Directed by: Glenn Ciano
Starring: Michael Madsen, William Forsythe
Synopsis: A virus that turns people into cannibal monsters has started doing that. Now some people are trying not to get killed.
Rating: 3 Brains
The movie starts with some nature shots that are meant to look artistic, but aren’t so much. There’s some narration about how this virus has happened that turns people into flesh-eating monsters, and what a bummer that is. The music is serene for some reason, something that feels really inappropriate for the narrated tale of the oncoming apocalypse. But at least it’s not the hard rock/blues guitar stuff we hear in most of these zombies flicks these days.
But our hopes for appropriate music are dashed when we launch into a scene where zombies are attacking a house full of people to the sound of driving guitars.
Let’s talk about music for a minute here, because this is something that a lot of movies get totally wrong. You don’t think much about what music does for a film. That’s because it’s meant to have a subtle effect. Most of the time, it’s just in the background, not stealing focus from the scene, but just enhancing it. For some reason, we humans have a strong emotional reaction to music. Long ago, filmmakers realized that by playing music that elicits a certain emotional reaction from the listener, a movie’s audience can experience a heightened sense of whatever emotion they’re meant to feel in the scene they are watching. If it’s a sad scene, a melancholy tune will make us even sadder. If it’s a happy scene, jubilant music will make us swell up and smile.
Here’s a little experiment.
Watch this scene from Night of the Living Dead. This is the scene at the end, when the zombies finally break through and basically everyone dies. (Spoilers, I guess). The music is classic horror – suspenseful, with string instruments creating a high sense of tension.
Now watch the same scene again, but mute it, and listen to the music from this video while you watch the NOLD scene.
Notice what a difference that makes? It’s not so scary and tense anymore; now it’s a bit bad ass. Ben the bad ass zombie killer is taking care of business! Even when he shoots another person, the music kind of gives us the sense that he’s kicking some ass that needs to be kicked (which is true), rather than giving us the feeling of “oh God, has it really come to this?” that it’s meant to.
As a side note, try watching the NOLD scene with this music. It changes the context again, but makes it super epic.
The basic plot of the movie is this: A small group of people lives in a remote mountain region. Some virus, apparently originating from ticks on deer (it’s mentioned that it is related to lime disease), has started turning the infected into 28 Days Later rage zombies. One of the characters’ grandmother is sick, clearly infected with the disease, and like any zombie flick where one of the people is infected, this affects a chain reaction where most of the characters end up bitten or dead. Michael Madsen and his family manage to escape when the zombies finally swarm on them. That’s it, really.
This movie isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s good either. It’s good for a first effort from a director – that it happens to be the second effort of this director means he’s just kind of a slow learner. The lighting is good. The atmosphere is superb – I’m from a suburb of Atlanta, and two hours north of there, everything looks like this movie. The sound isn’t fantastic – there are scenes that sound like they were shot on a camcorder – and the dialogue isn’t particularly inspiring. But the shots are framed well, and the director clearly knows what he’s doing…he just hasn’t really honed his craft yet. And he needs to figure out the music thing.
The characters are lame. This isn’t as bad as The Dead Undead where I am rooting for the zombies because I hate the characters so much. But these characters are all very flat. The way the older characters (Michael Madsen and William Forsyth) are portrayed as middle-aged men who remember the “good ole days” is slightly relatable, at least for people who feel that way, and the younger people who think that attitude is stupid is as well, for the rest of us. But the characters are not memorable or empathetic. I just finished watching it, and I don’t remember any of their names. That’s a problem in a horror movie. It falls flat if I don’t care if they all die, and in this thing, I really don’t. Let’s put it this way: the first time we’re shown two characters off by themselves having a meaningful conversation, the guy starts talking about his balls. I’m not sure if there’s an amount of ball-related conversation a character can have and still remain sympathetic, but conventional wisdom holds that it’s none.
The acting is sub par, but not the world’s worst. Even Michael Madsen delivers a pretty uninspired performance, and this is a guy who could bring the feels in Free Willy.
