They do say start as you mean to go on, and it had been several months since any of the films watched at zombie club actually had any zombies in them, so it seemed more than fitting to start the new year in proper zombie style. Proper gut-munching maggot-hands style. Sort of.
Dave Parker is an oddity in the horror genre. He somehow leapt from writing and directing the low-budget The Dead Hate the Living to co-writing the screenplay for the obviously much bigger budget House of the Dead movie in the space of only a couple of years. That's quite a leap but he pulled it off so here they are, both presented in their original uncut gory glory.
No Dave Parker's were harmed in the filming of these pictures.
The Dead Hate the Living (2000)
Plot Some crappy filmmakers break into an old hospital to shoot a horror movie but only succeed in waking a bunch of real zombies instead. Stop me if you've heard it.
Jim Well the story goes like this. Dave, Paul and a bunch of their amateur filmmaker mates are shooting a horror movie in this old hospital. Dave is the director and Paul is the special effects guy who has made a replica prop of Dave's sister's head for a ‘decapitation scene’ since Dave's sister is supposed to be playing the lead heroine of the movie. But when Dave's other sister finds out she goes ballistic as she was supposed to have that role and Paul has to go and put a blonde wig on the prop head. Such is the day to day melodrama of modern filmmaking.
However, things take a turn for the predictable when Topaz (the Goth chick runner who has the hots for Dave hence why Dave's blonde sister hates her so much) discovers a body next to an ornate coffin, with an equally ornate key conveniently placed on a nearby table. ‘Bingo’ figures Dave, who immediately talks this motley crew into using the corpse in their film. Cue a scene with Eric (the loincloth zombie with disappearing and reappearing bad ‘zombie eye’ makeup) being filmed putting the ornate key back into the seal on the ornate coffin. Can you guess what happens next?
As much as I cringed every time any fanboy dialogue came out (“What would Bruce Campbell do?”) I have to admit that this viewing of The Dead Hate the Living was a lot more fun than I was expecting it to be. The whole effort's cheap, the acting poor and the direction is awful, but it's all watchable. Just.
The dialogue’s a bit Bill and Ted or maybe even Scooby-Doo, but my learned colleague Rawshark beat me to that observation (“I’ve thought Scooby-Doo twice already” he announced). He had good day actually, kindly concentrating on what was good about this flick (i.e. the 'establishing' shots and the actress who played Topaz) and glossing over the bad, although later on he pointed out that (“it’s gone a bit Depeche Mode”) which totally threw me. I still don't know what he meant.
Zomblee was much easier to read – he got very excited about a certain ‘maggot hands’ sequence. (“Oh I love maggot hands. Just rub maggots in people’s faces – it’s brilliant!”), but was let down by the 'zombies climbing out of their graves' scene ("Useless!"). What a bad Hammer style graveyard was doing in the basement of an old hospital (with real corpses in it) is beyond me, but that's The Dead Hate the Living all over.
“All we need is an axe or something…!”
Rawshark Maybe it was the air of an optimistic New Year, maybe I accidentally had full irony-mode switched on, or maybe it was the promise of zombie films (Hooray!) returning to Zombie Club, but I couldn’t help really enjoying this film. No, I’d never stand up and defend The Dead Hate The Living in any filmic circles (read – it’s pretty shit really) but as an enjoyable no-brain romp through cartoon cardboard cut-out characters, evil egotistical madmen, zombies and (always a winner for me) film-within-a-film segments, this is a winner.
Beginning like some bad B-movie from bargain basement hell, TDHTL shows many early warning signs. The acting is as wooden as Woody Woodpecker with woodworm, the dialogue even worse and there’s an awfully bad low-budget Manson-type baddie. There’s lots of fanboy chat (“Who’s David Warbeck?”) which will either amuse or annoy depending on your point-of-view, bad scenery and even at one point a ripped poster of the film Stab (from Scream) in the background, a case on an in-joke of a film with a film-within-a-film with an in-joke, within the film-of-the-film.. er, stop!! I’m confused.
Yet, somehow, through all of this, TDHTL is still an enjoyable romp. The characters remain somewhat likeable, from the sunglass-wearing stoner DP Chad to the sexy Goth-chick Topaz (Jamie Donahue - the best actor of the lot), and filmmakers Eric and David who, in one standout scene, use their horror make-up techniques to disguise themselves as wandering dead.
