Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Rezort - review

2015 (UK / Spain / Belgium)


Contains mild spoilers.

Veteran (in so much he's done it twice before, with Outpost and it's sequel) zombie film director Steve Barker's The Rezort is everything you'd want from a modern, action horror, sublimely crafted walking dead experience. An original set-up, interesting main characters that shock:horror actually show some signs of development; well-paced build up, well maintained tension, with the odd scare; and oodles and oodles of zombie mayhem, carnage and death in both intimate and more grandiose scale. So where's the but I hear you ask? Well, there was a moment a short way after the set-up and outbreak, suddenly watching a slick, contemporary highly stylised zombie narrative turn into a rather generic and formulaic run, shoot, ensign expendable dies, breathe, rinse, repeat trope, that I worried. It was a short lived concern though, and having got the group from a to b to c the things were soon back on point, for a second half, that while maybe doesn't quite live up to the seeds initially sown, nevertheless delivers on its promise, as said, of a well-crafted modern zombie experience. I've noted it didn't review that well; nor that badly, and this is perhaps it's only crime; to be in a genre that's starting to stagnate due to excess.
  
Jessica De Gouw (Arrow / NBC's Dracula) as shell shocked Melanie Gibbs heads a surprisingly strong cast, of characters that for one reason or another have turned to The Rezort for answers, some seven years after the Chromosyndrome-A pandemic decimated mankind. With two billion dead, loved ones lost and society forever changed, some seek revenge, some seek escape and some like Mel, supported by boyfriend Lewis (Martin McCann) seek closure and catharsis by coming face to face, or more accurately gun to face, with those responsible

One thing I do know though about any and all attempts to control and constrain is best summed up by Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in that other rather more famous theme-park death-experiment. "John, the kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously…" Okay, zombies aren't alive per se, but the same chaos theory still prevails. How The Rezort's CEO and caricature evil capitalist big boss Valerie Wilton (Claire Goose) thought she could make her fortune exploiting an island of undead gut-munchers (un)fortunate to find themselves the only place they weren't quashed, in spectacle and sport, without thinking at some point something might go awry is baffling. I mean, hasn't she watched Jurassic Park, West World, etc...

Dr. Ian Malcolm: "Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and um, screaming."

When the proverbial shit does hit the fan things turn bad with breath-taking speed and ferocity. One second a computer glitch, the next, the operative has had his lungs ripped out and is making a rather more sinister move on the second female operative one seat to the left than usual. It's full on zombie madness, bloody, brutal and a delight to watch. I'd perhaps, with a health and safety hat on, make the point, that for a billion dollar enterprise built on a rather dangerous foundation some additional isolation steps would have been expected, it still sets and steps up the action for the small group left out in the field. One thing Barker does understand is zombie carnage and as expected in 2017, with an entire industry dedicated to making them look and sound good their look and choreography is faultless.

As stated, it's once out in the field the film openly declares itself a bit of a by the numbers, honest to goodness, zombie action one. Mel and the mixed bag of survivors, now under the assumed leadership of the conveniently placed ex-military sharp-shooter Archer (Dougray Scott), they begin their dash from camp to fence to lookout post hoping to escape the island before the rest of the world responds to the alarms and razes it to the ground. 

While action and narrative can be accused of being a tad trite and stale, the same can't be said for the overall vision Barker, with writer Paul Gerstenberger has realised. In the midst of refugees and a world desperate for identity and healing, that a five star resort can pop up, primarily for the rich and bored to play God is quite relevant and cuttingly satirical. Employees inwardly sighing at the sight of rich playboys stroking their automatics and egos with all the danger and effort hidden is clever and I'm sure Romero himself would approve. 

A well-crafted, more than competently executed The Walking Dead zombie narrative that delivers exactly what it promises and I'm not sure what there is to complain about; it's one of those films one should know exactly what they're getting themselves into. Cinematically and musically the Ibiza island vibe is delightfully fresh and stylish, the zombie frolics when they get going deliver the tension, head-shots and bites when needed and the pacing is positive and fresh. Jessica, Martin and Dougray present strong individuals who interact and evolve naturally to the point I would be invested in the idea of a sequel (with those that might have survived.)  A brilliant British zombie feature, with few bells and whistles; but you know what, maybe what with all the zombie irony and satire of late, a faultlessly fashioned back to basics survival thriller is, for us true zombie fans, exactly what's wanted - 7/10.