Other than the music, and the ending – which I’ll get to in a second – the worst thing about this movie is that it feels like Glenn Ciano, who both wrote and directed this one, conceived of it in high school. It very much feels like what a 13 year old boy would come up with if he wrote a movie, and then was told to revise it to add some more compelling story elements. He’d keep the useless scene with the topless hooker who is killed in the woods, because boobs. He’d still make the main character a bad ass cowboy, and the supporting character of the doctor would remain a sort of country doctor caricature with ridiculous hair. Then he’d tack on an extra character – Michael Madsen’s pregnant…wife, I think? And make the end about loss, and sneak in a theme about the world progressing and leaving behind the old-fashioned world of the older characters. Sort of a No Country for Old Men zombie movie.
And these elements do feel forced, and added after-the-fact. But the worst is the ending.
In the beginning of the movie, we’re shown the scene where the infected attack the house. The rest of the movie is the events leading up to that. Once we get there for reals, the whole scene lasts less than ten minutes; the infected attack, a few folks get killed, they fight them back, and then they escape to the car and drive away. Strangely, it’s pretty realistic how simple it is. I mean, if that happened to you, would you barricade the house and get ready for a last stand? Or, knowing you had a car right outside the back door, would you just get in it and bolt? Well that’s what I’d do, and it’s what Michael Madsen and the survivors – miraculously, his son and wife – do in the end.
Which wouldn’t be such a problem, if we didn’t cut there, and go into about 15 minutes of Michael Madsen narrating the rest. Apparently they got overrun, and the wife died. We don’t see this – he just tells us this, somewhat matter-of-factly. The fact that this did not warrant a scene screams that they ran out of money and had to rush the end. Still, a better choice would have been to cut it entirely. We see Michael Madsen losing it and crying like a baby at his wife’s grave – which is good, considering he was bitten in the fight, and seems to have come through just fine (despite the movie establishing that bites = infection).
Then we see about ten minutes of his character’s son turning a car into a tank, raiding a warehouse for supplies, and driving home to a military safe zone where people are gardening, guarding, and basically just living their lives safely. The scene is shot outside in overcast weather, there are a lot of details about this safe zone that are shown pretty quickly. The music is even pretty appropriate, and really helps the scene. And when the credits hit during that scene, I couldn’t help but think: this would have been a better movie. I really liked what I saw at the end there! But it made the rest of the movie look that much worse in comparison. Get rid of the first two hours of this thing, and expand on the last 10, and we’ve got a party.
Maybe Ciano is dreaming of a sequel. If it picks up where this one left off, I’d watch it for sure. Or maybe it’s just the culmination of that theme he tried to put in there about the new generation overtaking the old. Because while we see a bleak apocalyptic world, in the end there is hope and it looks like the kids are doing alright for themselves. This is why the first character infected is the oldest, and the second significant character that is infected is the white-haired doctor, who shows up during the escape scene to say “it’s too late for me.” The message of this movie seems to be that while the new world is replacing the old, as it always does, everything’s going to be okay. Very different perhaps, but we’ll make it work.
I’m a little bothered by the fact that Michael Madsen survived the bite though, and narrated an ending about him and his son surviving and hoping for the future, even though Madsen does not appear to be present at all in the safe zone. It feels like he probably died in the first draft, and they couldn’t get him back for more scenes after he’d left the set. Can’t really blame him.
This movie is worth a watch. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s not bad, and if Glenn Ciano learns something from this and manages a respectable career, you’ll want to be able to say you saw this one before he was cool. You zombie hipster, you.
Rating: 1 Brain
Directed by: Edward Conna
Starring: Luke Goss, Cameron Goodman, Johnny Pacar
Synopsis: Some teenagers go off for a sex romp at a motel in a remote town, and end up attacked by zombies. Some friendly neighborhood vampires show up to help. Yes, you read that right.
I found The Dead Undead on Netflix while cruising for zombie flicks. This is definitely an attention grabbing title; its comedic redundancy makes me hopeful that it will be a self-aware B-movie, kind of like a lower budget, lower class Evil Dead 2.
What I’m going to do is watch it, and write this article while watching it, to share my insights in real time. Or something close to that. There’s a storm brewing outside, so I’m really looking forward to an afternoon of horror in a thunderstorm. Such a great atmosphere (or atmosFEAR bwaha)!
