Zombie Massacre 2: Reich Of The Dead (2015)

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?


Black Friday Sale!

I can't recall the first time I participated in a Black Friday sale, but I am definitely a fan of the whole thing. Until now, I've always just been an outside observer (i.e. customer), but this year I have something to sell! My book! But you can't get it in most stores, so don't look for a sale anywhere besides right here - and I won't make you wait until Friday to do it, nor will you have to wait out in the cold (unless you're really bad at using your computer). Starting now, until 11:59pm PST on Friday, November 25th, you can order a copy of the mammoth physical version of the HMAD book for a mere $16.50 shipped - that's more than 30% off the usual price, and free shipping to boot! Amazon hasn't marked it down for a while and even when they did it wasn't this low as far as I can recall, so this is the best price it's ever been (and probably ever will be) for a new copy.

To order, Paypal the $16.50 ($17.50 for Canadian orders, please - shipping is a little extra) to FrightReviews@gmail.com, and make sure to leave your shipping address! Sometimes it doesn't show up automatically, so to be safe just add it under "special instructions" or whatever. I will be sending out the books more or less as the orders come in, so they will definitely arrive by Christmas if you plan to use it as a gift (IT MAKES A GREAT ONE IN MY OPINION!), as the distributor sends them fairly quickly. However, this particular sale is for US and Canada only at this time, so no overseas orders, please. Not only can I not guarantee the ship time, but I also can't offer the same price due to increased shipping costs (I'd end up losing money on the sale - I'm broke enough as is), so you're better off just buying through Amazon Prime or however else you get to skip delivery prices, which is an option I won't have.

Thanks once again to everyone who has purchased the book (either version) and/or spread the word to their friends! It might not have been a blockbuster, but each and every sale meant the world to me and improved what has been a very obnoxious year (both in the real world and my own little one). Happy Thanksgiving and here's hoping next year is better for all of us!


Last Girl Standing

Look there are literally hundreds of slasher reviews here so I figured writing one for Birth.Movies.Death couldn't hurt - but I wanted to make sure you guys saw my take on Last Girl Standing as it won't be on the front page for long (whereas this post about it will be on HMAD's front probably for a month). Cool little take on the slasher concept without getting meta or cutesy. Also: AWESOME fucking mask for the killer. Worth tracking down if you enjoy alternative approaches to my favorite sub-genre.


Army of Frankensteins (2013)

NOVEMBER 11, 2016


On any other week, Army of Frankensteins would have been the worst part of it, hands down. But... well, you know. However, it's actually somewhat MORE damning of the film that I wasn't able to find much to enjoy about it, since it involved time travel, a device a lot of us wish we could have right now. If the movie was competent on any level that mattered, it might have worked as a bit of a pick-me-up or something, but the unconvincing effects, worse actors, incoherent plot, and (most insulting) punishing length just added to the misery more than anything else. Yes, I do wish I had a time machine myself, but whether I'd use it to stop Hitler 2.0 or merely convince these folks not to make such an ambitious film when they only had 12 cents to make it, I'm not sure. Could I do both?

Indeed, the budgetary restraints were probably their biggest downfall. The narrative is appropriately "stitched together" from a variety of films, primarily Army of Darkness (grocery store clerk goes back in time and gets involved in a major battle, using some of his futuristic technology to help the good guys), Back to the Future (the same guy accidentally causes strife between his will-be great-great-grandparents and has to reunite them to ensure his existence), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (revisionist horror gibberish playing a part in Lincoln's death) and, well, Time Chasers, the movie that was so savagely lampooned on MST3k that its filmmakers actually felt depressed about it. Like that movie, our time traveling hero gets involved in a Civil War, with soldiers and equipment belonging to a reenactment troop that probably could have used a bigger budget themselves. Honestly, I'm sure these filmmakers weren't intending to homage that piece of junk, but I was certainly thinking about that one more than any of those other, superior movies. Then they throw in zombies and a pointless subplot about the hero and his girlfriend BOTH being sexually harassed in the present day bookends (he by his landlord, her by her boss). It's like they had four scripts and opted to shoot scenes from them all until the money ran out. Then shot for another few days anyway.

