Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
July 1st, 2006

Day of the Dead 2: Contagium

Directed by James Dudelson, Ana Clavell
Written by Ana Clavell
Starring Laurie Maria Baranyay, Simon Burzynski, Samantha Clarke, Mike Dalager
Produced by James Dudelson
103 mins

Okay, when I put this one into the player, I have to admit, I had my share of concerns. Given "Dawn of the Dead's" fairly lackluster remake, and even the less than stellar reemergence of the Grand Old Man himself, anything having to do with George Romero hadn't been shaping up all that well.

Compared to the original stuff, in fact, it was all pretty lousy. And that hurts more than anything to have to say. (Even more than a zombie biting into your head, Steve? - ed)

But then I put "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium" in. And it didn't turn out half bad.

We'll have a look at just why a bit later, but let me sum up the plot for you. Basically, back in 1968, Ravenside Military Installation started developing this self-replicating virus tailor made to smoke DNA at the molecular level--biowarfare on a previously unimaginable scale. So, as you no doubt expected, something went wrong, and a whole bunch of people got dead. Most of them came back for a while, and got dead once again. Thirty seven years later, Ravenside Psychiatric Hospital (wow, how's that for cover, folks?) is clearing up a ravine near the hospital when they come across an old thermos containing one of the last known samples of the self-replicating virus. Naturally, something goes wrong again, and the whole process fires back up with zombies aplenty.

Okay, sounds kinda pedestrian, no? Sure it does. But it's in the execution that "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium" shines.

First and foremost, the zombies are almost exactly authentic. Head shots kill, and only head shots kill. Most of the zombies plod rather than run. Almost no zombies are talking. I have to make hedges on this-there are visible examples to the contrary that happen every so often. Of course, the plot does take care of this by saying that some people's DNA will be affected in a different fashion by the virus. It's a bit flimsy but it does work, so I'm okay with it.

Even better, they name one of the buildings at Ravenside the "Romero Ward", so that's a solid addition. It's good that they mostly used his physics, and then gave him the nod besides. That's respect. The Grand Old Man deserves respect.

It's not without flaws here, though. The first half hour, indeed, the first half, is a bit slow moving plot wise. And a movie like this shouldn't be slow moving. Except it did that thing I always hate in my zombie movies. It's been a big push lately, and I'm not happy about it. All the zombie action was contained to one building, with the last ten minutes showing the outbreak beginning as a horde of zombies pours out of the hospital. I want the Apocalypse back in my zombie movies! The last one I can recall that got that far with it was "Feeding the Masses", and that at least managed to get a city going up! I want to see people trying to survive in an entire world gone mad, not in a building with a little zombie problem!

This needs to be a geopolitical conflict, not a problem for the realtors.

The ending, redundantly, is solid enough, but the content it held really needed featuring more toward the front. I want to see the zombies expand, not just bust out of a building.

The special features included a making of featurette, cast and crew commentary, and trailers for "Day of the Dead", "All Souls Day", "It Waits", "The Evil Dead", and "Demon Hunter".

All in all, "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium" is a solid entry into the zombie movie genre. It's certainly not all it could have been, but what was there was definitely worth watching. With a few changes, it could have been the best zombie movie since the original "Dawn of the Dead" hit. But I can definitely recommend seeing it as it is.

Doll Graveyard

Directed by Charles Band
Written by Charles Band, August White
Starring Jared Kusnitz, Gabrielle Lynn, Kristyn Green, Anna Alicia Brock
Produced by Charles Band
71 mins

Apparently, just in time for the new millenium, Charles Band decided that Full Moon was no longer a movie studio, but an action figure clearinghouse.

Some might say I'm being unnecessarily cruel with this assessment, but those same people might be surprised to know that no less a personage than Band himself agrees with me.

From the Full Moon studios Videozone magazine on "Retro Puppet Master", one minute twelve seconds in, Band is quoted, almost offhandedly, as saying:

"We're in the action figure business."

It's a funny thing.I thought Full Moon was in the movie business. At least that's what I thought from all those darn DVDs that keep showing up on video store shelves. And after seeing "Doll Graveyard", a movie released seemingly for the express purpose of hawking a new line of toys, I guess what Band had to say was true.

Full Moon really is in the action figure business.

So what we have here is the commercial of a whole bunch of dolls that turn homicidal. I know, you're probably confusing this with "Puppet Master", but you shouldn't be. That was about puppets. Those of you who are confusing this with "Blood Dolls" aren't too far off the mark as it too was a Charles Band commercial about homicidal dolls. But this time around, the dolls start out in the possession of an abused little girl who will accidentally die while being punished by her father. Roughly a hundred years later, the dolls will find their way back to the downtrodden, and start up a killing spree, the likes of which they.well.never actually got around to back in 1905 with the little abused girl.

Which, let's face it, isn't much of a commercial. It's an hour long. I know I said that it's got a runtime of seventy one minutes, but what no one except me will bother to tell you is that the last ten minutes are devoted to the credits.

And in the right hands, this might well have been something rather special. The first minute or so, an opening credit roll with a fog-shrouded chunk of land populated by pieces of porcelain dolls-arms sticking up from the ground, heads lying shattered on the earth, and so on-and lit entirely by the light of-surprise, surprise-a full moon, is actually pretty creepy.

In fact, if it had been done correctly, as an actual movie instead of a sixty minute toy ad, this could have been the start of something great and innovative: "Pet Cemetery" for dolls. Think about that for a minute.little Baby Puke-On-You sunk into the soil of the Micmac burial ground and coming back for blood. If that doesn't give you cold chills you're more jaded than I give you credit for.

But no.sadly, what we get is a sad and shoddy display of Band's seemingly boundless greed and capacity to exploit holy hell out of his audience and a premise so shoddy that it stopped being effective back in the eighties. We've got mindless violence (including a steel spike to a guy's crotch, a fate no man deserves) and equally mindless clichés (including a beautiful sequence at the fifty two minute thirty seven second mark where's someone's actually so abysmally stupid as to call 911 and gibber into the phone about how they're being attacked by killer dolls) and lots of face time with Band's new money making properties, the killer dolls of the "Doll Graveyard" (which as it turns out was nothing more than a small chunk of dirt in someone's backyard.).

The ending is confused, and abrupt. In fact, the whole commercial feels rushed, as though Band was renting the footage and needed to clock out the commercial in an hour or less or face additional charges.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, a blooper reel, Charles Band's latest diatribe, a link to a website for all you DVD-ROM enthusiasts, DVD credits, and trailers for other commercials "Doll Graveyard", "The Gingerdead Man", "Monsters Gone Wild!", "When Puppets and Dolls Attack!", "Decadent Evil" and "Petrified". There's also a brief discussion of Cinemaker. net, which serves another example of Band's sheer reprehensibility as he advises other moviemakers that a monster or hero action figure in toy stores is great advertising for the movie.

All in all, I'm revolted by both Band's strategy and "Doll Graveyard", the inevitable result of using such a strategy. I don't have anything against merchandising, but action figures should be based on characters! Movies shouldn't be made with action figures in mind! And charging other filmmakers to hear his vile advice on using his practices is just a sorry display. "Doll Graveyard" is little more than a commercial for a toy line, and certainly not the quality movie that it might well have been if it had been given a chance to be a movie instead of an hour-long toy commercial.