MAY 9, 2012
I usually have zero expectations for DTV zombie movies, having suffered through so many over the course of these past five years. Gangs Of The Dead (formerly Last Rites) was chosen because of its relatively brief runtime and the fact that I hadn’t watched a zombie movie for a while, with most of them being “not really” zombie movies like Zombie Nation. It’s actually been nearly four months since I’ve seen a group of strangers fight each other and the undead while holed up somewhere!
But there was a brief period, starting somewhere around the end of the first act, where I actually started thinking that this one might not be too bad. It started off pretty terribly, with a gang-banger driving around as his fellow gang-banger explained how he was “getting out of this gang-banging shit” because he found God, thus setting him up as our hero, I guess. Fourteen seconds later, his pal calls attention to a girl walking down the street and our God-loving reformed citizen says “Man fuck that bitch!”, so I’m not sure which God he found.
However, once everyone arrives at the warehouse where the bulk of the movie takes place, it picks up a bit. It’s basically a zombie version of Assault on Precinct 13, as we have rival gangs, a few cops, and even a “fish out of water” character who lost his female companion, all having to stay together if they want to make it out alive. There’s even some decent humor, such as one cop betting the other on the survival chances of a couple of the gang guys who are attempting an escape. The FX are mostly practical, and I liked the meteor origin – they all drool this mouth wash-esque blue liquid (same that comes out of the meteor) after being turned into zombies. Nothing spectacular, but a reasonably entertaining B-movie.
Sadly, the script takes a pretty dim-witted turn, as the cop saves the gang guys who have gotten surrounded, only for their main heavy (Noel G, who is something of a professional gang actor) to let the cop get swarmed and killed. Since they were clearly going for a Precinct 13 vibe, I guess it KIND OF works as a surprise to kill off the Austin Stoker type character before the halfway point, but the movie never recovers from this moment. What makes these things work is the uneasy truce between enemies, and maybe even some minor redemption for the “villain” of the two. That’s why Precinct is a revered classic and this thing ends up on worst of the year lists.
Worse, for the next 25-30 minutes they basically forget about the zombies. The movie gets bogged down in a pointless undercover cop subplot, the two gangs fighting as if they weren’t surrounded by flesh eaters, and other assorted idiocy that is in no way entertaining. Maybe if you’re actually in a gang you can pick a side and see how things turn out, but to most normal folks, all of these people are scumbags, so I’m rooting for the zombies. And they’re MIA, so why the hell am I watching this?
They finally come back for the final 15 minutes or so, however it’s way too little too late. Noel G’s hateful character gets a fun death, and there’s a hilariously grim ending (more meteors!), but that doesn’t nearly make up for the pointless, zombie-free section that led up to it. The zombie makeup is also pretty lazy after a while; one turned character was clearly just given some green makeup to rub on about 30 seconds before the camera got turned on. That’s nothing compared to the hilarious goof early on though: the meteor demolishes part of a bridge, and then when Noel G arrives at the warehouse and gets out of his car, we see the perfectly intact bridge in the background with cars driving over it. You know you’re in trouble when you’re watching a movie shot in downtown LA where they don’t even know to film exteriors on Sunday morning when the entire section of the city is basically a ghost town. Christ, I knew that much before I even lived here!
Reggie Bannister also appears as one of the gang members. Sadly, he gets killed (by a van!) about 20 minutes in, so there’s no real benefit to his appearance (i.e. he doesn’t kill any zombies). He’s just there to make you say “What the hell is Reggie doing in a gang?” and fill in the obligatory “horror icon” role that all DTV horror movies with some semblance of a budget must include, because it means that the movie has a better chance of getting a panel at a convention. Bannister joins Sid Haig and Ken Foree in this group, lending bad movies their only bit of class but never appearing long enough to actually satisfy anyone who may have rented the movie on the strength of their name alone. Wish these guys had better agents, they all deserve better.
What say you?