TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SUGAR HILL (1974)

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SUGAR HILL (1974)

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70’s Blaxsploitation flick from producer Samuel Z. Arkoff and the legendary American International Pictures isn’t one of the best of that era, but certainly isn’t among the worst. Sugar Hill tells the supernatural story of Diana Hill (Marki Bey) who is known to everyone as Sugar. Sugar’s boyfriend, Langston (Larry D. Johnson) is murdered by gangsters and the distraught woman turns to voodoo to exact revenge. Soon the men of crime boss Morgan (Robert Quarry) start to fall, as Sugar and her army of zombies hunt them down one by one and gruesomely murder them.

Flick is the one directorial effort from prolific producer and writer Paul Maslansky from a script by Tim Kelly. It’s directed a bit by-the-numbers and has a somewhat slow pace even for a 90 minute film. Sugar Hill does benefit now from it’s nostalgic charm, but that doesn’t totally get us past that some of the acting is a bit too bad to enjoy at times and the dialogue a bit too badly written to really laugh at. Don Pedro Colley’s Baron Samedi, for example, is almost comical, despite the film’s dead serious tone. There are some amusingly cheesy SPFX…especially the make-up on the zombies…and a few spooky moments, too, such as when they first rise. If that doesn’t add some entertainment to it, there are always some of gangster Morgan’s outfits to provide nostalgia and chuckles. It is also of interest to see how racist, misogynist and sexist a movie could be in that era without raising a ruckus, as in today’s politically correct times. Not to mention, as well, how much PG rated films got away with before the ratings system became more conservative in the 80s. Lastly, this story of a woman who uses voodoo to avenge her lover’s murder has it’s heroine become so gleeful at slaughtering the mobsters who beat her fiancé to death, that sometimes it’s hard to root for her. Sure the bad guys deserve it, but she is now just as bloodthirsty, or more so, than the men she stalks and kills. It’s a thin line, but sometimes it’s hard to get behind someone who’d work perfectly as the villain in another movie. Then again, Sugar Hill is not a morality play, but simple exploitation entertainment.

Overall, this is an amusing example of a distinct era of filmmaking, but not quite one of the best, though there are those that might argue that. Sugar Hill is certainly worth seeking out by those interested in Blaxsploitation cinema and does have it’s entertainment value. Also stars Richard Lawson, who appeared as “Willis” in Scream Blacula Scream, as Det. Valentine and Zara Cully as voodoo priestess Mama Maitresse.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) sexy, vengeful Sugars.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009)

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SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009)

George Romero’s seventh zombie opus gives the feeling that the legendary director might be growing tired of making zombie movies after four decades. Survival’s story of feuding Irish clans and the living dead is weak and a bit ludicrous as an island matriarch (Richard Fitzpatrick) is trying to keep the island’s zombie inhabitants “alive” and a functioning part of society, despite their appetite for human flesh. His exiled rival (Kenneth Welsh) believes the opposite and returns to the island with some rogue soldiers…including Sgt. Crockett (Alan van Sprang) from Diary of the Dead…to prove his point.

 Once again Romero tries to show us people are far more dangerous, by greed or stupidity, than the zombies, but this time his message is as half-hearted as as is his direction. Romero directs the movie like he just doesn’t care and a lot of it seems like a joke, as if he isn’t taking his own material seriously. Previously Romero used satire to deliver his message, now the usually deft satire is replaced with dumb humor that disrupts the more serious tone. Not sure what kind of film Romero was trying to make this time and not sure he knew either. Sadly this would be his final directorial effort upon his passing in 2017.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2017)

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IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2017)

Offbeat zombie flick has erotic dancer and coke-head Molly (Brittany Allen) driving across the desert outside Las Vegas at the start of a zombie outbreak. She and her boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir) are heading to a small airport to make a getaway with some of Nick’s friends. A mishap strands them in the middle of nowhere and an encounter with a lone zombie (Juan Riedinger) leaves Nick dead. Now Molly heads across the desert alone with the relentless walking corpse in pursuit and the desert heat taking it’s toll.

