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"A lot of strange things happen up in those hills"
A UK region 2 DVD review of ZOMBIES / WICKED LITTLE THINGS by Gort
 

Zombies, huh? That's the second time this word has been used as a UK substitute title, the first being back in 1978 for George Romero's superlative genre movie Dawn of the Dead. This time it's rebranding for a film that was released on its home turf as Wicked Little Things, a title that I can't decide whether to admire for its understatement or giggle at its silliness. And Dawn of the Dead it ain't. Zombies (let's go with the UK release title for now) is one of those modern horror movies that recycles material from its older brethren in the hope that it's own twist on the material will be enough to carry it through fan cynicism. Hmmm.

The twist in question is that the zombies are small children, the victims of a mining disaster that occured shortly after the turn of the century. Having economically outlined the incident during the opening credits, the film hops forward to present day and introduces us to single mum Karen Tunny, who is driving her two daughters – the innocent young Emma and the older but petulant Sarah – up to the house they have inherited from her recently deceased husband, one that is located in this very mining district. They're surprised by how run-down the building is. Oddly enough, we're not. They're concerned that the dark splodge on the front door may be blood. We know for a fact it is. Before I wander too far down the road of cynical sarcasm, I should say that these early scenes are rather well handled and the initial exploration of the house is creepily effective. Indeed, Emil Topuzov's atmospheric, occasionally striking lighting camerawork is one of the film's strengths. Now where was I?

Sulky Sarah mellows a bit when she hooks up with a group of local stock horror movie teens in the shape of would-be jock Sean, fun-loving Lisa and nice guy Tim, while mum stumbles across the comically sinister Aaron Hanks, a holed-in-the-woods oddball who you just know is going to step in and save them when the going gets desperate. Emma, meanwhile, claims she's found a new friend named Mary, one who wants to come round and play and who leads her on a mother-worrying dance to the entrance of an old disused mine. THE old disused mine. Hang on a minute, wasn't Mary the name of that girl who became trapped in that narrow tunnel when the charges blew back in 1913? Uh-oh.

Until this point the solid handling has helped combat the nagging sense of déjà-vu, but from here on in the old chestnuts start to pile up with brow-beating frequency. Cars refuse to start and get stuck in the mud when a quick getaway is needed; a torch cuts out at a crucial moment and flicks on only long enough to trigger a scare; a cold-hearted capitalist is introduced to provide a more worthy target for the zombies' wrath and for the audience to cheer the demise of; zombies run when they're chasing but shuffle slowly when they get near; and a box of newspaper clippings allows Karen to go wide-eyed and mutter "oh my God" at what they reveal. A do-me-a-favour centrepiece comes when Sarah and her new buddies park their car in the woods and it comes under assault from the zombies, a sequence whose non-stop parade of hoary horror clichés plays almost like parody.

The concept of zombie children is a sound enough one, given that that precious few films have exploited the fact that a good many children are monsters by nature. The problem here is that they never represent an even remotely convincing threat, coming across less as zombie kids than kids playing at being zombies, Dickensian urchins who have come last in a face-painting competition in which the only supplied colours were white and black. There's simply nothing supernatural about this bunch – they're just kids, dammit, and black contact lenses and a couple of special effects to suggest they have killing strength cuts no ice.

Zombies starts well enough, but apart from its central conceit it plays strictly to formula, and well-worn formula at that. It looks and sounds good and is well enough made, but there's little here that genre fans won't have seen many times before. And if you enjoy ticking off borrowed scenes and ideas, The Fog, Night of the Living Dead and the Resident Evil games should get you started.

sound and vision

I might have issues with the film but I've none with the transfer. Framed 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, the picture quality is consistently impressive, being crisply detailed without obvious enhancement, the well balanced contrast and solid black levels maintaining their integrity even when things get dark, and without loss of shadow detail.

The 5.1 sound mix is of similar quality, boasting clear frontal separation and precise and effective use of the surrounds. A very good dynamic range sends the bass notes rumbling through the sub-woofer. Nice job.

extra features

Wicked Little Zombies (17:23)
17 minutes of happy memories and back-slapping from key members of the cast and crew, plus the odd bit of behind-the-scenes footage and some background on the genesis of the production. The editor identifies that car-in-the-woods scene as a highlight of the movie. Ah...

summary

Well, it has a few fans and is nicely shot and edited, but having come up with an interesting take on this particular horror sub-genre, Zombies grafts it onto a string of too-familiar genre situations and clichés, and they never convinced me for a second that these monsters were anything more than kids in pale make-up. But if it works for you then you should be happy enough with both the picture and sound quality of Momentum's DVD. Just don't go expecting much from the extras.

Zombies
Wicked Little Things

USA 2006.
90 mins
director
J.S. Cardone
starring
Lori Heuring
Scout Taylor-Compton
Chloe Moretz
Geoffrey Lewis
Ben Cross

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
English
subtitles
English for the hearing impaired
extras
Wicked Little Zombies featurette
distributor
Momentum
release date
21 July 2008
review posted
26 July 2008

See all of Gort's reviews