Zombies (UK - DVD R2)
Leigh Riding takes a look at the latest zombie release as it shuffles into view.
Karen, a recent widow, and her two daughters inherit old house in Pennsylvania and attempt to renovate the property to eventually sell on. Unfortunately, the house is close to land occupied by a horde of murderous child miners, who were buried alive back in 1913.
Zombies. There it is, right on the front of the box. Let's face it; nobody's going to take this to a shop counter by accident. Although I'm more of an action buff, I'm quite partial to horror movies and the zombie genre in particular, but this title seemed to appear from nowhere. Upon searching the net, I discovered that the film has an odd history. Originally helmed by genre veteran Tobe Hooper under the title Tobe Hooper's Zombies, the director was fired from the project, to be replaced by J.S. Cardone. The movie was then tinkered with and attempts were made to make the piece less overtly ‘zombie’, renaming the film Wicked Little Things. Unfortunately it's been given back its original title, which makes things disappointing for the casual viewer expecting Dawn of the Dead (2004) style carnage.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with Zombies. Although director Cardone is hardly prolific (his best known film is the much maligned Near Dark riff The Forsaken), he is far from a hack director and has a steady eye for visuals, and the night sequences do look fairly creepy. Although the first forty minutes are fairly horror free, a lot of that time is taken building characters, a rarity in the more action oriented realm of modern zombie movies. Although not packed with stars, the film contains familiar faces such as the ever reliable Ben Cross and Geoffery Lewis, which adds just that tiny bit more weight to the piece.
Given that, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why the film feels so flat. There is little in the way of suspense, absolutely no tension, and nothing in the way of shocks or jumps. In fact, the whole film's horror credentials rests on the fact that the film has undead children eating intestines (once), and even that loses its edge once you realise that the kids are dressed like the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins. Even when the inevitable 'zombie siege' takes place, it is quite underwhelming and poorly paced. It is possible that horror is quite simply not the director's forte. Even in The Foraken (admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine), any lack of finesse in the horror elements were made up for by the far more impressive gunplay and chase sequences, suggesting Cardone is more of an action director. However there is no zip in the zombie showdown at all, which is a huge disappointment.
The oddest thing is trying to work out why the film is called Zombies for its UK release. After Hooper was removed, it seems that the filmmakers took steps to move away from the zombie genre. If anything, this is a ghost story, and should have been promoted as such. Anybody taking even a quick look at this with even a passing knowledge of zombie movies would note that if the kids were indeed zombies, they would have decomposed about eighty years earlier. The film this most echoes is John Carpenter's The Fog, and could possibly have fared better had it been promoted more in that vein. As it stands, the film is an acceptable enough ghost story.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, the print is perfectly serviceable, but has a few minor problems. Although a lot of the night scenes are very dark, there is no loss of intended detail. However, there are some exterior shots that show quite a bit of grain. Having said that, that is more a reflection on the original stock. The image is sharp and there are some great visuals toward the end of the film that the transfer sells very well. In a film that relies on visual mood rather than actual tension and horror, the transfer helps the film notably.
Of the two audio tracks offered here the 5.1 is the better option, with good balance between dialogue and effects, suiting the sombre mood of the film quite well. Surrounds are well used in the forest segments, and on a whole this has a solid audio for a horror title. Surprisingly the 2.0 surround mix doesn't suffer too much in comparison, with decent balance between the soundtrack elements, and quite a nice line in ambient effects that doesn't spill too much into the mix. The two tracks, like the video, boost the spook factor a few notches above the actual content of the film itself.
Stripped of the Director's commentary on the region one version, this disc does come with a UK exclusive documentary, which is not what I would exactly call comprehensive, but nonetheless gives a decent on-set overview of the production, with the actors seeming pleased just to be hired for a movie, and the director and crew looking like they've not slept for a fortnight. Interesting for any fans of the film, but not a feature for repeated viewing.
Zombies is not a poor film by any stretch. It's competently made, it looks nice, there are no howlers when it comes to actor's performances and the plot moves along fairly well. It's just quite simply not scary in any way. With atmosphere to spare but no suspense to back it up, the film is left floundering, and never truly finds its feet. Also there is a nagging feeling that promoting the film as zombie themed will actually disappoint the intended niche fan base. I didn't hate Zombies by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a recommended purchase either. I would suggest a cautious rent.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 21st July 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 Surround English
Extras: Making of
Easter Egg: No
Director: J.S. Cardone
Cast: Lori Heuring, Scout Taylor-Compton, Ben Cross, Geoffrey Lewis
Length: 90 minutes
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