This is a very unusual zombie flick written by “The Vicious Brothers” Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz and directed by Minihan. It plays it’s tale out in a slightly twisted way as, at first, it’s a thriller with Molly struggling in her high heeled boots to keep ahead of the slow moving but ever persistent corpse and then turns into something else. As the desert sun beats down on her and she starts to get a bit delirious, Molly begins to form a weird relationship with her hungry pursuer, taunting and talking to it and even naming him “Small Balls.” The film shifts to an almost twisted buddy movie as Molly develops an attachment to the flesh eater while she also tries to keeps him at a safe distance. There is some clever stuff here and the film is effective enough to work as both horror and buddy/road movie despite that the initial intriguing premise of a lone woman pursued tenaciously by a lone zombie was interesting enough. Perhaps Minihan and Ortiz felt the story wasn’t enough to fill a whole film and thus it changers gears to the unusual bond between girl and ghoul and then to a last act deviation when Molly decides it’s more important to find the young son she gave up than to escape with Nick’s crazy friends. The narrative shifts are a bit jarring, but as individual parts do work well enough. There are also some Romero-esque messages about the evil men do, as when Molly meets two ex-cons, who are far worse a threat than the lumbering “Smalls” and some funny bits, such as Molly using a tampon to distract the hungry zombie from his pursuit and her dialogue in general aimed at her un-dead pursuer. There is plenty of gore despite the minimal cast and Minihan makes good use of the desert local. There is also an effective score by Blitz//Berlin, who scored Extraterrestrial and some nice cinematography by Clayton Moore to add atmosphere.

The minimal cast are all solid, especially the feisty Brittany Allen (Extraterrestrial). Allen’s Molly is spirited and tougher than her manicured nails and designer handbag would let on. She’s a survivor and while currently living an indulgent lifestyle, she does seem to learn from her experiences. It’s practically a one woman show and Allen carries the movie on her shoulders very well and can be very funny with her rambling dialogue bits with the silent Smalls. As zombie “Smalls”, Juan Riedinger does really good work emoting under all the make-up. Much like Day of The Dead‘s Bub, Smalls seems to have some sort of primal emotions under his relentless hunger and some trace elements of thought left, despite being a walking corpse. While he generally has simple animistic reactions, the actor conveys the tinges of thinking and emotion very well using just facial expressions, body language and his eyes. In support, Merwin Mondesir plays Molly’s “gangstsa” boyfriend Nick with the appropriate swagger, yet with a bit of a wink and Andrew Supanz and Michael Filipowich are suitably despicable a a pair of ex-cons who cross paths with Molly and Smalls.

Despite an eccentric narrative and deviating from a simple and effective horror premise that was basically a zombie version of Fredric Brown’s Arena, the film was entertaining and did work. Brittany Allen was sassy enough to pull off the bizarre relationship between Molly and Smalls and was effective in her more terror filled scenes early on and then at the point where she becomes a survivor and takes charge of her situation. Juan Riedinger made a fearsome and yet oddly sympathetic zombie and for fans of these flicks there was enough gore to meet requirements. There are some intense moments and some funny ones, too. Not a perfect flick and one might have wanted to see it simply play out as woman vs zombie, but it takes a less expected route and it’s offbeat enough to keep it from getting stale in an overplayed sub-genre. The “Vicious Brothers”…if they’re still called that…have yet to disappoint.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 tampons.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

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THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Book based horror is an interesting and intriguing addition to the overcrowded zombie sub-genre. In this tale, a fungus has turned most of the world’s population into crazed carnivores seeking human and/or other living flesh for food. A small group of soldiers and scientists are trying to seek a cure through a group of infected children whose aggressive behavior is surpressed and only becomes volatile when they are hungry and in the proximity of prey, or the scent of the living. One such little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is the most intelligent and controlled of the subjects…and thus of the most interest to lead scientist, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). When the “Hungries” overrun the base, a small group of survivors, including sympathetic teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and Caldwell, take Melanie on the run to find a safe haven, as the young girl may be mankind’s last hope. Along the way they find armies of Hungries and groups of feral children like the ones back at the base. Melanie now has a choice, to help save humanity or find a home amongst her own “kind”.