Steven@WTD.  

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bride of Re-Animator - review

1989 (USA)


Contains spoilers. 

I've no doubt that in Herbert West's (Jeffrey Combs) mind, he really isn't such a bad guy and all the slap-dash and irresponsible murder, carnage and surgical mischief is justifiable when the goal, to unearth the secrets to life and death, is so monumental. Watching the blood flow, the body parts mount up, and new increasingly nightmarish mutations come to life, one might not fully side with his calamitous unethical scientific methods or agree with his health and safety record, but one really can't help but love him for all the chaos he brings.

Brian Yuzna's Bride of Re-Animator; the sequel to the glorious dark, bloody and riotously inappropriate Re-Animator couldn't really fail. Ok, that's not strictly true but, as with Evil Dead and Bruce Campbell, just casting Coombs as the same irrepressible and eccentric West, and fashioning another slap-stick b-movie with cohesive yet equally eccentric side characters, vulgar and unnecessary bad taste skits and a hokey story to surround him, was sure to work. And despite some small missteps; mainly the result of what Yuzna tells of limited pre-production time, the film is undoubtedly another huge success and a worthy successor.

The film opens with an explosive flashback then flash forward to events eight months after the Miskatonic Hospital massacre that ended the last film in a highly memorable magical b-movie maelstrom of death and chaos. West and his companion cum enabler Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), the only survivors, are following up their unethical experiments, now in the safety of the Peruvian jungle with the front line of civil conflict as cover. There stay is short lived however, but long enough to set the scene and inform us that West has certainly not learnt from his mistakes. Then with another flash and a bang we're all back to Arkham and the place of their earlier misadventures, though by now the hope is that everyone has forgotten the carnage, and moved on...

West carries on his highly questionable experimentation with Dr. Cain fully on board with the promise he can somehow bring his late love Meg back. West's nemesis Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale who begged to be part of this sequel), now a severed head, is reanimated by a rather too curious pathologist (Mel Stewart as Dr. Graves), and begins his singular mission to seek revenge. The story ticks all the b-movie boxes; an increasing implausible and insane story, eccentric characters getting more stressed and desperate, and an abundance of excessive and unnecessary blood, guts and carnage, with Coombs, the meticulous conductor always the centre of the storm. And while one can understand, and almost forgive much of the collateral damage that results from West's fight with the established scientific world, forced as he is to work on the fringe where norms just can't apply, it's harder to argue the case for someone who just wants to tie an arm to a dog or a leg and bring it to life just to see what happens, whatever the consequence. It's these scenes that solidifies West as the larger than life personality and defines Re-Animator as an exceptionally good bad-movie rather than an average to rotten bad-one.

Yuzna isn't one to shy away from a bad taste idea, however disturbing, and in Bride of Re-Animator increasingly bizarre surgical experimentation is free to come to the screen however off the wall the idea. From twitching feet, to bat wings sown to a head, to a finger and eye-ball homage to every great disembodied hand since Thing, watching for each new increasingly unfettered experimental monstrosity is as much a part of the experience as the story. Also for the most part they're all perfectly realised, given the low budget, with enough sinew and blood to cover the cracks; and though not perfect; it's eighties, it's b-movie and cracks are all part of the charm.

I'd be hard pressed to describe West's creations as zombies in any traditional or even contemporary sense. If anything these Frankenstein's meat slabs intimate of life returned; of consciousness, id, ego and will all back alongside breath and a heart-beat. It's b-movie mumbo jumbo of course; of primordial ooze extracted from the amniotic sac of the cuzco iguana and stuff about consciousness not residing in the brain but any of the tissue but the short of it West has found a way of reanimating flesh; the rest doesn't have to make much sense. There is enough ambiguity, and some of West's lesser successes, and remnants from the first film, certainly appear zombie with decay, mindless behaviour with hints of hunger and violence, and towards the end of the film appearing to be controlled by the will of another, all in good old pre-Romero Caribbean style. I'd also be hard pressed to say any of West's returnees are exactly corpus-mentis.

