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.

Inspiration Re-Animated: Night of the Dead: Leben Tod

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 20 - 2009

lebentodSo many movies rip off the Romero canon that is is great to see the occasional movie that rips off something else. The something else ripped off by Night of the Dead: Leben Tod is Re-Animator, a classic in its own right. And in the course of ripping it off, NotD: LT turns out to be a pretty solid zombie outing.

The plot is a little convoluted. There’s a pregnant woman and her husband, who is the nephew/intern of a mad doctor who runs some sort of bizarre private clinic. There’s the reanimating serum he’s developing — bright, fluorescent pink instead of green, here. Then you throw in a bunch of goofy yet creepy sidekicks, some dead family members and an unlucky bunch that chooses the worst possible place to stop for help in a medical emergency. Shake and bake those elements and let the good times roll — flesh-eating mayhem and buckets of gore ensue. Seriously, buckets – this film doesn’t skimp on the grue.

The uneven pacing — some passages move along at an excellent clip, while others take forever to go anywhere — and some weak acting dragged this one down, but it had its moments. Like the hilariously cheap-looking car accident that triggers one of the main plot points. Or the hen-pecked mad scientist lead role. Or the little girl that just loves to eat the living. It’s not as funny or as well-executed as its inspiration, but for a shot-on-video, low-budget zombie movie it’s quite enjoyable.

Soporific: Outpost

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 17 - 2009

outpostLest I give the wrong impression by reviewing one good Nazi movie (Dead Snow) after reviewing only one terrible one (Zombie Lake), I thought it was time to balance the scales with another, typically awful stab at the Dead Reich genre. In this case, the 2008 snoozefest Outpost serves as our example. In this turkey, unkillable Nazi soldiers are created by a last-ditch effort to harness a “Unified field” via a “unified field generator” as the Nazi regime is collapsing at the end of WWII. Then some modern day mercenaries get involved, and mayhem ensues. Very, very slowly.

The director was obviously trying to go for atmosphere over gore or action, but come on! There’s a certain amount of action implied for a movie chock full of mercenary killers and undead evil. Instead we got lots of futzing around and weird, awkward attempts to borrow from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Stargate movie — at least, that’s where my mind wandered during one of the many interminable scenes. The acting was barely conscious and the film used some kind of filter than made everything look grainy, washed out and ugly. In short, a total mess, well worthy of its place of (dis)honor amongst its crappy Nazi zombie brethren.

John Carpenter does zombies: Prince of Darkness

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 16 - 2009

princeofdarknessJohn Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is another one of those movies with lots of zombies that isn’t exactly a zombie movie. I’m not sure what it is exactly; the whole thing is a little confusing. It does have a lot of Carpenter’s signature “people under siege” action and apocalyptic themes — both zombie movie staples — and but there’s too much other weirdness going on to call it a zombie movie.

The muddled, dense plot involves an ancient order of priests called the Brotherhood of Sleep who watch over a cylinder containing a green fluid that is somehow Satan. Supposedly, these priests have held the true, secret meaning of Christ’s message until the world had the technology to defeat Satan, but the last brother of the order dies, kicking off a series of events that sees a non-initiated priest (Donald Pleasance!) take up the mantle. He brings in a crack team of wacky quantum physicists, biochemists, a linguist and other grad student-y types to figure out a way to stop the Dark Lord, who seems to be hatching out of his container. As they look at lots of columns of numbers on ’80s-era computers and listen to fancy machines go “ping,” old Scratch starts stirring things up. His shenanigans include raising the dead as murderous zombies (yay!), compelling schizo homeless folks to act murderous and zombielike (yay!), a little telekinesis, a spot of possession … you know, the usual. These lead up to a climactic confrontation that involves a lesion-covered possessed woman reaching into mirrors to pull out the Prince of Darkness. I think. There are lots of other sweet occurrences such as a videotape-recorded, backwards-traveling message from the future, Alice Cooper, angry insects, lots of green fluid that gets spewed around, a guy that melts into beetles, impalements, a sweet pornstache and several fantastic mullets … you know, the usual.

