hate it, but I doubt I’d watch it again.

The scientist/mortician was Don Calfa, of Return of the Living Dead fame (played a mortician there, too). Also of note is that it is Billy Bob Thornton’s first film appearance. He gets eaten pretty quickly.

Strange appeal: Oasis of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 21 - 2009

oasisofthezombiesYou want more Nazi zombie badness? We got more Nazi zombie badness. French/Spanish Nazi zombie badness in the form of the cheap, schlocky Oasis of the Zombies from the early ’80s. In this slow, ponderous outing a group of treasure hunters run afoul of a group of Nazi zombies haunting an oasis where millions in stolen Nazi gold is hidden. The zombies are some kind of weird hybrid ghost-zombies who disappear at dawn (even though it’s clearly light out in several scenes…) and hide in the sand when they aren’t busy stalking and murdering.

The problems of this movie are legion. The set and production design is possibly the worst I have ever seen. For example, one bit of evidence the Nazis had been there was clearly just a slab of wood with a swastika clumsily painted on it in white. The story was weak, the writing was miserable and the dubbing was atrocious. Yet despite being a bad movie by most every measure, there was something strangely watchable about it. It had a nice sense of atmosphere and really hot girls, a few of which supplied the obligatory gratuitous nudity. It’s not worth the time if you aren’t a total zombie-movie fanatic, but I’d call it the best of the terrible Nazi zombie movies, for what little that is worth.

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