'Deadlands 2: Trapped' is further proof that one doesn't necessarily need buckets of cash to produce a fun and agreeable movie. Not that director Gary Ugarek would mind having access to the money. I doubt many of us would, actually. But the point is that if he can pull this off with a measly $6,000, we can only imagine what he can accomplish with a substantial amount. And I'm not talking about the wastefulness that goes into the Michael Bays or M. Night Shyamalans of the world. Ugarek knows how to stretch a budget and make entertainment out of it. Then again, it might all be due to him nearly making the entire movie all by his lonesome. Not only did he direct, he also wrote, produced, edited, and worked on the musical score as well as the visual effects. Heck, he even plays a bit part as a gun shop customer.
This is a great display of maverick, independent filmmaking largely ignored by general audiences or the type we rarely ever hear of because they're often horrible shoddy messes. Best of all, the plot is about zombies running amuck in a small Maryland town. 'Deadlands 2' is a surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining horror romp for aficionados of the genre. Now, don't get me wrong, the inexpensive production value is on full display here. The movie never really shies away from that fact because, well . . . why should it. It only adds to its amusement and charm. This is full-on, exploitation, B-horror schlock of yore. It's on par with George A Romero's early years. Not quite to the sophistication of 'Night of the Living Dead,' but definitely in the ballpark of 'The Crazies' in terms of what can be realized with limited funds and resources. And it's a blast to watch.
The story is essentially a pastiche of some memorable — even influential — genre favorites, which followers will easily recognize and should find amusing. Taking a cue from Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead,' Ugarek has six people secure themselves inside an empty building while a horde of the undead amasses outside in the parking lot. But instead of a shopping mall, the people are trapped inside a multiplex, so the chances of survival are greatly diminished while tensions grow amongst the survivors. 'Deadlands 2' also stars Jim Krut. You know, the actor who could have easily had his head chopped off by helicopter blades in the 1978 classic. He plays the high-level government agent responsible for unleashing the nerve gas that causes the hunger in rotting corpses. Krut is even allowed one of the better and rather humorous lines in the movie about residual memories.
This backdrop is mixed with the same level of energy and excitement as Dan O'Bannon's 'Return of the Living Dead.' Although lacking in paramedics, amputee zombies, cemetery punks and the living dead chanting "Brains," the movie uses military involvement as an entertaining plot point. And they, too, decide there's only one sure-fire way to rid of the infection, which Ugarek pulls off very nicely as a nod to the 1985 original horror-comedy. 'Deadlands 2' features an assortment of slow-moving corpses with the more aggressive, fast-running zombies we've see of late. Some will be quick to judge Zack Snyder's 'Dawn' remake or Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later' as inspiration. But, not completely. This is still O'Bannon's 'Return' as the dead slowly creep out of the foggy night and suddenly sprint at you. Once again, Ugarek does this just right so that the various references sprinkled throughout don't come off as labored or flagrant nods of admiration.
Now, before anyone starts driving like maniacs to their local video store in search of 'Deadlands 2: Trapped,' I feel the need to mention a few disclaimers. Firstly, if you want to check out the movie but don't have the patience for Netflix, then you can visit the Playing with Dead Things website to order a copy. Secondly, I don't mind watching B-movie schlock with terribly low production value and full of laughably-poor, wince-inducing performances. Jim Krut and Joseph D. Durbin are actually fine in their respective roles and Ashley Young has her moments, but as for the rest of the cast . . . oh, boy! I often find myself very entertained by these sorts of features much like I would with any other major Hollywood production. And I genuinely enjoyed this zombie flick and feel pleasantly satisfied by the results. Keep in mind this is coming from the same person who also relished the unintentional hilarity of 'Troll 2.'
