Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Zombie Night (Review)

Zombie Night

I’m a sucker for a good B horror flick. Toss in zombies, and I have a hard time not at least giving the film a single watch through. Add in John Gulager, the man behind the Feast trilogy, and this became a must watch film. 

Let me just say, this movie was no Feast. One thing I have come to expect from Gulager is characters with a lot of bite (the puns here are unavoidable, my apologies). Characterization in this film was shoddy at best. The plot was nonexistent, explanations for the zombies nonexistent, decent acting over all pretty sparse, dialogue not remotely engaging. Even for a B horror film, most of Zombie Night was pretty disappointing, however, there were some shining moments that prove this film could have been amazing with a little focus, investment, and editing.

(Spoilers and review under cut)

We’re going to start with the good:

The old, nearly blind woman, who is hysterical for most of her part in the film, has a scene where she is left alone in the basement. She’s terrified. She can hear noise upstairs, knows bad things are going on all around her, but she’s stuck alone in a basement…in a zombie film.

These are perhaps some of the most tense and emotionally charged moments of the film. For anyone who has had an ailing parent, to think of them alone and in the dark (she’s blind) when something like this is going on, it hits you right in the gut. 

In all the zombie movies before it, you have to wonder, what happened to all the old people? What happens to the parents of the hero after he moved away to start a family, only to find himself in the middle of a zombie storyline? Who is making sure Mom doesn’t get her throat ripped out, or your bedridden father doesn’t get slowly eaten, entrails first, while you are busy taking care of the family you’ve made yourself miles and miles away? This scene had the potential to be so much more than it was, and that potential has to be recognized as a plus. 

When Alan Ruck’s character is explaining to his neighbors that he can’t let them into the house, into his panic room where it is safe, you almost forget you aren’t watching a real, quality film. Through this scene, and the scene when his son is dying, you might end up asking yourself why is he not the main character. You feel his emotion, his desperation, and you almost forget the absurdity of him not allowing the neighbors in, almost forget that this is a terribly contrived plot device to keep the main characters of the film running for their lives outside like chickens with their heads cut off. He does an amazing job, and as a parent I really felt for him here.

Daryl Hannah kinda acts her ass off in this one. It’s like no one told her she was making a shitty film. She’s believable throughout and makes a lot of really crap dialogue a whole lot less crappy. Plus at one point she finds a sword! I kept waiting for the moment when her eye would get gouged out and she’d be sporting an eye patch to go with it, but alas, that wasn’t to be. Would have been great though.

Where the movie becomes terribad…

The biggest negatives for Zombie Night are definitely in pacing, editing, story, and overall polish.
For the sake of not going on for three hundred pages describing its flaws, I’m just going to list the big ones that stood out for me here:

  •        The zombies were odd. Not intentionally odd, but lack of good training and direction for the actors odd. If they have enough presence of mind to stand there and front you, to think “I should dig” or “open the door” then they shouldn’t be senselessly roaming around and falling for dumb distractions like their target throwing a shoe in the opposite direction. Really, Zombie Night, what were the rules for these zombies and how they responded to being a zombie? It seemed all over the place, and a zombie was a mindless, shambling husk when necessary for the scene, and a demonic presence trying to seduce the target (like in the case of the zombie housekeeper mugging for the camera) completely dependent on what sort of zombie they needed for a given scene.  With this sort of genre story, knowing the parameters in which the monster must function are vitally important for suspension of disbelief.

  •          Double Tap. Seriously, how is it that a film set in the modern age has people in it who don’t know you shoot a zombie in the head to kill it? They know enough to think a bite could make someone turn zombie, but not enough to know AIM FOR THE HEAD?

  •          Guns are reusable. When the bullets run out, you can find more bullets and reload. No need to toss the gun.

  •          If a door opens outward…what good does putting a trunk in front of it do? Are we trying to trip the zombies down the stairs, or what? It was moments like this that made me wish some humor had been purposefully injected in the film--that could have been a moment to shine.

  •          If you’re going to have a cop be complete shit at his job, maybe consider casting someone who doesn’t try to play his character as competent? It was clear this cop had only been a cop for a few days, and hadn’t had even the slightest bit of training, but he was never presented as being a newbie, which makes all his fumbling and poor procedure look like writer error…which it probably was, but still, they could have played it off as being part of the character.

  •          Why were there no blankets in the safe room? You have food for weeks, but no blankets? Way to think ahead. It's not consistent that someone who would put in the money and time and effort into creating a safe room stocked for weeks would forget blankets.

