Monday, 3 October 2016

Teenage Zombies - review

1960 (USA)

Contains spoilers. 

Now I knew revered b-movie specialist Jerry Warren came with a reputation to rival Ed Wood, and this movie in particular was ridiculed as one of the worst ever; but even I wasn't quite prepared for such incompetence and schlock. Definitely falling in the so dire it's good category, writer, director and producer Warren has truly excelled himself with a piece of cinema so cringe-worthy; and I'm saying this up front, just so god damn awful, that it, just like Ed Wood's endeavours, somehow transcends its own mediocrity to become watchable precisely for the reasons it fails. So yes, it's a 1/10 film, and yes all the things I'm just about to point out are as bad as they sound and it certainly won't appeal to all; but if you've got even a smidgen of the voyeur, then there might just be a fun booze fuelled evening to be had with this undisputed car crash of a movie.

It takes but ten minutes for Reg (Don Sullivan), Skip (Paul Pepper), Julie (Mitzie Albertson), and Pam (Brianne Murphy); four of the most insipid nondescript and asexual middle America teenager's ever to grace the screen to finish their milkshakes, sail out to the mysterious island™ and get themselves easily imprisoned by glamorous mad scientist Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor.) Another ten and we uncover her Eastern collaborators (I think it's all supposed to be Russian) and their plan to pop a nerve paralysing agent into the continent's water supply and turn every man, woman and child into a totally compliant slave. We also learn that each and every wide angle shot is going to clumsily staged and rehashed over and over, and each and every line of dialogue is going to end with a painful second or two of silence while the next actor cues his or her equally painful reply.

The story is incredibly thin, incoherent and awkward even by bad b-movie standards. A mysterious island with a top secret scientific facility with prison and lab that no one seems to know about; yet a fully stocked fridge, cocktails at noon and six kids who easily stumble across it all between water skiing sessions? Captives who pick locks, free themselves and even build an escape raft, instead choose to return to their cage to have a nap, and not make the little noise needed to free their girlfriends? Finally, Mitch Evans, a man in a rubber suit playing a zombie gorilla that's both one of the most truly ridiculous and amateurish monster scenes in all of cinema; and yet one the absolute screen-stealing highlights of the film. The other being Chuck Niles as Ivan the zombie, played somewhere between a stock Igor and the hulking voodoo slaves of the forties zombie plantation forays, and actually a highlight in the real sense; a single small shining piece of authenticity and competence in a wholly amateur affair.

It's that post-war, post dark-continent era that's seeing new scientific knowledge and theory replace magic and voodoo as the deep-rooted fear and methodology to take away a persons will and control. At heart it's still a forties / fifties Caribbean voodoo tale but now atoms, DNA and vaccines constitute the new unknown frontier and ask all the disturbing questions. Warren's Igor is the archetypical voodoo zombie; the perfect slave with a desire to work and obey, but very much alive and pre-Romero. It all starts well, with a good scene of multiple Romero-eque zombies spilling with menace and foreboding out over the landscape. But Dr Myra, an odd cross of Elvira, the perfect 60's housewife and the synonymous Scooby Doo villain and her plan, for all that's b-movie goofyness at its brazen best, is convoluted and a hodgepodge of ideas that merely drags out the already shallow ordeal. There phase 3, an inconsistent neuro-toxins leaving half; compliant and half teeming with rage; and a sudden shift to plan b and a zombie-inducing-formula that can be reversed. What initially showed some horror promise soon turns to Igor, the two girls who are briefly enslaved, and monkey-man to carry the threat, and it's all rather flat, and all scares, along with convincing fights or gunshots, are left firmly at the door.

Ultimately though, Teenage Zombies is perhaps for the purist, or the desperate, as there are better good / bad movies, and the good / bad bits are probably as not as numerous or funny as I think. Jerry Warren however one frames it, is a bad director and this is a bad film. Sharing Ed Wood's total lack of vision and inability to see fault or a reason to reshoot, each and every scene is a show-case for the entirely b-movie actors to clumsy position themselves and stutter their lines. Add to this the laughable action sequences; championed by the final 7 person brawl / wrestle in the secret lab, and it's easy to argue it's as bad, if not worse than Wood's classic. I can't however quite draw myself to recommend it the same way though. Plan 9 has Depp's Ed Wood film and nearly forty years of unrivalled infamy; it's untouchable as anything other than the myth it's become. Not many will have heard of Teenage Zombies and as such it hasn't earned the same reputation or pass, and it's difficult, if I'm honest, to argue for it as anything other than the awfully amateur, keenly low-budget and utterly unwatchable piece of 60s schlock that it is 3/10.


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