Zombie Bloodbath (1993) -*½
When we were teenagers, my brother, some friends of mine, and I used to make little movies. They were unambitious affairs— shot on 8mm videotape, edited in-camera, ranging in length from about fifteen minutes down to maybe 30 seconds, and generally extemporized from only the vaguest of pre-planned plots, to which the finished product often bore little resemblance. Most of them were also simply atrocious, and the kindest thing I can think of to say about them today is that the best of the lot possess a certain oafish charm, and a few contain the kernel of a good idea which we lacked the experience, resources, or talent to exploit fully. Fortunately, in most cases, the only extant copies of these films lie forgotten in a closet at my parents’ house, and neither I nor my accomplices need ever fear the embarrassment of Maryland Plunger Massacre or Blah: A Short Subject in Very Good Taste being seen by the world at large. Todd Sheets isn’t so lucky. Not only have most of his 30-some open-mike-night horror movies seen release, he goes so far as to sell them himself over the internet.
Sheets is a youngish micro-budget diehard from Kansas City, Missouri. From a humble beginning in 1985, when he made the first of his four Blood of the Undead shorts, he has fought his way up to a humble present, and seems poised to soldier on into a humble future— which is not to say that his career has been wholly devoid of progress. By the turn of the 90’s, he had graduated from ineptly staged shorts to ineptly staged features, and within a couple more years, he had even made his own small contribution to the ongoing airborne toxic event that we know and tolerate as Tempe Video. Whatever else you may think, you simply have to admire the man’s persistence and enthusiasm. But if we may judge on the basis of Zombie Bloodbath, persistence and enthusiasm are the only admirable traits Sheets possesses as a filmmaker.
On second thought, if you admire a good Bruno Mattei/Claudio Fragasso impersonation, then maybe Sheets is your man; Zombie Bloodbath begins with a scenario much beloved of those two grandmasters of utter shit. Somewhere outside Kansas City, a federally operated nuclear research reactor is about to melt down. Now if such a thing were to happen down the street from your house, the result would be a big-ass explosion and a whole lot of death, both instantaneous and lingering, but evidently that’s not how they do things in Kansas City. In Kansas City, reactor-core meltdowns have the far more entertaining effect of turning everybody working in the building at the time into flesh-eating zombies.
A couple years later, the reactor complex has been razed and its extensive network of underground tunnels sealed off. And because land is in such short supply out on the Great Plains (ouch… I think I just pulled a muscle rolling my eyes at that one), there’s now a nice, new, expensive suburban housing development sitting right on top of those sealed-up tunnels full of sealed-up zombies. It is in this newly constructed neighborhood that we will find the three groups of people about whom Sheets will try without success to make us care. First is the Talbott family— Larry (Violent New Breed’s Jerry Angell— and by the way, that extra half-star I gave Zombie Bloodbath is due almost entirely to this guy’s bitchin’ mullet-and-moustache ensemble), Gwen (Cathy Metz, of Moonchild and Bimbos in Time), Joey (Chris Harris), and Beth (Cheryl Metz, from Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons). Joey, like Sheets himself, makes camcorder horror movies as a hobby, and it is while he is passing an afternoon thusly that we are introduced to him and his friend, Mike Walsh (Auggi Alvarez, who also turned up later in the casts of Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons and Moonchild). Mike has only just moved to town, having come from Arizona with his parents and younger brother. Finally, there are a pair of hypothetically vicious (not so you’d notice from the fight choreography…) girl gangs, whom I shall refer to collectively for simplicity’s sake as the Heavy Metal Heifers. While the two families will account between them for the bulk of our core characters, the Heavy Metal Heifers are in truth little more than a plot device.
As for what connection could exist between any of these groups of thoroughly uninteresting human beings and the atomic zombies lurking in secret under their basements and backyards, that all comes about when Joey, Mike, and Beth go filming in what used to be the main access passage to the reactor complex’s infrastructure. We’ll have to take the kids’ word for this, because Sheets didn’t have anywhere near the budget to pull it off, but Mike and Beth fall through a weak section of the tunnel floor into the catacombs below. Joey’s parents are no help at all, but Mike’s father, Ralph (Frank Dunlay), is ex-military, and he has the necessary know-how and equipment to get the stranded kids back to safety on the surface (saving Sheets the expense of having to hire an off-duty cop while he’s at it…). Then that night, a rumble between the two factions of the Heavy Metal Heifers ends with several of their number dead, and the leader of the triumphant gang has the bright idea to dump the bodies down that hole Joey’s friends made. Nevermind that the Heavy Metal Heifers should have no way of knowing said hole even exists! In any case, I can only assume that it is the scent of these fresh corpses that lures the living dead out of their subterranean prison and into the streets of Kansas City.
