Samurai Zombie (2008)

Samurai Zombie (2008)

Dead … but still slicing!

A vacation goes horribly wrong for a family when they are car-jacked by a pair of ruthless bank robbers on the run. An accident strands the group in remote woods near to the abandoned site of Eight Spears Village. Here they encounter a group of undead warriors with an age-old grudge to settle and a knack for severing heads.

 

It’s got a premise which is low on complexity and high on potential but Samurai Zombie ultimately fails because of both counts. It’s too simple to really string itself out for ninety-one minutes and it fails to make use of its zombie stars to their full potential with a genuine lack of imagination in what they can do. I really wanted to like this simply because it’s called Samurai Zombie and the titular character is actually a decent creation. I mean we’ve had zombie pirates, zombie Nazis (can’t beat them!), zombie clowns, zombie cowboys…….the list could go on. Why not a samurai warrior?

Samurai Zombie gets down to business straight away as there’s a zombie attack within the first sixty seconds (nothing like starting a film with a bang) and then the main characters quickly come across the zombies about another twenty minutes. So far so good? But after this initial burst of energy, the pace of the film eases up dramatically. In fact it comes to a screeching halt. Samurai Zombie seems too eager to show off its zombies early on, thus peaking too early and leaving a big gaping section in the middle with little to no zombie action at all as the surviving characters explore the old village and look for somewhere to hide.

Trying to balance a health dose of humour with a side dosage of zombie trappings doesn’t work well at all. One of the characters here seems to be immortal as he survives various attempts to kill him but the fact he doesn’t die isn’t explained very well. A pair of cops have an amusing scene in which they try to one-up each other with increasingly bigger guns but as we all know, they won’t work on zombies unless you shoot them in the head. It’s just not crazy or zany enough given the history of some of the creative people involved (Ryûhei Kitamura directed the very bizarre Versus) and the constant shifts in tone from cartoon violence to trying to be morally serious just don’t work.

You’ll constantly get a wish for the film to pick up pace and keep to either being serious or silly just long enough for them to string some continuity together. So some scenes will have you laughing when you should be emotionally connecting with the characters in the face of death. And vice versa. A problem with comedy in films like this is evident if you don’t find the brand of humour amusing – it’ll just mean jokes and situations will pass you by which no doubt had one of the writers rolling around laughing.

At least they get the zombies right. The samurai warriors look great when they get unmasked. Faces filled with dripping puss, rotting maggots and bulging white eyes, these creatures stumble along like any classic Lucio Fulci zombie. It’s a far cry from the modern depiction of zombies are mere men with face paint and torn clothes. These walking corpses are the real deals. The added effect of the samurai costumes with full body armour and helmet only add to the potential of these creatures. They’re not used as much as they could be though and we don’t get to see a great deal of the zombies that are resurrected later on (I wanted to see more of the warrior with the bow and arrow).

I didn’t expect the body count to be overly high given the small cast but the film throws in the pair of cops as well as the crazy old coot who constantly tells the others that they’re going to die. Guess what happens to her! These zombies don’t eat human flesh which is about the only thing disappointing. They prefer to honour their victims by slicing off their heads with a bit of school sword slashing. The beheadings feature a ton of blood which is really over-the-top as decapitated heads are propelled hundreds of feet through the air with fountains of blood. I’m not quite sure whether it’s meant to be realistic or whether those geysers of red would greet the sight of anyone having their head sliced off so quickly but they look really out of place. The CGI blood overkill doesn’t help either.

 

Samurai Zombie will deliver a few thrills and spills for the more undemanding of horror fans who will instantly like this film just because it’s Japanese and therefore greater than anything from America. That’s not the case in reality as there’s a lot more mileage that Tak Sakaguchi could have got out of the idea.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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