MARCH 8, 2013
There has been a mini revival of Italian horror fare over the past 2-3 years, but unfortunately it has yet to yield a really great film that can allow them to compete with the Australian and French horror markets (themselves not quite up to the level of Korean and Japanese fare in terms of getting them released around the world properly). It needs a Zombie or Suspiria to really catapult itself "back", but most of what has been produced is along the lines of Eaters - perfectly decent movies that unfortunately don't have a lot of personality to distinguish themselves from the glut of our own indie horror.
I mean, it's kind of sad that a modern Italian zombie movie can be described as generic, because these were the guys who were showing US how it was done back in the 80s. But it seems their filmmakers were raised on the same movies we were, so apart from the language barrier, there's nothing here that really sets it apart from the various ___ Of The Dead movies on our shelves, or even British imports like Devil's Playground, which I was reminded of a couple times as both films involved securing the safety of a girl who is important for human survival (albeit for different reasons). There's a little person running a gang of Neo-Nazis (yep, evil humans!), but that's about the only thing in the movie I was certain I hadn't seen before - there isn't even a really inspired zombie kill to perk me up (it didn't help that right before I watched it, I saw the episode of Walking Dead where Andrea performed impromptu dental work on a ghoul with a rock and her foot).
Plus, for filmmakers who are in love with the genre (as they tell us on the making of), why so much digital blood? They thankfully have practical zombie designs and makeup (and some great variations as well; some have the typical rotted work while others look like something out of Hellraiser), but almost every kill is unfortunately saddled with pixel-y blood spurts and sprays. I just don't get it; if you're doing something crazy and physically can't pull off the shot practically, fine - but when it's just a squirt of blood from an exit wound on an off-camera zombie, why the hell can't you just have a guy with a bag of fake blood off to the side of the camera, ready to squish it on "action" and provide a nice, PRACTICAL blood effect that will look better anyway? Stop ruining your own movies!
And don't give me the "there isn't time for it" excuse, either - if you're planning/budgeting your HORROR MOVIE properly, that should be something you factor into your shooting schedule, same as you would the major plot scenes or the all-important fight between the hero and villain. Stop assuming that CGI blood can look as good - it does not, and can make or break your movie singlehandedly. Indeed, after I finished watching I looked at Twitter where a screening of the Evil Dead remake had just gotten out at SXSW, and everyone was gushing over it despite the fact that it seemingly was overloaded with nods to the original and bland characters (i.e. it lacked its own personality, same as this). Then why were folks so amped? Because there isn't a single CGI effect in the entire film, and whether it was conscious or subconscious, an audience will always respond more favorably to tangible, flesh and blood effects - replace those effects with even top notch CGI and suddenly the movie's problems become a lot more apparent. It's a hurdle Eaters can't quite clear, and when you add in the digital explosions (which are understandable since they can't actually blow up buildings) and keyed in backgrounds, the movie starts to unfortunately resemble a video game, not to mention constantly reminds you of how much better these things used to look.
Another issue was the overblown attempts to make the main guy into a badass. I understand the impulse, and the actor himself is fine (and he sounds like an Italian Jason Statham, which helps), but his dialogue is often cringeworthy, and he only has that one note throughout, rather than BECOMING a badass hero. That approach can work (Snake Plissken is a fine example), but here it just adds to the movie's "going through the motions" feel. He's a badass because he has to be, not because of anything he DOES, and he's saddled with the worst one-liner in movie history to boot (after he kills the human villain; I won't spoil it because honestly it's so long and awkward I'd have to rewind it three times to get it all down). And the guy doing the dubbing makes it worse; I switched over for a while because the subtitles were incredibly obnoxious (way oversized, at times covering half the image!), but the dubbing guy made him sound even cornier so I put the original Italian back.
Otherwise, it's reasonably entertaining and should scratch your itch if it's been a while since you've seen one of these things. I was never bored despite the slight over length (95 minutes; 85 would have sufficed) and a few long stretches without any zombie action, as the characters kept moving and thus the scenery kept changing. It's sort of like a condensed season of Supernatural - these two guys set off on a mission and encounter a few unrelated things along the way, as we learn a bit more of their backstory and get a sense of the larger stakes in bits and pieces (there are intermittent flashbacks about the hero's love interest - a very lovely lady I might add). There's definitely a bit of Day of the Dead here, with hardass soldier types butting heads with scientists, but the script goes in a very different direction, and keeps the cast much more compact (one reason I think Day pales next to the others - just too many people! Supposedly there are fewer humans on the planet but they had more main cast members than ever). The two leads also have an enjoyable chemistry; they're grunts, so they follow orders, but bicker about it like Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto in Alien.
It's also got a slight mean streak, like the news report telling us that the Pope shot himself in the head to avoid coming back as a zombie. It got me thinking; we have a ton of zom-coms (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Warm Bodies, etc) but I'm hard pressed to think of one that's really viciously darkly funny - something like Very Bad Things or Death To Smoochy DARK, but with zombies. How it would work, I don't know - that's your job! I mean, I'm sure there is one, but overall a filmmaker is more likely to do something more like Shaun than not, so when I see something with a little more bite, I'm happy about it.
The making of is the only real extra on the disc (some trailers fill up the rest of the special features menu, and it's worth noting that the subtitles there are better than the ones on the feature), and it's a pretty good one. Directors Luca Boni and Marco Ristori (who also co-wrote the script) and some of the actors take us through the entire production process, including a lengthy explanation/defense of the "Uwe Boll Presents" credit that probably scared some folks off (it baffles me that it's even on the DVD cover). Apparently, they met Boll a while ago when they were trying to get the movie made, and he promised them if they did he would get it distributed (thus, he had no real input on the film, haters). Sure enough, three years later he kept his word, and as one of the guys explains, he knows it's not doing them any favors with fans to have Boll's name on there, but he doesn't care - if you're that close minded to dismiss a film because Boll helped it find distribution, he doesn't want you watching his movie anyway. It's a great attitude to have, really; I may not care much for Boll's films, but I never understood the deep loathing he receives simply because he, like just about everyone else that has tried, has made some bad video game movies. The piece also shows a closer look at some of the practical FX (including a pretty great smashed face that you don't get to see much of in the finished film) and offers some fun anecdotes, making it a pretty enjoyable supplement that's worth a look even if you hated the film.
I'm gonna keep an eye on these two. They definitely have the heart, and if nothing else I can say that the movie is a lot better looking than most zombie flicks in this budget range (and even a couple that had much more to work with). They've seemingly already made a second zombie feature called Zombie Massacre - I'm pretty confident that it will be an improvement, and if so we can look back at this to see how they found their sea legs, so to speak.
What say you?