Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Undead or Alive

2008, Dir. Glasgow Phillips

In the wake of the highly successful (and lucrative) Shaun of the Dead, it appears that the 'zombedy' has become a subgenre in its own right. And, as is so often the case, the majority of available product is pretty dreadful - and not in a good, horror-related way.

Having said that, this straight-to-DVD movie is a rarity, in that it's actually pretty damned good, mixing elements of Romero zombie flicks with those of traditional westerns and absurdist comedy.

As the movie begins, we're informed via captions that the Native-American guerrilla leader Geronimo, prior to his death at the hands of the US cavalry, just happened to lay down a curse upon a certain area of the New Frontier - a curse that would cause the afflicted to hunger after the flesh of their fellows. Pretty grim stuff. Then the captions go on to inform us that the bit where we have to read these captions is nearly over, and the tone of the movie is irrevocably set. Two lads on the lam team up with a Native-American stunna as they attempt to escape a posse of local lawmen while simultaneously chasing down the regiment responsible for the death of Geronimo, who happens to be the uncle of the stunna. Still with me? Now throw some zombies into the mix, and stand back.

The premise doesn't sound especially promising, but there's a lot here to like: the humour, while fairly broad, is surprisingly low-key for a US production, and - brace yourselves - is actually quite funny. There's also fair attention paid to historical accuracy (often in the smallest of details), some decent acting, dialogue and characterisation, plenty of blood for the gorehounds, and even some genuine moments of creepy tension and a couple of scares. And - just in case you needed more - there's some extremely nice cinematography (including a couple of those brilliant sunset shots that are par the course for any decent western), plus eye-candy in the form of James Denton (from Desperate Housewives) for the ladies and Navi Rawal for the lads.

Sure, there are a couple of plot holes you could ride a lynchin' party through, and - as happens in even the best Romero flicks - the zombies seem to alter the 'rules' of their existence to facilitate the needs of the plot/action. But, all in all, this is a really good, funny, gory, enjoyably silly zombedy.

A word of warning, though: as I've suggested, this movie defies quite a few expectations, and this carries right on through to the very end of the movie. I'll say no more. You'll see what I mean. Enjoy!

(Originally posted to HorrorScope, 2008)

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