Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Note For Filmmakers To Be

In setting out on my quest to watch every zombie movie ever made (unless I find them and watch the first few minutes and the DVD player becomes so clogged with vomit and disapproval that the movie stops playing and returns itself to Netflix) I found a good number that were made by first time crews. These people have an enthusiasm unlike any other seasoned band of filmmakers and are brimming with zeal and appreciation for the trailblazers of the genre, but one thing they don’t possess is any concept of quality. God bless them they try so hard and if I were a filmmaker from the 80s with a stack of cash to spend on my first zombie film I would probably have produced the same results: A huge show of the films I worshipped, an overabundance of reasonably realistic looking gore effects, a cast of friends, a cameo from the only genre non-celebrity who returned my calls, and a plot that was actually semi-interesting. I actually have a friend who’s hard at work interning for film studios just so he can make these films. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is so that if you find yourself part of a crew of filmgeeks who’s just won the lottery, for god’s sake hire actors and a screenwriter who can both deliver reasonable dialogue. Gore will not be a problem if I know film geeks; you’ve had a lot of practice. Let’s have a look at a pair of these efforts and try and see where they went wrong.

Flesheater (or Revenge of the Living Dead)
by Bill Hinzman

This film, made by amateurs under the direction of Bill Hinzman (yes that Bill Hinzman) who was the first zombie encountered in George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (“they’re coming to get you, Barbara”). Well, Hinzman’s first time directing wasn’t nearly as original or successful as his first employer. Hinzman made a film called The Majorettes from a script by Romero’s one time scriptwriting partner John Russo. Well, if the fact that I’ve never once in my life heard of this picture is any indication, investers weren’t exactly banging down the door looking for the cemetery zombie to direct another film. So it was with his own money, his own script and his own hand that he made Flesheater or Revenge of the Living Dead (apparently he wasn’t above shameless cash-ins). The story is as follows: some college kids go drinking and screwing in the woods and a zombie (Hinzman) kills and turns them one by one. Ta-Da! Anyway, we see breasts, kids getting murdered and eating their father, and the only two original characters get killed in a Night-inspired ending. The film doesn’t have a piece of believable character development or dialogue and the story progresses like it’s being told by a drunken movie fan to a basement full of equally drunken friends. If Hinzman had spent his money on a decent script and real actors instead of overweight twenty somethings pretending to be teenagers, he might have made a decent film.

The Dead Next Door
by J.R. Bookwalter

The title would have been good if it had anything to do with the film, but it doesn’t. J.R. Bookwalter has had one long and pointless career. His first taste of celluloid was as an uncredited zombie in Day Of The Dead. Well, apparently this was a dream come true for the twenty year old nerd, because three years later he and a bunch of friends got together with a small fortune, a small army of extras, and a plethora of gore effects and made the best-worst film ever made. The Dead Next Door, starring for a few minutes Scott Spiegel of Evil Dead fame, concerns a group of police officers in the Zombie Squad, dedicated to killing the large number of ghouls who have taken over their town. The crew, led by Lt. Raimi (get it), isn’t very good at their job as one of them seems to drop every minute. They also bankroll the kind of experiments Dr. Logan performs in Day Of The Dead, teaching zombies to talk, etc. Anyway, the cops split their time between watching The Evil Dead in the station, combating protestors who are for some reason opposed to killing zombies and uncovering and thwarting a cult who worship the zombies. The gore is pretty marvelous considering; I mean, it's not quite Savini, but it's pretty goddamn gross. The dialogue is poorly written, delivered and is entirely uncalled for most of the time. The story is actually pretty interesting and were it not for the fact that I know the kind of people who made this movie I’d say it was a pretty poignant comment on the level of hero worship that goes into horror films, that continues to this day. The J.R. Bookwalters of yesterday, making incredibly gory zombie films to show their love of Sam Raimi and George Romero are just the predecessors or the Eli Roth’s of today, making incredibly gory torture films to show their love of Dario Argento and Ruggero Deodato. So in that sense, and in the much better than average gore effects, The Dead Next Door is brilliant, but unfortunately I think at the time Bookwalter thought he was just making a second rate zombie film. 

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