If I was to nit-pick, it could be argued the story is a little disjointed; more a mash-up of sub-narratives and ideas that happen to overlap rather than a grand singular story. It's also under critique rather light on substance with many of the more excessive and memorable scenes rather throwaway and unnecessary from a narrative point of view; included, the b-movie aficionado would argue for the shits and giggles, but for the cynic, perhaps to fill and because gore always sells. Still, they do fit with the insanity and as said they're really just as integral a part of the whole experience as the increasingly incredulous plot. Bride is another riotous Re-Animator chapter allowing both Coombs and the supporting ensemble to shine. With a lively, whimsical sound track and good pacing, it's perfect goofy, excessive and shocking b-movie entertainment, and this new Arrow Blu-ray release; packed with every extra you could hope for, does everything it can to bring it to life - 7/10.

Steven@WTD.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Legends of Tomorrow S2 Ep4 'Abominations' - review

2016 (USA)

Watched on Cable TV.

Contains spoilers. 

I'll start by focusing on the whole show Legends of Tomorrow; the bastard stepson of the DC's two successful TV series  Arrow and The Flash, and why I'm continually concerned and confused as to why I watch it. Ok, it's not all bad but Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Phil Klemmer's time travelling, fantastical and increasingly preposterous action / adventure / buddy / romance spectacular misses the mark way too many times to really ever provide a satisfactory scratch to the in vogue super-hero itch. In many ways doomed to failure, as laden with all the characters deemed superfluous from the above mentioned series, and having a core narrative that is laughably incoherent, the series requires of the viewer a near infinite reserve of perseverance and tolerance for what is in reality scant reward. The writers have also managed, against all the odds, to cobble together a narrative that makes both a man hit by speed-force lighting, and the playboy turned invincible archery bad-ass of Starling City look reasonable and believable concepts with the viewer expected to suspend disbelief to the point of insanity to get anything from it at all. As said, if it wasn't that I feel somewhat invested in the universe I really wouldn't be able to handle the levels of schlock at all.

'Abominations' itself plays out like an average Syfy channel / The Asylum tongue in cheek zombie direct to tv spectacular. Effects are good, the zombies are coherent to the established walking dead trope, and the time travelling troupe's meddling in the civil war undead apocalypse is every bit as self-referential and both deferential and at times glib as you'd want. The team pick up a time aberration, head back to save General Ulysses S. Grant, and as usual somehow fudge their way through to a half-arsed conclusion that saves the day but leaves the larger war; a struggle with the tired and second-hand Flash and Arrow's Eobard Thawne and Damien Darhk across time to find the spear of destiny (the one that stabbed Jesus on the cross); more than hanging. As a discrete episode while it's probably above par it's still really just more Legends of Tomorrow filler, all rather formulaic and strained. As a cheap zombie hour it's not all bad as the undead are presented confidently and the acting is more than up to the job. I guess it all depends how much you liked Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies - 4/10.

Steven@WTD.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Living Dead Girl (La Morte Vivante) - review

1982 (France)


Contains spoilers. 

As with most low budget eighties euro nasties I'm torn. Undoubtedly, from acting to script to effects it's easy to pull Jean Rollin's effort apart; yet as has happened before, dare to peer beneath the rather mediocre, sleazy and derivative surface, and it could be argued there's perhaps quite the deep, brooding and entirely engaging angst ridden depth to sink ones teeth into. On the surface a tale of one child hood friend aiding and abetting a seemingly broken and damaged other with increasing disregard for laws or morality, it would be easy to dismiss the film as a cheap slasher with enough escalating violence and nudity to satisfy the braying mob. Yet I think, as is the way with European horror, to make the most of the film is to not bemoan and critique every minute detail, but to focus on the allegory and to ponder a deep and brave philosophical tragedy.

