Friday, October 30, 2009

For A Real Halloween Vacation Try Canada...Sorry, America...Try America!

As we’ve seen voodoo films from the 1940s capitalized on the things that had already proved successful marketing tools. Mantan Moreland, for example, was a bankable talent (lord knows why) and so it made sense for King of the Zombies to look like it did. So if we apply that same logic to the 1980s it makes perfect sense that a producer looking to disingenuously make a couple of bucks off a long-dead fad, they would use the voodoo zombie film as their chosen method and that’s exactly what Shledon S. Goldstein, Eleanor Hilowitz and Charles Storms did in 1986. Like King of the Zombies their film has no respect for its audience and asks you to believe a lot of rather silly things about people, this time around instead of exploiting racial humourists, the group of people that the three Canadians chose to exploit were Metalheads and punk rockers. Between its insultingly laconic and nonsensical plot and appalling misrepresentation of youth culture, it's a wonder Zombie Nighmtare isn't more well known. Even an appearance on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 couldn't get people to reappraise it's cult status....maybe it just sucks too much even for die-hards.

Zombie Nightmare
by Jack Bravman

The first thing we see is a rather poorly executed voodoo ritual. After an angry looking fellow rises from a box (it’s supposed to be a coffin) and screams at his ridiculous summoner we shift gears to a cheery baseball game. A young black woman watches (cause nothing appeals to attractive young black women than an all white baseball game, the highlights of which include a doughy guy showing off for his screeching son) and then tries to go home but is intercepted by a couple of movie greasers; the sort of people whose filthy hair and white shirts are supposed to pass for menace. The doughy guy comes to her rescue (not only is he fascinating, he's a suburban superhero) but gets stabbed to death in front of his wife and son. Then we flash-forward to that kid's post-adolescence where he's become a baseball player just like his old man. On the downside he also grew into Jon Mikl Thor, a rather unfortunately dressed post-metal head. We join Thor just as he wins a game for his team to a synth score that might ordinarily accompany a corporate training video. Then, because this is a Canadian film from the 80's, we get shown the director's idea of a wild night. Bored secretaries and young professionals dance like zombies until some punk kids interrupt them with their noise and loud conversation (later, to show just how badass he is, one of them will throw food at his mother. These kids must be stopped!). They get ejected (cause they're so dangerous!) and decide that what they'd like to do is drive around aimlessly and accidentally hit Jon Mikl Thor (but only after he's thwarted a motherfucking robbery while buying groceries for his mother. I think he was on his way to save some orphans from a burning, sinking church picnic but never made it).

The Italian grocer who Thor saved from being robbed returns the favour by delivering the dead hero’s corpse to his mother's doormat instead of, I don't know, calling a fucking ambulance. Mom is so distraught she decides to call Molly Mokembe. Who's that, you ask? She's a voodoo priestess who happens to live up the fucking block. More importantly she's the girl from the prologue who was almost killed by Squiggy and The Fonz. So after a few long minutes of watching Manuska Rigaud (who wisely kept her last name out of the credits) chewing the scenery as a neighborhood voodoo priestess, Thor comes back as a baseball-bat wielding zombie. You know what this means, don't you? Them punks better watch theyselves! You know what else it means? Because the footage of Thor coming back to life is the same footage from the very start of the movie, I’m willing to bet that Jack Bravman didn’t shoot nearly enough for this to meet it’s length requirement so he padded his movie with stupid tricks like re-using footage for no reason and lengthy scenes where people talk about nothing at the twist-n-crème. But what the fuck do I know?

Can I take a minute and point out that everyone of these 'punks' is so clearly a trust-fund kid. With the exception of their 'leader' Jim, they're all about as whitebread as kids come. And let's talk Jim for a minute, he looks like Axl Rose by way of David Lee Roth...except uh, I don't know somehow like a drag queen despite his constantly trying and failing to score with women. Two of the supposed punk kids play tennis in their spare time, though they pay for it, which makes them about as dangerous as David Cassidy. When they sneak around in the tennis club after dark Thor finds and murders them. Jim gets his trying to rape the waitress at the twist-n-crème, which is like a suburban Montreal dairy queen. When Amy, one half of the last two kids left alive, wants to book it before she gets murdered, she and the other kid go to rob Jim's uncle's garage. This doesn't go well. We then learn Goofus and Galant from the prologue grew up to be Jim's father and a detective Churchman, who's been overseeing the murder investigation throughout the film and who is played by a visibly exasperated Adam West. The survivors convene at Thor's grave and the plot comes out (not that it matters) and the only person left alive is the third or fourth-least likable person in the movie.

