Review: Dead Set

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 2 - 2009

divina-deadsetc4The zombie apocalypse comes to reality TV in the BBC miniseries Dead Set. The premise is that the cast of reality show Big Brother, locked away in a house isolated from the outside world, are among the few survivors of a plague of flesh-eating zombies. They don’t even quite realize what is up – they think the producers are “testing” them – until one of the remaining crew gets into the house, followed shortly by one of the zombies. From there, the story follows a fairly predictable – or classic, if one prefers – curve as some are bit, a supply run is undertaken, more survivors make their way to the compound and finally, things unravel spectacularly.

Haters of speedy zombies might want to tune this one out – these bastards can move. The show gets credit, though, for not setting the characters into a situation where this speed would make escape impossible without cheap editing tricks as many fast-zombie films do. There are no scenes  where they’re surrounded … then cut, and they’re a few steps ahead all of the sudden, for example. The zombies look great, with creepy, white-irised eyes and lots of apparent wounds – everything from torn flesh to missing limbs.

The show uses a lot of cuts and angles to keep the gore from being too excessive for mainstream consumption but considering that this was on TV (pay TV, if I understand correctly, but still) the gore factor is remarkably high. It comparable, gore-wise, to something like Dexter in the U.S. – plenty of grue, but not so much as to classify it as a truly gory show for those that revel in such.

The creators clearly know and love their zombie lore. There’s at least one direct nod to each of George A. Romero’s first three zombie movies, including direct quotes from Night of the Living Dead (“They’re coming to get you Barbara”), parallel dialog from Dawn of the Dead (a character suggests the zombies are attracted to the studio where they’re holed up by some sort of “primitive intuition” and opines that the place used to be “like a church to them”) and a visual quote and parallel dialog from Day of the Dead where an obnoxious character gets torn apart by a mob of zombies while spouting curses at them the whole time. It’s not just Romero, either – at one point a character says another has “a face like a Manchester morgue” (clearly a reference to The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie).

They fail, however, at putting across a message as well as Romero or even Let Sleeping Corpses Lie – those films are admittedly heavy handed, but clear in what they have to say. Apart from the very obvious and zombie-film standard message inherent in the fact that it’s the failure to work together that causes nearly all of the problems for the survivors, this seems to be vaguely condescending toward and condemnatory of the reality-TV generation and surveillance state, but what the exact message is – if any – is unclear. It would have added depth to the proceedings if made a little clearer – or streamlined it if jettisoned all together. It’s also entirely possible that the difficulty in transmission stems from subtle but deep differences between British and American culture that leave me somewhat in the dark as to some of the targets here.

Despite that minor quibble, the writing, direction and acting are all up to the task – Jaime Winborn is particularly good as Kelly, and Andy Nyman turns in an impressive, scenery-chewing performance in the role of the bastard lead producer, Patrick. The only real complaint is the pacing is a bit off – things start off slow before catching stride, then drag a bit in the third and fourth episodes and seem a bit rushed in the fifth and final episode. Still, considering how well the creepiness, jump scares, drama and laughs all work overall, this is a minor issue. Falling short of greatness, Dead Set has to settle for being very good – but in a genre as heavily weighted to the terrible end of the scale as zombie film is, very good is high praise, indeed.

Dead Set/U.K./2008 – Made for TV

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

Review: Return of the Living Dead III

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 13 - 2009
Watch out, she bites

Watch out, she bites

Unlike the first two movies in the series, which planted tongue firmly in cheek for one great horror comedy (the original) and one below average one (the sequel, reviewed here), Return of the Living Dead III abandons the humor angle and takes a much darker tone. It’s a strange decision, considering that fans must have been expecting something in the same vein as the first two, but for a while it almost – almost – works. Then the admittedly meager promise of the beginning falls apart, leaving a tattered mess

The story this time around focuses more intently on the army’s involvement with Trioxin, the gas that reanimates the dead. Being the army, they are trying to weaponize it. Being the army in this series, they are utterly and completely incompetent, to a degree that is beyond ridiculous. The whole plot hinges on this incompetence and unfathomably lax security around base.

The leads are an army brat and his goth girlfriend. The two of them witness a reanimation test that goes awry, leading to some death and dismemberment. When she ends up dying in a motorcycle accident shortly thereafter, he decides to reanimate her. Once she’s back, they have a run in with some gangsters, she starts eating people, the army tries to catch her and bring her back, she tries to re-kill herself and things get more ludicrous by the second until it finally ends.

The film takes two serious liberties with the original. First, the bite of a zombie makes more zombies, which was not the case in the original — only exposure to Trioxin created zombies. Second, they introduce the idea that pain allows the zombie to control its need to feed. That’s in direct opposition to the original, where the pain of being dead was what caused the zombies to cave brains in the first place. These changes are extremely obnoxious.

On the plus side, the second change does offer an excuse for Julie — the girlfriend — to transform herself into the sexiest (yeah, I said it), most badass zombie you’ve ever seen. She pushes glass, scrap metal and chains though her skin, strips down to almost nothing and ends up looking like an extremely gruesome BDSM fetish model – which is kinda hot, admittedly. I assume that was the real reason for this movie.

The look of the zombies was wildly inconsistent. The original experiment zombie looked fantastic – dead, creepy and believable. Later, some zombies that get released from Trioxin canisters look subhuman, like trolls or goblins, rather than rotting, reanimated corpses. Most of the rest, such as the clerk Julie eats early on, just looked cheesy and bad. The credits list three different studios for the zombie work, which explains the inconsistency. Why they didn’t stick with the original studio and look is a mystery.

