Burning Dead, The (2015)

The Burning Dead (2015)

Death will engulf the world

A sheriff must rescue an estranged family from a mountain during a volcano eruption and fight off a horde of lava-filled zombies brought to life by a curse.

 

Originally titled Volcano Zombies, The Burning Dead is the latest in the fad of making horror films so outrageously ridiculous by combing trashy bog-standard horror sub-genre entries to make something a little sillier and nonsensical. Sharknado is the obvious example, but you’ve got stuff like Piranhaconda, Lavalantula and Zombie Shark to stink up the joint. The Burning Dead is just the latest entry to a wave of films which only bring a wry smile to my face when I read the title and see what ingenious Frankenstein-like creation the producers have come up with. The films are generally atrocious however, and The Burning Dead is no exception.

It’s not worth discussing the plot because it’s virtually non-existent – volcanic eruption prompts locals to evacuate and zombies appear out of the flaming lava to kill off the stragglers. I mean what is wrong with just having the zombies rise-up out of some graveyard on the mountain side? Why the need to add the volcano? Oh yeah – ‘high concept’ idea. There’s far too many gaps and questions with the plot – the most blatant one being why are the zombies so perfectly preserved in the lava rather than being incinerated to a crisp? But I just opted to ignore this and watch the carnage unfold as it’d break my brain trying to figure it out.

Overlong prologue aside, it’s a good thirty minutes in before we even get a hint of the zombies turning up. I won’t tell a lie, but the resurrection sequence wasn’t too bad, with the zombies rising out of the ground reminding me very much of some old Italian horror film. The make-up effects are decent for something so low budget and there’s a nice red glowing effect added to their eyes with CGI. Aside from their usual modus operandi of biting necks and clawing at intestines, these zombies are also able to drip holt molten rock from their mouths (don’t ask me why the rock immediately burns things upon impact yet doesn’t seem to burn the zombies from the inside, or the ground they walk on, or anything else for that matter – just human flesh) which makes for one or two moments which are different to the usual zombie attacks. But the effects are crude and unconvincing. The film is bloody during the attacks, but the gore looks really fake and these are some of the most elasticated-looking intestines of all time – the zombies spend more time chewing on guts than they do brains. The less said about the volcanic eruptions and the lava flows, the better. Whoever thought the CGI looked half-decent is just as idiotic as the person who decided they should show it as often as they do.

Usually this type of flick features some C-list actors but even The Burning Dead struggles to round out the cast with anyone you’ll remember from elsewhere. Danny Trejo is plastered all over the front cover of the DVD like he’s the main star or something, but he’s got a tiny cameo role, used for a couple of wraparound scenes that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. Trejo has become a caricature of himself nowadays – he stars in roles that are just him doing his schtick. The only other notable cast member is Jenny Lin, solely for the fact that she provides the token nudity for the film in the most pointless sub-plot ever put to horror.

 

I’m even struggling to write something worthwhile about The Burning Dead, something unusual for me. It’s pretty darn awful from beginning to end and given how many zombie films, TV shows, video games and books are out there right now, its sheer madness to think anyone would give this the time of day.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado (2013)

Enough said!

Hurricane David approaches the Southern California coastline, bringing with it every shark in the Pacific Ocean along for the ride.  The hurricane hits land and, as the violent storm rages throughout Los Angeles, with each crashing tidal wave comes a bloodthirsty shark, carried throughout the city by storm drains and waterspouts everywhere.

 

You must have heard of Sharknado by now, a film so infamous that it has transcended our pop culture thanks to the ‘benefits’ of social media – during its initial screening on Sy Fy, Twitter nearly imploded with hashtags and it became an overnight sensation, even securing a limited theatrical release as a result. It’s not like Sy Fy (who produced it) and The Asylum (who distributed it) hadn’t been making dozens of really awful sci-fi monster movies for the past decade or so but for some reason Sharknado just caught on.

I’m sorry but it’s impossible to view Sharknado as anything but truly atrocious filmmaking which attempts to mask it’s sheer awfulness by pretending to wink at the audience. There is no way in hell that the guys behind Sharknado would have ever thought it would get to the point of infamy that it has and so the utter stupidity of the film was not planned to be ironic as it’s now made out to be. Even as ridiculous as the concept is, there were always possibilities that the film could succeed to embrace the camp but it’s a case of throwing in a load of generic killer shark and disaster flick tropes together in the hope they somehow stick. Funnily enough, the disaster scenes work slightly better than the shark scenes because it’s not as difficult to flood actual sets as it is to replicate a hurricane or get a shark to do what you want it to do. But this is definitely a case of the studio hedging all of their bets on the silly title and featuring enough clips of extravagantly over-the-top shark action to get vloggers using clips from the film on their “OMG look how bad this is” highlight videos.

And it does look bad. The CGI effects are awful. I know this was made-for-TV but there’s so much pixilation in every single frame of computer-generated footage that you’ll think your television is going on the blink. It looks so out-of-focus during some of the daytime scenes and the amount of fuzz that fills the screen is nobody’s business – this is a grey film and the filter goes into overdrive, meaning the screen is devoid of energy and life. The sharks look like every other single The Asylum / Sy Fy shark out there, which means little in the way of realism and plenty of fake grey blobs with teeth. Even the storm looks pathetic. Actors try desperately to emote in front of a green screen but there’s little the effects department can do to prevent these scenes from coming off as anything but pure comedy. Director Anthony C. Ferrante even looks to throw in some real footage of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to try and fool us into thinking that what we see is as realistic as possible. However, he utterly fails on every single count. Sharknado cost around $1m to make which is a fair price for a film made by either The Asylum or Sy Fy – but it somehow comes off looking like one of the cheapest films The Asylum or Sy Fy ever produced.

