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Introduction
You know, that Quentin Tarantino fellow has a lot to answer for. First off, he revolutionises the thriller genre with his laidback attitude to narrative and his laconic talky characters which inevitably brought about a raft of similar movies. Some were good, like Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. And some were not so good, like Roger Avary’s own Killing Zoe.

Then Mr Tarantino goes and hooks up with bravura buddy Robert Rodriguez to co-write and co-star in a movie that schizophrenically spliced the high-octane action thriller with the vampire vanquishing movie in From Dusk Til Dawn. And that leads us to Olaf Ittenbach’s Legion Of The Dead, a genuine example that when drawing ‘inspiration’ from a genre-bending classic you’d better do it right...

Legion Of The Dead
Movie
William (Michael Carr) and Luke (Russell Friedenberg) are a not so dynamic duo of endlessly bickering best buddies (or maybe brothers, it’s never made clear) on a trip through the California desert. Quite why they should be there is never made clear either but in the baking hot sun the offer of a lift from a seemingly sweet old man is just too good to turn down. However, once the pair are inside the old-timer’s set of wheels it is immediately apparent that he is the ‘Kern River Killer’ with a propensity to murder people, mutilate their corpses and foam at the mouth. A lot.

After their psychopathic chauffeur inconsequentially offs an inquisitive member of the Highway Patrol, it takes these dumb dudes quite some time to work out a way of evading their evil captor’s clutches. Once they do, via an implausibly large slice of luck, they make their way across the desert to a small town. Yet quicker than you can say “out of the frying pan into the fire” the pair find they’ve stumbled into the mouth of hell where Satan (Matthias Hues) himself has hired an incompetent dyad of lackeys to create a legion of re-animated corpses to help him rule the world.

Again, as luck would have it, William and Luke are the victims of good fortune as the waitress of the bar in which they’re holed up has fallen in love with William in the space of 15 minutes. No, seriously. Even better for them Geena (Kimberly Liebe) just happens to be a million year old demon with special powers who vows to protect them. As Satan, in the guise of a “tall blonde man” with his re-animated army lays siege to the bar in order to win back Geena, the love of the last million years that he’s been looking for, William and Luke and the rest of the unfortunate diners have to make a final stand…

It is rare that one film can so shamelessly rip off another film, both better known and respected, escape a plagiarism lawsuit and still be so inescapably awful as to make any viewer wish to recover the 88 minutes of life he/she has just wasted. Legion Of The Dead aping From Dusk Til Dawn and making such a complete hash of it is a golden example.

Legion Of The Dead
Writer/director Olaf Ittenbach has worked previously as a gore effects makeup specialist and it shows. Claret, in all shapes and sizes is the order of the day here as Ittenbach goes several miles out of his way to gratuitously squeeze every last drop of the stuff out of his miniscule budget.

Okay, some of the events in the Rodriguez film in which this farrago is based is gratuitous, there’s no denying that. What cannot be excused is Ittenbach’s script. Yes, there is enough swearing in any Tarantino film to make a sailor blush. In every Tarantino film the dialogue is used to drive the plot forward, illustrate character traits, promote character development or make a joke to set the tone of the film. Absolutely none of these is present in the Legion Of The Dead screenplay.

Ittenbach seems to think that using the f-word as an adjective, adverb, verb or noun (sometimes all four) in every line of dialogue is somehow a recipe for celluloid coolness. After the first ten minutes, this excessive usage just becomes grating (I lost count at 134 when there was still 25 minutes of the film to go) and betrays the abject approach to writing.

The plot, what shred there is of it, lurches from the first act to the second and all the characters appear to be named after other movie characters or actors. Hence there’s William (Baldwin), Luke (Skywalker), Geena (Davis) and a pony-tailed Buddhist aikido master chef known as Casey (Ryback, as in the Steven Seagal actioner Under Siege). This is a script where any notion of causality is removed; actions have no consequences at all, characters do things for no reason, dialogue is purely nonsensical. There’s even a 6 minutes sequence involving graphic sexual mutilation, rape and murder (in that order) just because jump cut editing and de-saturated film stock would make the unwarranted flashback look ‘cool’.