The other big problem is that the movie is tone deaf - I never could quite decide if it was supposed to be funny or not. I certainly didn't laugh much (John Wilkes Booth inexplicably slapping Mary Todd on the butt as she headed out of their balcony to rush to Lincoln's aid made me chuckle for the irony, given that the Presidency itself was just killed by a man who proudly admits to such behavior), and the 110 minute length and plot revolving around Lincoln and the Civil War (so, in turn, a bit of slavery) doesn't exactly scream high comedy. If they were going for laughs and it simply didn't amuse ME PERSONALLY, that'd be one thing, but the majority of the actors weren't really mugging or playing up their bad dialogue, so I have to assume it was, at best, meant to be FUN, not funny. However, that approach only works if we're still supposed to be taking the story and its stakes seriously (think Amblin movies), which is impossible here since it revolves around a time travel concept that comes out of nowhere.

It also involves the title characters, and believe me - the use of "Frankensteins" when it's an army of the Monsters is the least of the movie's problems. The makeup is actually pretty good, but the rest of the execution for the big lug is a crippling flaw. For starters, he grunts exactly like Phil Hartman playing the Monster on SNL (where are Tarzan and Tonto?), effectively killing any chance of him being scary in the slightest (if anything it's the movie's best clue that it's supposed to be a comedy). Worse, it may be an "Army" but it's only one guy playing him, and these folks don't have access to those great Matrix computers that allowed Keanu to fight a hundred Hugo Weavings at once. So you see a row of digital clones of the guy, and most of the time they don't even bother to have the actor do six or ten or twelve takes of his actions, so they all act more or less in unison as well (they at least stagger the start time of their canned "animation" a bit so they're not 100% in sync, but it's not enough of a difference to avoid giving away that they're copy/pasting clones of one clip around the screen). They TRY to explain this away by working in a device where there's only one real Frankenstein and the others are copies (and will all die if the main one dies, or feel the same injury, or whatever), so it would make sense that they all act/move exactly the same, but all it does is call attention to a shitty effect.

Curiously, bad green-screen work rears its ugly head even in shots without Frankensteins. The last 15 minutes take place in Washington DC (as opposed to on the battlefield in Virginia) as the heroes try to stop Lincoln's assassination, and the non-Monster actors look like they've been virtually placed over plain stone walls and the like, for whatever reason. I know they shot the movie in Oklahoma and not Virginia/DC, but I can't imagine there isn't a single building in these Oklahoman cities that would have worked for these brief shots. After all, the backgrounds are too dark and/or close up to contain any period detail of note, and even if they weren't I assume by this point no one would care if they could see Priuses driving around behind the actors, as long as the movie just got itself over with, so the fact that they didn't just have the actors stand in front of whatever exterior wall was closest at the time is beyond me. Maybe they were going for a Sky Captain/Sin City kind of deal, but for that to work they have to commit to it for the whole movie, not just random scenes. As for the digital blood - well, like the "Frankensteins" thing, I wish that was something that was actually an issue (though they could at least work on the CGI actions - when Frankenstein pulls a guy's head off it looks like it couldn't have been attached in the first place).

There is also a scene in a hot air balloon, so if you're a student of Ebert's list of movie rules, you already got everything you need to know about this thing.

