Zombies

Night of Something Strange

A group of teenagers get stranded in a creepy motel on their vacation. Little do they know, they are being followed by zombies. What’s worse is that this zombie virus is a STD, so you can imagine the interesting way that it spreads. One by one the teens turn into the living dead. Will any of them be able to avoid this horrific STD?

While there have been films in the past that use the idea of an STD being the origin of a zombie virus, there are no other films that take it to the extreme that Night of Something Strange does. In all honesty, there are a few scenes in the film that take it a bit too far for me. There was more than one occasion where I was cringing and felt a bit uncomfortable about what I was watching. That isn’t to say the film isn’t hilarious in how outrageous almost every minute is. The story is meant to be insane and campy. In that regard, the film makers did an excellent job.

The characters were even extreme in many ways. In general, they all fit some horror film stereotype you expect to see. These stereotypes can especially be seen in the male characters. There is the douchey boyfriend, the nerdy virgin, the man-whore, and the hunky hero. With the exception of the hero, all of the male characters are exaggerated to the point where they are completely unlikable. This makes it hard to believe that the seemingly intelligent young women in the film would waste their time with these idiots, but at the same time it works in making the situations more humorous.

This film had a very entertaining group of actors. For me, there were two performances that stood out. The first was from Michael Merchant (She Kills, Science Team), who plays Freddy. Freddy is quite possibly the most despicable character in this film, but at the same time he’s so funny you can’t help but enjoy every time he’s on the screen. Poor Freddy also gets into some of the worst situations, so you sympathize for him at least a little bit. The second performance I loved was Trey Harrison (Ithaca, Faux Paws) as Dirk. Dirk is singled out as the hero of the film fairly early on. What I loved about his performance is that he had some of the best one-liners throughout the entire film. The way he delivered the one-liners was so cheesy and hilarious I couldn’t help but laugh.

Another high point of the film was the practical effects. Being a zombie flick, you expect there to be quite a bit of blood and guts. Add the STD factor, and it makes for some more interesting practical effects. All of these were disgusting and fantastically done. I also loved that each zombie had its own individual look, while still appearing to have been infected by the same virus. There are two specific practical effects that occur later in the film that are hilarious, disgusting, and incredibly well made.

This is the kind of film that sticks with you long after it’s through. While I’m not going to give it the highest overall rating, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun while watching the film. Night of Something Strange is a cringe-worthy gore fest that will hilariously go places you probably will wish it hadn’t. The film embraces its camp, and you can tell the film makers really had a blast creating this disturbing tale. Be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart… or stomach.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a classic 19th century love story. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives in the English countryside with her parents and sisters. Coming from a family that is not as wealthy, there is constant pressure for the girls to be married off to rich men. When Elizabeth meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) there is an instant attraction. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy has a very cold and austere personality, and Elizabeth is a very proud woman. As if that isn’t enough to make these two ignore the sparks between them, there is a zombie plague ravishing England. The two must join forces to fight off the hordes of undead, while also navigating the trials of English high society.

To preface this review, I have seen many film/TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I know the story well, and I love it. If you are not a fan of Jane Austen books or films, or if you have never seen them, this film might not be as enjoyable to you as it was to me. This film did an excellent job of blending the story that many fans already know and love with the added plot interest of a zombie plague.

All of the memorable themes and dialogue are present. Of course, with the presence of zombies, there were some bits added to the plot in order for everything to make sense. I loved that the zombies in the film were a bit unique compared to the traditional zombies audiences are used to. These zombies can keep all of their memories and intelligence. It isn’t until they feed on human brains that they become the mindless hungry masses you typically see in zombie films. The filmmakers even managed to add a great mystery to the plot, which I loved. It made it so they weren’t just throwing in zombies to an already existing story without them having any importance to the plot. Luckily, these additions managed to turn this love story into an exciting, and often extremely funny, gore fest from start to finish.