Sharknado is surprisingly boring. You’d think with all of the crazy goings-on that the film would keep the pace firmly set. But there’s a few periods of exposition and attempted character development which comes off as awkward padding to kill time between shark attacks. The script is woeful, with the series of events in the film never really meshing well. For instance, shortly after a swarm of sharks has attacked an entire beach full of people, the beach bar is still absolutely teeming with visitors who seem totally oblivious as to what happened earlier on. Even the main characters just brush it off like nothing really happened. But this happens a lot in the film, when characters are killed off or some seriously silly stuff has just happened. Also count the number of Jaws references that the script fires off. It’s a reminder that you’d be better off watching Spielberg’s all-time classic for the one millionth time than attempting to tackle Sharknado.

Finally, we come to the cast, and surprisingly I’m not going to be too harsh here. There’s not a lot anyone can do when faced with such mediocrity – Pacino and De Niro would struggle to get a rise out of the script. So, it’s probably for the best that a load of lesser known C-actors fill the main roles. You’ll recognise John Heard as the dad from Home Alone. Tara Reid looks a million miles away from her breakthrough years in the American Pie films but is surprisingly not the worst thing about the film. Cassie Scerbo does little but dart around in a bikini for the duration of the film (I’m not complaining as she’s literally the only thing worth looking at in the entire film) and former US soap opera star Ian Ziering plays everything as straight and serious as possible – it’s almost as if the in-joke completely passed him by.

 

A truly woeful film which pretends that its irony was pre-meditated creative genius, Sharknado is even worse than the usually-dreadful Sy Fy nonsense that it continually spews out. Don’t be fooled by the hype, Sharknado is one of the worst films you’ll never see – a film so desperate to become a cult classic that its embarrassing.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Just when you thought it was safe to be dead.

Two canisters of Trioxin, the ‘zombie gas’, fall from the back of a military convoy as it passes through the town of Westvale. There, a group of kids accidentally open one of the canisters as part of an initiation. The gas quickly spreads through the graveyard and soon the town is overrun as the dead start coming back to life, seeking the brains of the living.

 

Following up what many people believe to be one of the best zombie films of all time, not least one of the most entertaining horror-comedies ever put to the screen, was always going to be an impossible task. And it’s a task that director Ken Wiederhorn sadly fails at in Return of the Living Dead Part II. Return of the Living Dead was a fresh, exciting take on the zombie genre which combined some hilarious comedy with some truly effective scares and atmosphere and managed to perfectly balance the two together with a punk rock mentality to go with it. Return of the Living Dead Part II doesn’t manage to get the balance right and is all the worse for it. Though this can easily be attributed to the loss of Dan O’Bannon, the director and writer of the original, who didn’t return for this one. His input is sorely missing here.

Bizarrely, Return of the Living Dead Part II comes off more like an inferior remake than any true follow-up and it significantly tones down the violence and gore. With the combination of a kid in one of the main roles, something suggests they were targeting a younger audience who clearly enjoyed the lure of the video cover of the adult-orientated original in the rental store. In place of the violence and gore is a more comedic approach, which barely works. Too much slapstick and not enough smart writing is this film’s main problem, though that comes down to a director who is obviously not comfortable with the comedy material he’s been presented. Ken Wiederhorn previously directed atmospheric Nazi zombie flick Shock Waves so he’s got the horror credentials, he just lacks the finer touches of the funny bone to go with it. A dancing Michael Jackson-esque zombie and a severed hand which gives someone the middle finger are among some of the cheesier moments I can remember. They’re just not particularly funny and come off as a little desperate to make the audience laugh.

Return of the Living Dead Part II isn’t scary as a result. There was something genuinely terrifying about the situations the characters in the original found themselves in, from the paramedics getting mobbed by zombies to a guy having to throw himself into a crematorium to avoid turning into a zombie. There’s nothing even close to that here, despite the characters finding themselves in tricky life-or-death situations, and the feeling of repetition from the original just continues to dominate proceedings here. Only a different finale, involving the surviving characters luring the zombies to the electricity plant with a fresh batch of brains, gives the narrative any sort of new life and direction. By that time, it’s too late.

James Karen and Thom Matthews, arguably the two breakout stars of the original as the bumbling employees who caused the entire outbreak, are back but as totally new characters. Whilst the dynamic between the two isn’t as good in this one, as the script is weaker, they do share a few decent moments. As before, Karen is by far the funnier of the two and his incessant whining is funny, even if it’s a bit overplayed now. There’s a few nods to their prior roles – “I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!” – but these characters just stand out as much. Only Phillip Bruns as a barmy doctor makes any sort of impression from the new characters, with Michael Kenworthy’s young Jesse being one of those annoying know-it-all kids who frequently popped up in the 80s.

The zombies look more cartoony than scary – even the famous Tarman zombie looks like a cheaper knock-off costumed version. From some weak-looking puppets to a bunch of extras wearing some low rent Halloween masks and make-up, these zombies don’t look like they’ve been rotting in the ground for too long, with the majority of them all still nicely suited-and-booted in their Sunday best. The gore is virtually non-existent here and what little we get is far too timid to be effective.

 

You almost want to like Return of the Living Dead Part II more than you do because of it being a sequel to the original but any sort of originality and novelty value that the original had has simply been frittered away here with some poor choices of tone and direction. It’s not overly terrible, but if Return of the Living Dead Part II didn’t want to be compared to the original so badly, it should have tried to do its own thing rather than recycle the same thing.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