Ultimately, I admire the ambition, but when you're asking for nearly two hours of my time (instead of 80), constantly reminding me of better movies, and doing almost nothing effectively, I can't get excited about it any more than I can my toddler drawing a fairly decent circle, albeit on the wall with a Sharpie. One of the best things a filmmaker do is play within his/her limitations (both budgetary and creative, though the latter obviously takes a little soul-searching to find), because it allows the audience to quickly settle into the world you're presenting. Biting off more than you can chew (and then some - there is really no need for any of the Lincoln stuff at all. Even Time Chasers knew that much) is, 99 times out of 100, a surefire way of letting the audience down, and hard. The team is already in post on a 2nd feature, a giant monster movie called Gremlin (Amblin again!), so hopefully they got enough constructive criticism on their first film to improve on this one. It's never fun to pick on an indie (especially one that doesn't settle for doing the same shit as everyone else), but like I've said a million times - at the end of the day the consumer has to pay the same price for these movies as they do the big budget ones, and thus it's the filmmaker's job to make sure we're getting our money's worth regardless of how much they spent to earn it. The $7,000 Primer is just as valid a time travel movie as the $30m Twelve Monkeys - by the same rule, Army of Frankensteins should engage and entertain just as well as the movies it's cribbing from.

What say you?


Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016)

OCTOBER 30, 2016


It probably won't surprise you to know that I've never seen a single Madea movie, or even anything that Tyler Perry has directed at all (my lone exposure to him was Alex Cross, in which he only starred), so it should go without saying that I only made an exception for Boo! A Madea Halloween was because it looked to be a horror-comedy in the Ernest Scared Stupid/Transylmania kind of vein, i.e. taking existing characters and putting them into a horror setting for one reason or another. But while I had fun with my introduction to Madea (more on that soon), I feel I should warn anyone who might be curious - the ads are kind of a giant lie. Not only does the horror part of the movie (i.e. what the marketing exclusively focused on) only comprise maybe 30 minutes in the back half, but (spoiler, in the purest technical sense) it's also all fake.

To be fair, I wasn't surprised at that - even if no one died, going by what I know of the Madea universe (I read Evan Saathoff's book on the subject, in fact!) it'd be weird to introduce zombies and ghosts to it, even as strange as it gets with its non-supernatural narratives. I fully expected a Scooby-Doo moment where we learn all of the things haunting her all evening had been a ruse, and don't hold it against the movie for going that route. I DO, however, get annoyed that they tell us it's all fake before anything even happens! Madea's antics cause the frat party we see in the trailer to get busted up by the cops, so the frat guys say "We're gonna go get her back!" or something, at which point the "hauntings" begin. Worse, the reveal is equally half-assed - Madea runs from the "zombies" into a church where she is told almost instantly that it's all fake, by a character we haven't even seen before. I mean, there's April Fool's Day, and then there's this.

Plus, as I mentioned, this stuff barely takes up a third of the 100+ minute film. After that early fake-out bit with the clown (also in the trailer), nothing "scary" happens for like 45-50 minutes, to the point where I actually forgot I sat down for a horror-comedy. Until then it functions as a standard comedy about a man (named Brian, also played by Perry) who is having trouble disciplining his 17 year old daughter and calls on Madea for some help. There's a half-baked subplot about the daughter's friend being a good girl Catholic that isn't exactly stoked about going to a frat party, and other diversions like that, but they all function as a means to get Madea yelling at and/or hitting anyone who doesn't share her philosophies. This is best exemplified early on, when Madea first arrives at Brian's house. For reasons I can't discern, she brings along three pals (including Joe, another character played by Perry) and after an endless scene where they each enter the house and sit down, we are treated to an even more endless scene (over 15 minutes, no lie) of the four of them mostly just yelling at Brian for not hitting his daughter. Apparently Madea and Joe (his father, if I'm following things correctly) both subjected him to horrible abuse as a kid, and as Joe explains, he's "not dead", so their methods are proven right and should be continued.

(The idea that their horrible abuse left him so weak-willed and is thus the reason his daughter can walk all over him is never considered.)

