I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for director John Gulager. 10 years ago, when Project Greenlight was a thing, he was the likeable schlub who won the right to helm the low budget horror film, Feast. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck chose him because his short film as the contest entry was the best one and not because he gave the worst job interview ever put on film or television. Both of those things made Greenlight an entertaining season. Could Gulager’s natural talent overcome his inexperience, social awkwardness and stubborn insistence to cast his family in major roles? (Answer: it did. Feast is actually an entertaining little horror romp). While Feast 2 and 3 were markedly less good, Gulager has nevertheless been able to turn a reality TV show appearance into a modest career as a low budget horror director. Not many reality shows outside of American Idol can claim they succeeded at their mission statement.
Having a slight affinity for the director made me more enthused than usual to watch Zombie Night. And as I know I have said before and will say again in the future: Expectations are a dangerous thing to have on Zombie (Movie) Night. Worse than being downright bad, John Gulager’s Zombie Night is painfully boring and pointless.
Two things I like about Gulager are that in the Feast films he was willing to try interesting shots even if they ended up not working and secondly, he allowed the comic relief room to breathe so that the films have a campy, fun quality. I liked the way text messages were presented on screen, but other than that, nothing about ZN was visually unique. And to the second point, Zombie Night has absolutely no comic relief. The characters are flavorless cardboard cut-outs and are not developed at all. It’s barely clear what their relationships are, making a late stage attempt at neighborly tension fall extra flat. Daryl Hannah, Anthony Michael Hall, Shirley Jones, and Alan Ruck bring some B movie star power, but their parts could have been played by anyone. They add nothing to spice up their lifeless characters. It’s so bad, we actually had to debate whether Shirley Jones was supposed to be blind or not.
Hate to say it, but Zombie Night is an “avoid at all costs” dud. Maybe Gulager’s Piranha sequel I just got in the mail will have more pizazz. Fingers crossed. Grade: D.
Stalled is a low-budget British zombie inSTALLment. While not an instant classic or even something worth remembering a few years from now, it’s an admirable attempt to overcome its restraints and at that, it mostly succeeds. The main character, W.C., is a lowly janitor forced to work on Christmas Eve during an office party. When the zombie apocalypse begins, he finds safe haven in a stall in the ladies’ room. He forms a bond with another bathroom occupant, a female voice who remains unseen for twisty reasons, (but perhaps not the twist you were expecting). Together they talk through their issues and try to devise a plan to get out of there. W.C. has done some truly awful things but he never comes off as unlikeable and the relationship he builds with his new friend gives the story both heart and an anchor. (Not to mention, it’s really inexpensive and time-padding.) The film depends strongly on our investment in a rotten guy and a woman we can’t see, so it’s pretty impressive that they pull it off. There are some weaker parts; the ending could have been better and the post-credits sequence is boring and useless, but overall, it works. Some laughs, some heart and no strain shown from its limitations. In the interest of toilet humor, I will give Stalled a SOLID B.