Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Undead | Alien Apocalypse

By Steve Anderson
November Ist, 2005

Undead
****
DVD
Directed by The Speirig Brothers
R
104 mins

So what we have here is the story of a small sleepy town that is suddenly attacked by zombies due to something that was going on out in the middle of space. A nice big hunk of space rock carrying zombie juice of some kind (probably radiation--zombie movies run on radiation the way Meg Ryan movies run on cuteness and probably animal sacrifice.) slams into the small town of Berkeley one bright sunny day.

Berkeley is, for some strange reason, Australian--at least it sounds Australian. You never heard "No worries, mate" so many times in one movie.

And man, does it ever start out with a bang! Not ten minutes in, and we get people getting chunks of space rock blasted through them, and a guy gets his head taken off in a scene so obviously CG and yet so solidly done that it's almost impossible, even with frame advance, to tell that it's been faked. Really, you can't--try frame advance at the seven minute forty seven second mark. The head actually blurs out at the moment it separates from the neck, making conclusive identification nigh-impossible.

Even better is the comedic moments implanted into "Undead", and there are plenty of them. Naturally I won't pin them all down, but there are a great walloping lot of them.

Plus, there are homages aplenty--check out the shotgun around the thirteen minute mark. If you aren't at least vaguely reminded of the quad-barrelled death bringer from "Phantasm 2" then you haven't been paying close enough attention. The plotline at least vaguely resembles the original "Night of the Living Dead". And when Tony Timpone compared this to "Dead Alive", he wasn't making idle chit-chat...there are plenty of sequences that remind one of that great comical zombie movie. Plus, there's even a nice handful of "Evil Dead" franchise homages in the way the zombies move.

The really amazing thing about "Undead", and I mentioned this previously (as it turns out it holds true for most of the movie), is that the effects are positively seamless. No matter what--whether someone's getting a head taken off or their entire sternum cut in two by a Club (the ACTUAL Club, folks--the one you put on the steering wheel) it is fantastically hard to spot the wires. In fact, in many cases, you can only just distinguish that they did SOMETHING. Frequently it's hard to tell just what it was they did, but you know they did something. And as far as I'm concerned, that's the mark of positively fantastic special effects work.

But I have to ask one rhetorical question I'm sure everyone will pose before the end--how many guns are in that man's overalls?

The ending is an unbelievable combination of spectacular and baffling. When you see it you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Plus, there's an incredible twist ending that you wouldn't believe if I told you about it.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, extended and deleted scenes, artwork and design sketches, three different trailers for "Undead", and in a move that'll surprise most horror mavens, a preview of "Saw II."

All in all, there's a damn good reason everybody's been looking forward to "Undead" since 2003. It's fantastic. That's why, and that's really all you need to know.

Alien Apocalypse
***
DVD
Directed by Josh Becker
unrated
88 mins

When I first saw this little beauty sitting on the shelves at the video store, I really had to wonder. I'd heard really lousy things about Bruce Campbell's career, or lack thereof, and I thought his newest movies were going to be a total waste of time.

However, this proved to be much more than I expected.

So what we have here is Bruce Campbell and a crew of three other astronauts coming back to Earth after a forty year stay in cryogenic sleep. And the Earth they come back to is currently ruled by giant termites. Giant ALIEN termites, no less.

The picture is pretty clear--giant alien termites currently ruling over Portland, Oregon. That's where all this takes place, you know. And of course, what do giant alien termites eat? Wood. Lots, and lots, of wood, prepared into board lengths by human slaves.

And when Movies Online said that "Alien Apocalypse" is like "Army of Darkness" meets "Starship Troopers," I wanted to smack them.

Because it really is the best description there is for it, and not just because of Bruce's presence. It's an oppressed minority fighting against a demonic overlordish presence that looks and acts disgusting with the inevitable happy ending.

But that being said, man, this is good stuff! Bruce actually remembers what made him good in the first place--acting like a total jagoff who manages to rescue a whole bunch of people almost in spite of himself.

And the part that'll throw you for an even bigger loop is that this is actually a made-for-tv movie. That's right--before you found this little comic action gem on your video store shelves, it was a Sci Fi Original movie.

"Alien Apocalypse" is a really impressive little title, especially considering that it's a made for TV movie that went to video not long after. The effects are solidly done--no rudely-constructed blood-filled plastic heads here. Everything is either pretty solid CG or else prostheses of good enough quality that they at least pass for what they're actually supposed to be. The humans that get eaten, and the human parts, do indeed look like what they're supposed to look like. The acting is more than passable--everyone seems to be handling their lines competently, if not with any flair.

But the one real problem with all this is one massive, gaping plothole. It's explained that the aliens used neutron bombs and mass executions, leaving only a handful of people, and no one ever lead an armed resistance because they just didn't think it could be done. What I find overwhelmingly hard to believe is that no one actually tried it. Surely there was ONE gun nut out there who'd see the incredible success even a twenty-two would have against these things.

But it's really only a small problem, and one that can be fairly easily overlooked with a little suspension of disbelief.

The ending is about as happy as you could possibly expect from something like this, and it's plenty happy. I could tell you what it is right now and it probably wouldn't spoil anything for you because you ALREADY know what it is. There will be one small surprise, especially if you've been paying attention, and it'll be good for a small chuckle at Bruce's expense.

The special features include cast and crew commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, a storyboard gallery, a biography of Bruce Campbell, and trailers for "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2", "The Man With The Screaming Brain," "Dead and Breakfast," and "Lightning Bug".

What, no "Army of Darkness" trailer?

All in all, not bad by half. Though a bit predictable in spots, and with a couple plot holes, "Alien Apocalypse" is a worthwhile little journey that gives us true insight into how Bruce Campbell's career became what it is today.

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line.  Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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