You’ll watch this film shaking your head, shouting “No!”, “How Dare You!” and “That’s a disgrace!” at the screen, but, if you’re in a good mood, with good company and a good bottle of wine, you’ll also laugh, smile, and kinda cheer these low-budget losers along all the way until the inevitable climax that seemed somewhat familiar, and sent Jim into a coughing fit that sounded something like “cough-beyond.. cough-beyond.. Beyond..!”
“Remember; slow, stiff moves”
Zomblee “Fucking bollocks! That is the worst plot device I’ve ever seen!” shouted Jim as Rawshark sat beside him doing impressions of Scooby-Doo…
And so another Zombie Club began.
Yes, yes. Brilliant. Useless. That about covers it. The latter term can be applied more often than the previous, and even though I love a good bit of Fulci-style maggot-hand-in-face behaviour, this one will not be going in my Amazon Wish List in the near future. Or indeed ever.
That said, TDHTL does have a few things going for it, even if I have to stress the word few. One of my undead colleagues pointed out early on that this film looks like an episode of Dawson’s Creek and I have to say that pretty much nails it. If you’re looking for any serious message in the tradition of Romero’s zombie movies (although these film makers are clearly in awe of anyone who has anything to do with the sub-genre - ever), then this is not for you. It’s a silly zombie romp with awful acting and an awful script. And awful everything else. What does save it somewhat is the fact that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, but it can’t really be saved, of course, not completely.
An(other) irritating aspect of this movie is that it appears to be really poor from the outset. Perhaps we would have preferred to have been lulled into a false sense of security with an engaging opening and then watch it slowly devolve into the painfully amateurish. Even for Dawson’s Creek. Instead, however, TDHTL seems to do the opposite, as it begins to elevate itself slightly in its last half when it officially becomes ‘mildly entertaining’.
Coming off like a bargain-bucket zombed-up homage of Return to Horror High, TDHTL is really only going to please the hardcore zombie film fans, not least because of its tiresome, mostly lazy references to the genre e.g. “You’re gonna be the next David Warbeck!” It’s impossible for me not to mention the film’s ending, though, which really was a well-placed homage to the ending of Fulci’s zombie classic The Beyond, as two protagonists find themselves inside a spooky painting. Needless to say, the painting in Fulci’s film was better.
If a zombie film about some zombie film geeks making a crap zombie film sounds like great fun to you then please ensure that you have like-minded friends and alcohol present. It really isn’t the kind of thing I like at all but I allowed myself to enjoy it in places while simultaneously thinking about the next film on tonight’s bill, praying that the Zombie Club God might show more mercy than he has done here. It seems we really did save the best till last.
“God, why would anyone want to bring back the dead?!”
Director Dave Parker
Cast Eric Clawson
Benjamin P. Morris
Runtime 90 mins
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House of the Dead (2003)
Plot When a rave on a secluded island gets overrun with zombies, a group of pesky teenagers with guns take refuge in a nearby house and try to make it through the night in one piece.
Zomblee There’s 1001 things you could find wrong in House of the Dead, but if you’re in the mood for a really enjoyable, no-brains, action-packed zombie flick then this film will press all the right buttons.
Plot-wise, you’re not going to need a clear head to keep track of this one. Captain Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow) and his hook-handed sidekick (Clint Howard) ferry a group of “crazy kids” to an island off the Florida coast where a big rave is being held. When they get there, the rave looks like it’s been hit by a storm, or something else. No-one is around. At least, no-one alive. From this point forwards, the lousy acting is accompanied by zombie attacks and a lot of chop-socky action. And there endeth the plot. The actual existence of a plot of any sort is open to argument. Probably a very short argument…
The pot pourri of zombie / kung-fu action is a marriage I have a lot of time for. It worked beautifully in Versus more than it does here, but this is great fun too. A black female character called Liberty, appropriately dressed in a stars 'n' stripes bodysuit, kicks the bejesus out of a plethora of undead crumblies in a style that suits the term “flashy” rather than “stylish”. One quibble I do have however was the video game inserts which kept appearing. This comes off as a completely unnecessary, cheap and awkwardly placed device.
Jurgen Prochnow shines in this film, and let’s face it, given the acting talent surrounding him it probably wouldn’t be hard. He plays the quintessential bad-ass character, with a never-ending supply of guns and ammo, and he never looks more at home than when he is stood on his boat, cigar in mouth, blasting the underwater undead with his inexhaustible arsenal. Which brings me to the underwater zombies. All genre fans are familiar with the legendary underwater zombie in Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. If you liked that zombie, you’re in for a treat here. These zombies love their watersports and there are few sights more satisfying than submerged zombies swimming while Prochnow’s bullets cut through the sea water all around them. That shit is hard to beat guys. Apart from a zombie / shark attack. Or a zombie shark.
