THE GRAVES - From the creator of the legendary comics Evil Ernie and Lady Death, comes The Graves. On their last weekend together, Megan and Abby Graves are lost in a remote part of the Arizona desert where they are lured to Skull City Mine, an abandoned mine town. But they soon learn Skull City is anything but abandoned - and there's no way out. The sisters are now prey, forced to unleash their most primitive instincts in a desperate, all-out battle for survival against unspeakable horrors - both human and supernatural. The Blu-ray Disc features two audio commentaries, numerous featurettes, "spot the gnome" game, auditions, a music video and more!
ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION - A conservative island community is under attack! Port Gamble, Washington is being overrun with brain eaters, and the people seem powerless to stave them off. A rag tag band of rebels led by Frida, an Iranian college student suspected of being an Iraqi terrorist, and Tom, a gay businessman who has returned to town with his partner to come out to his mother, tries to turn the tide and push the invading hoards of undead back. Called "the best of its type since Shaun of the Dead," filmthreat.com states, "Zombies of Mass Destruction is a limb-shucking, eye-gouging hoot, full of both disemboweled stomachs and belly laughs." The Blu-ray Disc includes a "making of" featurette.
Advertised as a political zomedy, 'Zombies of Mass Destruction' is one weird experience. A mixture of satire based on racial/cultural discrimination in a post-9/11 world and quirky pun-filled dialogue and squirting splatter gore reminiscent of a smaller budget 'Dead Alive,' this flick seems a bit late to the game. 2009 is a few years too late to tell a story where a white trash family kidnaps and tortures an Iranian neighbor due to media reports of an outbreak being linked to religious extremism, but here we are.
As the After Dark Horrorfest brings its mixture of zombies and politics to Blu-ray, they again seem a day (actually years) late and a dollar short, as the Masters of Horror line already made a fairly unique take on zombies in a political American world with 'Homecoming.' 'ZMD' has the advantage of being a full length film rather than an hour long feature, but in this case, it's entirely possible that the runtime works to the film's detriment.
September 25, 2003 seemed like such a normal day for the island community of Port Gamble, WA*. Families are going about their normal routine, ignoring church, and being complete self centered dicks in general. These residents are so self absorbed that they don't realize the first signs of a zombie outbreak in their midst, as bloodied shambling residents are ignored for the minor dramas that engulf the lives of the uninfected. As a college dropout, Iranian lass (Janette Armand) struggles with the expectations of her father (Ali Hamedani), she will soon realize her protective father was probably the best thing she had in her life. As gay lovers Tom (Doug Fahl) and Lance (Cooper Hopkins) struggle with revealing their relationship to Tom's unaware family, the consequences of their revelation may be secondary to the violence stewing at their doorstep. And as the occupants of a nearly abandoned church question whether their continued existence is a sign of their continued faith saving their souls, their refusal to accept others and science's place in religion, they may soon find themselves damned, unrecoverable by any amount o faith.
(*Yes, I am aware that Port Gamble is not actually an island, despite being portrayed as such in the film. If you're a Washingtonian, you may have a harder time with suspension of belief than the rest of us will.)
'ZMD' isn't a bad film. It's actually a decent independent movie, just completely lacking in polish and experience, featuring numerous film debuts and acting rookies, including that of writer/director Kevin Hamedani. The pacing is suspect, the dialogue has its fun moments, though some painfully failed jokes can drag the film to a crawl, and the acting can stand out like a sore thumb, with performances seemingly straight out of drama class. Zombie makeup is actually very well done, though attacks on zombies are too random and ridiculous at times.
The church aspect to this film is perhaps its most enjoyable facet. The churchgoers are already borderline zombies, despite not being infected, while the slimy preacher and his archaic ways are a hoot. The confrontation between the "sinners" and the religious, a huge plot point in the final act, is sheer hilarity. This film doesn't condemn either side of the argument, rather gives us some stereotypes to poke fun at. Heck, the pair of actors having to constantly one up each other in gayness can be fairly entertaining! The white trash versus Middle Eastern plot is less effective, though, as the comedy falls horribly flat, and the scenes are akin to having nails pulled. A shame, really, because Ali Hamedani gives a good performance, and, let's face it, Armand is some great eye candy. It's just sad that everyone they have to interact with has less charisma than zombie chow.
'ZMD' would have benefited from being forced into a tighter timeframe. It also would have done well to introduce more characters for the viewers to have any sort of emotional attachment to. Without that, zombie flicks are just carnage with no point. Less obvious foodstuffs being passed off as froth in the mouths of zombies also would have been great, as all the effects did was make me hungry for some strawberry oatmeal. This is not a film for your modern shock scare horror wannabes. It is fun to watch those involved getting their feet wet for the first time, and letting the film speak for their efforts, even if it cannot compare to those made by more competent or experienced filmmakers. For a debut film, though, it's hard to complain about the quality.
The other half of this double feature is 'The Graves,' named after the two lead characters (thank goodness they weren't the Janikowskis, that would have been awkward!), our heroines in distress, dragged into a situation where the supernatural threat is less dangerous than that of the simple humans who worship it. You may be bored to your own grave, or graves if you watch in a group. Perhaps that's the real meaning of the title.
