Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Zombiez | Shapeshifter

By Steve Anderson
February 1st, 2006

Zombiez
**1/2
DVD
Directed By ZWS
Written By ZWS
Starring Jenicia Garcia, Jakeem Seller, Randy Clark, Raymond Spencer
R
93 mins

Now, I have to give "Zombiez" some credit in taking a stab at realism here. They include, as the entire first minute of the film, this particular quote that helps to give a bit of factual nature to what we're about to watch here.

I present it in its entirety for purposes of review.

"Zombie: Truth in Legends. In the West Indies, a zombie is a living person who has never died, but is under the influence of powerful drugs. In 1982 an American botanist presented a pharmacological case for zombies in which zombies could be made by the ingestion of two special powders. The key ingredient of which was the puffer fish (tetradontiformes.)

"Witch doctors would use these chemically controlled and sometimes brain damaged humans (Zombies) to hunt down and eat other human beings for sacrificial purposes."

As a comical aside, they also tack on this pithy little bit of quote:

"It's also a mighty tasty cocktail consisting of rum and fruit juices."

So what we have here is the story of zombies. Yeah, pretty much what you expected after that minute of flavor text, eh? But of course, it's not just zombies, but rather, ZOMBIEZ.

Which means someone decided to inject some "urban flava" into the proceedings.

I have to admit, what I thought i was going to get when I slapped this in my DVD player was going to be some kind of "Tales From the Hood / Return of the Living Dead" hybrid that at best would be uncomfortable to watch.

But what I actually got was something much different. I got what actually looked like a genuinely new premise--a worldwide plague of actual bona fide voudou zombies attacking the living and eating their flesh. They run, they jump, they talk, they plot--it's almost exactly what the Romero films introduced it as, "a worldwide plague of mass murder."

The use of text screen as scene shift placeholders (like the one just ahead of the nine minute mark, and again at twenty eight and a half minutes) is unusual to say the least. I can't readily recall a similar situation, and this note of unexpected innovation strikes me as a pleasant surprise. Some will draw comparisons to "Clerks," but Kevin Smith's one-word cue cards scenes are nothing compared against these full definitions. Had Kevin given the definitions of the words he used, then we might have something there.

But "Zombiez," as it turns out, is not all interesting plotlines and clever innovations. It is lousy with bugs and errors. For instance:

The English subtitles were poorly engineered at best. They flash briefly on screen in spots, well after recorded dialogue is spoken. Worse yet, entire sections of the dialogue are missing. Actively missing! I hurt for the deaf horror fans out there who wanted to watch this and will find themselves just out and out confused by the plot.

And it didn't help that their gore effects were a. gratuitous and b. poorly budgeted. I swear, there were parts like around the twenty six minute mark where it looked like raw chicken was hitting the floor.

The fight scene at the thirty two minute mark is just outlandish. I can't for the life of me understand how this rationally went down. It just makes no coherent sense given the half-hour that preceded it.

The two minute sequence in which our heroine makes a firebomb...it just took way too long to do anythign useful with it.

The ending features one of the single most ludicrous plot twist / closures I've ever seen. Frankly, I'm embarrassed by the sheer outlandishness of the whole thing. Is it supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to be serious? What ARE they trying for with this? I can't even follow! One thing's for sure--when they're talking about "cheesy," they don't realize, but it applies to what they're doing too.

The special features include poor quality English subtitles, a music video for reasons that defy description (my guess is because it's the song that pretty much makes up the entire soundtrack of the movie.), and trailers for "Zombiez," "Infection," "Chronicle of the Raven," "Alone in the Dark," "Possessed," "Acid Trip," and "Undead."

All in all, "Zombiez" was a good idea brought down by poor execution. A bigger budget and more experienced FX departments would have made "Zombiez" a threat worth reckoning with, but as it stands, it's merely good. Hard words, merely good, but no less accurate for the harshness.

 

 

Shapeshifter
***
DVD
Directed by Gregory Lemkin
Written by A. Everett Howe
Starring Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Ocean, Chris Facey, Vaz Andreas
Produced by David Michael Latt, David Rimawi, Sherri Strain
R
82 mins

So what we have here is the positively inexplicable story of a bloodthirsty monster that can look like a human being for a while. Said monster then gets locked up in a maximum security prison.

Which means, of course, there's gonna be a bloodbath in lockup.

Here's the interesting part--this is the second of two movies that The Asylum filmed in the EXACT SAME PLACE. Longtime readers of mine might remember my coverage of "Dead Man Walking", and that's the first. "Dead Man Walking" and "Shapeshifter" were filmed in the exact same prison.

Immediately, you can tell what we're in for here...watch the amazing continuity lapse at two minutes and thirty six seconds.

Hooker blood-drenched from the waist up...fire up your frame advance and BAM! Suddenly, she's had a complete hosedown--nary a speck of blood to be had! And then, as though someone slapped their head and gave a hearty "Oh YEAH! She's supposed to be waist-up in blood!"--she's once again soaked from the neck down.

Positively amazing, guys. What HAPPENED??

It's a bad sign when we're not five minutes in and the plot's already got a gaping hole in it. Movies like this make me feel like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away"--Hey Wilson, there's a HOLE in the raft!

Even worse is the addition of the character "Leonard", a giant of a man with strength above the average and intellect below. Sound familiar to anyone else?

Now, suddenly, I feel like Tom Hanks in "The Green Mile." I half expected Leonard to offer somebody some corn bread.

Interestingly, aside from those two substantial gaffes, there's not much else that's technically wrong with "Shapeshifter". If the editors had paid a little closer attention, and the script writer refrained from a little derivation, the slight problems with "Shapeshifter" would have been eliminated.

"Shapeshifter" is a surprise in every sense. Tautly plotted, well acted, and with very believable effects, "Shapeshifter" turns out a lot better than it probably should have. It's yet another monster movie, but it's a very well done monster movie. The intermingling of survival horror and locked-room mystery (yes, there IS just a bit of locked-room mystery in this one) adds a surprisingly subtle and all too welcome extra spice.

The ending is a little predictable, but still very well done. Plus, we get a nice little twist on our ending.

The special features include deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, cast and crew commentary, and a strange little montage of clips and background music called "Ode To Shapeshifter."

I don't know why it's there...I don't really WANT to know why it's there. It's...alarming. Genuinely. It's alarming in the weirdest, funniest, sort of way.

And with twelve seconds left, the funniest part kicks in. A screen of text emerges that reads:

"Scene Fifty-Six Inserts -- Missing -- Couldn't shoot it 'cause no one would co-operate with me."

All in all, "Shapeshifter" proves to be quite a good, a surprisingly good, little package for a movie filmed in a marathon session on the same set that The Asylum used mere weeks prior.

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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