The ghost stuff has mostly been shown on the trailer; in fact the trailer actually offers more. Jigsaw does not call Madea in the movie (that phone call scene is in it, but it's her pastor calling her for a donation), and even those establishing shots of a Haddonfield-y town aren't in the movie. But the rest - TV's turning on, Madea being chased, etc. are all there, and all after we've been told it's all a prank, so they're hardly exciting. I was actually more interested in seeing how they explained the "ghost writing" on the mirror, as that's not something I'd expect some dumb frat guy to figure out (the rest is chalked up to "they hacked into the electrical and plumbing" or something equally "whatever, movie"), but they never do. However, by that point I had gotten used to Perry's... let's be kind and say unusual method of filmmaking, so it's not like I was angry when the credits rolled and I still hadn't gotten my answer.

So it's a total wash as a horror comedy, as even if the material was legit it would barely cover the runtime of a TV special. However, as a viewing experience, it was utterly fascinating to me. Again, I've never seen any of Perry's films, so if you're an old fan (ironic or not) this is nothing new, but to my fellow newcomers - holy shit. From Evan's book I knew that Perry was incompetent at certain basic elements of filmmaking, but to actually see it in action (during its 2nd weekend at #1 at the box office, no less) is completely different. Perry frequently laughing (even breaking character slightly) at his lines or the antics of his co-stars, as if the idea of simply cutting and starting a new take never occurred to him, is actually kind of endearing after a while, not unlike an SNL host or cast member trying/failing to hold it together when something goes awry. Less endearing is his inability to use split screen, something you'd think would be a given when he plays three characters, but apparently he figured body doubles would suffice. Alas, they do not, and some of the biggest laughs in the movie involve the non-Perry actors trying their hardest to keep their faces out of the camera (keep an eye on "Madea" endlessly rummaging through her bag when we can see Joe on the other side of the frame).

He also has unusual ideas of how people act. The frat guys are ridiculous and overly obnoxious, which I thought was intentional (they're morons!), but when they panic over discovering that Brian's daughter and her friend are only 17, I had to wonder if Tyler Perry had actually ever met a male college student in his life. Later, Madea goes to the frat house and the guys at the door demand to see her breasts, in a manner that would have you considering the horndog characters in things like Porky's were being far too subtle (this scene also shows off another of Perry's non-skills as a director, clearly zoomed in from a much wider shot, and not even centered properly, as if they were trying to cut people out of the shot intentionally), which is followed by more non-human behavior when they actually go inside (to find the daughter, who managed to sneak out somehow). The dialogue often seems to have been run through a babelizer, and plot points that I thought I was just hazy on because it's technically part 9 of a series turn out to be just bad writing. For example, Brian's wife is no longer in the picture, something I assumed was explained in an earlier film, but apparently it wasn't - they were still together last time, but this movie doesn't explain their separation until near the very end (she cheated on him, apparently), and the kids are played by different actors and have barely aged since they last appeared 11 years ago in Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

All that said, I actually had a good time watching the goofy thing. Laughing with, laughing at... it didn't really matter after a while; I was by myself (and, not that it mattered, but pretty much the only white guy in there), something that I sometimes feel self-conscious about at a comedy since someone just sitting there alone is different than someone laughing alone, but after a while I forgot about that and just enjoyed myself. There's a weird bit where Joe over-pronounces the word "Prostate" for some reason that had me howling, and later he inexplicably breaks the 4th wall (I assume?) to inform us that Madea is "a dude", which I cackled at for a solid 10 seconds. Honestly, even though it's what I was there for, I had more fun with the regular comedy scenes than the "horror" stuff, and it inspired me to finally get around to seeing some of those other films (I'm told Mad Black Woman, Why Did I Get Married, and Madea Christmas are the ones I should zero in on for the full experience, if time doesn't allow me to watch them all). There's something undeniably entertaining about the shoddiness and insanity that Perry puts on-screen, seemingly unaware that he's doing it. It's like a child using swear words - you don't want to condone the behavior, but it's also kind of adorable. And with the others, I will sit down knowing exactly what kind of movie I'm about to watch, without feeling cheated like I did here.

What say you?


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