I believe that what Goldstein, Hilowitz and Stern (and don't they sound like a couple of lawyers?) were hoping to make was the Canadian Return of the Living Dead, with voodoo in place of that films charming embrace of existing zombie lore. So we have a smattering of punk music, a couple of in-name-only punk kids, and at the end some zombies burst out of the cemetery grounds (soundstage). Nice try, but Return of the Living Dead this is not. The problems start with a facile understanding of punk culture. Take the music. The film starts with a Motörhead song and that in and of itself is a problem. Motörhead were never punks nor were they ever really considered metal, though they had an equally big fanbase in the punk and metal scene. They got big in 1979 when they probably seemed a departure from Judas Priest or Black Sabbath (and certainly from whatever shitty rock bands were on the radio at the time) but Lemmy and Co. were too soft to please people who were ravenous for real harsh stuff like Metallica or Slayer (by 1986 they had fallen a bit by the wayside). I don’t think Motörhead had any trouble converting fans in either circle (and for a good reason, they’re quite excellent, even on their more recent albums) but if you want straight-up punk music listen to Slaughter and the Dogs or early Clash or The Sex Pistols. Motörhead were more interested in volume than any kind of political sentiment (they weren't without politics, like The Ramones, but they aren't remembered for their progressive stance on anything, either). Regardless, this was third-tier punk or metal at. Kudos for having Girl School on the soundtrack as well, but again they were in between genres. My guess is after paying for the Head and Girlschool songs the budget ran out so bands nobody remembers like Fist and Jon Mikl Thor's own band, which he selflessly called Thor, start to make appearances. Thor did most of the relentlessly terrible synth incidental music as well (a cost-cutting measure more than anything else I’m guessing). So you see what I mean...if the music editor and the producers couldn't agree about the music that their hooligans would be blasting in a car stereo what chance did their characters have?

The kids fall so short of menacing I simply don't know what the movie's wants to say about them. But for Jim, whose parents are rich, which negates any rebelling he plans to do especially considering his method of getting back at the rich people who raised him, the kids don't even look the part. Jim’s cohorts have no reason to take orders from their flamboyant leader and don't seem to like him much anyway so when he runs Thor over I really don't get why the others don't just turn his ass in. I have a hard time believing that Amy, the girl with a Cure poster on her wall, or the king and queen of the tennis club would have any problem sending Diamond Dave to prison. He murdered someone! They aren't punks so why do they care about preserving their faux-dangerous non-friend? In fact the only real punk is that kid with the mohawk who Thor stops from robbing the grocery store (the one act of rebellion worthy of the name in the whole script). He'll get arrested later because the police suspect he's the one picking off these kids. I'm inclined to agree with Detective Churchman's assessment of that kid in that he's clearly more dangerous than anyone else in the film. Makes you wonder just what the hell mohawk’s doing in suburban Montreal...he's like 26. There are big city heroin dens and punk clubs just a bus ride away.

Zombie Nightmare is awful. A cash-in that failed in every way. Jack Bravman seems better suited to directing television than film, though he came from directing sex movies. He has an apparent aversion to close-ups, so we never get close enough to the kids to tell them apart. That's not a bad summation of what went wrong: the film never gets close enough to its subject matter; it doesn't care so why should we? Nevermind that the performances are all dreadful, the direction lousy and the premise stupid. I mean it's so bad that you can really only have fun watching it, which leads me to wonder why it never found a midnight showing fanbase. The Mystery Science Theatre treatment it got was quite good fun and I highly recommend it over a static viewing (if you somehow manage to track down an old VHS copy or one of the limited DVD copies pressed). It's dreadful but in a fun way that let's you ask of the producers "what the hell were you thinking?" just about every scene. Why do the fifties look like the 80s? Why does Thor have a different outfit as a zombie than he did as a jock metalhead? Why does Molly Mokembe talk like a shivering cossack as an adult? The most pressing question I have is whether the producers wondered why no one made voodoo films anymore?

No comments: