Dead Men Walking (2005)

Starring Bay Bruner, Brick Firestone, Chriss Anglin, James Ferris, Brandon Stacy

Directed by Peter Mervis

I’ve been saying for months now that the current zombie movie craze is going to burn itself out through sheer overkill, especially zombie movies like Dead Men Walking that don’t bring anything new to the genre and go through the motions in a completely lifeless manner. Gorehounds and hardcore fans of zombie flicks will probably enjoy this film simply because it has lots of zombies running around and tons of effectively done blood and entrails on display. Me, I’m just all zombied out.

The basic concept here is zombies in a prison. The first problem is the means by which they set up the situation is excessively contrived, even by zombie movie standards. The movie opens with some guy named Travis gunning down a bunch of zombies with a shotgun; the last one eating a shotgun shell at point blank range causing some of its blood to get in his mouth. The cops immediately burst in and arrest him. Travis is taken to Harwood Maximum Security Prison while Center for Disease Control agent Samantha Beckett arrives to investigate the murder scene.

Despite the fact that the guy is practically oozing blood from his mouth, looks like he could drop dead at any moment, and babbles about being “infected,” prison officials think Travis is faking and escort him off to solitary confinement, managing to projectile vomit blood on several inmates along the way. Samantha then turns up at the prison wanting to see Travis, but it’s already too late and a George Romero fan film is already in full swing. Everyone not already infected finds themselves trapped inside once the CDC orders the quarantined.

Before becoming the walking dead, Travis was nice enough to tell another inmate what was happening to him during transport to the prison so that this guy would then be able to explain the plot’s setup to the CDC lady. Travis had had been exposed to a biotoxin and became a walking timebomb. It can kill one person in a couple hours or another in a couple minutes depending on their genetic make-up. And, of course, it brings them back as a zombie. 95% of the prisoners and prison guards have the genetic make-up that only takes them a few seconds to die and come back undead.

How exactly Travis was initially infected with this biotoxin, what exactly this biotoxin is, and how the CDC already knows about it gets explained later on, but then explanations aren’t really important to this film. Plot isn’t really important to this film. People are trapped inside a prison overrun with the undead and they have to find a way to survive and escape; that’s it. This premise still could have made for an entertaining zombie flick but, unfortunately, characters aren’t really important to this film either. It’s a virtual smorgasbord of one-dimensional stock characters from the very unconvincing CDC agent to the walking mounds of tough talking clichés that pass for prison guards to the religious death row inmate that gets infected and waxes philosophical before dying. The generic zombies are just a bunch of spastic 28 Days Later-types that make loud noises non-stop when not tasting human flesh. Frankly, the constant screaming coming from both victim and zombie alike eventually became grating on my nerves. I think there may have been more screaming than actual dialogue.

We’re never told where exactly this prison is but I can only assume it must be in a state like Wyoming because it’s the whitest prison I’ve ever seen. There isn’t a single minority – inmate or guard – to be found. I know this may seem like an odd thing to notice but these are the kinds of things you take note of when watching a movie as devoid of actual entertainment value as this.

If there’s a screenwriting manual for zombie movie plot clichés, then this film followed it word for word right down to the Night of the Living Dead ending. I’m sure the filmmakers would call this paying homage. I would call it a blatant rip-off that only goes to solidify how little imagination went into making this one. This is a zombie movie stripped down to its bare minimum.

If all you want, need, or expect out of a zombie movie is to see people in zombie make-up kill, bite, and disembowel people then Dead Men Walking will give you your fix. Me, I’m beyond this. I think the whole zombie movie genre is beyond this, at least it should be if it wants to continue to flourish. Even at a scant 76 minutes (with an additional 4 ½ minutes of slow-crawling closing credits designed to pad out the running time a respectable length) Dead Men Walking bored the living hell out of me.

0 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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