Category Archives: Zombie Movies

Dead & Buried (1981)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead people terrorize town.

Dan (James Farentino) is the sheriff of a sleepy New England town called Potter’s Bluff. Normally his days are routine but suddenly he finds himself investigating a bizarre case where a group of people murder a visiting photographer by burning him at a stake for no apparent reason. Soon other strange murders begin occurring and his peaceful little town as well as his own life gets turned upside down as neither he nor the town’s coroner (Jack Albertson) can come up with any answers especially as the dead victims start to come back to life.

The film, which was directed by Gary Sherman, starts off well as the big band era music and picturesque small town scenery makes it seem like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sherman went to great lengths to keep every scene consistent with a gray color tone including having a giant flag hung over a cliff in order to block out the sunlight during outdoor scenes and keeping everything looking like it was under a continual foggy haze.

The story though can’t match the atmosphere and the interest level wanes pretty quickly. The dead coming back to life angle has been used too often and is no longer novel to the point that it’s now almost boring. There’s no consistent protagonist either. The sheriff eventually becomes one, but there are long breaks where the film follows other characters including a young family, who come into contact with the killers, but they’re not that interesting and it becomes difficult for the viewer to connect emotionally with anyone on the screen.

For years Dan O’Bannon was credited with creating the story and many movie posters advertised this due to his success with Alien, but O’Bannon later stated in a 1983 interview that he actually had nothing to do with the script and disown the film. Ronald Shusett apparently wrote the entire thing, but in order to get it sold he felt a big name writer needed to be attached to it, so he promised O’Bannon that they would implement some of the ideas that he had into the final revision in order to allow them to use his name on the credits, but when the film eventually came out none of O’Bannon’s suggestions had been used.

The film’s tone is yet another issue. Sherman had wanted to approach it as a dark comedy, but one of the film’s investors PSO International pushed for the gore to be emphasized more. The result is jarring as half the time it’s this quant atmospheric chiller while at other points it becomes without warning graphically gory.

Farentino is good, but Melody Patterson, who was 17 years younger than him in real-life, is miscast as his wife. Jack Albertson is the best thing in the movie. Initially I feared that his part was too small, but he comes on strong at the end, which is great and I was also happy to read that despite the fact that he was dying of cancer while the movie was being made he still remained alive long enough to attend its premiere although he had to do it while being in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.

If you’re looking for a horror movie that emphasizes atmosphere and an offbeat touch then this may hit-the-spot, but the plot needed to encompass a broader time frame as it didn’t seem believable that so much of the town’s people could be in on this secret without the sheriff becoming suspicion of things much sooner than he does. The twist ending is weak too as it’s full of loopholes and creates way more questions than it answers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Sherman

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Night of the Comet (1984)

night-of-the-comet-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comet wipes out humanity.

A comet passes by earth, which kills off everyone that was outside watching it. The only people that survive were those that remained inside rooms incased by steel. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are two of the survivors. As far as they know they are the only remaining inhabitants, but then a secret group of scientists track them down pretending at first to be their friends, but in reality they are after the two for their blood as the researchers were inadvertently tainted by the comet’s effects and now need a fresh blood supply from those that were not exposed in order to remain alive, but will the two sisters catch onto their ruse before it’s too late?

This film, which has become a major cult hit, starts out sharply and could’ve been a really great picture had it kept the dry, quirky humor that it has at the beginning. Unfortunately it devolves too much into a drama that loses its momentum and becomes draggy. I enjoyed the scenes showing Los Angeles as a deserted wasteland and these moments were apparently shot in the early morning hours during the minutes when the cars where stopped at traffic lights, which made it all the more impressive and I wished the movie had more of these scenes as it gives the film a surreal quality.

The two female leads are fantastic. Stewart is not only really beautiful, but her acting is excellent and I liked the fact that when she gets attacked by a zombie she doesn’t break out into a scream like is the clichéd reaction of most female characters, but instead keeps her composure. The film would’ve been far stronger had these two remained the sole cast as the implementation of the Hector (Robert Beltran) character does not help things and in fact weakens it as it makes it seem that a man is necessary in order to save them since apparently females are not strong enough or smart enough to do it themselves. The evil scientists are uninteresting as well and outside of seeing Mary Woronov playing a more serious role their time on the screen is quite boring.

The story does not take enough advantage of its quirky concept and misses the chance for a far more original scenario. Adding in zombies is a downer as there are already way too many zombie flicks out there and this one adds nothing to the mix. Seeing two valley girls learning to ‘toughen up’ and survive by solely using their own wits would’ve been the best story angle.

