The 4th year concludes with two films that only recently became available in the United States. Would they be good enough to swoop in at the last second and steal some Golden Zombey nominations from some of the movies, actors and moments we already had in mind? Only one way to find out!
First up was Gallowwalkers, featuring the triumphant return of Wesley Snipes to our hearts and living rooms. Snipes plays Aman, a loner-type who roams the Old West-ish desert in search of vengeance against those who gang-raped his one true love, who later died while giving birth to a rape baby. He finds them all in a prison and blows them away with no remorse. Unfotrunately for him, to save his life, his mother had agreed to have a curse put on him so that everyone he kills would come back as the undead. Not that big a deal for most people, I’d imagine, but Wesley Snipes is not most people. So now he’s gotta go track and kill the rapists twice.
Unfortunately, Gallowwalkers takes a promising premise of “revenge movie with zombies” and turns it into a confusing and largely boring mess. Snipes basically plays a not-very-different version of Blade but it doesn’t really work. Part of Blade’s coolness was that he did cool things. Snipes in this film seems to think the character is just inherently cool because he is playing him. He speaks in a perpetually grumpy monotone and often comes off as disinterested even though he is supposedly out for vengeance and should be acting super pissed. The villains are a bit more interesting, as instead of eating flesh, they have to steal it by killing people and fitting themselves into it, like getting a new outfit. Even the Big Bad is given a bit of pathos as he is tortured by the fact that his son was not one of those who returned from the dead. I’m starting to make this sound too good, though. Mostly, this movie is a jumbled and boring mess that, like Snipes, thinks it’s cooler than it is. Grade: C
Next was Harold’s Going Stiff, a rather well-done mockumentary about a new disease sweeping through the UK, slowly turning the men into zombies. Most of the focus is on Harold, the first known case, and slowest to deteriorate and his caretaker, Penny. We also follow a group of well-meaning vigilantes who take out those who have gone full-zombie, though the morality of what they’re doing is somewhat questionable since the zombies in this case are very clearly sick people and not monsters.
It seems to me like the filmmakers set out to make a wacky, raunchy comedy but none of that lands very strongly. All the men are turning stiff, hardy har har. I won’t spoil it, but the cause of the epidemic is another thinly-veiled dick joke. Penny, the nurse, suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and has to carry toilet paper on her dashboard in case she needs to pull over and head off into the woods. Yes, the comedy is really that weak. To its credit, the film does not let itself get derailed by what it set out to be and instead turns to the central relationship to find real heart and soul in these characters. Harold is completely coherent so this isn’t even a zombie movie in most of his scenes. It’s a character study between an old invalid and the nurse who comes to care for him. Sarah Spencer, whose only imdb credit is this movie, is an absolute gem in the role, reining in the silliness and anchoring it with real heart and emotion. She is so sweet that you can’t help but want the best for her. When her heart breaks, yours breaks with her. Harold’s Going Stiff could have been so much better if it had ditched the lame jokes and gone all in on the social commentary about the way we treat the old, the sick and even the overweight. We all have the same desire to be happy. We all have flaws and want to find someone who accepts us for who we are. And we are all going to die. These are the issues Harold could have and should have addressed more. If it had, it would have been a contender for one of the best we’ve ever seen. Grade: A