After inheriting the family mortuary, a pyrophobic mortician accidentally exposes hundreds of un-cremated bodies to toxic medical waste. As the corpses re-animate, the mortician's inheritance-seeking younger brother unexpectantly shows up, stumbling upon a full zombie outbreak!
Andrew Divoff. Jeffrey Combs...
Those names above are two of a very select few reasons anyone could ever conjure up to entice me to watch a film titled NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, these days. Since Tom Savini's excellent re-working of George Romero's classic game-changer, its been a downward spiral into serious shitsville. You gotta feel sorry for poor old George. Having been royally fucked over by the system and watching his masterpiece fall into the dreaded 'Public Domain', where it can be reworked, re-envisioned, remade and fucked in its already tormented ass just that little bit deeper.
I still have sour taste in my mouth from purchasing the 'Dead Trilogy' only to find it featured a '25 Anniversary Edition' of NOTLD. My eyeballs, (and possibly my eternal soul), are scarred to this day. Romero's classic had been tampered with to the point of destroying the film entirely; new and godawful music, new and utterly fucking terrible scenes and continuity that would make Ed Wood blush, made a mockery of the dark nihilism that Romero's wonderful film evoked. It hurt me like a swift kick to the balls, so I can only imagine the sheer volume of Scotch that was downed at the Romero house when that little ditty found its way into the public realm. Romero's a chill guy, but someone doing that to your art would drive anyone to alcohilism.
Then there was a remake, (I use the term very loosely), a few years back that managed to make that shitty 'Anniversary Edition' look like CITIZEN KANE. It starred Sid Haig and, well, that's all I can tell you. I got twenty minutes into that nightmare and ran for the fucking hills. There was also vaguely clever little art project film a ways back called NOTLD- RE-ANIMATED, which used a variety of art forms and featured a plethora of techniques to recreate the original films images, beat for beat. Its was a nice little curio, I admit, but nothing more. Sort of like that pointless PSYCHO remake, but using stick figures and play-dough.
Now, this here film I just sat through, is neither a remake/sequel to Romero's film or a sequel to the animation experiment I just described. I don't know what it is, but it sure ain't got anything to do with the 'Dead' movies. Its a shame that the title can be used so readily to sell a product, because other than zombies, this is a whole new deal.
As I mentioned, those two actors are among the very few things that could draw my attention to such a project, and I hate to admit it, but I'm glad they did. This is by no means a great film, or even a good one, but looked at on its own terms, (and with having nothing to do with NOTLD), its actually a bareable little time-waster for its chosen clientelle.
We're in straight-up DTV land here, so if you don't like how the water smells, you'd best get out now. If your a fan of tongue-in-cheek, cheesy, low-rent nonsense however; there are a few reasons to dip your toe's in.
Of course, the two actors, both of whom are of pretty high standing in the horror community, are always worth a watch. Jeffrey Combs, (whose best known film THE RE-ANIMATOR also has nothing to do with this film, other than cashing in on the title), is a fan favourite, and has starred in far too many horror films to mention here; Andrew Divoff is best known for his enjoyably over-the-top turn as the WISHMASTER in the popular series of films, he's also popped up in the CALL OF DUTY gaming franchise to lend his gravelly tones to proceedings.
It's going to be hard to resist, for any indie horror fan, to not wanna check out these two on-screen together, and it is a real kick to see them bounce off each other. A low-rent, Pacino and De-Niro HEAT face-off, if you like. Divoff is hilarious and puts in a frankly brilliant performance as the long-suffering Mortician, and as his Right-Wing brother, Combs brings his usual stern weirdness into play. Watching these cats act up a storm in such comedic fashion is, (for some among us), just irresistible. Your brain is telling you turn this shit off, but the goofy grin on your face just won't let you hit the 'stop' button.
There's some surprisingly worthy gore in here, too, considering the shoestring budget. Looks like the production team put some real effort into making the best of what they had. The dreaded CG blood rears its ugly head, but theres some decent in-shot carnage in here to keep the pace from completely running on empty. The sets are fun, too, especially the enjoyable old-school graveyard where some zombie chums roam.
The film also has a nice, if puerile, sideline in political humour. Its clear than right-wing politics are not beloved in this dojo. There are numerous pokes at that bastion of intellect, Sarah Palin, a funny zombie dig at Dick-head Cheney and some other obvious, not-very-clever-but-still-occasionally-funny gags at the expense of the Republican party.
Where the film truly falters is in its script. Theres far too much time spent with sideline characters who hold no interest to the viewer whatsoever, and are often poorly performed. The plot really doesn't go anywhere. The budget may have stretched to some nice prosthetics work here and there, but it sadly didn't allow for a great deal of zombie action. Instead we get some funny, well acted scenes from our leads, battling for screen time with our bland plot and empty supporting cast. It sucks to have to rag on a film that has such a sense of good intent behind it, but it's really just not got much going for it.
It all amounts to a whole lot of not much, sadly. These few little glimmers of light aren't enough to save what is essentially a poorly paced, flatly acted, (other than the obvious) and excitement-free movie. If your not a fan of the two leads, you may want to pass this one over. As hard as the cast and crew have tried, (and I give them all credit for it), this one is really only for those of you who recognise the names on the DVD case. If your curious as to why these guys are so well thought of in the horror community, I suggest you catch WISHMASTER, RE-ANIMATOR/THE FRIGHTENERS. As great as they are here, the film surrounding them really isn't up to scratch. It scores points for some great acting, and a real sense of ramshackle care that seems to have went into the production, but a good film, it ain't.
In truth, you already know if your the type this film will appeal to. You don't need me or any other critic telling you how the wind blows. I personally had some fun with it, despite its many shortcomings, though others will find the whole thing excruciating. I can't in good conscience mark this one high, but that should make it no less tempting to indie-lovers out there.
Have fun, or don't.
3 Papa Zombies out of 10