This film had a superb collection of actors. Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) was perfect as Elizabeth Bennet. Even while kicking some major zombie ass, she managed to exemplify grace and elegance. Sam Riley (Maleficent, Byzantium) made a great Mr. Darcy. I still can’t believe he managed to seem like the most socially awkward man in England, and yet his zombie-killing skills made him extremely attractive. While these two leads were both great in their roles, there is one performance that completely stole the show for me. Those who know the story of Pride and Prejudice will remember Parson Collins. He is the cousin of the Bennet girls, and probably the most bizarre little character that Jane Austen ever created. Pastor Collins was played by the talented Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Lost River). You can tell he had so much fun with this role. He was quirky, and awkward, and rude, and oblivious to his own flaws in a way that had me laughing every time Smith was on the screen.

One of the most important things about a zombie film is the special effects makeup. This film definitely delivered on that. Much of the zombie makeup was done with practical effects. What takes the makeup a step further is how the filmmakers seamlessly layered CGI effects on top of that makeup to give the zombie looks the extra oomph that they needed. There is really only one qualm I had while watching the delightful zombie gore; there was a very noticeable lack of blood. I get that zombie blood would likely be sludgy and coagulated, as they are dead. It still bothered me a great deal during the very first fight sequence when the Bennet girls are fighting off the zombies, yet the blades of their swords remained entirely clean. They might not have the bright red blood you would see if they had stabbed a living person, but there should have least have been some kind of black/brown zombie gore on the blades. It’s such a small detail but it made the fight scenes seem much less realistic (yes I know it’s a zombie film, but it can still be realistic).

In all honesty, I probably enjoyed this film because I am already a Jane Austen fan (all thanks to my mother). I also loved it because I am a fan of zombie films. That isn’t to say that people who don’t know Jane Austen’s classic tales won’t still have a lot of fun in this film. The healthy amounts of action, mystery, and humor that were infused into the story created a really fun film that could appeal to a variety of viewers. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can be added to the list of the more witty, intelligent zombie films.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Re-Animator (1985)

A medical school student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is trying to find a classmate to be his new roommate. When a mysterious new student answers his add, Dan’s world gets turned upside down. This new student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is obsessed with finding an agent that can re-animate dead tissue. Dan slowly gets sucked into Herbert’s work. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, with some dire consequences that the two students may not be able to get themselves out of.

I know this may come as a shock to many horror fans, but this was my first time seeing Re-Animator. I know, I know! It’s shocking. There are many classics that I need to catch up on (which is why I do Throwback Thursday reviews). This is a film I’ve always wanted to watch. I see clips of it here and there on different horror TV networks, plus it has quite the reputation as a cult classic horror film.

Going into this film, the one thing I was the most excited about was the practical effects. Luckily the film lived up to my expectations. Eighties horror and scifi films always have the most creative and elaborate practical effects. Re-Animator doesn’t use as many practical effects as I was expecting, but the ones they do use are pretty amazing. Two of the stand-outs are a mangled, deceased cat that gets re-animated and a re-animated headless body (along with the severed head). With the severed head they did a great job going back and forth between using a model head and the actual actor’s head (which was stuck through a hole in a table).

Generally speaking, the story was interesting and kept my attention. While I wouldn’t technically call this a zombie film, it takes an interesting approach to the how and why the dead would be brought back to life. I enjoyed that it went in a more scientific direction than many living dead films do. There were some aspects of the plot that I don’t think worked quite as well. There were many times during the story where I couldn’t help but think “why?” Why was Herbert so obsessed with proving he could re-animate dead tissue? Why did Dan trust Herbert so easily? Why was Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) obsessed with Megan (Barbara Crampton)? These pieces of the story made things more exciting, but I hate not knowing why they happened in the first place.

Considering this is a campy eighties horror flick, the acting is surprisingly good. Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond) was equal parts creepy and intriguing as the obsessive Herbert West. Throughout the film he does an amazing job of portraying the borderline psychotic need Herbert has to prove his theory, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Bruce Abbott (Dark Justice), while not really a standout in the film, was still enjoyable to watch. At times his character felt a bit bland, but that could have been more due to writing than his acting. My favorite performance came from David Gale (Bride of Re-Animator) as the menacing Dr. Carl Hill. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play a severed head, but he pulled it off in a way that was disturbing and comical all at the same time.

