Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet
Virus of the Dead
Complied by Tony Newton; directed by Matthew Joseph Adams; Gordon Bressack; James Cullen Bressack; Dan Brownlie; Jarrett Furst; Keiron Hollett; Matt Twinski; Benjamin James; Hunter Johnson; Christopher Jolley; Jason Lorah; John T. Mickevich; Mark Alan Miller; Kiko Morah; Tony Newton; John Penney; Shawn C. Phillips; Nick Principe; Timo Rose; Shane Ryan; Emir Skalonia; Steven S. Voorman
Vestra Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
102 minutes, 2018 / 2019
Tony Newton is a Brit who loves to keep his hands in the horror field, including books, poetry, documentaries, fiction films, and so on. For this anthology, he came up with a great idea: he had people involved in the genre create their own little films ranging from short, solo bits, to longer ones with some narrative to them. Then he strung them together to create a worldwide epidemic, and generate the ultimate found footage zombie collection.
The film starts with the “headline” act, “American Virus,” starring and co-written by Katheryn Eastwood. Rather than talking to an empty chair like her dad, she converses with the camera with a snide “fuck you” attitude as she and her cronies are the ones to start the outbreak via injections for… revolution? Disruption of the status quo? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, it’s bloody, quickly edited, and with lots of motion of the camera. In fact, in some of the clips, there is a risk of motion sickness worse than Cloverfield (2008) or The Blair Witch Project (1999), other times completely steady, sometimes including digital “noise.”
Most of the pieces are filmed on cell phones and laptops, with the files uploaded to Newton. These clips are international, so occasionally there’s another language (with translation), which makes the varied perspectives additionally interesting. More often than not the person on the other end is talking directly to the camera with swings around to show what’s going on near by them, expressing different levels of desperation. Which brings me to my next point.
Some of the pieces are stand-alone, and others are serial. What I mean by that is there are sections that come and go with a single filming. Some of the more interesting ones are those that come back at different times as situations worsen. For example, there is a series of segments with horror actor/vlogger Shawn C. Phillips: in the first, he’s taking the whole thing pretty casually, locked down in his basement with his film collection, figuring he’ll just wait it out. But each time we come back, food and water is running low and eventually there’s no electricity; it gets more and more dire. Another, “Face to Face,” has a couple who are Skyping (FaceTime? We Chat?) while he is in the States and she is in Myanmar (“I panicked,” for those who get the reference). Each time we come back to them – and this really is one of my fave pieces, – the situation goes from “what the hell” to sheer terror, bit by bit.
What comes out in the long run is people trying to adjust into a “new normal” as the world eats itself up, and trying desperately and literally not to be on the menu. This new reality is actually what television shows like “The Walking Dead” and films like ZOO (2019) are about, as much as the zombie apocalypse. Different people react to the situation in various ways, the oddest one being a couple of horror wannabe filmmakers who gleefully film killing zombies for their “epic.” But who is going to watch it “with the world in a grave” as the P.F. Sloan song “Eve of Destruction” posits?
At least the film occasionally deals with camera batteries dying as electricity starts to begin waning, as would happen. It’s a pet peeve of mine in found footage when people film for days on one battery. I have to recharge my phone daily, and I don’t usually use the movie features. And don’t get me started about the energy it takes to upload all these videos that the dying world is posting to a server no one is watching over.
There’s a couple of things that I find interesting, one directly and one larger than the film itself. First, even with a multitude (legion?) of different filmmakers and styles, there generally is a similar pattern, either the characters running around with the camera/cell phone, or with the camera mounted and pointing directly at the person of focus. I’m sure with some, it’s actually taken directly from the laptop camera on the top of the monitor, but no matter what the source, there is a consistency in the pattern of how the film is done. Found footage has become as much a staple of the horror genre as selfies, in general. This is a mixture of both.
What I find most fascinating, though, is the thought behind the need to film oneself, even as the world is dying. As a culture, we have become so inundated by not just the selfie, but the mentality behind it that has us believing we all matter and the world is going to care what we have to say, even if it endangers oneself or those we love (case in point the father who keeps filming his wife and his new spankin’ kid even as the undead are metaphorically breathing down their necks).
If the world is actually in the middle of the Z-Apoc, it’s just a very short matter of time before society as we know it ends, and the means for anyone else to see what you have filmed will be gone with it. That we would feel the need to keep on shooting the video selfie to show everyone / anyone / no one we ever existed is futile. Even if the footage remained beyond your body’s existence, who would have the means to see it? As much as this is a fictional film about zombies, it is also an exercise in just how vain and egocentric we are.
Just go to YouTube and check out videos people make of themselves in confrontations with others in parking lots, stores, fast food restaurants, etc., shouting, “I’m putting this on YouTube!,” hoping for it to go viral. Well, when the Z-Apoc goes literally viral, you and what happens to you is like dust in the wind. As I said, it is this mentality that I find really fascinating about this film, whether purposeful as a sociological study or just an exercise in anthology.
The gore is plentiful throughout, with some pieces being more so than others, most of it looking quite spectacular – my fave was a zombie ripping the skin off someone’s back. Most anthologies are kind of hit and miss, but this one is actually quite good throughout, with very few submissions that didn’t work, such as one where a guy is talking very slowly with the camera just inches from his face; luckily, it’s pretty short.
This is a fine effort that deserves to be added to the zombie canon, and I recommend it as everyone on this film is obviously a fan of the genre, and have contributed their love for it as a bigger body of work.