I did a quick IMDB search of the stars for an idea of what I’m in for here. Luke Goss played Steve Fox in the Tekken movie (in other news: there’s a Tekken movie). Cameron Goodman has Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure listed among her top credits, a Disney straight-to-DVD flick that seems to be about a ditzy blonde and a dog (somehow I missed that one), and Johnny Pacar is mostly a dude who does small roles on TV shows and in low budget movies – so he’s just kinda doing that again here. The actors are all small time players, but what got me strangely excited was director Edward Conna. On IMDB he has 5 directing credits (2 unreleased thus far, and one is this). He does have a whopping 122 credits as a stuntman though. I’m very interested to see what kind of movie a stuntman comes up with, so this should be fun!
Okay. Vampires vs. zombies. Let’s begin.
The opening credit sequence is all dudes with guns stalking through the woods with generic hard rock guitar music playing. So far, exactly what I’d expect from a stuntman.
After that we see our main characters. Five idiot teenagers pour out of a truck. Looks like one of those dumb teenagers-on-a-roadtrip movies. The female characters let us know immediately that they don’t like being called “chicks” and prefer “bitches.” This isn’t one of those groups with several morons and a couple of smart types who will become our heroes later. Everyone in this group immediately proves to be an irredeemable fucktard. Those zombies can’t come fast enough.
The first time one of the girls is alone, a little kid pops up and drools blood on the napping girl, who fights it off and it runs away. She spends the next 10 minutes of the film flipping out about getting blood on her.
Things escalate pretty quickly. Within about 10 more minutes, one of the girls is turning into a zombie, one of the guys has been bitten, and the other has had his throat ripped out. This pleases me; these people are horrible. When everything has gone to hell, what appears to be the local redneck militia comes rolling up, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and shotguns, to start blowing the zombies away. That same generic hard rock from the opening starts playing – I think one of the dudes must have a boombox or something, as it seems this music is going to play whenever these guys show up. As a fun note, when they open fire, the gunfire looks a little strange; I paused it to examine it, and it looks like the gunfire has been added via computer in editing, and kinda looks like the explosions from movies with bigger budgets photoshopped into each frame at the tip of each gun. The sound effects for the gunfire don’t sync up right, and the CG fire doesn’t look right either. This really screams “low budget,” because even in the crappiest movies, I am not used to seeing bad gunfire.
The shots are framed all wrong. There is a scene where one of the militia people fights a zombie with her fists (with a big blade strapped to her back the whole time), and it takes way too long…she punches it, it shambles back, she hits it with a bat, it shambles back. It’s a sign of a bad director when they don’t know when to cut. Scenes go on too long, we’re shown shots we don’t need to see.
The zombies in this movie, and the peoples’ reaction to them, brings up an old question about zombie outbreaks. This clearly takes place in the early days of this epidemic, as only this small band of soldier guys knows what’s going on. The confusion about current events and response aside, it’s strange that the soldier guys refer to this as “some kind of infection” and yet they have already resorted to headshots as the cure. Would this happen in real life? I would think the first few victims of the zombie virus would have gone to hospitals, and science would be baffled, but looking for some kind of cure. So how long after the outbreak is the decision made that these are ghouls who must be stopped by bullets and cannot be helped? This stage is usually disregarded in zombie movies, and at best glossed over (“doctors tried to contain it, but it spread too fast”). It’s still all wrong in this movie though, because we’ve gotten to the point where a local militia knows that these monsters can only be killed in certain ways, that it’s an infection, and they even have terminology for them…and yet no one has gotten to a hospital about it, and there has been no news about it? Clearly the civilians in the film have not heard of this.
Oh, okay. They’re ZV’s. Zombie vampires. The zombies can only be killed by sunlight and decapitation. This is really going downhill now. I thought we’d get real vampires. Not this garbage.
Okay, I’m sorry. Hold on. One of the soldier guys came in contact with some zombie blood and might be infected…and they have this explosive belt to make him wear in case he turns. How are they that prepared for this? Why are they fighting with swords now when its been established that exposure to blood can cause infection?
I just looked it up by the way – all the main soldier boys characters are played by stunt men.
