Saturday, April 26, 2008

Zombies In Prison: Dead Men Walking (2005), Shadow: Dead Riot (2006), and Zombie Death House (1987)

I work at a video store where I can tell the owner has purchased certain films just to fill up shelf space. Each week we get in a new shipment of films, usually between ten and twenty films, and there are ALWAYS ultra low budget horror films. Most of these films look both horrible and terrific, depending on who is looking at the DVD box art. So each week I make it my duty to watch at least one of the micro-budget terrors to see if I have found a gem. I am always digging for that diamond in the rough. And I have decided to give a little free advertisement here on my blog for some of the better ones. I think I can best sum up my state of mind right now by quoting the text message I sent a friend today: “You can watch what you want, all I want to watch is shot-on-video zombies-in-prison films.”
Zombies in prison. I dare you to come up with a better idea for a film than that. If you can, then you will forever know my respect. It’s like when my friend Hunter once mumbled “They should just make a movie called GUNS.” I was like “Man, I had that idea three months ago!” Who knows though, maybe he thought of it before I did.
Our first zombie prison movie is Dead Men Walking (2005). A guy goes to prison for murdering three people who had just turned into zombies. He is a doctor working for the government, or something like that, involved in a viral strain that turns people into fast moving zombies. One of the zombies bit him before he could kill it, so he winds up in prison a dead man, literally. The virus spreads, just like in most zombie movies, and chaos ensues. There is loads and loads of gore, and even a few moments of actual suspense, providing the viewer thoroughly secure their suspension of disbelief. This is but one of three zombie prison movies I have watched recently, and I must say that it is the best. It makes good use of the claustrophobic environment, it actually looks like something resembling professional, and there are lots of zombies. I liked it more than Beyond Re-Animator, to hold up better-known example of a zombie prison movie.
Next up we have the film Shadow: Dead Riot (2006). I noticed on the Internet Movie Database a reviewer described this as a C-movie. That statement sums up the mentality of almost all the reviewers on the IMDB rather than the actual movie they are reviewing. Most of these people are only impressed by movies with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in them, and hate all horror films made before this decade unless they are called The Exoricst or The Shining.
Dead Riot is a good example of a modern horror film that is not afraid to let loose and revel in its own absurdity. The 80 minute long kung-fu/ zombie/ women-in-prison in prison combines three of the best exploitation film ideas of twenty years ago into one festival of gore, shower scenes, and prison fights. Totally awesome! If you can appreciate this one, or even the premise, then we will probably get along just fine.
This movie isn’t quite as amazing and awe inspiring as it might sound, but let’s face it, I don’t need to give it a good review for people to want to see it. If the words kung fu zombie women in prison film don’t peak your curiosity, then you probably shouldn’t bother.
To round out our trio of zombie prison films, let me tell you about Zombie Death House (1987), also known simply as Death House. Veteran horror and exploitation actor John Saxon took his sole turn as a director and made this forgotten zombie film. It’s not very good, but it’s a hell of a good idea for a zombie movie. As far as I know, this was the first of it’s kind, and the sheer cheese factor alone made it the most memorable of the trio.
The plot is a combination of Attica and Re-Animator, and while extremely clumsy, does have a couple good scenes. This is probably more of a prison movie than a zombie movie. As far as time-wasters go, you could do much, much worse than this one, and the pace was pretty good. Any movie about a prison riot is always entertaining, and this one is good campy fun. I heard about this movie because it constantly pops up in my recommendations on It sure as shit was a hell of a lot more exciting than some of the other ones the square world has tried to push on me like Prom Night, April Fool’s Day, or Saw. Sorry folks, but I am going to give you until the end of this article to think of something in those films that was edgy and insane. At least with zombie prison movies you can’t say “Seen one, seen ‘em all.”

Ghosts...Of The Civil Dead (1988)

Horror. Real life horror. This is story of what fear is made of in our society. This is a real horror movie because this is something that really happens all the time. Anyone could wind up in a prison like this one. In fact, most maximum security prisons, in America or elsewhere, are even worse than the one portrayed in the film.
Starring Nick Cave, who also made the soundtrack, Ghosts of the Civil Dead is the story of ten months inside a maximum security prison in an Australia. It is narrated mostly by one of the guards and told from the point of view of several inmates and correctional officers. Over the course of the year we see the usual prison violence and the administration react by taking away the few possessions the inmates have. First they crack down on drugs and the various forms of chemicals that keep the general population sedated and docile. Then they cut off their TVs. Then they take away all personal property. Then they take away recreation time. Nobody is the hero and nobody is the bad guy. The guards hate the administrations actions almost as much as the inmates do because these vices are what keep the violence at bay. Some guards resign and one kills himself. The inmates kill each other and sometimes the guards. Everybody is just doing their job.
In one of the climax scenes, a prisoner retaliates by stabbing a guard 56 times. I was not counting, but I'm pretty sure they show all 56 stabs happening. The prisoner then turns on two other guards, who take refuge by cowering inside a cell, erupts into a frenzy of violence that I can only describe as animalistic. The guard working the electric cell block doors does nothing to help the two officers because he is on the floor puking and crying, frozen with fear.
The inmates are put in these prisons as killers, and return to society as more efficient killers. And when they return to society and kill again, they are just doing their job, the same way the prison guards are doing their job and the police are doing theirs. It creates fear in our society so things stay the same, and our military-industrial-prison complex gets stronger. They let the inmates out so they can kill innocent people. Then the innocent people are afraid of each other because of them. Then the innocent people want the police and the military to have more power.
There is very little soundtrack, and the overall feel is one of dread and sorrow. The film is presented in the same dreary, fluorescent bulb-lit lighting as the inside of the facility. This film should be mandatory viewing for anyone studying criminal justice or corrections, as it does not stray from the subject of prison itself the way many mainstream prison movies do such as The Shawshank Redemption or Cool Hand Luke. It was also of interest to me as a horror movie fan because it is a look at the real life horror show we call the penitentiary. Personally, I would much rather confront Freddy Kreuger or Michael Myers than serve a sentence in a place like this.
Of all the films I've reviewed on this site, this one is probably the hardest to obtain a copy of in the United States because it has never been released here on home video. You can buy it on an Australian PAL Region 4 DVD if you have a PAL region-free DVD player.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gnaw: Food of the Gods Part 2 (1989)

