Thursday, June 08, 2006

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis

Directed by Ellory Elkayem, 2005

In a move of unprecedented economy, Ellory Elkayem (New Zealand-born director of Eight Legged Freaks) apparently added two sequels to the Return of the Living Dead series in one fell swoop. Same cast, filmed at the same time, in the same place (Romania). Different movies.

The first one, Necropolis, involves a gang of high school seniors trying to rescue their friend from an evil megacorporation that's (of course) building a zombie army to take over the world. One of the friends (of course) has a part-time job as a security guard at the corporate research facility, so a'infiltratin' we will go. Hackers meets the O.C. meets zombies, basically.

Let's not mince words -- this is a bad movie. It had so much potential: great special effects, good-looking shots, zombie bums played by Eastern Europeans, etc. However (just like the zombies themselves!) something went wrong and instead of a fun movie there is a soulless, shambling thing that takes too long to die.

My guess is that the director is trying to avoid horror movie cliches, to zag whenver you expect him to zig. Instead of creating any sort of tension, however, he sets up plot points and then tosses them away nonsensically. Pyromaniac baby brother who knows how to make bombs and then somehow infiltrates the research facility before the heroes do? Nope, he doesn't save the day, he just dies without ceremony. Orphaned kid finds out that his parents have been resurrected as Borg-like super soldiers? Nope, they don't help him out with the zombie invasion or do any super soldiering. Elkayem takes David Mamet's "if a gun is shown in the first act, it will be fired in the third" axiom and says, "What gun? There was a gun? Oh yeah, that fell out of dude's pocket in act two."

We watched this on the heels of Hood of the Dead, and the two are polar opposites. Hood has flow and tension and cares about its characters, and gets things done on a shoestring budget. This feels flat and rushed, with no stakes. I only wish that the Quiroz Bros. who did Hood had the money and cinematographic chops that went into Necropolis.

That said, we haven't tracked down the companion piece Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave To the Grave, and I'm actually interested in doing so. It sounds like a more fun plot (zombie-making drugs on a college campus!) and I hope Elkayem redeems himself.

Zombie explanation: The last few vats of Trioxin (the military-developed chemical referenced in earlier Return of the Living Dead movies), which somehow ended up at Chernobyl.

Gratuitous zombie movie in-joke: One of the girls is inexplicably nicknamed Romero. Groan.

Also, "Send more security guards!" but that one was pretty good.

Saving grace: The fake commercial that opens the movie is the best part ("Hybratech: not a single recorded zombie outbreak in ten years"). I would have ended the movie with a dude writing on a whiteboard:

"Days since a work-related zombie incident: 0"

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