Thursday, 30 January 2014

Flight of the Living Dead (Outbreak on a Plane) - review

2007 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'm slightly ashamed and perplexed by just how much I enjoyed Scott Thomas's shallow little claustrophobic zombie action popcorn piece. A convenient and utterly contrived back-story, a hollow bunch of conveniently one dimensional characters with singular hopes and dreams and a story that plays out as you'd expect, if you've ever watched another tense-drama-on-a-plane-flick. There's nothing really new, or anything on paper to really right home about, and yet, and here's the thing, there's a reason the forced isolation of a plane works to drive narrative tension, and our zombie friends do work bloody well when there's absolutely no way of escaping. In truth it's a marriage made in, err, hell and one I'm surprised no one thought of sooner. 

It's your Return of the Living Dead secret military-esque utterly avoidable scientific fumble. Three fringe scientists having managed to manipulate a strain of malaria so that it can be used to reanimate the dead have decided to transport one of their recently deceased wives from Los Angeles to Paris in the cargo hold of a commercial plane in a particularly bad storm. Engineering a ridiculous and obviously stupid set up is a zombie film trope, and all part of the fun, but even I sometimes have to wince at what film-makers would have us believe is even vaguely plausible. Highly dangerous experimental untested undead cargo, plane and storm, of course things are going to go bad, but you know what? I'm going to let Flight of the Living Dead off. It's so obviously a play on Return of the Living Dead meets Snakes on a Plane and all so beautifully simple yet elaborately stoopid it works and sets the theme for the rest of the film. If you can go with this premise then it's easier to go along with the oodles of carnage, bloodshed, explosions (yes I said explosions and yes we're still on a plane) and stoopidity that follow.

This all being said it never actually becomes a full on farce or comedy. First and foremost this is an action film pitting, by the midpoint, an ever dwindling core of survival experts replete with quite a lot of firepower against an ever swelling zombie horde. The first part of the film is your typical set-up with victims and survivors introduced and a taut tense to and fro that something's gone wrong in the cargo hold, and unbeknown to the pilot (Raymond J. Barry), crew and passengers things have the potential to be a lot, lot worse. The film does a commendable job allowing the tension to build up naturally and the ever present threat is just the right blend of suspense, and actual horror and scares.

At the right time, with the threat emergent the film allows itself to go full on action horror but one thing I wasn't prepared for was not just how visceral and down right nasty the zombies would be, but just how brilliantly and bloody Thomas would allow them to be on camera. There's no dally or restraint and the blood thirsty killing machines of Flight of the Living Dead are given all the focus and attention they deserve as they go about their carnival of slaughter. They grapple, they chase, they lash out and they bite given any and every opportunity. A bit of ankle unprotected? You're done. Push them away, they'll have your hand. Hide? They will find you and they will eat you. I loved every minute darn minute of their screen time, which was a lot, and it was refreshing to see feral vicious monsters take their opportunities rather than, as is so often the case fuck about waiting for the ideal money-shot (bite). The special effects were constantly believable and gratuitous, and the action and zombie dispatching ramped up lovely. I did have more than a few fleeting moments of head scratching at just how the plane was withstanding the incredible pounding it was receiving from bullets, bangs and at one point a rather large explosion but as it never really proposes you take it all that seriously it generally always got away with it.

The zombies are your now expected western homage to all that has gone before. They're not quite Romero being fast and strong but they're not Return of the Living Dead being taken down with a shot to the head with no hands and feet scuttling off with a reanimated will of their own. There's an attempt to explain and justify everything with a strain of malaria, transference of the virus by saliva / blood and the scientists going a bit rogue but it's all a bit superfluous if I'm honest as it's really not needed. There's a zombie, a darn good one, on a plane, it all goes wrong and that's enough.

For all that I bemoaned the shallow nature of the characters I have no real complaints with the long legged air stewardesses, Frank (Kevin J. O'Connor), the wise-ass and morally dubious prisoner being transported or his FBI handler, the calm, collected and extremely affable FBI agent Truman Burrows (David Chisum). The rag tag passengers, the jock's, air heads, golfers et al all make for good cannon fodder as they first get chased about then after being caught find themselves doing the chasing. Both alive and as zombies the cast do a first rate job and yes there's some hammyness to it all but it never above and beyond the remit.

Flight of the Living Dead is what it is. A fun tense and tight action horror of a zombie outbreak at ten thousand feet and I honestly don't think Scott Thomas could have done much better given the remit. The action builds up nicely and once it all really gets going it's the perfect relentless and visceral orgy of all the things I like about zombie. It even has a satisfying conclusion. A highly charged, highly enjoyable zombie thrill ride and one I'd recommend, 7/10.



  1. I have a version of this movie I bought in a discount bin at a Wal-Mart in Montreal... a FRENCH release that, for whatever reason, doesn't even include the original audio track.

    I've yet to decide if the French dubbed version made it more or less enjoyable. I'd have to watch it in English to know for sure, and frankly, I'm in no rush to seek out and English copy and re-watch this one.

    Not terrible. Definitely entertaining. By-the-numbers done pretty well.

    1. Aye, definitely by the numbers, just, I don't know, bloody entertaining.