Throw in some needless nudity, plus a preposterous attempt to make some musclebound meathead from Germany scary as Satan by simply dressing him in leather trousers, and already the film is sunk. But wait, there’s more. Add in the appalling acting from all involved, diabolical American accent dubbing of the German cast members, frankly crap CGI, a dreary doom metal soudtrack and incomprehensible editing that suggests Ittenbach just didn’t shoot enough coverage.

Legion Of The Dead
Low budget horror can be done well. Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Bad Taste can all testify to this. On this evidence it looks like the career path of Raimi, Hooper or Jackson will remain a pipe dream for Olaf Ittenbach. There are films that are so bad that they’re good. Legion Of The Dead is not one of them. In fact, this is a reprehensible film for which no reproach can do it justice.

Video
This is an Anchor Bay disc: expect even the most obscure or inexpensive film to be given a top-drawer transfer. Shot on 35mm in 2000, Legion Of The Dead on DVD benefits from a crisp and clear imagewith sharp stable colours, especially with all the blood spurting that goes on. Blacks are deep and contrast levels are pretty fine too.

Plenty of scenes involve smoke or haze effects and the encoding stands up very well with no observed pixellation or macro-blocking. An A grade treatment for a Z grade film.

Audio
Likewise, viewers are spoiled for choice in the audio department. Those empowered to plump for the DTS option may be surprised to find a engagingly active soundstage with decent channel separation and admirable clarity, despite precious little work for the subwoofer, although dialogue can be very quiet at times.

By contrast what the Dolby Digital 5.1 track lacks in clarity it certainly makes up for in drive. Never becoming strident, it shares the channel separation of its more illustrious cousin but better serves booming thrash score with a lot more bass. Crackle or hiss is non-existant, even with the low budget, and dialogue is more distinct from the centre speaker.

A Dolby Digital Stereo track also makes it onto the disc; as two channel efforts go this is a cracker, presumably having been remixed from the surround tracks to eliminate bass overkill.

Legion Of The Dead
Extras
First up on the extras slate is an Audio Commentary. It is never made clear who is contributing to the commentary (one can only assume that it’s the director) and it’s very lacklustre. There’s silence for most of the duration, Ittenbach, one presumes, breaking the drought for about two sentences in each chapter, usually to commend the amount of gore being shown. This is a disappointing experience where the viewer will learn very little about the film.

Produced by X-Vision, the company responsible for the film, comes a ’Making Of’ Documentary running for 21 minutes. There are interview snippets with some of the main cast (two of the most important, Liebe and Friedenberg, are conspicuous by their absence) the producers and director Ittenbach who is keen to congratulate everyone involved but himself more than most.

There is some interesting information in here (who would have guessed that all the interiors were shot in Germany, not the U.S.?) along with plenty of behind the scenes footage of the gore effects but this was an opportunity missed for issues to be covered in greater depth.

Under the Lost Scenes option comes a showreel of 9 excised sequences. Running for just under 9 minutes, it’s difficult to see why these scenes have been cut as they are no better or worse than the surviving material.

A Stills Gallery can be perused; as many as 80 images taken straight from the print can be observed here although if you’ve suffered through the whole film there isn’t anything new here.

Somewhat mis-labelled as the Talent section is a series of 9 very limited biographies and filmographies of the director and the main players.

An anamorphic Trailer is also provided to give the flavour of the film. Clocking in at 2 minutes, there isn’t much dialogue and focuses almost exclusively on the diner shootout.

Finally, as a DVD-Rom extra is the full Script that can be saved to a PC hard drive and subsequently printed out.

All the above can be accessed by some very well designed animated menus (carrying excerpts of portentous dialogue from the movie) that make the various options easy to find and even opens a specific short intro when clicking on a particular tab.

Legion Of The Dead
Overall
Anchor Bay must be applauded for applying the best possible finish to the DVD release of an irretrievably execrable movie. Adding shine to such a stinker is never an easy task but Dolby Digital and DTS tracks will at least give some zip to those with a surround system. Of course, all this should be academic: even those who enjoy bad movies should beware...


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