Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Assault on zombieville 13
A UK region 2 DVD review of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD by Gort
 

Formula for making a modern day zombie movie.

  1. Invent a biological or chemical method of reanimating the dead and accidentally let it loose. If the military are involved, so much the better.
  1. Have the dead rise on mass and attack the living for food, usually in bedraggled versions of their everyday clothes. Hollowed eyes and dark blood running from the mouth are optional. Speed of zombie movement is a matter of personal preference.
  1. Arrange for a number of survivors to meet up and form a group, some of whom will have been acquainted before things went tits-up. Give them a limited supply of weapons and have them argue about what they should do next.
  1. Pit the group against the zombies in a fight for survival. Some or all of them should be killed by the end. The use of guitar-driven rock music and that Gladiator 45 degree shutter effect to accompany the battles is optional.
  1. Give the film a title that in includes the word "dead" or better still "of the dead."
  1. Er, that's about it really.

It's been noted more than once on this site that the zombie movie has been undergoing something of a revival of late, and some have claimed that that is because it's subtextually superior to other horror sub-genres because it taps into our deep-seated terrors of our own mortality. It's a theory I'd be more willing to buy into if any of these films actually did anything substantial with that notion, but almost all seem to follow the six (oh alright, five) steps above with precious little variance. Many of the genre's more vocal enthusiasts seem to be filmmakers themselves, fans of George Romero's defining trilogy who rather fancy having a go at the same thing. Except that they're not George Romero and appear to have little to add to what Romero has already done rather well thank you, so end up making another variation of the formula above, the same old story but with different faces. If I seem a little tetchy it's because I've seen enough of this latest generation of zombie films to feel like I've been slapped repeatedly round the head with a déjà-vu stick.

Such is certainly the case with this newly released Serbian take on the genre, the optimistically re-titled Apocalypse of the Dead (originally Zone of the Dead, which I guess would also make it 'The Dead Zone'). Here Government scientists have developed a chemical that can reanimate dead tissue, and a big tank of it is being transported by rail through the small town of Pancevo, where local military exercises have helpfully shut down any pesky mobile phone and GPS networks that might help people flee should they get into trouble. A silly altercation at the railway station sends a stray bullet into the toxic tanker, letting the gas loose and immediately reanimating some hungry corpses.

Meanwhile, over at some high security prison or other, veteran FBI agent Mortimer Reyes (Ken Foree) and his old friend and colleague Inspector Dragan Belic (Miodrag Krstovic) meet up with younger and prettier operative Mina Milius (Kristina Klebe). Here they're joined by sour-faced agent Bottin (Vahidin Prelic as in-joke #1 – Agent Savini turns up later) and grumpy driver Petrovic (Zivko Grubor), who are there to help them collect good-looking prisoner 601 (Emilio Roso), a man so suavely dangerous that he's only referred to by his number. They are well under way when their two-vehicle convoy is brought to a halt and the guards who've come along to keep a close eye on prisoner 601 are attacked. A candy bar for anyone who can guess where this happens. The group hold up in an abandoned police station, where they are joined by a meek academic (Steve Agnew) and a bewildered small party led by Jan (Marko Janjic). And oblivious to everyone and waging a one man holy war against the zombies is an escaped military prisoner named – wait for it – Armageddon.

Let's get one thing straight, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with Apocalypse of the Dead, and if zombie movies are your bag and you're not bothered by their rigid adherence to formula then you'll find plenty of familiar snacks to chew on here. You've got military involvement, gory effects, a struggle for survival against mounting odds, zombies that drool blood from the moment they're turned, and someone who instinctively knows that the only way to kill them is to shoot them in the head. We'll ignore the fact that prisoner 601 and Armageddon also do so by snapping their necks.

