Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Zombie Night - review

2013 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'm sorry. I'm part of the problem.

Derivative direct to DVD / TV cash-ins like this only exist because of the great number of idiots willing to hand over money for literally anything new that has the z-word on the cover, and I did. I do console myself somewhat in the hope I'm providing a kind of buffering service, and my sacrifice may help others avoid the same cinematic misfortune. If just one person recalls the roasting I'm just about to give this latest The Aslylum snore-fest and returns it to the Walmart shelf with nothing more than a cursory glance then maybe my +1 sale will be justified and I can forgive myself.

If you've not yet gathered, I'm not a fan of director John Gulager's (Feast / Piranha 3DD) weary pointless zombie endeavour, though I am amazed they got name-recognisable actors Anthony Michael Hall (Patrick) and Daryl Hannah (Birdy) on board; though let's be honest it's been a long time since these guys and girls were particularly relevant. Also in all honesty they don't do that bad job given the horrendous script they have to work with; though here we are one day after watching it and I'm already struggling to recall much of what they said or did. And this is Zombie Nights biggest problem. Nothing really happens. 

Looking at its Wikipedia stub, the plot in its entirety is described thus: "Two families must survive a zombie attack." That's your lot, seven words summing it all up, but here's the rub, even that I feel exaggerates all that's on offer.

Predictably it's z-day one for the traditional end of the world undead apocalypse. People are confused, people are scared, people die and even the brightest people are suddenly compelled to do really, really stupid things guaranteed to get them into trouble. Patrick, daughter Tracie (Rachel G. Fox) and a fodder friend are in a car, Tracie's mum, Birdy and grandma (Shirley Jones) are at home, their next door neighbour and all round douche, Joseph (Alan Ruck) and family are at home thinking about hiding away in their well-stocked safe room and the story flitters between the groups as they try and survive till morning when the zombies will all drop dead (again).

Contrived nonsense best describes how it all unfolds. Safe rooms with one zombie in and basements are given up in favour of graveyards and greenhouses. In all honesty the first five minutes will tell you enough. Tracie gets a text from her boyfriend (Joseph's son) that bad stuff may be going down, so Patrick decides to get off the free-way to make it back home via a short cut next to the cemetery. Fiddling with his own phone he hits someone and they all get out to investigate. With Tracie and Patrick studying two severed legs some eight foot from the car, two hands shoot out from under the boot (trunk) and grab said ensign expendable. Ok, nothing too bad so far. But with no sense of continuity, coherence or respect for the viewer we're then subjected to an awful borderline comical CG legless hover zombie pulling himself on to her, and more worryingly supposed to believe they can't hear her screaming for help despite being spitting distance away. It's all highly staged, amateurishly put together and one feels all happening just to enable Gulager to have the three of them running pointlessly between the gravestones for the next ten minutes. Zombie Night's problem is this scene becomes the template the rest of the film adheres to.

While I can maybe forgive a certain amount of contrived and convenient staging, here there's so little else it can't be overlooked and all the action, drama and tension is embarrassing and flat. I just have no idea what Gulager was going for. Even as a character piece positioning the film as real peoples experiences in the most traumatic of circumstance it utterly fails with people and performances shallow and forgettable. I'd almost go so far as saying I was quite early on rooting for the dead guys, and it was certainly a delightful relief when certain survivors got dispatched.

The western zombie cutty-cutter tropes are well made up and look the part though there's just too much staging and not enough of what I'd describe as natural behaviour for even these guys to save proceedings. Romero-esque gut munchers like this are all about instinct, hunger and teeth and I lost track of the number of times the zombie inexplicably suddenly held back from taking the bite so Gulager could try some cinematic wizardry and enable the following scenes to take place as written. It's head shots, it's some kind of virus with blood / saliva transmission, it's staggering, groaning, looking and acting stupid and some gut munching. It's groups appearing from no-where however remote, it's zombies outside the right window at the right time and zombies taking obvious cinematic direction and cues. It's nothing we've not seen a hundred times before, incompetently handled and insultingly perfunctory.

Insipid, derivative, uninteresting; there is nothing positive to say about Zombie Night. Utterly lacking cohesiveness, authenticity, the will to do well or any sparkle whatsoever, it's cinematic zombie fodder and deplorable bargain bin trash no one should give the time of day to. I'd started to think things were getting better as The Asylum's 2012 Rise of the Zombies was borderline watchable, but here things have gone backwards so far and so fast, I fear all hope the studio will eventually produce something of worth is lost. Zombie Night has no reason to exist, I've no reason to continue writing about it and you've no reason to ever think about it again; time for us all to move along, 2/10.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Demon Resurrection - review

2008 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

To get the most out of writer and director William Hopkins dark and twisted Lovecraftian exploitative zombie opus, one has to have patience. Patience not just to sit through thirty minutes of laboured exposition, an avalanche of superfluous characters, motivations and ideas, and a narrative that occasionally wanders but patience to see through a film that could easily be dismissed as amateurish and trite. First impressions aren't great; the acting is hit and miss, the dialogue hokey and the story audaciously confident in its presentation given how excessive the content. But if one perseveres, makes it to the thirty minute mark and is still awake, invested, and at some level open to the ideas presented, then the rewards are more than worth it.