Take for instance the all rather by the numbers opening sequence; of toxic waste, incompetent handling and the inexplicable resurrection of star of the show Françoise Blanchard as Living Dead Girl Catherine Valmont followed by all the gory, excessive and highly choreographed blood shed you'd expect from a continental eighties video nasty. It has a certain nostalgic charm but its amateurish, shoddy and all rather derivative to the point of being easy to dismiss and deride. But I'm going to come to its defence. If one posits, as I do, that film is only really about Catherine, her child hood friend Hélène (Marina Pierro) and their increasingly twisted and morally transient relationship, it's ok that the background is grey and maybe deliberately immaterial and poor. Maybe I'm thinking too deeply, and too forgiving of the rather cheap and throwaway extra characters (especially US model Carina Barone as Barbara Simon and her lover Mike Marshall as Greg) and all the awkwardly drawn out superfluous scenes and sequences, but the core philosophical narrative encourages deeper thought, and it ensures the poignant story isn't lost in all the blood soaked noise.

Catherine and Hélène are more than best child hood buddies. With a blood oath theirs is a friendship that will defy and survive even death. Thus when Catherine reaches out and Hélène comes running it's only a matter of time until she's happy to be complicit in all that it takes to satiate the dead girls gruesome demands. For a fan of the genre the film is a fascinating study in deadness in a physical and hunger driven sense and deadness in a conscious ethical framework. Catherine comes back from the dead as a blood hungry zombie without will, conscious checks and balances and I'd argue no cognitive ability other than when the time is right to recognise her one true love (though I'd argue she'd have even attacked her the moment she returned.)

Hélène contrary, is alive, human, and fully reasoning, yet has her own issues, as drawn to Catherine's side she's immediately forced to make increasingly morally dubious snap decisions, in a surreal whirlwind of emotion and consequence. Their relationship, and the philosophical conundrum the film presents, is that with each brutal death and feeding, Catherine regains some of her will and self. Her memories, consciousness and conscience begin to return bringing with it an existential crisis and internal moral conflict as she comes to terms with the monster she's become. Counter to this, Hélène close to having back the friend that was lost; is increasingly desperate and single minded to the extreme in her determination; but she's also increasingly numb and ambivalent from and to the pain and death she's responsible for. I'm sure there's a fitting quote from Nietzsche I could use here, something about monsters and the abyss; save to say by the end Rollin's exquisite moral tragedy had come together with resonance and ambiguous devastation.

Living Dead Girl will perhaps be remembered for it's extremely graphic and shocking ending; a drawn out scene of zombie cannibalism more excessive and sobering, yet emotional and heavy than anything else I've seen. It will also be remembered for its ample nudity, though I'd argue it's not only rather more tastefully handled than Rollin's other films, notably Zombie Lake, it's even aesthetically and narratively coherent. For most it will probably be remembered but ultimately dismissed for all the above plus its amateurish eighties euro trash credentials; of poor acting, bad effects and awkward dialogue. However, I'd personally like it to be remembered for the audacity of Rollin to try and play with humanity, love and death in a deeply nuanced, respectful, unique and beautiful way - 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Girl with all the Gifts - review

2016 (UK / USA)


Contains mild spoilers.

Just when I was starting to think the modern zombie love affair was over, all bar the bell, along comes a film (and book) that just for a moment reminds me that all might not be lost. With a clear, brave and original vision, great determination, and exquisite competence, The Girl with all the Gifts instils hope, and acts as to remind, if we needed it, that the zombie is a timeless metaphor, reflective and responsive to the fears of each new generation and both malleable and submissive to always be open to change. It's that admission that The Walking Dead post-apocalyptic survival slog, and the jaunty, flippant and entirely throwaway zombie-comedy might not be the only games in town; that rehashing the same narrative, or telling the same joke with minor cosmetic change might not be the only way to draw genre fans back time and again. Yes we're reliant yet again on brave independent film makers with a modest budget but maybe what with all the critical acclaim there's always the chance some of this fearless and avant-garde spice will rub off on the big boys; and also I for one would be happy for keen enthusiasts to once again take point even it does mean the number of films released takes a massive hit.

Okay; perhaps I'm guilty myself of going overboard whenever the next shiny new zombie story arrives, as British director Colm McCarthy's zombie's look and feel borrows heavily from Danny Boyle and the 28 Days Later phenomena. Also the story, without spoiling too much, of a new hybrid / evolved species potentially rendering the old extinct and redundant, shares more than few parallels with I Am Legend. Yet there's enough ingenuity and nuance in the weave performed by writer M.R. Carey, and more than enough skill and style in its transition from words to picture that I'm happy to overlook any complaints of imitation or derivation. Anyway; aren't there really only seven stories in the world?

