NOVEMBER 2, 2008
I forget if I ever explained the term "independent" with regards to my genre tagging, so let me do so here: there is a big difference between “low budget” and “independent”, as far as I’m concerned. Pulp Fiction is NOT an independent film. Tarantino was given 10 million from a movie studio (one owned by Disney no less) and a pretty impressive cast of A-list talent who needed to stick to a shooting schedule. On the other hand, Die You Zombie Bastards! has no stars, was filmed for a few thousand bucks, and was shot over the course of a few years, with filming resuming whenever director Caleb Emerson could scrape together enough dough and find a crew willing to work for free for a few days. THAT is a truly “independent” film. Or to put it in simpler terms: if you ever had to cancel a shoot because your DP couldn’t get the night off from his “real job”, you’re an independent filmmaker!
Anyway, Zombie Bastards is definitely not for everyone. “Worst movie ever made” comments will probably be common on the IMDb messageboard, because morons often don’t understand that terrible effects, bad acting, etc. are sort of the point in movies like this. I never met the man, but I am willing to bet that Emerson knows his actors are so far over the top that they make Christopher Walken look subdued. I mean, Christ, the finale of the movie features a large battle between a sea monster riding a bike, a dozen demons, a serial killer superhero, a giant mosquito, a couple of robots, and a guy with a dogface. Restraint is hardly a factor.
Of course, all of this is even more hilarious when you consider the only restrained thing about the film was its budget. IMDb claims that the budget was about 150k, and yet the movie has more action, gore, and sheer variety than bigger budgeted “independent” films such as Cabin Fever or Jack Brooks do combined. And again, the cost-saving measures add to the fun; it’s a lot more entertaining to see a fake spaceship (it seems they went out of their way to make it look bad) attack a bunch of “Asians” (regular dudes in Raiden hats) than it would be to film all that stuff professionally.
Also: COCONUT HEAD FACE MAN. His scene/story seemingly has no bearing on anything in the movie, and that is a shame, but when the movie otherwise stops cold to tell us his tale, I became completely enamored by the film. It reminded me somewhat of the batshit nonsense stories that I make up when I’m bored (my dream is to make a buddy action/comedy film about bitter enemies: a hitman named Domingo Sally (a man) and a CIA agent/Bichon Frise who unwittingly join forces to take on a demon who has taken control of the Versailles mob), so I felt a kinship with it.
Another thing I loved was the rather random map overlays (think Indiana Jones) that provided occasional scene transitions as our hero made his way around the world. They are all completely wrong (West Virginia is apparently located in Norway), which of course is what makes them so funny. Making fun of cinematic convention is a staple throughout the film; I particularly liked whenever Emerson would obviously use the same cutaway/reaction over and over during a scene, overdoing it to the point that you know that it’s a joke and not just a low budget penny pinching technique.
In a way it reminded me of Repo, in that the movie is so fucking OUT THERE that you need to sort of adjust your senses to get on board. The first fifteen minutes or so made me want to quit doing HMAD forever, but by the time our hero (a serial killer; no one seems to care much though) goes to a police station to try to get them to help him find his kidnapped girlfriend, I knew I made the right choice to stick with it. So for those impatient folks out there; just let it sink in. It’s like, yeah, "Pablo Honey" is a great album, but you gotta sort of forget about it if you ever want to enjoy "OK Computer".
The DVD has a pretty expansive set of extras, though none are as fun as the movie itself. There’s the obligatory commentary, which is exactly the type of track you’ve come to expect from a no-budget film (“that’s my brother, this scene had to be reshot because there was no tape in the audio recorder”, etc). But it’s kind of funny to hear a commentary that namedrops a bunch of towns I know well, like Medford (I lived one town over), and he also mentions going to Spookyworld, a beloved locale for New England horror nerds. Then there’s about 40 minutes’ worth of behind the scenes footage, which isn’t exactly essential, but it’s interesting to see how often the film would start and then shut down again due to budget/cast/whatever issues. Then there are about 8 minutes of ADR sessions that should have been 3-4 tops. Also a couple of poorly shot band performances, an interview with the late (and incoherent) Hasil Adkins, and the only really worthwhile one in the bunch: an interview with Emerson.
This is a movie that sort of defies judging. It’s not love it or hate it; its love it or don’t bother. It’s a shame that Emerson has gone on to work on truly abysmal stuff like Splatter Disco (he was the DP, though to be fair the only thing about that movie that I remember liking was that it was well shot for DV); let’s hope he lines up another feature of his own (in this vein, not some bullshit remake or whatever) sooner rather than later. Also – it was shot in Gloucester, MA, which is about a half hour or so from my hometown. I wish I knew about this movie back during one of its productions; I totally would have been a PA or whatever.
What say you?