Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Zombies of Mass Destruction (USA, 2009)

Don’t shoot, I’m gay!

Once upon a time, zombie movies are among the driest of horror movies. Even way back in the day of the non-flesh-eating zombie, say the time of White Zombie (1932 / trailer / full movie) or I Walked with a Zombie (1943 / trailer), humor was seldom to be found in a zombie flick — with the possible singular exception, of course, of the famed and entertaining guilty pleasure Zombies on Broadway (1945).
And after film zombies started chomping innards for lunch in the late 60s, with the possible exceptions of Return of the Living Dead (1985 / trailer) and Dead Alive (1992 / trailer), up until Shawn of the Dead (2004 / trailer) there were few films that attempted (and less that succeeded) in mixing flesh-eating zombies with laughs throughout the entire flick.Since Shawn of the Dead, however, many a director has attempted to meld stomach laughs with gut munching; some — like virtually every subsequent film of the Living Dead franchise, the last and worst being Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005 / trailer) — less successfully; others, such as Zombieland (2009 / trailer) or Dead Snow (2009 / trailer), more successfully. But for all the social commentary that George Romero put in Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer / full movie), the classic (serious and straight) horror flick that gave birth to the contemporary genre of somnolently moving, flesh-eating undead, little of the comedy found in the funny undead films — with the possible exception of aspects of Fido (2006 / trailer) — could be described as socially or politically satirical.

Mommy ate Daddy.

But now, finally, a film has arrived that can fill that vacant slot on every zombie fan’s DVD shelf still awaiting an effective and bloody zombie movie that balances horror with its social satire: Zombies of Mass Destruction, the low budget debut film of director Kevin Hamedani. It might not be subtle, and it might take awhile before it gels, but Zombies of Mass Destruction offers a fine variety of laughs, gore pieces and occasional scares — with an added helping of well-drawn characters, excellent acting for a film of its budget, and fun plot development. The zombie action does take some time before it starts, but the slow build up only serves to give the various characters more personality and make them more than simple zombie-fodder. And, once the first face gets ripped off, Zombies of Mass Destruction does not skimp on the filicide, matricide, patricide, splashing blood, ripped and exploding body parts, and other such visceral and fun stuff. This is truly the stuff good films are made of! (OK, the film lacks T&A — despite the hot lead babe — but as a trade-off ZMD does offer a few scenes of a typically camp 50s AMG Physique Pictorial filmic fun. [For the story behind that, you might want to watch Beefcake (1999 / trailer)].)
Set in 2003 in the bucolic community of Port Gamble, Washington, the film opens with a blind guy that mistakes a zombie washed up on the beach as a dead whale — it is the last mistake he makes. From here ZMD goes into low speed cruise control to introduce various core characters: the Princeton dropout Frida Abbas (Janette Armand, a talented 10 on the babe scale who exudes likeability and can act), the American-born daughter of Ali Abbas (Ali Hamedani), a hard-working Iranian immigrant incapable of understanding his daughter’s lack of pride regarding her heritage; Mayor Burton (James Mesher), who’s running for re-election; the 700 Club hardliner Reverend Haggis (Bill Johns) and the various members of his limited congregation; the local “liberal” teacher Cheryl Banks (Cornelia Moore); the couple Tom Hunt (Doug Fahl) and Lance Murphy (Cooper Hopkins), who have come to Tom’s childhood home so that Tom can finally come out to his mom (Linda Jensen); and the Miller family, Frida’s typically neo-con middle class WASP neighbors. (In the fallout of 9/11, like so many "real Americans" they suddenly see their non-WASP neighbor with patronizingly different eyes.) Just when all the introductions are beginning to get excessive (despite the occasionally great underlying dry humor), Frida’s boyfriend Derek (Ryan Barret) gets his face ripped off by a zombie and suddenly the gut munchers come out in troves. Tom hardly has the chance to say "I suck cock" to his mom before she converts (she was bitten at the store that day) and Lance is forced to pin her to the wall with a poker. As Ali charges through the streets like a zombie-hunting Rambo in search of his daughter, Frida comes home to a locked house and is forced to take refuge with the Miller’s in their basement. Learning that the zombification of the townspeople is the result of an Islamic extremist terrorist attack, Daddy Joe (Russell Hodgkinson [seen somewhere in the background of Tim Burton’s exercise in whimsy, Big Fish (2003 / trailer) and The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009 / trailer)]) is convinced Frida must be in on the act and ties her down to — shades of the American way at Guantanamo Bay — torture the "truth" out of her. Will she escape? What about Momma Judy (an attractive Victoria Drake), who’s been bitten, and their wimpy son Brian (Andrew Hyde), who has had an eternal crush on Frida since a young tyke? Across town, Tom and Lance cross paths with Cheryl and take refuge in the church, where Rev Lance is convinced Armageddon is finally at hand. As a last act of faith, he and his flock decide to convert Lance and Tom into heterosexuals...
ZMD is a rarity: a zom com that doesn’t go just for sitcom laughs or pop culture giggles. A product of a US-born man with Iranian roots that experienced the illogical and misdirected fear resulting from the tragedy of 9/11 and the Bush Administration’s brain-nullifying use of color-code scares to push through their subsequent agenda, ZMD sets it sights on social, religious and political stupidities and rips into them much like the zombies rip into their meals. Sure the broadsides are aimed at “sterotypes”, but then, the US is a land of stereotypes (any and all presented are probably to be found within any 2-generations of collected family — I know I can find them in mine). Much of the social and political aspects attacked in the film are as much of everyday society now as they were in 2003, and by taking the piss out of them ZMD becomes much funnier, more relevant and more on target than the average sitcom or semi-humorous drama that gets rave reviews and popular acclaim for its safe laughs and campy high drama. As to be expected, ZMD keeps its focus mostly on the right — a side that has never much been able to laugh at itself — but it does take a quick and trenchant stab in its last scene to the liberal tendency of flipping easily into conservatism (ala Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Michael Medved, and David Zucker, for example).
If you laugh at Friends reruns or Two and a Half Men, you probably won’t find Zombies of Mass Destruction funny — and neither will most stick-in-the-muds, libertarians and Baptists. But watch it with a group of fun-loving liberals and/or foreigners, and the laughter will be as contagious as a zombie’s bite.
In short: Zombies of Mass Destruction is bloody fun time.

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