So much about this movie, from the haircuts to the actors utilized, screams ’80s that it can be a little distracting. Or vastly amusing, depending on your outlook on the ’80s (I lived through them already, so don’t find them that funny). It stars Jameson Parker (he’s the one with the sweet pornstache) fresh from ’80s TV sensation Simon & Simon and the female lead has a toned-down version of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust mullet, which was an inexplicably popular woman’s haircut at the time. There’s so much going on with the story that none of it makes a whole lot of sense and none of it is explained. The zombies are pretty low key (they just get a shitty skin tone and staring eyes) and the gore is fairly light, but there are some nice kills and a few jump scares. You can throw in some really clunky acting and the fact that this is one of Carpenter’s less polished directorial efforts and what you end up with is something of a mess – an entertaining mess, but a mess nonetheless. Still, while it isn’t the classic some partisans might claim it to be, it also isn’t the unwatchable train wreck others have labeled it. Don’t expect too much of it and there’s some fun to be had here.

Icky: I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 14 - 2009

izombieFor all of its flaws, I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain is interesting for the simple fact that it is a novel yet faithful take on the familiar zombie mythos. It’s a thinker of a zombie film about a man who tries to help a sick woman (zombie), gets bitten and descends into zombiedom. He chronicles his reluctant embrace of cannibalism as he is driven to murder people and eat their flesh in order to stave off the crippling effects of the zombie disease. His body disintegrates into a grotesque, oozing mess of living death shown in a painstaking close-up style reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. As a story told from the titular zombie’s point of view, it inverts the usual expectations. The horror here comes not from his victims trying to escape, but from the personal psychlogical and physiological trauma of literally falling apart in the painful transformation to zombiedom.

The gore is low budget and occasionally cheap looking but there are several ghastly moments, especially the infamous genital trauma (wang loss) during an ill-conceived masturbation session. It was a little too smart for its own good, which made it talky and glacially paced and the acting is barely competent. Don’t expect a lot of excitement, but the realistic approach — zombiism presented as a degenerative, fatal disease — and novel point of view make it worth a watch.

Limp noodles: The Quick and the Undead

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 9 - 2009

quickandundeadIf you’ve ever wanted to see one of Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns remade as a cheap, schlocky zombie gore-fest, The Quick and the Undead will make you very happy. Until you actually watch it, anyway.  The basic premise is that 85 years after biowar weapons create zombies, large swathes of the world are overrun. Bounty hunters make a living by exterminating the foul beasts and collecting their fingers to claim their bounty. Two rival hunters square off, lots of double dealing ensues, people get killed, people get eaten, stupid plot twist after stupid plot twist is revealed and the hero rides off in the sunset.

The plot made no sense to even cursory examination. See, the main bad guy is supposedly scheming to create more zombies because he’s afraid his livelihood is running out. Great, except that the whole freaking world is still overrun. Every corner they turn is crawling with freaking zombies. A better plan might have involved not teaming up with so many untrustworthy idiots. Less shares of the loot to dole out, less double-crossing, fewer utter dumbasses fucking up your groove.

It didn’t help that the acting was atrocious. The direction, production and writing — all from one guy, no surprise — were abominable. The movie looked like shit and the ham-fisted steals from Eastwood/Leone classics came off not as homage but as pathetic mockery. All in all, it was just a total mess.

Dead Snow

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 7 - 2009

deadsnowBased on the average quality of Nazi zombie movies, I thought it would be a cold day in hell before I saw a good one. I was almost right. The Norwegian Dead Snow is easily the best Nazi zombie movie I have ever seen — and it’s certainly cold.

Eight medical students head up to a secluded cabin for fun in the snow. Even before most of them have arrived, one falls prey to the as-yet-unseen undead soldiers. Shortly after the rest arrive, a mysterious and cranky old man appears to deliver the film’s back story (Nazis used to have an important base here, were evil, pissed off the locals, robbed them of their gold, were eventually chased into the mountains to freeze to death) before disappearing into the night to become the first victim we see get it. Before long, the revelers have found a stash of said stolen gold (what a surprise…) and the mayhem begins in earnest. From that point on, characters are dispatched at a decent pace in some impressive ways until the inevitable showdown between a whole army of mostly dead, extremely angry Nazis and a couple of survivors armed with tools.