Glen Close may be the name that grabs the box office headlines but it's 12 year old Sennia Nanua as Melanie that will certainly garner all the acclaim when the dust has settled. Her portrayal as the innocent, bright eyed but ultimately cursed inmate is nuanced and faultless, and contrasts perfectly with the cold, stark utilitarian lead scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell played by Close. Along with sympathetic and intensely conflicted teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and hard line Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) they perfectly capture the absurd, contradictory and desperate end of the world moral maze the story presents them with. Melanie is a human / zombie aberration torn, not born, into the world from infection in the womb. She shares the same vicious hunger to kill and eat, and yet she's also born with not just cognisant and rational thought, but perhaps, and this is the journey for both us, and the characters, the ability to control it.

Us zombie fans can be awfully annoying at times; stubborn and dogmatic that there's one way to do something; there's one zombie and he's dead, slow and Romero's prodigy. I still see pointless debate as to whether Boyle's not dead but infected are somehow not zombie, as if pulse alone dictates deadness forgetting that zombies were around and breathing well before the undead movement took them as one of their own and Romero finally applied the final death-nail. McCarthy's 'hungries' are vicious, flesh eating, fast, extremely dangerous and alive. They're also, and this is defining trait, utterly devoid of the humanity and more importantly self-awareness and cognisant empathy that made them who they were. They're rabid animals; actually worse; they're destructive entirely reactive automatons driven by insatiable hunger and nothing else. So they have a pulse? So what. McCarthy also isn't afraid to shock and disturb by presenting the zombies with a brutality that reinforces the no-win quandary those enforcing the imprisonment and experimentation are actually in. 

The Girl with all the Gifts certainly does better when the story sticks to the confines of the bunker / school, and the contrasting and clashing moral maelstrom of fear, necessity, desperation rubbing up against those small slithers of hope born from love and believing in the human condition. The action once the compound is breached and the group are forced to set out across the stricken over-run wasteland still shows signs of flair and originality, never content to becomes another derivative zombie survival yarn, yet it won't be what the film is remembered for. The Girl with all the Gifts is that shining ray of light in unending darkness, both as a narrative trope, and also as innovative and thoughtful movie in a plethora of mediocre. I loved it and perhaps the cinematic zombie might be quite safe after all - 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Returned - review

2013 (Spain / Canada)


Contains mild spoilers. 

It's probably not coincidence, what with the explosive re-emergence of zombies and the rise of the right wing political agenda, that two independent teams would come up with a near identical twist on post-apocalyptic story telling. Okay, BBC's In the Flesh is working class Northern Britain, and The Returned is urban middle class America, but the idea of a recovered and functioning post-zombie world as a backdrop to tell a rather relevant moral tale of a castigated minority dealing with that seemingly inescapable human and political condition, of hating and attacking what we fear; is remarkable in its similarity. Both present a modern bruised but stoical world soldiering on as normal despite a recent history, that's implied, certainly did play out more like what we're used to seeing from the genre. Both have as a focus a young and innocent victim, now survivor, burdened with a manageable but less than ideal medical treatment plan. And both paint a distinctly un-rosy picture of how society would likely react when forced to reintegrate thousands of gut-munchers in waiting back into their everyday lives. Both too, are poignant, insightful and tragic portrayals of how easily a small but vocal set of voices can garner power, and most importantly tacit approval, when fuelled by a narrative that's predominantly all about fear and security. They're both, it could be argued, liberal agenda, politically correct and unrealistically idealist and romanticised, and both could easily switch out 'zombie' for another conservative threatening medical ailment or idea; but for both the choice of using the undead in all their bloody rawness works remarkably well to highlight and contrast the polarised positions as well as providing a tense, entertaining and quirky movie experience.