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, expectations should be in check and an understanding of the movie's origins will greatly help out for the movie's enjoyment. 'Deadlands 2' is what's known as a micro-budget production — movies often made on a few thousand dollars similar to 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Paranormal Activity.' Hundreds of like features are made each year within the horror genre, particularly those involving flesh eating zombies. So, if you're not familiar with such silly titles as 'Boy Eats Girl,' 'Aaah! Zombies!!,' 'Gangs of the Dead,' 'Zombies of Mass Destruction,' 'The Zombie Diaries,' and 'ZA: Zombies Anonymous,' with the latter three being some of the best efforts, then there's a good chance this will fail to impress. I don't mean to imply that those movies are prerequisite before watching Gary Ugarek's film. Rather, it ranks along with those same movies. Quality-wise. All things considered, 'Deadlands 2: Trapped' is a fun and engaging horror schlock for zombie fanatics everywhere.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
As part of a gag related to a long discussion that can be read here, along with its follow-up here, the Blu-ray of 'Deadlands 2: Trapped' arrived in a red, HD DVD keepcase but pressed on 25GB BD-R. It's a cool little hardy-har-har jab. At start-up, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips taken of the movie.
Considering its low-budget origins, it's understandable the picture quality of 'Deadlands 2' would not be up to the standards of the Blu-ray format, especially since it was filmed with a deliberate cheap look. It's nice to be have the movie in high definition, to be sure, but it seems that the 1080p/MPEG-2 encode is riddled with various obnoxious video artifacts as well.
While whites are clean and accurate, contrast is grossly anemic and lifeless, which pretty much ruins any chance of good clarity resolution. On the other hand, the video isn't all that detailed to begin with, appearing mostly fuzzy and blurry throughout. The fact that grain comes off a bit overbearing and applied rather generously doesn't help either. The color palette, too, is almost completely drained and muted, making the picture practically look black and white. Skin tones, as a result, are unnatural and sickly pale. Black levels are so strong that any possible definition in the image is lost or altogether crushed. And there is little to no delineation in the shadows or scenes with very poor lighting conditions.
Of course, the quality of the presentation can be overlooked as the result of the intentional photography. It's meant for adding a sense of dread and doom to the story as well as for imitating the look and feel of an 80s low-budget feature. But aside from those issues, the transfer exhibits other problems that can't be ignored. The video suffers from noticeable occurrences of aliasing and stair-stepping in many sequences, spoiling the few moments of decent picture clarity. There are also several instances of macroblocking that pop up from time to time, and the picture reveals a great deal of judder. But even that, too, can be argued as the fault of shooting handheld instead of tripod.
In the end, the deliberate look of 'Deadlands 2' is what ultimately holds it back from really shining on high definition. The presentation is on par with '28 Days Later,' meaning it's to the artistic intentions of the filmmakers but far from the capabilities of the Blu-ray format.
Unfortunately, things don't improve much in the audio department despite offering a better presentation than the video. Presented in legacy Dolby Digital surround, the mix feels greatly restrained and lacking. All the action is located in the fronts where the few discrete effects fill in the many moments of silence. There's no range or a high level of activity in the entire soundtrack, including a wanting and mostly devoid lower end. Dialogue is clear and well-prioritized in the soundtrack, but it's also not very accurately centered and spreads across the entire soundstage. There's also a very strange echo effect that only occurs when characters interact inside cars. As with the video, however, the track can easily be attributed to the production's limited budget, and for fans of B-horror features, it's simply another characteristic to a fun zombie flick. Just not up to the expectations of Blu-ray.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Deadlands 2: Trapped,' filmmakers offer a healthy assortment of special features that delves deeper into this world of the undead.
'Deadlands 2: Trapped' is an entertaining micro-budget zombie flick about a small Maryland town seized by a horde of the undead. Aside from the poor acting of most of the cast, the movie is surprisingly well-made and a total blast to watch as it harkens back to the days of fast, cheap B-horror schlock. The Blu-ray review copy arrived in the now-defunct red, HD DVD keepcase and features an audio/video presentation that doesn't quite meet to the high standards of the HD format. But it appears to match the artistic intentions of the filmmakers. The supplemental package is a healthy collection of material that delves deeper into the movie's production along with some other movie goodies to enjoy. Overall, it's a nice package for a decent low-budget horror movie, worth checking out if you can get your hands on a copy.