End of an era: Plague of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 20 - 2009

plaguezombiesFamed studio Hammer weighed in on the undead menace with Plague of the Zombies in 1966, just a few short years before Romero changed the genre forever. The excellent reference book The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia gives this move credit for pioneering zombies as decaying and hostile. Plotwise, it focuses on an evil squire’s plot to murder townsfolk so he can use their reanimated corpses in his tin mine and the efforts of a couple of doctors to stop him. It’s a fun, unintentionally campy movie that goes to show that whatever their failings, studios such as Hammer had the fundamentals of filmmaking down pretty well. It moves along at a decent clip (for its era, probably a bit slow for modern tastes); the acting, direction and editing are all competent or better; and the story isn’t completely full of holes. Even if it wasn’t a solid, well-executed zombie movie, it would be worthwhile to zombie fans for its historical value as both an early champion of the decaying, murderous zombies we’ve come to know and love, and as one of the very last zombie films made before Romero supercharged the zombie mythos with Night of the Living Dead. There’s a nice decapitation in it, too, which certainly doesn’t hurt its appeal.

A good start: Hell’s Ground

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 19 - 2009

hells-groundWelcome Pakistan to the international fraternity (is there a gender-neutral version of that word?) of zombie filmdom! Hell’s Ground is actually two different familiar horror plots shoved rudely together. The primary plot is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque creepy-family-in-the-woods vehicle. There’s a burqa-clad killer with a giant mace, and the greasy brother and the spooky older character (a mother, here) that should sound awfully familiar. Also, the six kids in a van that constitute our protagonists are an almost direct rip. Tacked on to that is a pollution-created zombie subplot that amounts to several scenes straight out of any post-Romero zombie flick.  A field full of zombies is shown, the kids get attacked by one zombie and – surprise! -  one of the kids (the handsome, slick player dude) gets bit and turn into a decaying, goop-yacking horror.

The underlying TCM engine that drives the movie is a classic choice and it’s decently, if uncreatively, executed. The zombie bits were well done but they are unfortunately few and far between. Basically, the zombies are an afterthought. You could cut those parts out entirely without losing much. The movie itself isn’t much more than a decent melange of familiar horror elements. Still, it’s more or less worth seeing just for the fact that it is a Pakistani zombie movie. It will fill the gap for that part of the world until we get a Bollywood zombie epic.

You can find more information on the film at its website, Zibhakhana.

Tiresome: Zombie Death House

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 18 - 2009

zombie-death-houseSweet lord, Zombie Death House was a chore and a half. Its biggest claim to fame is being the sole directorial effort of veteran character actor John Saxon. It’s obvious why he never directed again, although with this script he never had a chance. You have a Vietnam vet who gets framed and goes to prison where he faces John Saxon’s mad-science disasters in the form of the walking dead. Only it’s far, far more convoluted than that and not in any kind of good way. There are subplots layered upon subplots, flashbacks, endless exposition and more ridiculous crap – hell, we have several threads of plot introduced in the interminable five-plus minute opening credit sequence! Plodding, rambling and dumb as a bag of rocks, this film is as close to worthless as they come.

Bloodless: Blood of the Zombie

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 17 - 2009

deadoneBefore Romero came along and changed things forever, zombies were rarely very interesting on screen. As evidence, I present Exhibit A: Blood of the Zombie. It’s also known as The Dead One and that’s a pretty apt title — thee ain’t much life here. It’s a typical early-’60s bit of plodding, matinee-monster crap. A man inherits a plantation, upon condition of  getting married, so he takes his blushing bride down to check things out and take possession of the property. But his voodoo-practicing cousin has other ideas, and plans to murder the wife — via zombie — before the will can be executed. With one scenery chewing exception (the voodoo priestess cousin) the acting is totally wooden. The writing and direction are both awful. The zombie is as slow, unthreatening and uninteresting as the movie itself. The best feature of this movie was its runtime: 68 minutes — and that’s with some early padding scenes of belly dancers and jazz bands.

Getting colder: The Chilling

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 16 - 2009

chillingDespite the R rating, The Chilling has a very made-for-TV vibe. It’s a sloppy, uninspired zombie tale featuring a couple of recognizable faces, most notably Linda Blair of Exorcist fame and the guy who used to play Grizzly Adams. The plot involves a cryogenics facility, a doctor stealing organs from the frozen stiffs, an all-too-convenient lightning strike and some newly awakened, pissed-off dead folks. The whole thing is contrived, boring and pointless. It’s not good, not even a little bit. I was done with this movie well before it was done playing. I don’t know if you can make it out, but on that cover there, it says, “They came, they thawed, they conquered.” That joke, as lame as it is, is far better and infinitely more clever than the movie. At the very end of the movie, there’s also a Grizzly Adams joke tacked on that might, might coax a smile out of you if you have a warm reservoir of nostalgia for that particular hunk of ’70s cheese.  Unless you’re like me and simply must see every zombie movie ever made, don’t bother with this.