There's mysticism, ancient races, strange cults, an ancient burial ground, a magic stick, path-working, and even an appearance from some old god shrouded in CG green mist to have his wicked way with the very naked star / victim of the story Grace (Alexis Golightly). There's a lot going on yet as fanciful as it gets, Hopkins pulls the Lovecraftian world together in a believable and coherent way. As Grace's friends begin their intervention confronting her and her boyfriend John (Damian Ladd), the real world as they perceive it slowly reveals a far darker one beneath, and their concerns start moving away from relationships, phone signals and what coke and snacks might be in the fridge to life, death and whether they might go the night without having their innards ripped out.

The long build up is approached with solemnity and absolute seriousness which can be a bit risky given the low budget and unfortunately it can't avoid the many pitfalls that come with amateur and b-movie yet Hopkins sticks with it and it never unravels enough to fall apart. Also this confidence and self-assuredness to stick to the plan no matter what is maybe the actual reason why with the arrival of undeniably the star of the feature, everything works so well.

The grotesque Fulci / Amando de Ossorio / Mattei zombies that pull themselves up out of mass grave to begin their siege of the house and brutal exploitative slaughter of anyone who happens to find themselves caught out is a full on return to the great zombie continental blood soaked lunacy we've come to look back on with great fondness, and never thought we'd get to see again. Innards get ripped out, eyes get pierced, skin gets lacerated with full on exploitative attention to detail, and the zombies advance like an unstoppable tide of death (as they should); it's breath-taking stuff from Hopkins and masterfully constructed from someone who obviously holds great respect for the genre he's not just imitating but in my opinion now contributing towards.

Yes it's another Romero farm house siege, though more Burial Ground than Night of the Living Dead, yes there's nothing we've not really seen before, and yes the masks / coloured CG mist are easy to mock, but it's intense and gripping, utterly and brutally brilliant and works on every level because it's dark, base and serious. Derivative is a term that's easy to throw at zombie films, but Demon Resurrection manages to dodge this label precisely because in the new zombie world of The Walking Dead and Shaun it's everything that they're not. Ok I'm playing with semantics but watching something old, nasty and no longer the vogue, that's actually new with the ink still wet is refreshing, even if it could be accused of rehashing the same mistakes.

The zombies look and behave much like the non-skeletal long dead murder-machines Amando de Ossorio fashioned for Tombs of the Blind Dead. They're chunky, brutal and slow staggering monsters that move and grunt under the control of Toth and seem to enjoy a sadistic pleasure in killing their (his) foes and eating their flesh. There's no blue skin here or parody uniformed recently deceased leaping about; they're methodical, they know where their enemies are and they will get back up after being knocked down. There's no head shooting and no hope; they're evil and desperately inhuman and seemingly invincible. And there's John...

John is also brought back from the dead by Grace who has a book and knows the right words. John however is not a Blind Dead gut muncher but a white vest top Gandalf / Jesus mystic zombie with an inscribed magic totem of power that's capable of blasting Hoth's army of darkness into dust. His return is poignant, spiritual and temporary, and though he's a bit Casper the friendly zombie, rescuing the scant surviving friends he does show a darker side, enacting brutal vengeance given the opportunity. I will add that a third zombie type makes a brief appearance  too in the guise of Hoth's zombie victims who are now dead and hungry in the traditional western Romero way. I'm not going to over think how these guys got turned or how their eaten insides are now tucked back in but like in The Beyond a little mystery always goes well Z.

A mash up Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living, Dead Zombie Flesh Eaters / Burial Ground with a good sprinkle of Lovecraft, Hopkins low budget dark and twisted exploitative zombie opus Demon Resurrection is a triumph of amateur horror film making. Oozing with dark passion with a self-assured unique personality all of its own one has to applaud what has been achieved. Demon Resurrection is a confident and self-assured film remaining intense and serious despite playing with the most far-fetched edges of the Cthulhu mythos. It has its faults; mainly born from its shoestring budget and perhaps trying too hard, but it's a film that ultimately prevails in many ways because of them. A full on return to past zombie craziness, with carnage, death, boobies and brutal bloody gore; it's a triumph and a zombie film made for zombie film fans, 8/10.