This is a splatteriffic horror-comedy that wears its inspirations on its sleeve — almost literally, since one character is wearing a Braindead (aka Dead Alive) shirt. It’s the tone of that zombie classic — and, to a lesser degree the Evil Dead series, which is discussed by the same character at one point — the filmmakers seem to be aiming for, and they hit it for the most part. And while Dead Snow is nowhere near classic status itself, it is a lot of fun in its own way. The humor falls a little flat at times, but it manages to get off more good lines than bad. The writing and acting are both competent and more than up to the task of telling its meager story. The direction is impressive, apart from a few points where the pacing drags. Even better is the cinematography, which is beautiful and really makes the most of the bleak but gorgeous Arctic setting.

The zombie make up generally looks good but is a bit uneven — some zombies look pretty damn cheesy. The real star of the film is the outrageous gore. It’s creative, relentless and almost constant. The deaths and maimings are gruesome, clever and technically impressive. The highlight is several literally gut-wrenching intestine-centric scenes. Seriously, the filmmakers love the intestines. What Fulci was to eye trauma, these guys are to guts.

The movie does have some issues.  There’s no consistency to the toughness of the zombies. Some keep coming regardless of what’s done to them, others go down for the count after a single shotgun blast to the chest. The story itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you come right down to it — there’s a definite implication that the discovery of the Nazis’ gold stash is what riled them up, but at least two characters are killed by them before that happened. Since this isn’t a movie that takes itself too seriously, neither of these issues hurt it too much, but the nagging inconsistency was enough to subtract from its considerable charm nonetheless. Despite that, it’s definitely worth a look from any zombie fan, and it looks like U.S. audiences will get the opportunity, since a distributor picked it up  at Sundance.

Visit the movie’s web site to see a trailer and, hopefully at some point, information about its U.S. release.

Miscast: Uncle Sam

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 6 - 2009

unclesamThere are plenty of so-called zombie movies that are actually something else. Some just don’t feature enough zombies to be a zombie movie (say, Night of the Comet) and are simply movies with zombies in them — a subtle difference, but worth noting. Others have a creature that could well be considered a zombie, but so closely hew to the plot structure, pacing and style of a different type of movie — a slasher film, say — that they can’t really be considered a zombie movie. That’s the case with Uncle Sam.

The movie shows us the story of an angry Gulf War vet who returns home dead (well, undead) and proceeds to wreak havoc and seek revenge against anti-war protesters, politicians and anyone else he thinks wronged him in any way. Despite the wooden performances and heavy-handed yet  somehow sleepy direction, this managed to be pretty watchable, even moderately entertaining. Maybe it was the ultra-creepy Uncle Sam mask the zombie/slasher wore? The weird-ass kid? The presence of veteran character actors Isaac Hayes and Robert Forster? I did watch it late at night, so maybe I was a little out of it and that helped? It’s hard to say. In any case, this is really a mediocre slasher movie with a zombie-like slasher, not a zombie movie.

Super wacky: Wild Zero

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 3 - 2009

wildzeroAre you ready for a super wacky Japanese rock and roll zombie love story? That’s Wild Zero! And man, is it wacky! Think I am overselling it? Then just wait until you see how thick the actual movie piles it on.

It stars the ultra-cool band Guitar Wolf and a fan of the band named Ace, who really wants to be Guitar Wolf. A meteor brings the dead back to life as flesh-hungry zombies, Guitar Wolf is pursued by a double-dealing club manager, there’s a hot arms dealer and a transvestite who wins the heart of Ace. And it is so wacky.

I didn’t love this. It was too much rock-and-roll fantasy posturing and self-conscious wackiness and not enough zombie movie. It amounted to a long, self-indulgent music video in the vein of the old Beatles movies. It was still sort of entertaining, though. Just don’t believe the hype that this is anything special. It’s a mildly amusing, overly long, jokey music video for an overrated Japanese rock band — with zombies!

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