The Worst: Zombie Night

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 12 - 2009

zombienightThe worst zombie movie I’ve ever seen has got to be Zombie Night, and that’s really saying something. I mean, I have a totally different set of standards as to what is acceptable when it comes to zombie movies versus “regular” movies. It never even came close to watchable and the 93 minute run time was easily the longest hour and a half of my life. Seriously, I have had dental surgery that was more fun.

This is a movie that epitomizes fail in every possible way. The acting would make a bad high-school play look fucking awesome. The effects and makeup were just terrible. Stunt work? When a zombie “attacked” it basically touched its victim who then immediately fell down. Even the sound design was laughable — for the wet chewing/smacking noises of a zombie feast, they appear to have recorded something splashing around in a tub, for example.  As far as I could tell, there was no script whatsoever and the direction matched the level of the writing (i.e. it was nonexistent). Production values? None — it appears to have been shot on location in a semi-abandoned office park and there is clearly visible traffic in the background of one scene, despite the supposed apocalypse. Plot? I guess there was one — something about World War III, and chemical weapons as a causative agent for zombies. There are some people and they find some other people and then there’s the bad guy that keeps screwing everything up and then rejoining the group…

It was just a big, hot mess that made no sense at all. Shoddily imagined, horribly executed and all-around painful to experience.  Do not misunderstand — this is not a so-bad-it’s-good type movie. This genuinely stunk, bad. I had to go all MST3k on it to make it to the end. That was kind of fun, admittedly, but there are better movies even for that purpose.

The best part is there are not one, but two sequels to this. The mind boggles.

Appropriately titled: Brain Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 10 - 2009

braindeadApart from the merest whiff of filmmaking competence and a few nice sets of boobies, the horror comedy Brain Dead really has very little to offer. The plot throws two escaped convicts, a couple of hikers, a televangelist and his pretty little assistant together to face some alien parasitic brain eaters. It steals liberally from both Night of the Creeps and Slither (which itself had to have been influenced by Night of the Creeps) but doesn’t do much with what it takes. There’s some completely insane violence (strangely, more from one of the cons than any zombie), a laughable upskirt gross-out effect and, as mentioned, some nice boobs. Unfortunately, all the boob shots come in the first twenty minutes, never to return. That makes the remaining 70+ minutes nearly unbearably dull. The terrible acting doesn’t help things.

Pure Insanity: Burial Ground: Nights of Terror

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 9 - 2009

dwarfmeMash up Lucio Fulci’s Zombie with Tombs of the Blind Dead and then mix in a healthy dose of incest, a dwarf, gratuitous sex, sweet ‘70s ‘staches, lots of mutilation and some seriously whacked out space music. That’s Burial Ground: Nights of Terror. It’s not particularly original or well made, but it earns some serious points for batshit insanity. The plot sees a group of six friends (and one “kid” who is played by a dwarf – that’s him in the picture, fucking weird) visiting their professor friend in a secluded manor. Unfortunately, the prof has accidentally awakened the dead in an ancient crypt on the property. Friends arrive, crypt opens, mayhem ensues. Plenty of nudity in this one and lots of gore and violence, especially against women (the Italians always seem to lean that way…). Some of the gore is well done, some not so much. If you like zombie movies enough to be reading this it’s worth seeing, though, without a doubt.

Return of the Living Dead part II

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 6 - 2009

rotld2Return of the Living Dead 2 is a bad sequel, inferior in every way to the original. The two leads from the first movie return, as different characters fulfilling the same purpose. Here they are much less sympathetic – they’re grave robbers as well as morons. The army loses a canister and two bullies open it with a couple of random button pushes (awesome security, army guys!), and the zombies take down the suburban neighborhood. It’s paced and structured much more like a traditional horror movie than the apocalyptic zombie mayhem of the first, complete with a resolution that sees the heroes kill the supposedly unkillable (in the first movie) zombies with surprising ease – it turns out electricity is their downfall.

The humor is dumbed down from the first. The gore and makeup isn’t as good, though it is still impressive in spots. The writing is worse, and so is the acting. Director Ken Wiederhorn is terrible. Some irritating continuity gaps test the patience of fans of the original. You get the picture? I will say that the pacing is a bit tighter, but it still drags because the movie sucks. At least the zombies move more slowly and shambley than in the first, which, for my taste, is slightly superior.

My humble beginnings: Return of the Living Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 5 - 2009


The film Return of the Living Dead is largely responsible for what has become a lifelong obsession with zombie movies. My history with the film starts way back in 1985, the year it was released, when I was but a wee boy of twelve years old. The movie was being advertised heavily and the commercials, some of which featured the notorious tar zombie and his “BRAINS!” catchphrase, simply terrified me. I distinctly remember one night, staying in a cheap hotel in California, where I was convinced that zombie would break through the flimsy door of my room and attack my brothers and me before my dad, in the room next door, could do anything about it. I didn’t sleep much that night, and, no doubt due to my terrified vigilance, the tar zombie never came for us.

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