This film has had a lot of negative feedback, much more than it deserves. What do people expect these days? If it’s a zombie movie, and George Romero isn’t at the helm, the chances are it’s not going to be food for thought. It does what it says on the tin, and delivers the goods beautifully. Some movies deserve credit just for being there, and House of the Dead falls into that category.
“Good choice. A Desert Eagle. I like the way you think.”
Rawshark Having avoided this film on its original release (the ‘computer game to movie’ has never really been that successful – think Mario, Street Fighter etc), I only now realise what a fool I was on missing out on this no-brainer gem the first time around. Like The Dead Hate The Living it’s complete rubbish of course (a bare-bones plot, those damn cardboard cut-out characters again), but, and here’s the but, action is what is paramount here, and if it’s pumped-up Prodigy adrenaline-rush zombie-blasting you want, then this is undoubtedly your film.
You can probably fast-forward the first 20 minutes of the film as it’s all just basic character introductions (Jurgen Prochnow is Captain Kirk – yes really - and Clint Howard is his yellow sou’wester wearing shipmate who together take our teens to The Gathering on the Islande del Morte) and rushed exposition. This film is only really about one thing; the zombie action, and when it arrives it’s stunning. The first attack on the boat is amazing by itself (with bullets whizzing through the water, a muted soundtrack and head squibs for swimming zombies), but it’s the battle shortly after to get to the House of the Dead itself which remains the ultimate high point.
Using wild camera-spins, Matrix bullet-time effects (in a way that’s not clichéd), game shot inserts, and a pumping rock dance track, the sequence builds to a mind-blowing crescendo of carnage set to a blistering edit of flashing imagery and savage drumbeats. It’s an exhilarating scene - so good we actually watched it three times!
The filmmakers have obviously set out with one aim in mind – to make a full-on action film with zombies, and you know what? For the most part they succeeded. Forget about plot, forget about character depth, forget about moaning about how it uses too many elements from the House of the Dead video game (in my humble opinion this film is the best blend of computer game and movie experience ever!), just sit back with your big bag of Horror Popcorn and enjoy the ride.
“Shoot it!” “What do you think I’m trying to do you fucking moron!”
Jim It's true, this film is a total contradiction in terms. As Rawshark points out it's complete rubbish, with a wafer thin plot, an emotionless script and mostly lousy acting. On the other hand, it does have a lot of good-looking zombies (as in well made-up as opposed to handsome) and a shit load of guns, and that is a combination we like here at zombie club.
But is that enough; does throwing a shed load of cash at the action sequences make for a good film? Well, a year ago when i wrote this review the answer was a resounding no, but that was a different time - back in the days B.Z.C. Yes - before Zombie Club. In the past year Zombie Club has cultivated my love for the so-bad-it's-good arm of our favourite genre to the point where, if truth be told, I don't much like proper films any more. House of the Dead is most certainly a bad film by anyone's stand, but it's also so much fun to watch that you have to love it. A complete contradiction. Are you with me?
Take the big money battle scene as they approach the house (yes - the one we watched three times) as a prime example. It has some of the worst choreography in an action movie I've ever seen; the zombies run at breakneck speed but they don't seem to be running in any particular direction, or even at the main protagonists. On the other hand, the telekinetic gun play being captured on film is totally fantastic, hypnotic even, so maybe it doesn't matter. ("But I don't want to take my eyes off the screen man!" - Zomblee.) He really didn't want to pass Rawshark that ashtray.
Dave Parker - our evening's namesake - does it again with more cringe worthy Romero dialogue and more sub-Dawson's Creek teenager banter. But who cares? House of the Dead isn't about dialogue, it's about zombies and guns. That's it. And Amen to that.
"I was once Spanish from Spain ..."
Director Uwe Boll
Cast Jonathan Cherry
Runtime 90 mins
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So kids, what have we learnt today? Let's summarize...
We all like really bad zombie films.
We all drink far too much, especially at zombie club.
Dave Parker couldn't write a meaningful script if his life depended on it.
Jurgen Prochnow is brilliant and will be getting his own dedicated zombie club any time soon.
Rawshark is prepared to give video game movies a chance when he has full irony-mode switched on.
Jim's interest in proper films is waning.
Zomblee's ideal zombie is an underwater amputee fella in rags. With maggot hands.
So - See you next time, when we'll be reporting on Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter trilogy courtesy of our new friends at Optimum Releasing. Bye for now.