Zombie High (1987)

MARCH 22, 2013


If you notice, "Zombie" is not one of the genre taggings for Zombie High, and yet that's not even the only thing wrong with the two word title. It's also set on a college campus, so they're even more off than they were with "Zombie". I mean, I guess it could be an advanced prep school, but with the average age of the actors being around 24, I'd rather accuse the title of being wrong since they already proved they weren't very good at their job. Hell at one point when everything is being explained and thus they have a perfect opportunity to say "Zombie", Virginia Madsen's character refers to their antagonists as "Vampires". I guess "Vampire Prep School" just didn't have the same ring to it.

If it had just a little more actual horror in it, it'd probably be a pretty decent little 80s movie, especially when you consider that it's a glorified student film. The producer/writer was a guy named Aziz Ghazal who ran USC's camera department and was by all accounts a pain in the ass who ran the place like a drill sergeant, and would have students work on his films for course credit (though the director was 47 years old and never made anything of note before or since, and passed away in 1999). Ghazal would go on to kill his wife and daughter, and then himself, after bungling his attempts to get the book "The Brave" turned into a movie (something Johnny Depp eventually did), a story you can read about here - it's far more terrifying and upsetting than anything in this movie, I assure you.

But I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be a comedy. If not for the fact that Ghazal produced and was involved throughout (the IMDb has a post from the guy who wrote the ridiculous Beastie Boys ripoff song that accompanies the end credits, claiming the lyrics of the song are actually a "fuck you" to Ghazal), I'd suspect it was one of those deals where a comedy was written and the director shot it straight, or vice versa. It SEEMS like a parody of Stepford Wives (with more than a touch of Strange Behavior), and one could see it as a satire of how college fraternities tend to strip members of their individuality, but it's never actually funny or even that amusing. Only the overly 80s feel of it (neon clocks! awful hair! Pin Pressions!) provides the laughter, and that wouldn't have been the case in 1987 when the film was released.

So let's just chalk it up to no one really knowing what they were doing, hence the not-shockingly thin resumes of the bulk of the primary crew members (only co-writer Tim Doyle and a couple of the producers seem to have done all right for themselves). However the cast has kept busy - obviously star Virginia Madsen has gone on to bigger and better things (and also Firewall), but her roommate is none other than a young Sherilyn Fenn, and even odder - the casting person was Fenn's Twin Peaks co-star Eric "Leo" DaRe. But the real shocker is the guy playing Madsen's annoying platonic buddy Emerson - future Freaks & Geeks creator/Bridesmaids director Paul Feig! I thought it was actually a different one when I saw his name in the credits, but sure enough it's him, playing a guy that reminded me a lot of Spitz from Halloween 5. He's just as clueless as Madsen when it comes to noticing that something is not right at their school, but it's not until he too disappears and becomes one of the brainwashed students that she springs into action and something actually HAPPENS in the movie, so thank you for your sacrifice, Mr. Feig.

Another problem is that it takes too long to really bring in the villains of the movie, a sort of Mason-like group of old dudes who are the ones benefiting from the students' brainwashing. If I'm understanding correctly, they remove part of the brain and replace it with a crystal that puts them in their drone-like state, with the excised part of the brain being used to helping them stave off the aging process. The main guy (who sounds like Christopher Lloyd when he's agitated) appears quite a bit, but the others are just anonymous schmoes we only really see in the 3rd act, where the "zombies" aren't posing much of a threat. More often than not, when we see them they're just acting like robots; there's a funny bit where they all dance in slow unison at a school dance, and a long tracking shot of them mindlessly pulling books off the shelf at the library - our villains! So it's a clunkily paced plot with a near total lack of tension - the only thing that really provides any excitement is the arc of a teacher who is part of the group (he looks 30 but he's 102) and is starting to regret it. Will he help Madsen? (Yes) Will he pay for his crimes? (Also yes).

It also seemed like Ghazal watched Re-Animator; the main old guy is similar to Dr. Hill, and the locations are pretty much the same - nondescript college basements and off-campus housing. And both films are called zombie movies but are really about mad scientists trying to beat death in some way or other, with disastrous consequences. But I doubt there will be a Zombie High stage musical anytime soon. We DO have Disturbing Behavior, which also had this sort of idea (though closer to Strange Behavior) and did it better AND gave us "Flagpole Sitta".

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Was actually just looking at my copy of this the other day and debating on watching it, mainly because of the cast (and because I'm planning on watching a buttload of 80's teen movies). Ultimately, I decided that, today isn't the day and I'd watch it further down the line. Reading this review, it looks like I've made the right choice.


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