Zombie Bloodbath 2: Rage of the Undead (1994) -˝
Most of the time, when people learn and grow as filmmakers, it translates into them turning out better movies. But for some strange reason, that’s not necessarily the case with Todd Sheets. Sheets looks to have picked up a tremendous amount of technical know-how in the year between the release of Zombie Bloodbath and its first sequel; Zombie Bloodbath 2: Rage of the Undead is a much more polished and sophisticated work, displaying considerable advances in direction, cinematography, editing, special effects, and sound recording, utilizing a far larger cast and making an honest attempt to tell some kind of story. However, it would seem that none of these improvements can compensate for Sheets’s real problem, which is a fundamental lack of talent. The fast edits, blurry slow motion, odd camera angles, near-subliminal computer animation clips, and random toggling between color and monochrome accomplish nothing but to give Zombie Bloodbath 2 the look of a shoddy Nine Inch Nails video. The huge cast means only that Sheets has to find ways to incorporate and bring together even more initially unrelated subplots. And most of all, the increased emphasis on character and dialogue simply makes it that much clearer that Sheets hasn’t got a clue how to write either one convincingly, while simultaneously taking time away from the hungry undead who are really intended to be the main attraction. By getting better, Sheets has paradoxically found a way to become even worse.
What’s more, the initial setup seems to point to a different sort of movie altogether, and I personally would much rather have watched that unmade other movie instead. In 1945, at a farm outside of Topeka, Kansas, a couple of hoodlums attack the owners of the place in their barn— they’ve heard that the farm couple have found gold on their land, and they want to take the money from the mining license for themselves. (Incidentally, kudos to Sheets for at least trying to do period costume in this scene.) What the thugs don’t realize is that their prey are somehow tied into a Satanic cult which uses their barn as its chapel, and no sooner has one of the criminals started cutting off Farm Lady’s fingers in an effort to make her or her husband talk than the cultists arrive on the scene in full Black Mass regalia. They overwhelm and kill the two criminals, with the leader meeting the grislier fate by far. He gets crucified and eviscerated, and when that’s over with, the cultists sew a burlap sack to his face, stuff his empty thoracic and abdominal cavities with straw, and then post him as a scarecrow in the farmer’s field.
About 50 years later, not far away, three convicts— Slade (Byron Nichodemus, from The Shivers, who would return for Zombie Bloodbath 3: Zombie Armageddon some years later), Rex (Rod Will, also of The Shivers, and from Violent New Breed as well), and Billy (Mark Glover, from Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons)— break out of the state penitentiary. Billy isn’t such a bad guy in the grand scheme of things (he was in on a manslaughter charge related to an accident he had while driving drunk, and he has been so tortured by remorse ever since that he has made a number of attempts to take his own life), but the other two are both unrepentant rapist/murderers, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to run afoul of them on their flight from the prison. For that matter, I don’t really think Special Agent Connor (Harry Rose), the federal shit-kicker the warden calls in to recapture the fugitives, is going to be of much help in the end. Meanwhile, a van-load of 20-some-year-old shitheads has broken down just a few miles away from both the prison and the Satanic farm (which is evidently now under new management). They happen to go to the farmhouse in search of assistance just as Slade and Rex, who have finished killing the couple who currently own the place, are dragging their victims’ kids from their bedrooms to complete the set. This leaves the criminals outnumbered by about two to one, but Slade and Rex are still the ones with the knives, and they’re able to intimidate everyone sufficiently to make them cooperate while Billy ties them all up. So basically, everybody’s a hostage now.
And speaking of hostages, while that’s going on down at the farm, a couple of inbred psychos named J.B. (Violent New Breed’s Jerry Angell, returning from Zombie Bloodbath as a different character with an even sillier moustache) and Shiner (Matt Walsh, from Zombie Cop and Midnight 2, who also wrote Prison of the Dead and The Brotherhood) are dropping in to rob the 42nd Street Deli in downtown Topeka. When Midnight the clerk (Jennifer Geigel, of Dead Things and Zombie Bloodbath), her friend from high school, and the aging hippy janitor try to stop them, J.B. and Shiner decide that it might be more fun to lock the front door to the deli and torture their three captives instead. Midnight’s friend ends up dead pretty quickly (J.B. shoots her in the crotch with his Mac-10 after a long lead-up suggesting that he intends merely to rape her), and the janitor is knocked out, tied up, and force-fed fragments of a broken bottle when he tries to play hero. The two sickos will spend the rest of the evening thinking up new ways to terrorize Midnight— at least until the hitherto-absent zombies show up.