Considering the lack of continuity in tone from the first two movies and the extreme liberties taken, RotLD III would have been better served to abandon the connection altogether and set itself up as an entirely new movie. It would still be pretty crap, but at least it would have been more original crap then and wouldn’t have suffered from the comparison to the original.

Return of the Living Dead III/US/1993

After the break, enjoy a NSFW pic of Julie in all of her BDSM zombie-babe glory

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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.

Amateur hour: Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 6 - 2009

deathvalleyThe distinguishing feature of Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill was consistency. It consistently displayed utter incompetence in every element of the movie, without exception. In so many bad movies you can point to a good idea, or a good performance, or something good. Not here. This thing sucked thoroughly in every possible way.

Admittedly, a few things sucked worse than others, so maybe it wasn’t completely consistent. The music stands out for dishonorable mention. Ralph Rieckermann, you should never be allowed near music again. And seriously, why did such terrible music have to be played so often and so long? It was way too much music by general film standards.

The acting was also amazingly, universally bad. Stilted delivery, scenery chewing overacting and missed cues, sometimes all from one actor in one scene? Brilliant! Almost all the actors also had the dubious distinction of being unappealing in every way, although I have to admit the final girl/lead Chelsea Jean was okay. She couldn’t act at all, but I have a thing for spunky redheads.

The direction and cinematography — both by Byron Werner — were clumsy, amateurish and distractingly bad. Amazingly, Werner makes his living as a cinematographer. Admittedly, on crappy, low-budget projects, but still. This was bad. The shots were consistently framed in a way you couldn’t tell what the fuck was going on, or at least couldn’t see it even if you could guess by context. Far too many cheesy, MTV-style effects were used, mostly at random times. Everything was poorly lit and most of it was underexposed. According to the credits this was shot on film, yet it managed to look a lot like crappy digital video. The editing sucked, too. There were obvious mistakes in shots, cuts that lingered too long, cuts that cut too soon. The editing wasn’t done by Werner, but I assume it was under his direction, so I will blame him for that too.

And we haven’t even gotten to the plot, yet. Ready for a shocker? The story was terrible. It started with a flaky premise, shot that full of holes, then fell apart halfway through. A drug dealer stumbles onto a cursed town and gets eaten by zombies. Then his drug dealer boss carjacks a van full of teens (seriously? a big-time coke dealer can’t afford his own car?) on their way to some tournament and forces them to go to the town to find the drugs and money. Zombies come for them. Luckily, one of the kids knows all about the legend of the town and the horrible, evil, no-good undead Confederate that haunts it! Unluckily, that proves to be completely useless! Luckily, one of the girls (the one I liked) turns out to look like his sister! She uses this to trick him after everyone else is dead and mercifully, the film ends.

So, yeah. I’m afraid Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill earns a spot in the hall of shame. One of the worst movies I have ever seen.

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.

Cemetery of Terror

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 1 - 2009

cemeteryofterrorI’m fairly certain that Cemetery of Terror is the first Mexican movie I have ever seen. If it is indicative of the quality of the Mexican film industry, I am not sure there’s any point in ever seeing another.

Sloppy, confused and unintentionally hilarious, Cemetery is a haphazard mish-mash of plotlines and ideas stolen from other movies. My best guess is the director/writer saw poorly edited, bootleg versions of Halloween, Burial Ground: Nights of Terror and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things — or perhaps just overheard some garbled descriptions of them in a crowded restaurant — and decided to combine them (and probably a few more that didn’t occur to me) into one big mess of a movie. The confused plot concerns a Satanic killer named Devlon, the psychiatrist that’s chasing him, six dumb teens (one of whom looks at least thirty) partying in an abandoned house, a bunch of prepubescent trick-or-treaters out for a night of stupidity, an impossibly detached police chief (who happens to be the father of two of the trick-or-treaters), an evil book that can raise the dead and a terribly unconvincing cemetery. The killer gets killed, but our doctor knows that isn’t the end and tries to convince the police chief of the danger. The dumb teens find the evil book in the abandoned house and decide to steal a body and resurrect it to impress/scare their dates (yeah, because what woman isn’t impressed by a stolen corpse?). During the ceremony it starts raining (in one localized spot only, of course) and they take off just before the corpse begins walking around. Then it’s slasherville as the reanimated Devlon takes out the teens. Then the trick-or-treating kids get to the cemetery (a local dude helpfully gives them a ride .. wtf?) just in time for some bad special effects to appear and zombies to rise, then the kids take refuge in the house, blah blah blah, doctor shows up, blah blah, evil book must be destroyed, blahty blah blah … until the inevitable twist ending (which actually is kind of amusing and does have a genuine, if nonsensical, twist).

As I implied earlier, this is not a good film. It is, however, a frequently (and unintentionally) hilarious film. The mullets; the bad acting; the heavily bearded, overweight “teen” that has to be ten years older than the rest of his friends; the bizarre Michael Jackson-embroidered jacket one of the trick-or-treating kids is wearing; the frantic overacting and obvious way many of the actors look offscreen for their cues; and so, so much more actually made this kind of worth watching for the badness. It’s not much of a zombie movie, since the resurrected killer is definitely more of a supernatural slasher than a zombie and the real zombies don’t show up until the last twenty minutes or so, whereupon they proceed to act vaguely menacing while being totally ineffective.  Come at it expecting a watchable movie and you’ll be sorely disappointed, but get a few buddies, get a little wasted and go all Mystery Science Theater 3000 on this bad boy and you’ll enjoy it.

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