There are differences of course. Big ones. In the Flesh is mostly Kieren's story where as in The Returned, as much as the film is concerned with Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) and his condition, the film is really about Kate (Emily Hampshire), his partner and a doctor on the front line, dealing both with the practical recovery of the 'returned', and in securing funding for, and pushing awareness of the treatment plan. 1981 saw the first outbreak and the global zombie pandemic really did seem to be as nasty, indiscriminate and prolific as one would expect with one hundred million deaths, a second wave and a full five years needed to contain it. It's five years since Alex was bitten, contracting the infection and  though he's managed to maintain his daily injection and hold down his guitar tuition position he's pretty much chosen to keep this part of his life hidden even from best friends Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and Amber (Claudia Bassols). Though people are aware that the 'returned' are moving and operating about the city and country, there are constant signs of dissent and though the truce is successful and legally maintained those infected are rightfully wary of publicity. Kate and Max's story is both a beautiful tale of unconditional love and support, and a harrowing journey of fear and hatred as public confidence in the program wanes as chatter starts to surface of issues with the stock of the protein which keeps the dormant zombie at bay; and peaceful protest turns to retribution and violence.

As would be expected, other than a few flashbacks and one particularly gnarly incident at a gas station the violence and threat comes from the anti-returned humans who seek the eradication of all those infected, treated or otherwise. And one of the problems is, as despicable their thinking and behaviour increasingly becomes, the actions of Alex and Kate as the contrast; isn't if we're honest that virtuous and really not much better. The whole argument of the anti-returned is how can we trust thousands of time-bombs to religiously adhere to their daily program without supervision or tracking; when one missed dose could easily lead to a multiple deaths and another mini-outbreak and the thing they kind of have a point. Yes there's the libertarian view that people shouldn't be monitored and their treatment shouldn't be tracked; yet we're not talking about a condition that if personally mishandled would affect one or two people; we're talking about something that with the slightest mistake could set off a exponential tsunami of death. Add to this Kate abusing her medical position to acquire 'other peoples' medication and Alex who's happy evading any and all official scrutiny in that it might threaten his personal liberty and freedom and their moral position starts to unravel. There's a lack of subtlety to proceedings and it's ultimately hard to have as much sympathy for the couple as I believe was hoped.

One thing that is brilliantly unsubtle though is each cameo arrival of an actual zombie. Snarling, rabid, 28 Days Later infected though not dead, they're every bit the down right cannibalistic psychopaths the non-returners have argued the state really ought to be worried about. There's much left deliberately ambiguous as to the state of the world outside the city. One hundred million dead is an awful lot and whilst people are driving about, shopping and working with time on their hands to learn guitar and protest, I couldn't help but think about the state of the wider world, not picturing for one moment how more poverty inclined countries couldn't still be having problems. 

A good idea, great characters brilliantly portrayed, effortless and evocative filming and production, it's a shame that writer Hatem Khraiche and director Manuel Carballo's vision ultimately fails to pull together to either provide a satisfying conclusion to the highly charged personal story, or a fitting end to thea wider political and ethical discourse. At no point do any of the characters feel as powerless or as heroic as they ought with Kate's increasingly unethical and brazen attempt to circumvent the rules for personal gain a constant thorn in the story. To counter this and retain their position as the true baddies of the piece, the anti-returners have to be even more extreme in their actions. Not content with pushing the quite reasonable agenda of basic surveillance and some form of accountability; it's all a bit black and white villainy with guns and killing and spilt blood stained teddy bears on the hospital floor. Still, a nice little film that my nitpicking aside does deliver both on its emotional and poignant promise, and is a tight dramatic experience that should appeal to both zombie fans and those less undead enamoured alike - 6/10.

Steven@WTD. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

Prison of the Dead - review

2000 (USA)


Contains spoilers.

There's really not a lot to say about this appalling turn of the century low budget zombie snore-fest. Resembling more a tepid amateur high school project that any kind of sincere or mature production, it's inconsistent plot and drawn out dialogue heavy narrative, is matched only by its strict intent to demonstrate no originality, content merely to rehash all and every outdated and hokey horror trope without a care. Quite what director David DeCoteau (tellingly listed under pseudonym Victoria Sloan) and writer Matthew Jason Walsh were trying to achieve in this hour fifteen car crash I'm not quite sure. Neither comedy, drama or a horror with any real teeth; Prison of the Dead plays like it wants to be a cult and edgy young adult, possibly self-deprecating, Return of the Living Dead wannabe but comes across more as a bland, silly and rather insulting episode of Goosebumps, save with excessive bad language.