So, the one who got infected tells the girl one not to be sad that he’s dying, because he’s going to “the halls of Valhalla.” Which sounded pretty lame. But then when they blow him up, we are treated to like a 5 minute viking battle sequence. It’s actually pretty cool, and as stupid as it seems, possibly the only redeeming moment in this film. Seriously, this thing goes on so long that it’s like…what the hell? And yet…in the middle of a shitty zombie movie, suddenly we’re in…oh, I see. The soldier guys were vampires the whole time. Now we’re seeing when they were made into vampires on some ancient battle field. It’s not as awesome as the random trip to Valhalla I thought we were taking, but still better than the action porn we were just watching where they let loose half the movie’s budget in artillery on a horde of zeds.
It turns out that the hordes of zombies are actually vampires who have contracted Mad Cow disease because they feed on cow blood. It would appear that they had a whole village of vampires, and now most of them are zombies. Salem’s Lot has had a zombie outbreak.
Most of the vampires and humans die in stupid ways. The surviving blonde human – I’ve forgotten her name already – escapes in a van with Jack, the main vampire guy. They crash, he’s hurt, she offers up some blood to turn him into a super bad ass again (like the scene toward the end of the first Blade movie). There is mention of an “ancient prophecy” about some place where a vampire can be reborn, which is of course super lame. He cuts a bunch of zombies down, then another platoon of vampires shows up and mows down the zombies with some machine guns. The main vampire from this backup squad confirms that the ancient prophecy is true. And we’re suddenly in a very different movie.
…and then we’re not. That’s the end of it.
You know, I get when a big budget movie leaves the ending open for the possibility of a sequel. But did the producers of The Dead Undead really expect that they’d have a second film greenlit? Based on the strength of the first? And a quick Google search reveals no details regarding a sequel, and given that the movie is now 4 years old, it’s clearly not going to happen.
The Dead Undead is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. And that includes Charles Angels 2 and The Incredible Hulk. It apparently had a budget of 1.1 million bucks, and from the look of it, about 1 million went to fake guns and effects, and the remaining .1 went into actors, crew, script, lighting equipment, and non-gun related effects. It’s a lot like this flash game Endless Zombie Rampage. That game is basically Act 2 of this film…just an endless flood of zombies, and a machine gun cutting them down. And while it’s an awesome game, I wouldn’t consider optioning it for a film.
Very little planning went into this movie. Every element is bad, from the dialogue and acting, to the lighting and sound, and right down to the blocking and framing of the shots. It looks like what a bunch of high school kids would come up with if they were given $1.1 million to make a movie. That lack of planning is evident in the story, too. It’s a zombie movie. No wait, it’s a movie about a fallen vampire village. No wait, it’s about an ancient prophecy and a vampire’s quest to fulfill it. It’s like the first draft of a 9th grade creative writing project, that never got workshopped, graded, or even proofread.
I discussed before how bad direction is evident in the overly lengthy scenes. There is also unnecessary dialogue. That happens, though…just look at the Lord of the Rings extended cuts, with their 60,000 extra words of dialogue across the 75 scenes that got cut from each film. The difference, though, is that those scenes got cut. The Dead Undead decided to keep them all. What’s even worse is that there are entire characters that the film could have done without. This guy Curtis (played by Joshua Alba, who is, strangely enough, Jessica Alba’s brother), randomly wanders up in one scene and joins the soldier guys and the remaining idiot teenager. His presence affects nothing, only contributing a few bullets to some of the gun porn scenes, and then he wanders off in the woods and gets killed. There was no reason for that character, or any of his scenes, to be in this movie.
When you’re directing and editing a movie, you take crap like that and you cut it out. You look at Fellowship of the Ring and the whole sequence with Tom Bombadil in the book, and you say “you know what, we’d have a tighter script if this guy wasn’t in it.” Hell, it might have been even better if he hadn’t opened with all these other teenagers. The vampire soldiers are clearly the main characters – why not start with them, show a little bit of this group of kids getting attacked, and they come across it? Rather than showing up like the damn A-Team in the middle of someone else’s movie?
I enjoy a B-movie as much as the next guy – maybe even more so – and if this movie was “fun bad” then I’d recommend it. It is not. It is just bad bad. If you enjoy watching crappy movies to pick them apart like I have, then you might enjoy this. But if you like watching movies that are so bad they’re funny, this isn’t that sort of movie. The dialogue is cringeworthy, the plot is very thin, and much of it is entirely unnecessary. See it if you like, but promise me you won’t buy the DVD or anything. Please don’t reward these peoples’ “effort” by spending money on it.