British flick is a mix of Day Of The Dead and Lord Of The Flies and thus keeps us interested with it’s focus on the “second generation” children of a zombie outbreak. The film is very effectively directed by Colm McCarthy from a script by Mike Carey, based on his book of the same name. Girl creates a very sympathetic and likable character in Melanie and this has us quite endeared to her despite the fact that there is a monster lurking beneath the skin. McCarthy also gives some intensity and chills to some of the more familiar sequences, even though fans of the genre have seen hordes of hungry zombies in action before. The fact that we have some likable characters in the mix like Miss Justineau, helps involve us with scenes like the Hungries overrunning the base and when the characters are in danger. The film has some clever ideas, such as the interesting slant of Melanie basically being able to walk amongst the Hungries unscathed, as she technically is one of them and thus goes from basically a prisoner to valued member of the team. Once the film switches gears from George A. Romero to William Golding, it becomes quite interesting as Melanie starts to wonder whether this is infection or evolution and realizes that the team needs her more than she needs them. There are also some very familiar clichés such as the self-serving scientist and the soldier with a grudge (Paddy Considine) along with many familiar zombie tropes. There are, obviously, some gruesome moments and some brutality, though McCarthy makes them effective by not overdoing it with the well-rendered blood-spattering. When it comes, it’s startling. There is also a really good score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer that adds atmosphere and the film is shot well by Simon Dennis, especially effective when the film changes settings to a London abandoned and overgrown with vegetation.

Another element that makes this work so well, is the cast. Young Sennia Nanua gives a simply amazing performance as Melanie. We see a girl who is intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate to the point of total compliance with being a test subject. We watch her slowly begin to realize just how important she is and then assume a position of dominance as she comes to the realization that she may be at the top of the food chain, as both predator and leader. In all aspects of her character, Nanua is captivating and in the last act she exudes a strength that grabs you. Her relationship with Arterton’s Miss Justineau is also crucial, as she is the anchor to which Melanie’s humanity is tethered. The two actors have a genuine chemistry that makes the friendship work and the affection seem genuine. Gemma Arterton once again proves she is more than a pretty face with a strong turn as the caring teacher who sees her students as more than monsters…even to a fault. Veteran Glenn Close is also strong as scientist Dr. Caldwell. Sure the character is cliché, but the veteran actress gives her some depth, even when she becomes the cold, ruthless, scientist we expect from the role. Rounding out is Paddy Considine who is also good as the soldier with a hatred for the Hungies and who treats the children like the monsters he feels they are. The character has a bit of depth, especially when we find the root of his anger. Cliché but effective thanks to a solid actor in the part.

Overall, I really liked this flick despite feeling the zombie sub-genre needs a much needed break. The film has some familiar elements, but also does it’s own thing with a fascinating lead character in Melanie and an interesting Lord Of The Flies slant in it’s second half. We have a solid script from Carey and some very effective direction from Colm McCarthy. The cast are all very good, with young lead Sennia Nanua really making an impression with a layered and sometimes powerful performance of a unique little girl in an unthinkable situation. Not a completely original zombie flick, but one that has enough of it’s own ideas to make it effective and refreshing enough in an overcrowded sub-genre.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 girls with all the gifts.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WITHER (2012)

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 WITHER (2012)

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Apparently Sweden remade Evil Dead a whole year before Fede Alvarez with this 2012 horror…and that’s not always a bad thing. Swedish language flick has seven friends heading into the woods for a vacation at a house that has been abandoned for years…good idea! When they get there, shy Marie (Jessica Blomkvist) encounters something in the basement and soon turns violent. Her eyes gone white, she savages one of the others brutally and has to be restrained. Soon the vacation turns into a living hell as one by one the vacationers start turning into something otherworldly after being attacked by their possessed companions. Will anyone survive?

Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who co-wrote with David Liljeblad, this is an obvious replay of Evil Dead, through actually not that bad when given a chance. The plot is pretty much the same and there are scenes lifted directly from that classic, like hero Albin (Patrik Almkvist) having difficulty offing his possessed girlfriend and a burial of a character thought dead, in the woods. There is also the cowardly, blue shirted hero who gradually turns fighter, the shy girl who is taken first, the tool shed and the very creepy cellar. But Wither does also do things on it’s own. It’s evil is in the form of a creature from Swedish folklore. This we are told by a hunter character (Johannes Brost), whose family encountered the creature in the house days earlier. This fairy creature steals souls from anyone that invades it’s territory and possesses their bodies. Though oddly the infection/possession spreads by bite and scratch like a traditional zombie, once Marie starts attacking the others. Unlike zombies, though, these “possessed” speak, use weapons and have a rudimentary intelligence. The attack scenes are quite vicious and the gore is really well done and quite abundant and graphic. The directing duo also get the camera angles and lighting right to add atmosphere, so at least they were paying attention to their influences…though unlike Raimi’s original, the pacing is rather moderate for an 80 minute film. The acting is also fairly decent, though some are better than others, with Brost and leading lady Lisa Henni seeming to be the only ones with professional acting backgrounds in the cast.