But to get to the meat of the film, so to speak, you're going to have to cross some very wobbly ground. The first and biggest barrier to full engagement is the decision by first time feature directors Milan Konjevic and Milan Todorovic to shoot their Serbian film in English, presumably to better target the international market. Unfortunately it's a language a fair few of the supporting cast are clearly not comfortable with, and the occasional mismatch of voice and mouth movements transport us back to the golden days of imported Italian giallo. This re-recording of dialogue has also been unevenly employed, with the scene in which Mina collects her prisoner alternating dramatically on a line-by-line basis between clear ADR and fluffier location recording. Of course it's always possible that only the lead actors were wearing mics.

The real problem for this increasingly jaded horror fan is the nature of what follows, a virtual patchwork of done-before elements stapled to a partial remake of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, which itself was a partial remake of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the zombie movie that started it all in the first place. The dialogue is mundane and there's little to get excited about in the performances either, despite the credibility-by-association casting of Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree (also the film's associate producer), who teams up with Serbian actor Miodrag Krstovic to form an action duo who specialise in walking very slowly, the forced lethargy of their ambling suggesting that staying with them at anything close to walking speed was just not the camera operator's forte. What he is able to do is wobble his camera about – there are times here when the post-28 Days Later waggle-cam gets so frantic that it's actually hard to make out what's going on.

The second half still has its moments. Although it may seem obvious to us that the laid out bodies that Reyes tiptoes though will burst suddenly into action like a scene from a Resident Evil game, it's still an initially eerie sight, and while the sequence in which an infected party member begs to be killed before he transforms is a partial re-run of a scene from Dawn of the Dead, it's still rather well handled. But far too much has been borrowed from previous genre works, right down to a limp variation on Dawn's famous tagline, regurgitated here as "When hell is flowing over, the dead will rise forever." And with so much generic recycling to contend with, it's the dopier moments that tend to stay with you, from the supposedly impassable gate that inadvertently slips open when shaken or bumped into, to the idiotic sideways leap taken by Prisoner 601 to shoot at zombies who would have been far easier to hit had he just stood still and fired from where he was previously standing.

sound and vision

Bloody hell, who graded this? OK, it's 1.85:1, it's anamorphic and it's clean and reasonably sharp. But what the hell is going on with the contrast? For those of you who've had no dealings with such things, when the main edit of a film is complete, the image is adjusted on a shot-by-shot basis to ensure a continuity of colour balance, contrast and brightness in each scene. Nowadays this is done digitally through a process commonly known as grading, and whoever was responsible for the grading on Apocalypse of the Dead, or at least the transfer on this DVD, needs to be firmly and repeatedly slapped. The problem is starkly illustrated in an early scene in which the Professor is informed that he's just missed his train. Initially the image is washed out, the colours faded and the black levels rendered as grey, then there's a sudden and dramatic leap in contrast harshness, then three shots later the picture is back to its faded norm. Subsequent hops aren't quite as dramatic, but an early scene in the abandoned cop shop sees the contrast vary with almost every shot, not helped by the dinginess of much of the night-time footage and the usual games played with colour tinting.

No such issues with the soundtrack, fortunately, save for the above-mentioned ADR distractions. You can choose between Dolby 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround – both are clear and boast a decent dynamic range, though save for the odd zombie sound effect and musical note being thrown to the back, the surround track is not that different to the stereo.

extra features

Nothing. Now there's a shame.

summary

Another day, another zombie movie that brings little to the genre but fond memories of earlier films. It's well made enough to keep uncritical devotees reasonably happy, but if you're looking for signs that the genre is actually starting to develop in new directions then you've come to the wrong place. It matters little, as those transfer issues make it hard to recommend Metrodome's DVD even to those with a fondness for all things zombie.

Apocalypse of the Dead
Zone of the Dead

South Serbia / Italy / Spain 2009
89 mins
directors
Milan Konjevic
Milan Todorovic
starring
Ken Foree
Kristina Klebe

Emilio Roso

Miodrag Krstovic
Vukota Brajovic
Steve Agnew

Disc details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
none
distributor
Metrodome
release date
1 March 2010
review posted
5 March 2010

See all of Gort's reviews