If I asked a group of junior school pupils to describe the setting and atmosphere for a haunted horror I don't think it'd be far removed from that of Prison of the Dead. A gloomy, derelict and isolated funeral home built over the long abandoned ruins of a medieval dungeon that once held witches and warlocks. A bleak and stormy night with owls hooting, billowing fog and complete with thunder and lightning. Four weary friends, two girls and two buys, reuniting to pay their respects to an old friend, and more than happy to send their driver away, and open an old creaking door to their inevitable doom. Now there can be a time and a place for cheesy nostalgic homage, and revisiting old myths and stories, but Prison of the Dead isn't it. The derivative setting isn't tribute or cute; it's lazy and easy; and the story isn't an inventive twist on the familiar but a wearisome and altogether incoherent set of musings from a team that clearly didn't care.

Brought together by Kristof St. Pierce (Patrick Flood), a spoilt, rich, occult obsessed man-child and also the recent heir of Hawthorne funeral home, the group soon realise the late Calvin (Sam Page) isn't actually that dead and their reunion is all actually part of some ill-conceived plan to bring the old scooby-doo clique back together to speak to the dead, unearth some mysterious lost key and solve an ancient mystery. All well and good if they'd just get on with it; yet the vast majority of the film is the group, plus three additional well-groomed locals seemingly intent to spoil the party for shits and giggles, happy squabbling and bitching to one another generally over how they don't want to be there. For a film that spends pretty much all it's time bogged down in character dynamics you'd have thought too, there would have been some effort to make the characters more interesting and agreeable. Whether a design decision or inexperience, Calvin, Kristof, Rory (Michael Guerin), Kat (Alicia Arden) and Michele (Debra Mayer) are played dryer than the Atacama Desert  (I looked it up; this is the driest desert). Even when people do start dropping; or glazing over and chanting the Latin (I think) beyond the grave mantra the predisposition is always stoical and the responses nonchalant and mostly self-absorbed. I'm all for the odd dry and unlikable character but when the lack of interest, care or any urgency is shared by all it's really hard not to end up sharing in the apathy.

I say, when people start dropping. Noting the eighteen certificate, the cover and presentation, and the horror credentials one would assume adult content. Nada. Okay the zombies initial appearance; skeletal medieval axe, scythe mace wielding long dead executioners sombrely and menacingly clambering from the soil is promising, and delightfully old school, reminiscent of all our old continental favourites, especially the blind dead. Yet, for the number of deaths that are eventually perpetrated there's a ridiculously low quantity of blood, next to no gore and no actual on-screen horror to actually speak of. As the film progresses each and every unlucky soul is suddenly, and arbitrarily taken by a spasm of shameful CG, a moment of possession as one of the so called long dead witches takes control before one of the zombie executioners pops out from nowhere ready for the camera to pan away, them to slash, and someone to throw something red and wet over the lens. I'm not advocating that all horror needs to be in your face and wall to wall torture porn, but this is tame for convenience sake and detracts totally from what I believe was being aimed for. In fact the only adult content I'd argue would be the copious bad language; even the token contrived sex scene seemed to mandate modesty, and with the f's and blinds dialled down I'd honestly, save for the fact it's so god damn awful, have no qualms letting my children watch it.

With more effort and energy with the action and a good rewrite of the script focusing on the transitions between the various sequences, and imbuing the characters with some charm and reason to care at all for them, there's a movie here that could probably match the reasonably competent directorial and camera work. Though not a lot more if we're all honest. Sometimes one just needs to call it as it is; that Prison of the Dead was probably a bad film before the ink was dry, and quite how someone thought an amateur budget, cast and production was going to imbue it with the necessary life and savvy to stand out was baffling to say the least. There's very little to recommend in this seventeen year old miss, and it's not one you'll be doing yourself a disservice for skipping, even if like me you want to watch them all - 2/10.

Steven@WTD.