Birth of the Living Dead (2013)
Director: Rob Kuhns
Stars: George A. Romero, Mark Harris, Gale Anne Hurd
Synopsis: A documentary about the making of Night of the Living Dead.
Overall Impression: Entertaining and very informative, particualrly with regard to the film’s context.
I had the pleasure recently of discovering that Netflix was now streaming Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary all about the making of Night of the Living Dead. I had never seen it, so I sat down with it and gave it a watch.
This is a very interesting and informative documentary. There are interviews with cast and crew, insights from luminaries in the horror industry, and of course some words from the man himself, George A. Romero. There are a lot of “fun fact” sort of information tidbits, but it’s not just a trivia reel.
One of the best things about this documentary is getting to hear stories about the production. I’ve always known the basics – it was filmed on a shoestring budget at a small farmhouse with a cast and crew that consisted largely of friends, local volunteers, and investors, had distribution deals, was poorly received but found popularity after word spread, etc. But never before have I felt like I was really hearing the STORY. I could visualize that farm and that field (although strangely, it’s black and white even in my head). I could see the young George Romero driving through Pittsburgh, going from meeting to meeting, struggling to find a distributor for his film. It really does a good job of taking you there.
We’re also given context for the film, particularly regarding the influence that the racial tensions and the Vietnam War had on the film. This is seen, for example, in the way that the scientists, government agencies, and law enforcement seem clueless and ineffective in the face of the disaster. Trust in the government, and authority in general, was very low in the 60’s, due in large part to the war.
I had known that the casting of a black lead actor, and the surprise ending, did not have the racial implications that some have seen in it. The film does not attempt to make a racial statement as some have assumed: the main character was not written as being black, the part was simply offered to Duane Jones. The more important racial statement made by the film was simply that a black man is the main character, and this does not affect the story at all. People were shocked to see a black man as the lead in a film with an all white cast.
Though the documentary is fairly linear, sticking to the story of the film’s development, there is a detour or two. one such secondary story is that of Christopher Cruz, who teaches literacy through film in the Bronx (incidentally, where Romero grew up). We see him teaching his class through Night of the Living Dead. It’s really cool to see how the film still resonates today not only with adults and horror films, but even with children.
Even as a fan of the film, and a horror connoisseur, I learned some new things from this documentary. Such as:
– Romero made several short films for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show was filmed in Pittsburgh, and lots of people in the film industry did work for “Fred” at some point. Romero calls his film about Mr. Rogers at the dentist “one of the scariest movies I’ve ever done.”
– Romero was inspired to make a horror movie with a splash of social commentary after reading I Am Legend and surmising that it was more about revolution than monsters.
– During the filming, the crew lived in the farmhouse, using a nearby stream for their water (there was no plumbing).
– The famous and funny line “yea, they’re dead, they’re…all messed up” was ad-libbed, as was a lot of the dialogue in the film’s fictional news reports.
– Romero has no official reason for the cause of the zombie outbreak, and doesn’t care. As he puts it, “God changed the rules…no more room in Hell.” Though the experts in the film do posit something to do with radiation from a probe returned from Venus, this is meant more to sound ridiculous than anything else, and show how clueless the “experts” are. Romero says that the cause of the outbreak is not what’s important, and it doesn’t seem he has any intention of ever offering an explanation.
The documentary ends with a brief vignette from the 2007 Zombie Walk at the Monroeville Mall (the set of Dawn of the Dead), where the documentarians interview Bill Hinzman. Hinzman is probably the most famous zombie from the film, and possibly from the entire Romero canon (not counting characters who became zombies later) – the “graveyard zombie” from the opening scene. It is a brief and touching tribute to Hinzman, who passed away in 2012.
To any fan of zombie films, especially those of George Romero, I fully recommend Birth of the Living Dead. It’s fun, informative, and really imparts a better understanding of the film’s production and the social context of its creation and reception. It’s on Netflix, and at 1h 16m, it’s not a huge time sink. Put it on while you’re relaxing this evening, but put your phone down, because there’s really some stuff worth seeing in this thing.