I cannot recommend this film enough to fans of B-horror. There's lots of gore, violence, slapstick humor, and it's like watching a how-to guide of making movies about giant rodents. I thought it was alot better than the first one. Plus it's Canadian, and their horror movies are usually better than the average hollywood low budget programming. The land of the bloody maple leaf previously brought us David Cronenberg films, Pamela Anderson, and My Bloody Valentine, as well as this beauty. If you study the camera angles you can see how trick photography made the rats look enormous. The scene with the giant 5-year old kid was the absolute best though. If you want to see a little more of the film before you get this product just see if you can find the trailer on youtube. I saw the preview for this movie on an old vhs tape of a different movie and I immediately had to watch it!

The Unseen (1980)

This movie is pretty cool and has some really good acting. But the main reason to watch it is to see the retarded man child who lives in the basement, sleeps in a trash pile, and likes to play with, kill, and then eat the people daddy gives him. Especially the girls. The sight of this gigantic man dressed in a diaper and dirty tank top who communicates only in a series of grunts and maniacal laughter pretty much made it among the most memorable films I've seen. View it on an intellectual level or just watch with some buddies and laugh, either way it's alot of fun. I hope they release a DVD soon. The last half hour of the film is worth a million bucks.
On a sidenote, I have to mention something in the small world category. Last Christmas, my dad was talking about his friend who lives next door to him, a fellow by the name of Goldbach. Mr. Goldbach, clearly a rather wealthy man, mentioned that his sister had been married to Ringo Starr for the last 25 years. Her name is Barbara Bach, the former Bond girl, and the star of this film! Apparently she shortened her last name to Bach when she started her acting career. At some point after that she starred in this movie as prey for the retarded, diaper wearing man-child in this monumental so bad it’s good movie, The Unseen.

Bone Sickness (2004)

Finally, some of these penniless shot-on-video filmmakers got the right idea! If you can't make a good movie, make a SICK ONE!! If this film had a bigger budget it would have been amazing. The zombie gore is extreme. It looks pretty fake at times, and some of the gags clearly involved props purchased at the local Halloween store, but the murder and dismemberment they depict with it is imaginative and funny.
While the film itself is extremely amateur, I must say it's the thought that counts. It's a very ambitious take on the no-budget zombie movie genre. While it's not as good the more well known shot on video films like The Dead Next Door, Street Trash, or Slime City, it's still a lot better than Ghoul School, Night of the Living Dead 3-D, or Days of Darkness. The filmmaker really had the right ideas here. Blood spurts everywhere, people vomit worms, numerous people are torn in half, entrails or are eaten, heads broken open, etc.

The extreme stuff doesn't really start up until the one hour mark, but after that it's relentless. There's a lot of nudity too. Pretty much every female character gets naked at some point. Most of the acting sucks. But just sit tight and your patience is rewarded. Just pretend you are watching Citizen Kane or something with Helen Mirren in it. Then go F yourself dildo butt!! Just kidding.

If the film had a bigger budget that allowed really professional looking special effects, this would have been the best gore film of the decade. I really hope the filmmakers are able to make more films that get better funding. I think if they got the proper equipment, a half decent budget, and some help from the right people, we might have the next Dead Alive on our hands. And I am proud to say this was lensed entirely in my native New England, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island (which is neither a road or an island).

The Final Terror (1981)

This is one of my all time favorite "killer in the woods movies, and it is really a lost gem. The main characters are played by Darryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, and Joe Pantoliano! I can't believe more people haven't seen this film. It ranks up there with The Burning as one of those great early 80s teen horror movies with a big cast of actors who later went on to make it big in mainstream hollywood. Another cool thing is that the plot is not one of the those formulated slasher films that is completely predictable. There are actually some original ideas here!
The only thing that I found inexcusable is the DVD transfer quality. It is awful, worse than a VHS!! The sound is bad, the picture is blurry at parts and dark, just poorly done! The original movie is not like that. I originally watched this movie on VHS made by Vestron Video about 20 years ago and the picture and sound are fine. Shame on these jerks who manufactured this cheap knock-off DVD. This film deserves a deluxe treatment!! If they put out a good edition a lot more people would probably buy it.
But all in all, I would still recommend this film. The DVD is still worth 10 bucks if you don't mind poor picture quality, or just buy one of the VHS copies still floating around. Somebody will eventually reissue this film if it sells.