While I couldn’t say this film is my favorite eighties horror film, it’s definitely a fun watch that will appeal to many viewers. Re-Animator is a cult classic for good reason. Whatever it lacks in the scares, it greatly makes up for in weirdness and humor. It’s a fun story with a bizarre cast of characters. Add that to the delightfully cheesy eighties practical effects, and you get a recipe for a fun flick that will entertain people for years to come. This is a film that every true horror fan should see at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Over My Dead Body (Short)

This is my first time writing a review for a short horror film, but shorts are becoming more popular (especially with websites like YouTube and Vimeo) so it seems high time for me to write about one. In the short film “Over My Dead Body,” by director Timothy Plain, we see Marie (Karina Wolfe) getting ready for her blind date. Much to Marie’s surprise her blind date, Richard (Jeremy Mascia), turns out to be a zombie.

There are so many great qualities to this short film. The most important for me is they manage to fit a complete story into a mere 7 minutes. It has everything you expect to see in a feature-length romantic comedy. The script by Zergog Sebastian Tovar made me laugh many times. Blind dates are awkward enough on their own; add the fact that your date is a zombie, and things get even more uncomfortable! I especially loved the bad jokes Tovar incorporated into the script. Most guys try to make jokes to make an awkward situation more comfortable. Poor Richard’s jokes only seemed to make things worse, which made everything more hilarious to watch.

Another great aspect of this short is the attention to detail. These are little things that you may not even notice the first time you watch the short, but they have a big impact. One of my favorite scenes consists of one of these small details. When Richard first arrives to the blind date he gives Marie a bouquet of dead flowers. The gesture of a dead guy giving his date dead flowers made me laugh so hard. This scene reflects the short as a whole: cute, clever, morbid, and completely hilarious.

Richard’s makeup was very fitting because while the character is a zombie, you still want the viewer to see Richard as someone who is dateable. If they had gone for the full “Walking Dead” treatment, no one would want to date that zombie! The only downside to this makeup is that it didn’t necessarily extend beyond the face. It would have been nice to see the pale complexion and dark veining wherever zombie skin was showing.

“Over My Dead Body” really has everything you could want from a romzomcom. It’s funny, it has a zombie, and it has a very sweet story. Now, consider the fact you get all this in a 7 minute short, and that is pretty impressive. This short film is something that can not only appeal to people of many different ages, but to non-horror fans as well. You can even watch it on a break at your day job (like I did) or pull it up on Vimeo on your TV. Either way, be sure to check this short out.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5 (Since it’s a short it seemed appropriate to use a smaller rating scale!)

Extinction

Several years ago a zombie outbreak devastated the human race. In the secluded, snowy town of Harmony three survivors live as close to normal lives as they can. As far as they know, they are the last people left alive on Earth. In one house lives Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) and his daughter Lu (Quinn McColgan). Across the street lives Patrick (Matthew Fox). The two men loathe each other and refuse to interact, despite the fact it has been years since they saw another human being, or a zombie. The men must attempt to put their differences aside in order to survive a new threat. The zombies have evolved, and they are now deadlier than ever.

The overall premise of this film I enjoyed. While there are horrifying monsters that become a threat later in the film, much more of the focus is on the relationship between Jack and Patrick. It is hard to imagine going for so long without human contact, when you have someone who lives right across the road from you. Their hatred is so fierce that even the end of the world won’t break it. The only thing that brings them together is their joint desire to protect Lu. Zombie movies that focus on human nature rather than the monsters are always interesting, when done correctly. The problem with the story line arose whenever there was a flashback. The film frequently used flashbacks to show tidbits of what happened when the virus initially broke out. It also reveals how these two came to hate each other. The problem is that things are revealed so slowly, and in fragmented pieces, that through most of the movie you get more and more confused until the final flashback.

