Thursday, July 5, 2018

Reviews: Zombie Twosome – Aaah! Zombies!!; ZombieChrist

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Aaah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away)
Directed by Mattahew Kohnen
Level 33 Entertainment / Wasted Pictures
90 minutes, 
2007 / 2010

Zombie comedies are not new. They go back at least as far as Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers in 1940; but that’s voodoo kind. For the modern take, there are, for example, Shaun of the Dead (2004), C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. (1989, which had zilch to do with C.H.U.D.), and Return of the Living Dead II (1988). And now…

Actually, this is sort of a zombified zombie tale. It was originally released in 2007 as Wasting Away, and was resurrected from the dead shelf as Aaah! Zombies!!. Considering the number of indie awards it has won at horror film festivals, I’m surprised it isn’t better known.

Most zombie comedies are dead on arrival (sorry), but this one actually had me laughing at more than a few moments. Though there are holes here and there (including in a number of bodies), generally this is a well thought out, written, and acted film.

The basic premise is borrowed from some of the other films, such as C.H.U.D. II’s premise of trying to build the super-solider, and Return of the Living Dead II’s errant barrels of toxic waste accidently being ingested. Even with that, the level of originality here is enough to more than bolster the plot.

There’s four friends (not sure if they’re supposed to be teens or young twenties), three of whom work in a bowling alley, and their ever-hungry-for-weird-food friend who hangs around with them. They all have a bit of slacker in them, in varying ranges. After managing to ingest some of the toxic green goo via a beer and soft ice cream concoction, they are off after they’re offed.

Here’s where the originality kicks in full strength: part of the film is in black and white (except for the green stuff), which indicates everyday life and how everybody else sees the typical George Romeo slow-moving, groaning creatures. But then there are the parts in color, which is how the zombies see us and each other, that is to say, normally. To them, they feel, talk, and walk normal, but others see them as drooling cadaverous beings. The image flips back and forth, with people seeing decaying corpses walking around in B&W, and they’re just living their lives while being totally incomprehensible to only themselves (and any others infected).

It’s taken a step further, which I believe is quite smart: zombies are slow and lumbering, and can’t be understood, so it is put into play that uninfected people are shot in fast-motion, indicating normal brain function instead of the slower creatures, so the zombies can’t understand them, and they can’t understand the zombies – with the exception of drunks, who can both be understood and make out what is being said, as alcohol slows the brain, or zombies who drink enough coffee to speed them up can communicate with the uninfected.

The zombies are strong (unlike Romero’s) if not fast, so they find themselves killing uninfecteds in self-defense, or just doing a “Lennie Small” and not realizing how strong they actually are. Please note that two brains get eaten, but in the least gory (though definitely yecky) ways. In fact, there really isn’t a whole lot of gore, though there is some blood (mostly on clothing).

Obviously, the goo is doing something to their brains, because they don’t really seem to get upset when a body part is disconnected, or when relatives perish; though they do seem to care about each other, which is touching.

The cast is good, filled with professional actors who seem to be doing a lot of work on television shows as regulars and guest appearances on the "Law and Order" types, for example. One of the four leads is Betsy Beutler, who played Katie on "Scrubs," Joanie on "The Black Donnellys," and Son of Sam victim Stacy Moskowitz (someone I actually knew) in the series "The Bronx is Burning." Here she plays perky very well, in a sort of cheerleader kind of way, while working the hell out of her very expressive facial muscles. Her boy-next-door-potential-boyfriend is portrayed by Michael Grant Terry, who portrayed Wendell on "Bones." His goofiness comes across as charming rather than annoying, a fine line that is appreciated, and he makes a good pair with Beutler.

Julianna Robinson plays the other female lead, a more cynical, ambitious type who is hoping to get out of the local slacker scene. Having also appeared as the reporter in a bunch of McBride telefilms, she depicts snarky well, again without losing any of the character’s likeability. Her foil is embodied by Matthew Davis, who has had a successful recent career as Josh in "Damages" and Alaric in "The Vampire Diaries." His character is the type who is usually played by the Ryan Reynolds or Jack Black ilk of actor, being the charming adult child who rises to the occasion when needed, and uses the word "awesome" way too much. As with the rest of the foursome, he remains charming throughout, and comes across with some solid laughs. Also, he garners the most CGI effects.