So, in ways this is a blatant retread of the classic Evil Dead. The basic cabin in the woods plot is the same, as is the basic character line-up with a hunter and his family serving as previous victims and exposition, where Sam Raimi’s epic had it’s ominous tape left by a scientist and his wife. There are some differences, such as a more folklore based origin for it’s evil and the film actually accomplishes some very vicious attack scenes and it’s own brand of excessive gore. Filmmakers Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund do present their familiar story well and while we can’t decide if it’s a deliberate homage or outright “borrowing” from Raimi’s flick, it is still a fairly effective and delightfully gory horror…borderline carbon copy though it may be. Also stars Patrick Saxe, Anna Henriksson, Amanda Renberg and Max Wallmo as the rest of the ill-fated vacationers.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 chainsaws…though none appear in the film.

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: MELINDA CLARKE as JULIE in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks, or whose sexy stars shined only briefly not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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MELINDA CLARKE as JULIE in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1993)!

Return of the Living Dead is an 80s cult classic that spawned a franchise of sequels. It’s second sequel, Return of the Living Dead 3, took some elements of the first film and went in it’s own direction and is now considered a bit of a cult classic in it’s own right. ROTLD3 unfolds with a Romeo and Juliette-esque story of army brat, Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) who uses father’s secret army experiments with the dead, to revive his tragically killed girlfriend, Julie (Melinda Clarke)…and thus a Cult Classic Cutie was born!…as Julie/ Melinda Clarke is renown as one of the sexiest zombies ever committed to film…and her title has yet to be challenged.
After her portrayal as the sexy zombie, Julie, Melinda Clarke (billed in the zombie sequel as Mindy Clarke) went on to have a prolific and ongoing career in both film and television, which started pre-ROTLD3 on the classic TV soap Days Of Our Lives. Since then she has worked steadily, including appearing in such genre related fare as Firefly, Xena, Charmed and more recently on Vampire Diaries and Gotham. As far as horror films go, the closest she’s come to returning to the genre is appearing in the 1997 feature film adaptation of the dark comic book Spawn, as the villainous Jessica Priest. And the horror genre misses her to this day.

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(click on the poster for a full review)

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Rebel Julie in a more peaceful moment from ROTLD3

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Spying on BF Curt’s military dad, Julie witnesses a horrific experiment go awry!

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Beautiful even in death…but for Julie, death is only the beginning.

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She’s baaaaack!…and hungry for brains!

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Appetite for brains? Piercings made from metal and glass? Yup!…We’d still date her.

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Despite being quite the busy actress, the fact that ROTLD3 remains Melinda Clarke’s one true horror film appearance and one in which she made quite an impression, she certainly earns the title Cult Classic Cutie!

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Still a beauty over 20 years after taking the horror world by sexy, brain-eating storm!

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE and SINISTER 2

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SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015)

Completely generic and predictable horror/comedy finds three nerdy boy scouts (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan) teaming up with a stripper (Sarah Dumont) as they search for one’s sister (Halston Sage) during a zombie outbreak (does one town merit an apocalypse?).

There is literally nothing new or even remotely clever in this routine zombie comedy directed by Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones‘ Christopher B. Landon, who, for some reason, needed three co-writers to crank out a by-the-numbers flick with little or no inventiveness or originality. We get exactly what we’d expect…a lot of gore, even more vulgar toilet humor and the typical ‘nerd wins hot chick by battling evil’ scenario that has been done to death since the 80s. It’s not that the flick is ever really boring or badly made, it’s just that it is completely void of anything that might set it apart or deviate from the same formula, be it zombie comedy or ‘nerd becomes hero’ flick, that has become commonplace by now. Landon did a good job with Marked Ones and gave us a few scares and a second wind with a well worn franchise and formula. So, why he couldn’t do the same here is disappointing. The cast all have fun with the material, at least and feisty Sarah Dumont is notable as eye-candy and ass kicker. Also stars Krampus‘ David Koechner as a Dolly Parton obsessed scout leader.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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SINISTER 2 (2015)

Sequel finds Deputy So and So (James Ransone) now having left the force and tracking various murder cases, linked to Bughuul, across the country. His search leads him to a secluded church and farmhouse where a mother, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin sons (Dartanian and Robert Daniel Sloan) are hiding out from an abusive spouse. Of course, this is a former crime site and Bughuul and his child minions have their sights set on one of the boys.