The three main actors did an excellent job. I especially enjoyed Matthew Fox (Lost) as Patrick. He did an amazing job showing the effects of not interacting with other humans for nearly a decade. He is dirty, drunk, and is hearing voices. I was also pleasantly surprised by Quinn McColgan (Non-Stop). Her character was at the point where she was starting to question their solitary life and wanting more freedom to go out in the world. This can be a tricky thing to portray without sounding whiny or just generally being annoying. With the exception of a couple stupid things McColgan’s character did, she did a great job of showing that she wanted that freedom while still remaining likable. Then, of course, there is Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice). What was especially interesting about his performance is that he was the polar opposite of Fox’s character. Looking at him, you wouldn’t even realize it was the end of the world. His appearance is always nice and clean and he keeps his and his daughter’s life as normal as possible.

The special effects left something to be desired. Most of this became apparent with the sets. I understand they wanted this snowy area to look even more desolate and cold. I also understand there were a few cityscape scenes that could not have been done without CGI. That being said, the snowfall that was added in with CGI was incredibly distracting. It pointed out to me that this was a work of fiction even more so than the mutated zombies did. I’m sure the filmmakers had their reasons for choosing to add so much CGI snowfall, but I think the film would have been more visually appalling without it.

The evolved zombies are another story. They used a combination of actors and CGI, which is fine. My problem with the zombies is that the evolution doesn’t really make sense. Supposedly they adapted to their environment, but there are several problems with that idea. The first one being that they live in a snowy world, and they don’t have a stitch of hair anywhere on their bodies. How do they not freeze to death? Another problem is that for some reason the zombies evolved to be blind and rely solely on their hearing. That would be fine and dandy if they were in a dark, cave-like environment, but they’re not. The evolution of their ears is also incredibly odd to me. The ears look like bizarre, toothy mouths that open and close. The zombies may look cool and scary, but they are entirely nonsensical.

I appreciate this film’s attempt at being more than your average zombie flick. They tried to create something with a deeper story focusing on the survivors, while also updating the zombies into something more terrifying. Unfortunately, it just fell a bit flat. The survivor story aspect was at times confusing and the zombies not only didn’t fit their environment, but they simply weren’t in the film enough. The acting was definitely the high point of the movie, but it can only carry a film so far.  This is one of those films where I’m not thrilled by it, but I don’t necessarily hate it either. It’s just average.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Maggie

There is a zombie outbreak across the country. A young midwestern girl named Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected by this virus. Her loving father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decided to do what he can to care for her as she goes through her transformation. Maggie tries to live a relatively normal teenage life while she can. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles in her way including people who fear what she will become and the feared “quarantine zone.” How far will her father go to keep her safe?

This film was incredibly well done. I think what I enjoyed the most is that the story took a different approach to the idea of a zombie virus. The transmission of the virus is the same where if a person is bitten by the infected, they will become a zombie as well. Something that was different is that while in most films the change happens within hours, or even minutes, the virus in this film takes days to take over the body. It was very interesting to watch the slow decay of the body, starting at the site of the bite. I also loved that the story went over different stages where the infected start out relatively healthy and normal, but eventually they begin to smell you as food and become more aggressive before they are completely gone. There are also some physical changes that the infected go through as the body decays. One classic zombie trait that the filmmakers kept, which I greatly appreciate, is that the zombies are slow moving. Fast zombies can be fun, but realistically it doesn’t make sense for a corpse to be running around at top speeds (rigor mortis, anyone?).

Maggie was definitely made to be more of a drama set in a zombie apocalypse than a true horror movie. That made the film especially effective. It is less about the flesh eating creatures lurking in the shadows and more about the people who are trying to get by in this new world. It especially focuses on the father-daughter relationship. It is hard to imagine what you would do if someone you loved was bitten. Would you hide them from the authorities? Would you do anything to protect them? When the time came would you put them out of their misery? Or worse, would you give them over to the quarantine? The only thing that bothered me about the storyline is that they never tell you how Maggie got bit by a zombie in the first place. They had occasional mini-flashbacks but nothing that truly explained what happened.