There are a couple of well-known character actors here that if you don’t recognize the name, you certainly would the face. A hard-edged solider who guides the two couples through what is happening to them (albeit misinformed), is a turn done well, if a little over the top, by Colby French; he was Hank on the first season of "Heroes." An evil general is done to a turn by Richard Riehle. He has over 230 credits in both television and films (as of this writing, 11 are in post-production), such as Walt on "Grounded For Life," along with semi-regular roles in a number of "Star Trek" spin-offs. Last of note, is one of my favorite underrated character actors who has a cameo, Tracy Walter, a man from New Jersey who almost always plays redneck southerners. Though he has over 150 credits, including Angel in "Nash Bridges," for me some of his special work was in the “Mummy Daddy” episode of "Amazing Stories," the philosopher of Repo Man (1984, who give the best speech – about UFOs – while burning clothes), and though I thought the series was only fair, I still think of as “Frog” in "Best of the West." But I’m digressing here, because I'm a fan.

Anyway, this is a straight-out funny flick, and I’m happy to recommend this for Saturday movie night. It’s got balls; bowling balls, that is, and it’s a strike!

Zombie Christ
Directed by Bill Zebub
Bill Zebub Productions
90 minutes, 2010

In part, what makes the shot-on-video Zombie Christ interesting is not just their own descriptor of “The Most Blasphemous Story Ever Told,” but the sheer audacity and goofiness of it.

Perhaps it is because I am not a Christian that I am not riled by this, but neither am I a Death Metal fan, as obviously is the cleverly named director Bill Zebub. His film credits include the documentaries Death Metal: Are We Watching You Die, Metal Retardation, Black Metal: The Documentary, and the fictional Metalheads: The Good, the Bad, and the Evil, Assmonster: The Making of a Horror Movie, The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made, and the equally noxiously named Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist (many of these trailers – and more – appear on this DVD as bonuses).

For the purposes of this film, Jesus is resurrected by some Druids (before the film starts) and he (I will use the smaller case “he” for this review) is looking for his descendants via Mary Magdalene, who had two of his children according to this plot. The term zombie here is used more classically as the walking dead rather than the modern flesh-eating ghouls. Zombie Jesus eats the souls of the (nearly exclusively naked) women of his bloodline.

What is disturbing is the way women are victimized throughout (though men are brutalized as well, but on a lesser scale). It seems everyone is heavily inked, metaled up (even Jesus as he appears in his own lifetime has a lip ball); however, the women are quite young and beautiful (and in at least one case, the actress seems stoned out of her mind), but the men are middle aged, oftentimes bald with scraggly facial hair, and well, lets just say could use to shed a few (without meaning this as body shaming).

This is part of why I stated that there are actually some amusing aspects of this purposefully offensive release. First of all, Zombie Jesus is a skeletal puppet with some meaty bits pasted on and a crown of thorns. There is no point where the skeleton moves in a natural way (i.e., no CGI or pixilation used), and the one special effect when he “walks” on water, the blue screen (green screen?) effect is laughable and out of scale. As the skeleton uses a chicken leg to perform a sex act, or his bony finger, if one can get past the screaming misogyny and “sacrilege,” it’s pretty damn droll in its own way.

There are also some noticeable question marks for me, such as a nun in full habit (at first) who is wearing moth-shaped designer underwear, black leather heels, and sporting a Brazilian wax. Also there are other plot holes, such as the role of the hero: who is he in relation to the story, and how did he get a list of who is in the bloodline? And the ending, well, it’s just ridiculous, but no more than anything else, so if you’ve put up a large enough suspension of disbelief to reach that point, it won’t matter. I laughed at parts.

One would think this film preaches Satanism; I’m not sure what Bill Zebub actually believes, despite his nom de cinema, but the message here is certainly questioning the Judeo-Christian belief system, claiming Christianity was created by the Romans (which seems unlikely to me as they persecuted the followers so harshly, as the Church would do in return unto others through the centuries), and that the story of Jesus is actually a retelling of the Dionysus myth (this is explained in detail, step-by-step, throughout the film by the male protagonist.

Now comes the dilemma… to recommend or not. Well, while I enjoyed some aspects of it for what it was, it was a bit too much in the W.A.V.E.-style S&M cinema for me (and no sign of Tina Krause) to really say a general “go see it.” It’s all up to you, now.

[Note that this film is not to be confused with another zombie Jesus film called THE Zombie Christ]

These reviews originally published in

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