Megan (Clare Grant) and Abby (Jillian Murray) are going on one last road trip together, before real life splits up the pair of sibling best friends. A stop in Unity, AZ leads the pair to Skull City, a former gold mine that is supposedly haunted. Of course, little do the girls know that the truth is more frightening than the rumors. There's a madman slaughtering any tourists at the camp, up close and personal with his trusty hammer, and even if the girls can escape his wrath, they'll still have to run the gauntlet of residents, who all seem to have gone insane.
Yeah, this is where I start bashing 'The Graves.' Strap in, hold on tight, or just realize that this double feature is only worth buying for 'ZMD.' 'The Graves' is some poorly written, horribly acted, nonsensical shlock horror, that fails to elicit any scares, sympathy, or any sense of dread. It feels like a redheaded ignoramus little cousin to films like 'The Hitcher,' and the 'Rest Stop' films, and considering how awful those flicks were, that says something.
The villains are the biggest problem with the film. Sure, Jonah (Shane Stevens) the camp blacksmith is a tough guy, but we're talking about a 300 pound guy, stalking all these young, fit people, and always pulverizing them, as they cannot escape a quick demise at the end of his hammer. All anyone has to do is run in a straight line, and they'd gain so much ground on him that we'd have nothing to worry about. Of course, every kill he gets is apparently stupid, trying to hide in areas he works in and hunts in day in and day out. Then, there's Jonah's older brother Caleb (Bill Moseley), who takes up for his brother once M.C. Hammer is dispatched. Nothing says scary like a guy with a pig snout wrapped around his face!
Even horror legend Tony Todd is wasted here, as a twisted reverend who seemingly runs the town full of people duping visitors into their demise. I still just don't get it. We have a horror legend in Todd, and an up-and-comer who keeps getting roles as dastardly villains in Moseley, and we still get a film with no great villains, and no stand out performances to keep an eye on. Best yet, we get inconsistent makeup effects (check out Mama's constantly changing teeth grime), a ridiculous demon, and horrid makeup effects ruining the real scare of the film. Director Brian Pulido does an awful job, as his script sucks, he pushes a previous project ('Lady Death') too much in the opening scenes like a two bit pimp, and there isn't a single positive to be found. And just think, this pile of awful is getting a sequel soon, so we can get another hour and a half of wasted potential. Hooray!
'Zombies of Mass Destruction' film score: 3/5
'The Graves' film score: 1.5/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
This double feature from the After Dark Horrorfest compiles two recently released titles (2009 and 2010), rather than some of the older Blu-ray releases in this wave that have films as old as 2006. Both are presented on a single Region A marked BD50 Dual Layer disc. The pre-menu content is annoying (After Dark Originals, 'My Bloody Valentine 3D,' 'Daybreakers,' 'The Haunting in Connecticut,' 'Cabin Fever,' and a catalog title promo), especially considering the age of some of the discs for these titles. The menu starts as a movie theater marquee asking which film you want to watch, bringing up a menu for your choice, with an option tab to switch movies.
'ZMD' is a very bi-polar release on Blu-ray. In well lit interiors and day shots, we get a film with amazing depth, no grain whatsoever, great color clarity, and superb details, even if textures are a big drab. In night shots and a small handful of quick cuts in day shots, grain levels spike tremendously, and detail takes a great hit. There is some ringing, and even an entire shot (with the gay couple arguing outside Tom's family home) that looks so bad that it almost seems ghosted. Great one moment, subpar the next, 'ZMD' and its 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode can be frustrating.
'The Graves' fares a bit poorly compared to 'ZMD' in the video quality control department, for a few reasons. The film has a large amount of handheld camcorder mock footage, and it is very low grade, super grainy and lacking in any detail, though midway through the film, it is abandoned for pure high-def picture....in day shots. Night shots lose their life, and detail, becoming a flat mess. There is great depth in day shots, and great life in random debris and background bits, but ringing can be a real issue.
'Zombies of Mass Destruction' video score: 3.5/5
'The Graves' video score: 3/5
'ZMD' doesn't fare too well in the sound department, sadly. Sure, it has a nice succinct and clear soundtrack, which has some nice bass accents, but this feature is incredibly front heavy for a 5.1 track, as there is rarely anything going on anywhere beyond the front channels. Normal dialogue is just fine, but any raised tone sounds way too harsh, like a line was being screamed directly into the mic. Considering there's a ton of screaming in the latter half of the film,
I don't have any bad words for the audio in 'The Graves.' Really, it's fairly efficient, and actually quite lively in its use of rear speakers, though the sheer amount of random ambiance coming from all angles can drown out a few lines of dialogue. The savior/demon sounds do get awfully loud, and are hardly impressive, but the random localized footsteps are all accurately placed, making this a fun sounding flick, showing that the very cool title cards aren't the only thing that money was spent on.
'Zombies of Mass Destruction' film score: 2.5/5
'The Graves' film score: 3.5/5
'Zombies of Mass Destruction':
'Zombies of Mass Destruction' extras score: .5/5
'The Graves' extras score: 3/5
I wasn't a big fan of 'The Graves,' but I did enjoy 'Zombies of Mass Destruction.' Perhaps your experience with this release may be the other way around, since 'The Graves' certainly has production values and polish well above that of 'ZMD,' but really, it doesn't matter. Neither of these films are for everyone, and both feel like rip offs of better, similar films. This two films on one disc compilation has fairly average presentation qualities, and a boatload of extras...if you're a fan of 'The Graves,' that is. If and when this title drops in price some, much like the 'Masters of Horror' discs dramatically did, it would be an easy recommendation. As is, it's worth a look.