NOVEMBER 18, 2016
I didn't review the first Zombie Massacre when I saw it back in 2013, so my memory of it is non-existent. I did tweet that it "wasn't very good", noting Uwe Boll's cameo as the US President to be the highlight (back in 2013, jokes about random maniacs being the President were still funny), but I had to look up someone else's review to double check that the film did not take place during World War II like its sequel, Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead. It didn't, but it DID involve soldiers, so as unrelated sequels go it's at least got that much going on - I mean I guess there could be some tangential connection, like someone in this movie was the grandfather of a character in the first one, but if you think I'm gonna try to cross-check for the sake of this goddamn movie you clearly don't know me very well.
(Which would make sense, because 99% of you are strangers and probably should NOT know me very well. If you do, we need to set some boundaries.)
The same filmmaking team is behind this movie, but they've changed their MO considerably - the first had the Boll cameo, a lot of action, etc. It was, for lack of a more honest term, fun, whereas this is somber and slow-paced to a fault, like they were trying to mix elements from Black Hawk Down (wounded, trapped soldiers) and Jacob's Ladder (more on that soon) within the context of a zombie flick. On paper, that's a great idea, but almost nothing about the execution seen here could be considered successful. The languish pace is the biggest problem; it's not that it's slow in the "slow burn" kind of way, but more like they only had a 30 page script and opted to just stretch it to feature length. Not since Meet Joe Black have I seen a film allow so many dead pauses in between lines, where even a simple "I'm going over there." "OK, be careful!" kind of conversation can take up a full 30-40 seconds of screentime. And, not for nothing, but Meet Joe Black is a movie about trying to savor every moment, so that approach makes sense - not so much when you're in the middle of a devastating war and also adding zombies to the mix.
It doesn't help that you can actually count the number of zombies in the movie (I didn't actually do that, but it's under 30, I can almost guarantee), with the first one not even showing up until over a half hour into the film - weird for ANY zombie movie, let alone a sequel. Even the ones where the zombies are created in the film and thus need to be set up don't make us wait until the 2nd act to see one, and the war-driven action that we watch until that point is hardly exciting or original. There are only four soldiers, and (not counting some anonymous Nazi soldiers and the zombies) they make up a full half of the cast, which would be fine if they were well-rounded and compelling people, but they're all just generic soldier types you've seen in a dozen or more war films. You know that scene in Saving Private Ryan where Giovanni Ribisi tells that heartbreaking story about pretending to sleep so he wouldn't have to talk to his mom? They go for something like that, but it's like the Asylum mockbuster version of such scenes, and the not-particularly-good actors' delivery doesn't help much. And that's one of the movie's better scenes!
Luckily, the FX are improved over the original. They still use CGI blood spray for bullet hits, but there's some practical red stuff to enjoy, and since there's barely any action our eyes aren't being assaulted by laughable CGI explosions and and the like. In fact, across the board the movie is technically fine - it's well shot and I never doubted I was in 1940's Germany (low budget period pieces are rare for a reason), and it's even got a stylish opening credit sequence (one that was probably only commissioned to help get the runtime over 80 minutes, but still). Alas, there's only so much they can do when their script is so minimalist; it's the kind of movie where I felt like I just missed something because 40-45 minutes had gone by and so little had happened. There's an evil Nazi mad scientist guy who pops up in the 3rd act, giving the movie a bit of spark (the actor playing him is also the best of the bunch, which helps) but it's too little too late, and it also lacks a big action climax that would at least send us home with a bit of an adrenaline surge.
Instead, the movie ends on a confusing and bizarrely unexciting note, to the extent that I wondered if there was a glitch in my screener or if this was actually the first half of a movie that they decided to split in half, Harry Potter 7 style. Neither is the case, so your guess is as good as mine why it ends like this, which seems to suggest a vague kind of Jacob's Ladder twist? I mean, that was my interpretation anyway; a quick check of the IMDb message board confirmed others had very little clue what had just happened, with "It was all a dream?" type questions popping up but very few answers. I'm sure the filmmakers have an answer, but damned if the movie was interesting enough to track it down - I was just happy it was finally over and I could do something else with my time (I ended up watching the Stranger Things pilot again since it had been three months since I first gave it a try - still not drawn in, guys). Still, if you were inexplicably a fan of the first film and were excited about a sequel, I almost feel bad for you - it's different tonally, completely unrelated, and ends on a giant question mark, which would seemingly only promise another entry like this one instead of a true sequel to the original.
Incidentally, that's how I felt about the 3rd Outpost movie, a series that also involved zombies and World War II. The 2nd film ended on a cliffhanger, but then the third one was inexplicably a prequel - and it presumably killed the series for good, as that was a few years ago and there's still no word on a proper 4th film. It's an unfortunate occurrence in franchises; the producers know that the title alone will get the fans of that series to pick it up and thus don't really care, but it still baffles me when filmmakers (like this, the 3rd Outpost movie was with the same people) go in a different route, presumably bumming out the people that supported the previous film enough to keep them employed for another. And then it just sours the brand name, so what's the upside? Beyond making the first movie look like a classic in comparison, I mean. Well, whatever. Donald goddamn Trump is our President now, so the days of a bad horror movie being of any concern at all are behind us.
What say you?