This awful sequel makes the big mistake of having the worst character from the first film be the lead here. Of course he’s called Deputy So and So, because Deputy Dewey was already taken. This weak flick is surprisingly written by original flick scribes, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, though this time directed by Irish director Ciaran Foy. The original had it’s moments, but was a bit overrated, but this sequel is just boring, sluggishly paced and gives us nothing new or interesting about the thinly written, generic boogieman Bughuul. Most of the screen time is taken up by his creepy spirit children trying to coax one or the other of the boys to join them in murder and Deputy So and So being just as annoying as last time. It’s a snooze-fest with zero tension, suspense or legitimate scares. A complete waste of time and surely a disappointment for fans of the first flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: COOTIES

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COOTIES (2014)

Horror comedy finds a group of summer school teachers under siege from a horde of students turned into flesh eating zombies by some rancid chicken nuggets. Written by Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, this flick gives us nothing fresh or new in the zombie sub-genre, whether it be comedy or straight horror. It’s all been done before. The direction by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion is very by-the-numbers and none of the humor is really all that funny. There is some abundant gore and the cast, including Elijah Wood, Alison Pil and Rainn Wilson seem to be having a fun time, but not much of that really translates to the audience…unless you think simply seeing students kill their parents and teachers, or teachers killing their students, is funny. The film’s attempts to be clever are far too obvious to be successful, like the town being called ‘Fort Chicken’ and Elijah Wood’s Mr. Hadson being compared to a Hobbit by Rain Wilson’s cliché redneck. That’s pretty much the level this flick is on. Overall, it’s kinda dull even at less than 90 minutes. The students-turned-zombies Halloween episode of Community was a lot funnier with a similar plot.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974)

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LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974)

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Italian horror is also known as The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue and takes place in England where an experimental machine to rid farms of parasites is also raising the dead with it’s low-level radiation. The film focuses on an antiques dealer traveling through the area on business (Ray Lovelock) and a young women (Cristina Galbó) as they encounter the flesh eating corpses and try to convince local police the recent dead are rising from their graves. No one believes them and as the machine increases it’s range, more corpses begin to return to life…in search of food!

Directed by Jorge Grau, with four writers attached, this is a spooky and atmospheric zombie flick that has a surprising amount of gore for a pre-Dawn Of The Dead zombie film. Grau and cinematographer Francisco Sempere make good use of the settings (Italian countryside standing in for England) especially when visiting it’s graveyards, old churches and even a hospital for it’s climax. Grau’s zombies are a bit smarter and faster than Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead fiends and seem to have a rudimentary thought process in their uses of tools and weapons, while also appearing to be a bit intentionally malicious in their attacks. The gore is very well done and the zombies are suitably chilling. The atmosphere and ghoulish events are also punctuated by a very effective score by Giuliano Sorgini. The flick isn’t perfect. The movie does take quite a while to get going, but is very effective when it does. The acting from the cast is nothing to brag about and our hero George (Lovelock) comes across as real jerk a good portion of the time. The police also seem insufferably stupid…and the inspector (Arthur Kennedy) is an outright thug…especially when it’s obvious something strange is going on, intent on blaming out-of-towner George instead. Not that we should expect scientific accuracy in a film like this either, but an insect killing machine raising the dead does provide a few unintentional chuckles.

I like this movie. It’s not great, but has a lot of atmosphere and does get a jump on the zombie/gore trend a good few years before Romero and Fulci set it in motion with their Dawn of the Dead and Zombie respectively. The acting is pretty bad, as is a lot of the dialogue and it is a bit slow to get started. Once it does, it’s a creepy and blood-spattered zombie flick that does deliver the goods in it’s second half. Worth a look if you haven’t seen it and love everything zombie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 zombies.

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