Lately there has been a plethora of horror flicks on the market. It would appear that a quota has been enforced in the independent film community that 80% of all Indy movies has to be in the horror genre. Sure this is an exaggeration and certainly not the case but it does seem to reflect the current flood of these low budget flicks. They depend on bare breasts, blood and gore to sell to a market of high school and college aged boys. All you have to do is flash some boobs and eviscerate a few people and guys will flock to the film. One of the latest to hit the lucrative DVD market has a title that made me think this was just another slash and dash flick; ‘Zombies Anonymous’. I have to admit that the name of the flick intrigued me. Like many little films the title was changed from the on used in its theatrical release where it was known as ‘Last Rites of the Dead’. To be fair neither title gives a realistic indication of the content of this movie. In 1969 George A. Romero reinvented the zombie genre with his ground breaking film ‘Night of the Living Dead’. For years science fiction has been infused with social commentary that is frequently too biting to openly declare. Romero did the same thing with the zombie flick. Most films by other film makers that followed in this genre abandoned the lofty message for cheap thrills. This film is a successful return to the social message zombie film and it is about time. There is an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Something similar is at work here; don’t be turned off from a well made film by a silly title.
In many cases when you see a single name listed multiple times in an independent movie the results are less than desirable. After all the chances that one person can have talents ranging from writer to production are slim. The most common rational for such multitasking is budget; the Indy film maker has to pinch pennies and salaries cost a lot. There is an exception that proves the rule and it comes in the person of Marc Fratto; the creative mind behind this film. He is listed as writer, director, producer, executive producer, editor and under additional music. Wow, that is a lot of hats for any person to handle but Fratto does it and makes it work. He has managed taking on many chores in his two previous flicks ‘Strange Things Happen at Sundown’ and to a lesser degree in his ‘Satan's Schoolgirls’,the later where he composed the music. In his writing capacity here he has crafted a script that is at times a bit heavy handed in its message but completely fun as a story. His incarnation of the zombie is not the lumbering creature that we have come to know. Instead there are pretty much the same as they were in life only with fleshy decay and decomposition odors. No explanation is advanced as to why the recently deceased are reanimating which is fairly standard for the genre. The zombies are treated as second class citizens and are forced into ghettos and menial jobs. There is even a politically correct term applied to them; ‘mortally challenged’ as well as more than a few pejoratives used by the truly living. The story is an allegory for any of the many groups that have been isolated by acceptable society over the course of human existence. During history here in America we have seen fountains designated for ‘colored people’ only, signs reading ‘No Irish Need Apply’ and Hispanic people relegated to selling fruit on the road side. This is not a theme that relates to only a few minorities. At one time or another most of us had ancestors that had to cope it formalized social discrimination. In the current social climate we live in there are help groups for just about anything, Fratto takes this to the logical extension here with such groups for the revived dead.
As a director Fratto also scores a firm hit. He employs just enough gore and blood to qualify this as a horror/zombie flick. The point here is not the undead settling down for a nice brain tartar meal but to hold prejudice up to the light of a entirely different kind of scrutiny. Fratto has a firm grasp on the mechanics of directing a film. He moves his story along at a brisk pace and maintains the momentum throughout the movie. There is much that is tongue in cheek here that helps to light the mood and soften the impact of the commentary without losing the message. He also deftly avoids the puerile use of nudity so teen boys most likely will be disappointed. This is not a film for them anyway; it is for adults and purposed to promote discussion. He also provides amble time for his characters to develop. For once the audience can feel sympathy for the zombies and care about their plight. There have been a lot of comic horror films but this movie just about defies being classified. There is a dark humor present but it has enough bloodshed to keep the die hard horror film happy.
As the film opens there is a newscast explaining the recently dead have started to come back to life. While they do not seem to pose a serious threat to the still living they are a group of the population that needs to be dealt with. Their pre-deceased personalities are still intact but they are technically not listed among the living anymore. Angela (Gina Ramsden) and her recently ex-boyfriend Josh (Joshua Nelson) are at the end of a very dysfunctional relationship. Josh is not the type who takes being dumped lightly. Angela tries to hide from his rage in the bathroom but Josh breaks down the door and shoots her in the head. She comes back as one of the new zombie class. She tries to conceal here new status with a makeup line called ‘Look Alive’. It didn’t take long for marketing departments to come up with products targeted at this growing demographic. Angela’s attempts to ‘pass’ are not as successful as she had hoped. She still manages to hold down her job but is concerned that the government is not committed to extending even the most fundamental human rights to her group. To make matters worse people including Josh have taken up the sport of Zombie t-ball where they drive around and knock the heads of unsuspecting zombies. Since they are already dead there can be no charge of murder possible. Angela turns to a chapter of a self help group for the recently dead. Eventually Angela comes across a leader in a new wave zombie group, Mother Solstice (Mary Jo Verruto). Her group believes that they should turn their back on the living and become self sufficient and the joys of eating human flesh instead of the usual raw meat. There is also a militant arm of citizen in response to the growing zombie nation. It is lead by The Commandant (Christa McNamee). The record the zombie bashing and show them to other zombies hoping to get them to turn themselves into the termination facilities.
This film on DVD thanks to Well Go USA is not to be missed. It is intelligent, funny and provides a look at a serious problem in society. This is ambitious but Mr. Fratto succeeds in an incredible fashion.