The acting in this film was also excellent. Abigail Breslin is one of the child stars who has been able to continue her career and show time and time again how talented she really is. Not only does Breslin portray what it is like to be a teen in this dark world, but she superbly goes through all the emotions of knowing you have a limited amount of time before becoming a zombie. I was also quite impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his movies, but I have only ever seen him as an action star as opposed to a true actor. He proved me wrong in this film. Everything he did was understated, yet you felt his character’s struggle as he essentially watches his daughter go through a slow death. He did such a great job that I wasn’t even bothered by a midwestern farmer having a thick Austrian accent.

Considering the fact that this is a zombie film, albeit a dramatic zombie film, the makeup effects were very subtle and beautiful. There was only a bit of gore makeup, mostly with the infection site and when a zombie was put down. The makeup was primarily showing how the virus slowly spreads and kills the infected from the inside by creating a black-veined look on the skin. They also created a haunting look by making the eyes look like the infection decayed them as well. Overall the look was muted, but still created the intended effect of what a zombie would look like.

Maggie is definitely a must see movie of 2015. It does an excellent job of telling an effective story of strong family bonds, that just happens to involve zombies. The fact that it blurs the lines between multiple film genres also makes it a great film to watch, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy horror movies. Keep in mind when seeking this movie out that it is primarily a dramatic film. If you are looking for something with more scares or action, then this is not the film for you. I would recommend this film to practically any adult film lover because of its relatively simple storyline of a father-daughter relationship done in a very unique way.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Zombeavers

A group of friends decide to spend a weekend at a cabin in rural Indiana. While spending some time on the lake the friends discover a beaver dam. Little do they know that this charming little beaver dam, and it’s inhabitants, have been exposed to some toxic chemicals. Those chemicals have created what can only be described as “zombeavers!” Soon, the college coeds are terrorized by these evil little undead creatures.

This movie is so much fun. Just from the name and the trailer, you have to go into this movie knowing it is not at all serious or scary. I personally love horror comedies, when they are done well, because they choose some of the most ridiculous horror scenarios and use them to make you laugh. This film definitely delivered the laughs. The entire premise of adorable, shy little beavers becoming horrifying, bloodthirsty zombies is hilarious all by itself. Without giving away any spoilers, the movie gets even more ridiculous than that. It was such a unique story with a crazy twist in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie that I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Another surprisingly great aspect of the film was the acting. Since it is a horror comedy a lot of the acting is over the top. Keeping that in mind when judging the acting, they really all did a great job. I was especially surprised to see Jake Weary (It Follows) in this film. I had never seen him in anything before It Follows, and it’s was great to see how dynamic he is and the range of characters he can play. Two of my favorite characters were Zoe (Cortney Palm) and Buck (Peter Gilroy). They were absolutely hilarious and had some of the best one-liners of the movie. You will also come to hate the character Sam (Hutch Dano). He is the epitome of everything you could possibly hate in a guy, which is an important character to have in a horror comedy.

While the practical effects are not great, they sure are fun. I at least appreciate that, for the most part, they chose to use puppets for all the beavers instead of CGI. There is something so much more fun about horror comedies when everything is practical effects, no matter how silly they look. Watching people get chased by puppet zombie beavers is absolutely delightful. If you watch the movie, be sure to watch past some of the credits. They show some hilarious outtakes from the film, one of which involves a dog from the movie swimming in the lake with beaver puppets and it is adorably funny.

Obviously this film is not cinematic genius. It’s not trying to win any awards or get critical acclaim. The point of this movie is to take what would probably be a terrifying situation and make it funny. In that respect, this movie went above and beyond. When you think about being in a situation where you are in the middle of nowhere with zombeavers, it would probably be frightening. Watching it happen to other people is hilarious. If you’re looking for a fun movie that will make you laugh out loud, definitely watch Zombeavers.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10