Zombie Virus DVD

Tuesday, 19 May 2009 17:08

This new Momentum Pictures DVD release has some high praise on its sleeve, comparing it favourably to top zombie films both recent and classic. Does it live up to this acclaim? Well, let us start with the plot, which is suitably slim and typical of the genre. Something is stirring in Manhattan’s sewers. Rats have mysteriously contracted a virus, driving them above ground and out of the shadows to bite chunks out of unsuspecting city folk.

As the attacks increase, the media spreads the word to our initially oblivious stars, most of whom are the unfortunate inhabitants of a dilapidated apartment block where nothing works – and that is before the rampant rodents start nibbling on the utility cables! Key roles include kind-hearted Clutch (Nick Damici) is a retired boxer trying to keep in shape, immigrant bartender Kay (Bo Corre), her teenage son Otto (Javier Picayo), and Clutch’s daughter, Casey (Kim Blair). As the condition and number of bite victims worsens, most of the characters become prisoners in their own homes, under siege from the raging hordes in the streets.

Zombie VirusMeanwhile, Casey, a veteran of the Iraq war who has only just recovered from her injuries (but still suffers combat nightmares), is trying to return to her father but on the way finds herself in whole new battlefield. Will she ever make it home, and if she does, will anyone be left alive to greet her?!

In its favour, this is a low-budget affair with likable and believable characters who react realistically. All of the actors commit themselves well to an above-average script. There are few stereotypical roles, so the archetypal “slimy, cowardly traitor” has no place here. The characters live in near-squalid conditions in an area of the city that seems to have been forgotten by the more fortunate sections of society. The property has been bought out by a faceless and unfeeling corporation that will be forcibly evicting them to redevelop the plot, and this “us and them” state of affairs is emphasized when the island is ultimately quarantined, leaving the survivors with little hope of being rescued.

The progress of the virus is initially very subtle and intimate, which is a minor novelty for genre fans. Early bite victims do not just suffer from visible infection, but also start acting erratically, experience a debilitating fever, dizziness, and a combination of dimmed and heightened senses. The camera gets very close to them, and we also momentarily experience things from their befuddled viewpoint.

The other tenants on the block think that their friends are just having a bad day, and for once that reaction makes sense. Once the infected “turn”, which, as is customary for horror films, happens roughly thirty minutes into the film, our heroes soon adapt to their frightening predicament, and pull together in the face of rapidly diminishing odds. In general, they do not make the staple mistakes of horror characters, such as constantly splitting up, opening their doors despite being firmly told to keep them locked, or wandering around without first arming themselves with the best make-shift weaponry available. So far, so naturalistic, if such a term can apply to a zombie film!

Unfortunately for our protagonists and, in my view, the audience, the movie’s creators have decided that regular “28 Days Later”-style athletic zombies are not good enough. No, they need to differentiate their genre entry further, and they do this by making their zombies transform again, into flesh-eaters that take on some of the behavioural and physical traits of rats. In a less considered film, this decision would not seem out of place, but as “Zombie Virus” otherwise tries to be relatively down-to-Earth, demented killers with spontaneously-grown hairy ears and piggy snouts suddenly cause the viewer to disconnect somewhat from the characters and the setting.

Up until that point, though, little criticism could be made of the make-up or sparse but effective special effects. Thanks to the fall of night and failing electricity, a fair slice of the film is spent in semi or near total darkness, a budgetary constraint but also a dramatically logical step. The edgy, hand-held direction rarely reveals too much, and the bone-crunching, flesh-ripping sound effects go a long way to filling in what the eye cannot see!

As for scares, whilst there are few jump-shocks, the movie does succeed in taking us through the traditional zombie genre stages of slowly creeping dread, gathering pace and then outright chaos and panic. Personally, I found closest neighbour “[Rec]” (remade in the US as “Quarantine”) more exciting and indeed more disturbing, but if, like most zombie fans you have to see or own all films in the genre, then this is certainly one of the better “second rank” entries.

The DVD, which has an RRP of £12.99, or less at www.culttvstore.com, includes the following special features: a trailer, a couple of deleted scenes, very brief and simply presented featurettes on make-up, rat-zombie acting and visual effects, as well as production sketches and a final film versus storyboard comparison. Unfortunately there is no commentary or director/producer feedback at all, which is a glaring omission. Budget film makers often have fascinating stories to tell about how they resorted to guerrilla tactics to get their movie in the can. We will never know if the sandwich boy also played third zombie from the left...

 

“Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street” (Jim Mickle, 2006, Certificate 18)

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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