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Two minutes into this film, I was all set to stick my brain on autopilot and enjoy a mindless romp through the planet of zombies. Before the opening credits were complete, I had all the makings of an old-school low budget zombie flick:
-pseudo kung-fu fight with extras from the Thriller video
-gratuitous undead breast shot (kudos!)
-a zombie arm being cut off and used as a weapon
But lo! I’m glad I laid off the MadDog for this one! It wasn’t the gore-fest I had anticipated, but rather a quite insightful examination of our current society.
Before you start ranting about Scraps going all highbrow on you, let me explain my stance…
The story takes place in the not-too-distant future. Scientists (damn those science types for always hosing things up and making the undead!) have catered to the fat lazy Americans and created an enzyme that curbs our desire for carbs so all you Atkins freaks out there can live on protein alone and not exercise. I knew you low-carb idiots would ruin the planet, I just knew it!!! The enzyme works so well that the test subjects really don’t care where they get their protein, so all the sudden raw meat, family pets and family members are now part of the blue plate specials.
It gets worse though. Not only does this wonder-drug make flesh hungry monsters out of ordinary citizens, but even if killed, after 3 days they come back from the dead, and anyone they bite turns into a zombie too!
**If any of you science types are reading this…please stop trying to make the world better through drugs. Haven’t you learned anything yet?**
With millions of zombies roaming the earth, the government and wealthy start walling in cities, keeping the undead and riff-raff on the outside to fend for themselves. Sounds like a fair plan on paper, unless you’re not rich, then it just plain sucks.
Here’s where we join Kane (played by Frank Farhat), the hero of the film. With no explanation, he’s wandered into the safe haven of a group of Dregs, the working class of the new era. He’s a badass dude with attitude and the strong kung-fu to back it up.
The Dregs lead a simple life. Gathering crap left over by the rich people, and picking gold fillings out of the mouths of zombies to trade for food. A simple life, but a good life nonetheless. Sure, frying up rodents and eating government issue food and being harassed by zombies after dusk can be a downer, but the days are sunny and warm in the south, and everyone around you dresses in wonderful earth tones.
Besides the Dregs however, a new level in the hierarchy of man has developed (or just dresses differently, sort of like they hang out in a Mardi-Gras costume warehouse). A ruthless gang known as the Upper Class, run by a mean, but somewhat endearing Adam - played by Matt Perry (no, not the cardboard cutout that was on Friends, an actually talented Matt Perry).
The Upper Class act as a go-between for the Dregs and city-folk. The government keeps a head count on an area, and gives the Upper Class food and snacks for the population. The Dregs bring the Upper Class all the junk they find and trade it for the food. Then the Upper Class sells the junk to the government, who can dole it out to the fatcats as they see fit.
Following along? Is all that nonsense you learned in Econ 101 and Ancient History 100 coming back to you now? Good. I’m going to go highbrow again for a couple of sentences, then bring it all back down, so sit tight.
The backstory and history of the Zombie Planet is one thing I loved about the film. You could replace the zombies with any catastrophe and this would still make a great tale. Giant rats, radiation from the moon, whatever! The beauty of the movie is the new social structures, and the endless opportunities it presents. Screw all this Matrix crap, I want comic books, and Anime and video games based on this alternate reality. The weak and poor live off the land, the stronger live off the poor, and the affluent live at the top of the food chain. In walks a mysterious stranger, strong enough to be a member of the Upper Class gang, but siding with the Dregs in their fight for survival. The stuff of classics. Will he succumb to his needs for food and safety and become Upper Class, or take the moral high ground and help the Dregs?
We’ll have to find out in Zombie Planet II, because this fun ride through the tattered South is merely a single chapter in the Zombie Planet story.
Besides an outstanding story, there were a couple of other high points as well. The acting was on the higher end of the low budget spectrum. The Academy won’t be beating down any doors, but the characters were well fleshed out, and aptly handled. Besides the previously mentioned main characters, one role that merits mention is Stiletto. He’s sort of Adam’s lieutenant, the Chief Flying Monkey to the Wicked Witch, if you will. Most second in commands are cocky, belligerent and cruel. That’s their role, the bully. Stir up the troops, create a little mayhem with the commoners, and kiss your boss’ ass. The character of Stiletto (John Shelton) brings all of these facets out, but with Style (which any Gallagher fan will tell you is what it’s all about). He doesn’t have many lines, but he delivers them with such panache that I can’t help but like the character. Sure, he’d have one of his thugs beat me to a pulp and take my khakis just because I’m a weak little commoner, but I’d still invite him over for gruel the next day!
Another big plus was the music. The score to this film was amazing. It fit perfectly into every scene and added another layer to the mood, without being overbearing (barring a few seconds of quieter dialog that are drown out). There was a rock song during a scene developing the relationship between Kane and Julie, but honestly, it was so bland I couldn’t remember two notes of it after the movie. The score’s the thing.
For as much as I liked the film though, it did have a couple of blaring flaws. First, lighting. Now, I know that limited budget films work with the tools they have, but dammit, if it’s pitch black on one side of a door, and a character is on the other side of the door looking out, the front of their face shouldn’t be lit up like a tanning bed. If it’s midnight in one part of a building, it should be midnight in other rooms as well.
And speaking of light…I was under the impression from the script that light sort of hurt the zombies. They lurk around until dusk, you know, all nocturnal like. But get them backlit with a spotlight, and they can fight and swap verbal jabs like it’s nobody’s business.
Another issue I had was with time. One example was a confrontation between the Dregs and the Upper Class. They meet, they swap bravado, everyone parts ways. The very next scene takes place outside the Dreg stronghold, and Kane says something like, “it was those Upper Class from this morning”. Huh? I thought that was like five minutes ago? Noon and dusk kind of bump into each other now and again. I don’t know if it was the limitations of the filming process, or an allusion to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Wild Duck”, but it took me out of the world of illusion briefly, and maintaining illusion is key.
Do these flaws ruin the film though? Absolutely not. This was still a good film, and I can’t wait to see the sequel. I can easily chalk them up to the ‘cheese factor’ that exists in the horror genre, and still enjoy the ride.
Horror fans and English nerds alike, give it a try! It’s a strong 3 ½ out of 5 cans.
Added: Wednesday, May 25, 2005
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