Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Adam Stuart, Alissa Koenig, Jim Marlow, Kristi Renee Pearce, Jonathon Badeen. Billy Hayes
Directed by David A. Prior
Nobody knows exactly why the dead came back to life to feast on the living and nobody really has much time to theorize about it anyway. Those that survived the initial zombie holocaust have joined together into small bands of nomadic resistance fighters who live in base camps out in the wilderness where they spend every day training to wage war against the “pussheads” as they call them even though we never really see any zombies that ooze puss from their heads.
Though most zombies are just mindless wandering eating machines more interested in ripping out people’s entrails than feasting on their brains, some have shown signs of rudimentary intelligence, almost caveman-like. These zombies have proven capable of setting up their own chain of command and establishing very primitive communication through grunts and groans. They’ve also enough intellectual capacity to know that if they either eat every remaining human or turn them into one of their own then eventually they’ll find themselves starving. That’s why the zombies have begun setting up what amounts to meat farms where people are treated like cattle – breeding more humans that will then be raised to adulthood so that they can then be used as breeding stock and later food.
This has been going on long enough that the free range humans occasionally rescue some slaughterhouse humans in transport. Since those humans had been livestock since birth they cannot read or speak and have no concept of language, thus the need to put them into classes set up at the base camps to teach them the basics before prepping them for future combat with their former captors.
After zombies raid a human base camp, a resistance fighter and the attractive blonde girl he’d recently rescued from zombie meat farm enslavement and has since taken a liking too find themselves captured by the zombies and interned at one of the meat farms. Meanwhile, that soldier’s brother and a female commander set out with a few remaining soldiers to rescue them by planning a raid on the meat farm. Both those on the inside and out will begin to unravel a sinister conspiracy about the true nature of these meat farms.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m feeling all zombied out of late. When the current resurgence in zombie flicks began it seemed like a welcome relief from all the low budget vampire and slasher flicks that were getting churned out. Now I find myself wanting relief from all the low budget zombie flicks. The prospect of yet another low budget movie about the survivors of a zombie apocalypse struggling to survive in a world overrun by the undead would not have caught me eye if not for my familiarity with the previous works of the man in the director’s chair, which led me to seek out an import DVD.
Zombies Wars marks David A. Prior’s return to the director’s chair after a near decade long layoff. If you’re not familiar with David A. Prior he and his action star brother Ted were responsible for a long string of low budget DVD flicks from about the mid-Eighties until the mid-Nineties, most under the banner of their own production company they named Action International Pictures (the other A.I.P.). While Ted Prior made a name for himself as something of a poor man’s Miles O’Keefe (Or would Miles O’Keefe have been considered a poor man’s Ted Prior?), brother David stayed behind the camera writing and directing action films with titles like Future Force, Raw Justice, Deadly Prey, and so on. He was no stranger to the horror genre either with fright flicks like Mardi Gras For The Devil and the cult slasher Killer Workout, as well mixing action and genre with such films as The Lost Platoon (vampire soldiers in Central America) and Mutant Species (Predator knock-off with a bluish, mongoloid, dog-faced creature stalking soldiers in the woods).
Most Prior productions shared three common traits: almost consistently low rent production values, the use of practical yet decidedly low tech special effects, and plots that tended to drop you right into the action often not even bothering to fill in all the blanks for viewers. I’ve always had kind of a weird relationship with David and Ted’s films; some I found modestly entertaining, usually in a cheesy sort of way, while many only succeeded in being just plain bad. In a strange sort of way, their A.I.P. was sort of like The Asylum before there was an Asylum – minus the mockbuster mentality, thank goodness.
It’s easy to spot the earmarks of a Prior production watching Zombie Wars; the characters are never fully dimensional, the quality of acting is all over the map, some of the zombie make-up makes them look more like people who died face down in a pile of cocaine before resurrecting, certain sticking points about the mechanics of the zombie meat farm are never adequately explained, and the ending doesn’t provide a fully satisfying resolution after the intriguing build-up; and honestly, when are the makers of zombie movies going to stop paying homage to the end of the original Night of the Living Dead?
The money clearly was not there to spend on any fancy sets – not that this film really needed any. The majority of the movie takes place out in the woods with characters huddled inside of tents of various sizes and what few actual building structures there are amount to little more than shacks. Roadblocks human survivalists have set up look downright silly because while the road may be blocked by a gate manned by armed guards in a tollbooth/watchtower, the surrounding area is wide open space where someone could easily plow right on through if they wanted.
But for all its limitations Zombie Wars, I’m happy to report, is one of the most enjoyable films Prior has ever done. There’s some genuine imagination at work here. I can honestly say the concept of zombies herding humans into farms to be raised, bred, and eaten like livestock is something I’ve never personally seen done before in any zombie movie. Those looking for a scary zombie flick or an outright gorefest need look elsewhere. Zombie Wars is something different, more of an action-oriented flick set in a horror movie environment with a surprisingly coherent narrative – more coherent than many of Prior’s past films – and even a smidgen of depth to its story.
It’s also got a heavy dose of machismo flowing through it. This is the kind of movie where a character has to say something that’s supposed to sound witty before they can kill a zombie. For example, one of our heroes rips a zombie’s arm off and then smacks the hell out of the zombie with its own severed arm but not before saying to it, “Need a hand?” That the film doesn’t try to be a comedy yet doesn’t take itself too seriously makes the glossy yet junky production values and minor plot quibbles all the more palpable. This is, plain and simply, a fun little piece of pulp action horror – a modern day drive-in movie, breezy and cheesy, but done so with an unmistakable enthusiasm.
I think Zombie Wars may have also have set a record number of gun shots to the head. I counted approximately 60 head shots and that was in addition to the various other means by which zombies got decapitated. There were a few moments here and there where I forgot I was watching a movie and thought I was playing an Action Max version of House of the Dead.
3 out of 5
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