The film is also too tame. When the Hector character does appear Samantha becomes jealous when he chooses Regina over her, but why couldn’t they just do a ménage-a-trois? Since there is no other people around, or very few, that means societal conventions no longer necessary, but for some strange reason the characters here become more ‘civilized’ as the story progresses when in reality the exact opposite would likely occur.

There are also too many logic loopholes that never get addressed. For instance why does the electricity remain on when most likely employees working at the power plants would’ve disintegrated along with everyone else? If the power goes out how are they going to store food in order to keep it fresh or cook it for that matter? These questions along with a variety of others helps knock down what is initially a great idea and impedes this cult flick from living up to its reputation.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

hard rock zombies

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock band becomes zombified.

An up-and-coming rock band travels to a small town for their next gig. There the lead singer falls for a young girl named Cassie (Jennifer Coe) while also catching the wrath of the town’s conservative residents who still feel that rock n’ roll is the ‘devil’s music’. The place also harbors Adolph Hitler (Jack Bliesener) who has been secretly hiding out there under a disguise while plotting his next world takeover. After the band members are killed by the evil Nazis they come back to life in the form of zombies killing everyone else and turning the whole town into one big zombie fest.

I have to admit the zombie popularity that has entranced so many people and formed its own special niche escapes me as I find the whole concept to be rather boring. However, certain films like Shaun of the Dead have managed to reinvent the formula by mixing hip humor with a good amount of realistic gore and thus satisfying both the gore hounds and those looking for a laugh. This film tries to do the same, but fails miserable as the humor is corny and the special effects are poor to pathetic.

In fact I was stunned that a well-known director who did some other successful projects was involved with this or even willing to have his name listed on the credits as it’s extraordinarily amateurish and looking like it was put together by novices while drunk. Had it been even remotely more polished, or written by someone who had actually watched zombie movies and appreciated them, it might have worked.

The members who make up the band show no acting ability and having to listen to their generic sounding songs that seem to go forever is another problem and one that almost turns this mess into an annoying music video instead. The second half in which they come back as zombies doesn’t improve things as they still continue to play their songs and worse yet begin to resemble the rock group KISS with their makeup and in fact the similarity is so extreme that I was surprised they weren’t sued.

The zombie parodies are numerous and seemingly never-ending. The majority of them aren’t very good, but this one may very well take the prize as being the worst.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 28, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

Shock Waves (1977)

shock waves 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Zombie soldiers inhabit island.

During WWII a Nazi commandment experimented with the supernatural by taking dead soldiers and turning them into zombies who would become killing machines that could not be taken down and impossible to destroy. When the war ended a lone SS Commander (Peter Cushing) took these zombies to an isolated island where he hoped to destroy them, but instead they became more powerful. When some castaways from a waterlogged boat arrive at the island they are greeted by these zombies who waste no time in returning to their killing ways.

The film starts out with promise and the idea has potential, but the film reverts too much to a pedestrian narrative that bogs down the action and turns it into a bore. The dialogue is banal and the characters annoying. The film would’ve worked much better had it taken a Dario Argento approach where the focus stayed solely on mood, imagery and a pounding music score while completely scrapping the dull characterizations altogether. In fact having only one or two people make it to the island would’ve been perfect as the rest of the supporting cast seem better suited for a pathetic B-comedy.

shock waves

The zombies aren’t all that interesting either. The shot showing one of them walking on the ocean bottom without any breathing apparatus was impressive, but otherwise they spend the majority of time simply lurking around in the backdrop. They can also easily be killed by having the shaded goggles that they wear taken off, which isn’t too exciting. Having the Cushing character describe their origin even though it had already been explained at the beginning by a narrator was unnecessary and in many ways no explanation or only supplying one at the very end would’ve made it creepier.

Veteran character actors John Carradine and Cushing both made $5,000 for their efforts, but their presence in both cases was not needed. Brooke Adams is good in her first credited speaking role in a film, but the rest of the cast came off like amateurs and Buck Henry lookalike Jack Davidson seemed like he had walked onto the wrong movie altogether.

Shot in 1975 the abandoned hotel on an island setting adds a bit of ambience, but overall it’s a wasted effort. The scares, tension and special effects are all quite minimal and the story’s original elements become overshadowed by a flat and unimaginative script.

shock waves 2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Weiderhorn

Studio: Zopix Company

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video