  •          Your husband and son are dead, and your dead son is eating your husband…and you leave your youngest son alone in that to run downstairs…why?

  •          What was with the maid? The actress seemed like she thought she’d been cast in the next Omen movie, rather than a zombie film. Her over-acted, intense spiel on the end times just came out of nowhere and came off laughable. Every time the camera focused on her as a zombie, she looked more like she was playing a succubus from Demon Knight, not Zombie Night. So, yeah, she clearly just got her nights mixed up…

No love on the editing front

The first ten minutes are by far the most painful. It seemed to me as if they put a bunch of clueless actors on set with just a few hours to brush up on the script, told them they were in a zombie film, and the yelled ACTION! Usually in Hollywood films when an actor looks unnatural, is standing there watching something horrific when any real life person would be running the other way, they compensate for this by creative editing and framing of the shots. You don’t point the camera at the two idiots crouching there staring at the bodies emerging from the ground when they should be running like hell, you point the camera at the freakin’ things bubbling up from the earth. This way, you allow the audience to be captivated by the same horror that is somehow managing to make the story’s protagonist turn into a statue, rather than making your audience groan and yell “Run, you idiots!” at the screen. 

Those first ten minutes of film are probably enough to make most film goers change the channel, because without some careful editing to cut all the awkwardness, all the actors clearly being confused actors instead of their characters, the movie comes off beyond amateur. You find better editing on YouTube. Not to knock YouTube movies in any way, but given the budget Zombie Night had, I imagine even a mediocre YouTuber could have crafted a better end product.

Okay, so the housekeeper that this kid clearly loved just tried to eat his ear off, ripped out his brother throat. Then his brother dies, come back to life and kills his father, and he’s been trapped in this room with them while big brother eats out his dad’s guts a few feet away from him. His mom remembers she still has a son and comes back to save him, and just as he’s about to get past the horror that is dead dad and undead brother, his father wakes up and grabs his leg and tries to eat him.

Would you look at the glee on this kid’s face?

The boy is having a blast. Now, I’m not one for scaring children for the sake of a movie (Okay, so maybe I am. I did once send my kids through a trailer park, roadside Halloween Horror house that may or may not have been run by the people who inspired the events of House of 1000 Corpses, just so I could get a great home video of them running out the exit pissing themselves) but another take was in order here, maybe? A different angle? They linger so long on this kid’s goofy grin, and everyone else’s backs, that you have no feeling of fear or impending doom for the boy. If the child actor can’t carry the scene, why is the camera pointed at his face and his MOTHER’s rear end?

Never mind, I know that answer. The kid comes by his grinning in the face of terror honestly. 

Her husband is being gnawed on by one of the zombies that just ate her son. Should this be the look on her face?

Lady’s got some issues.

Biggest WTF of the movie

“Oh look, dear, a car. Maybe we can—”

Car explodes for no reason other than director sadism and a desire to show a man on fire in the cheapest flame retardant suit known to film making. 


Hazard of making an action film, I suppose. Something HAS to blow up eventually. 
There was no reason for that car to explode. It was just sitting there. Engine off. I think maybe along with Zombies, the vehicles got a little sentient too, and it saw this group of fuckwits coming for it and said, screw this. I’d rather implode than become part of this madness. Kaboom! 

At the end, few members of the two families are standing. Most of them died from an extreme case of stupidity that will leave viewers groaning and struggling to care. We find out that when dawn comes, all the zombies die, and viewers are left wondering, what happens when the night comes? Except at this point, it’s a stretch to think anyone left in the audience will care, and if a handful still do, the lead male character makes them all cringe when he looks to the child who just lost his whole family and assures him his wife makes great pancakes.

Your mother and father and brother are all dead. Pancakes? Lots of strawberry syrup, I’m supposing. 

In summation:

This movie was bad, terribad, but you know what? I didn’t turn it off. I’d say if you enjoy bad movies and go into this expecting it to be bad, it almost reaches that Rocky Horror level of fun that could become an interesting night with friends. It has a lot of Mystery Science Theater appeal, and believe it or not, not a lot of bad movies can say that. Some are just bad in a boring sense, but this one had some shining moments of stupidity that will stick with you for a long time. It also had some compelling scenes that could maybe inspire something better down the line. As a writer, it’s a great film to watch, because the sins you see the film commit in two hours are the same sins many genre novels commit over three hundred pages, but when you are in the moment of writing it (as I assume the makers of this film might tell you) it’s sometimes hard to see unless you are aware of how bad it is and how your audience will react to it.

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