Most of the movie from here on out is just one overlong re-creation of Night of the Living Dead’s Zombie Barbecue scene after another, many of them involving characters we’ve never seen before, and won’t be seeing again even in zombie form. Meanwhile, what we may scoffingly term the main plot concerns the efforts of Joey, Mike, and their families to escape from their besieged houses and find a way to stop the invasion of the living dead. They are assisted in the latter aim by a woman named Daria Trumillio (Kasey Rausch), who used to work in the reactor complex, and who was apparently the sole survivor of the zombie-spawning meltdown. Consequently, she not only knows where the zombies came from and how they were created, but is further able to provide the astonishing and evidently significant detail that the reactor had been built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground! There’s a small matter that our heroes seem not to have considered, though: what the hell good will it do to reseal the underground ruins when there are hundreds if not thousands of zombies already running free upstairs?
Zombie Bloodbath is a catastrophe on just about every level, and what’s worse, it’s primarily a boring catastrophe. The sole motivating idea here appears to be “Dude! Check out this gnarly gore effect I came up with!” and while the gut-munching is indeed fairly well realized for the amount of money that was spent on it, it has no impact because Sheets treats it not as a means to an end, but as an end unto itself. It doesn’t help, either, that most of the major gore set-pieces follow exactly the same template: human fights zombies until he or she is overwhelmed; human is dragged screaming to the ground; zombies pull out human’s intestines and play with them. In addition, Sheets likes his gore effects so much that he has a counterproductive tendency to hold his camera on them long enough for us to spot exactly how they were created, completely spoiling what little effect they might have achieved.
Those decent but mishandled gore effects are the only thing this movie has going for it, too. Zombie Bloodbath is graced, if you can call it that, by some of the most dreadfully inane dialogue I’ve ever heard, and its script generally bears only the dimmest resemblance to a story as that term is generally understood. Stuff happens and people do things, but there is little indication of a reason behind any of it. Then, inevitably, there are the usual random outbursts of stupidity that so often fatally mar cheap horror movies. The biggest, of course, is Zombie Bloodbath’s built-on-a-bad-place double whammy. I mean, it was already pushing it to have an affluent suburb built on the ruins of a melted-down nuclear reactor— having the reactor sit atop a cursed Indian burial ground too is just beyond the pale. Nor is this the only case of Sheets and co-scripter Roger Williams writing with their heads up their asses. We are repeatedly asked to swallow scenes in which whole mobs of the undead somehow sneak up and pounce on characters who are standing totally out in the open, dozens of yards away from the nearest piece of cover that could conceal an ambush. There is no defensible explanation for how Daria knows all of the things she does about the origins of the zombie awakening. And in general, it’s absolutely inexcusable how many of the tattered scraps of story here the viewer has to piece together retroactively, usually because Sheets simply did not have the means to film what he had written, yet insisted upon forging ahead and filming it anyway. For example, if your movie calls for a horde of zombies to spew forth from a hole in the earth, you’d better be damn sure you’ve got a hole handy for the big spewing scene! As it is, the zombies just kind of appear from behind a big pile of sand, and it isn’t until Daria shows up most of an hour later that we understand just what we were supposed to have been looking at.
Finally, Zombie Bloodbath shamelessly displays what may be the most distinctive hallmark of the micro-budget exploitation film— casting so inappropriate that it might justly be called “delusional.” Look at the Talbott family, for instance. It’s not too big a shock to see the role of the teenaged Joey being filled by someone who is at least 25, but it’s something else altogether when Larry shows up, and he’s played by a man not detectably older than his “son!” Then it gets even worse, as we get a look at the authentically 50-ish Frank Dunlay in the part of Ralph Walsh. Since Sheets managed to con one middle-aged guy into working for him, it becomes utterly baffling that he would be satisfied to have Jerry Angell play a character nearly twice his apparent age. And Sheets still isn’t through thumbing his nose at the orderly passage of years, for when he introduces Daria, the last of the major characters to make her appearance, he gives us a teenage girl in the role of a woman who is supposed to have worked at a secret government research facility for more than a decade!!!! Like everything else about Zombie Bloodbath, it’s just plain wrong.
Because you can never have too many putrescent corpses shambling about chewing on people, the B-Masters Cabal has decided to join Cold Fusion Video in dedicating the month of October to zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Click the banner below to drop in on Undead Central.
And click here to read a rebuttal from Todd Sheets himself.