What a nightmare — I watched this after a long flight, half asleep and hated it. Wanting to be fair, I started writing as I rewatched it. As I wrote about how awful it was, I kept finding nuggets that I really liked. I finally got to the point where I realized my whole thesis was wrong. So I got up early and went to Panera Bread to rewrite the post. And the wifi was out.
To be sure, it fails on every objective technical level, but it does have some fun ideas which puts it ahead of a lot of movies not included 20-to-a-box.
It actually starts out with a good gag where a man’s legs are sticking out of the cab of a pickup. They start jiggling a little, and given the genre, it is reasonable to assume he he is being chomped by a zombie in the cab. It is revealed that he is just drunk. I’m not entirely sure this bit of comedic misdirection was intentional, because it is so poorly directed. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure this was intentional:
The drunk, and the next two people we meet — a kid and a “slow” (I think he was supposed to be slow) man are among the worst actors I’ve ever seen; I mean, like Bill Paxton bad. The next character we meet, bearing a striking resemblance to Jesus, is maybe the only competent actor in the movie. At this point, I can see how I formed my initial assessment of this film.
We spend a little more quality time with slow-man Phil. If his speech impediment and krazy camo hat were not classic DSM-IV symptoms of a mental health condition, then his sloppy sandwich eating skills clinch it. Although, he has written a Zombie Survivalist Manual, so maybe he is some kind of high-functioning savant.
I have to give the movie credit for one of the greatest cuts since 2001: From Phil chomping on a cream cheese sandwich, we cut to a Renaissance Fair style trio playing instruments that I can’t even begin to imagine what they are. Also hanging out are magicians, jugglers and swordsmen. I have a feeling the auteur happened to have friends into Renaissance Fairs and thought that might be a cheap way to add some atmosphere. And he was right. The new actors are also horrible, but the concept is such a great non-sequitur, that much of the charm of the movie comes from this quirk, which — bonus! — is actually integral to the story later. That is already more thought than went into Die Hard 5.
Jesus, Phil and a couple of kids see the first reports of Zombies on the TV at Jesus’ garage. For some reason, the newscaster is played by the same actor who plays Phil. There were 112 people in this thing — they couldn’t throw a speaking bone to one of the Zombies? His acting as the newsman is slightly less offensive than as Phil, however, he is wearing a bizarre hairpiece which more closely resembles a beret.
The attacks begin, first on a farmer and his daughter. Credit to the movie for allowing the daughter to clock some Zombie kids in the head with big-ass rocks. It is so unexpected, that it is good for laughs. She also executes a very poor spin, delivering a kung-fu kick to a Zombie’s gut — but again, kudos for having her foot go right through his rotting body. Good stuff.
A second couple, from the Fair, is attacked just as the man is kneeling, proposing to his girlfriend. They begin chewing on the girl’s neck. After some absurd projectile bleeding, the man goes to his car to get a sword. Alas, he is too late and swears, “I will avenge thee!”
The drunk from the first scene comes to Jesus’ garage looking for the kid. He realizes that toxin he disposed of in a graveyard is responsible for this Zombie attack, and mugs relentlessly for the camera to show his guilt. With our core group under one roof, they decide to make a run for the local armory.
Along the way, there are many Zombie kills, and the group meets up with more Renaissance Fair participants including a guy in a very handy suit of armor.
Really the only unforgivable sin is the acting. Except for Jesus, the acting is uniformly dreadful. I mean over-the-top, mugging, hammy, 2nd grade Thanksgiving pageant awful. It wouldn’t have cost the director anything to tell the cast — especially the drunk — to dial it down to 11. Maybe they were going purposely over the top like Raising Arizona, but did not pull it off.
The special effects were of course not Avatar-level. But for a low-budget movie, I adjust my expectations accordingly. I actually find the resourcefulness kind of charming.
In all, it was not a wasted 90 minutes as I initially thought.
- How do these small films like this or Awaken the Dead afford such enormous casts? In this case, IMDb lists 112 people, 89 credited as “Zombie.”
- While seeking refuge in a hardware store, a woman finds her weapon-of-choice, a hedge trimmer (more suited for dainty hands than a chainsaw, even the Lady McCulloch). She is later seen along the road carving a zombie which presents a conundrum since it was a corded electric trimmer.
- A Google search reveals there is no such thing as a Lady McCulloch which, frankly, kind of surprised me.
- This same woman gets the award for most bizarre zombie kill — she shoves an umbrella in its mouth and opens it, causing its head to explode.
- Credits for Shawn Darling: Director, Writer, “Zombie”, Producer, Film Editor, Makeup, Props, Sound, Camera, Special Features Camera, Music Editor, Score, Location Scout, Puppeteer, Visual FX and Compositing.
- Heard on a TV: “We interrupt this premiere of Shawn Darling’s Ghosts . ..