Running down the cast list for Zombie Movie Night in March, we had high hopes that we would be adding a lot of name recognition to our Golden Zombey awards in September. Bill Oberst Jr, the reigning, defending Golden Zombie Best Actor, Corbin Bleu from High School Musical, Ethan Suplee from My Name is Earl and Machete himself, Danny Trejo, all tried to throw their names into contention. But once again we relearned the lesson that never seems to sink in when it comes to watching zombie movies: Don’t get your hopes up!
First up was a spoof (I guess?) of the website Funny or Die, entitiled Scary or Die. It’s basically five short films of varying lengths woven together by a creepy hand clicking each story one by one on a computer screen. There are a few hints that all five take place in the same universe, but the tales are hardly interwoven as much as the imdb description claims. Call me biased, but the first one is the best. It’s a pretty good setup for a zombie movie as Bill Oberst Jr plays a racist redneck who, along with his drinking buddy, takes a hands-on approach to vigilante border patrol. Things turn ugly when their victims start rising from their graves. This could have gone on to be a good zombie movie if they had stuck with it, and I was really hoping to return to the characters later. I had my hopes up (there’s that term again) that this would be five stories about the zombie apocalypse, but instead the tone immediately shifts to a grieving Asian man who finds unfortunate supernatural repercussions to his sudden act of heroism. It’s a good twist but it has nothing to do with rednecks vs Mexican zombies, which, while still fine for a series of short films, left me feeling personally let down. The most complete story, and also the longest and funniest is called “Clowning.” Corbin Bleu plays a young man who is bitten by a
zombie clown and slowly turns into a zombie clown. The other two are almost too short to mention, one about a killer who finds that his victim didn’t stay dead for long and the other about a scorned woman who uses voodoo power to rise from the grave to seek vengeance. While four out of the five stories have zombie-like elements, I would have been more satisfied if the series had been tied together in one event. It’s hard to give Scary or Die a grade because of the varying length and quality of each story so I’ll just stick to the middle of the road and say it’s a C. If you’re not going into it expecting an interlocking zombie story, you might bump it to a B.
Rise of the Zombies boasts probably the most impressive cast of recognizable names since we watched the Terror Experiment. I counted five people with real Hollywood movie and/or television credits. I don’t know if it was a bad shoot or if they were doing someone a favor but instead of the name actors raising the quality of the movie, the movie brought them down to its level. This movie is an absolute joke and you get the sense that the actors know it too. Their performances range from wooden to hammy to just plain God awful. Danny Trejo clearly forgets his lines in mid-sentence but powers through anyway because who gives a shit, just pay me and no we don’t need another take! Ethan Suplee, who has been perfectly acceptable when I’ve seen him in other things and was downright great as Randy in My Name is Earl, shows absolutely no interest in inserting his character with any heart or emotion, even though he’s supposed to be God’s true believer. French Stewart plays a scientist who may have come up with a cure, but I spent more time wondering if he was trying to do an accent than if he had succeeded. The only actor who earns his paycheck in a believable way is Lavar Burton, but he spends most of the movie alone and then dies, rendering his whole arc pointless. This movie is bad in every possible way, from disappointingly bad acting to completely fake set pieces. (I’ve seen more convincing lifeboats during Saturday Night Live sketches.) It holds your interest the way a car crash holds your interest, but ultimately we were enjoying it for all the wrong reasons. I understand that people gotta eat, but man, have some respect for your craft if you’re going to accept a role. Grade: D.