Now by this point, I’m sure you’re wondering just how in the hell the “Rage of the Undead” fits into all this. Well, one of the reasons Slade, Rex, and Billy raided the farmhouse was so that they could get themselves some clothes for which to exchange their prison coveralls. Nothing in the house fits Billy, and he makes the mistake of going out back to strip the oversized jacket from the scarecrow in the cornfield. This, as you’ve probably guessed, is the scarecrow that was converted from the slain robber 50 years ago, and when Billy finishes with it, it comes alive, shambles out into a woodland clearing beyond the fields, and intones, “Arise, children of Lucifer!” The logical thing to have happen at this point would be for the cultists who once operated out of the farm to rise from their unhallowed graves (my mind’s eye sees them looking approximately like the Knights Templar in Tombs of the Blind Dead) and go on the hunt for the blood that will restore them fully to life. That’s not what Sheets does, though. Instead, the scarecrow’s summons raises a bunch of standard-issue Romero-style zombies, all of them inexplicably wearing modern street clothes. (We’re obviously not in a proper cemetery, you know! Were the people of Topeka so hard-up in the aftermath of Reaganomics that they had to just dump their dead unceremoniously in an unmarked mass grave outside of town, or something?) From this point on, Zombie Bloodbath 2 plays out much like any other post-Romero zombie movie, although Sheets tries (and mostly fails) to dress it up by giving the zombies a totally inexplicable preference for eating the “worst” person available (murderers and sociopaths if possible, drunk drivers and godless goth girls if not— garden-variety assholes will do in a pinch), and by regularly interrupting the action with annoying and misplaced character-development scenes, which would be a case of too little, too late even if they weren’t so badly written as to make you want to throw things at the screen. In the end, Donna (Moonchild’s Kathleen McSweeney), the de facto leader of the shitheads from the van, finds an abandoned pickup truck which just happens to be carrying a carton of test tubes filled with flesh-eating bacteria (what?!?!), and goes on the offensive against the undead. She exterminates an entire pack of the things (they kill her last remaining companions in exchange, however), but no sooner has she fully processed the fact of her triumph than Jimmy (Dave Miller, yet another member of the Moonchild and Violent New Breed casts), the van-shithead boy she shared a supposedly touching scene with shortly before he succumbed to a zombie bite, shambles into the frame and eats her. The end.
Except really, that isn’t the end at all. The conclusion to the main story is followed by an epilogue which tries without success to tie the zombie uprising in with nuclear power and environmental destruction in addition to the Satanic cult activity which we’ve already seen— and which does so in such a way as to leave no doubt but that Sheets honestly believes in the literal reality of widespread Satanic cults practicing human sacrifice and wielding genuine diabolical magic. Then the epilogue is itself followed by this astounding pre-credits crawl:
Finally, at the end of the credits (and accompanied by a hilariously cranky “NO FRIGGIN’ THANKS” list), Sheets offers “Extra special thanks to Jesus Christ, my savior and salvation. The key to a light that shines forever!” and a disclaimer that “The producers of this feature are NOT, never have, and never will advocate or promote Satan worship, occult activity or any of the hideous crimes they commit. ‘Nuff said.” (All grammatical atrocities above are Sheets’s own.) Taken together, the epilogue, the closing crawl, and the various notations in the end credits essentially invite us to take a butt-sucking, dime-budget horror movie called Zombie Bloodbath 2: Rage of the Undead as a serious sociopolitical and theological manifesto! Alright, Todd. If that’s really what you want…
Let me begin by asking, if you don’t mind, just what in the hell gut-munching zombies raised by black magic could possibly have to do with nuclear contamination, let alone the razing of old-growth forests? Yeah, yeah— there were those two “artful” split-second monochrome shots of the CGI power plant blowing up, but since nothing in the film remotely suggests that the power plant explosion was meant to be taken any more literally than all the other brief shots of computer-animated flotsam that litter Zombie Bloodbath 2, I don’t see much reason to count it as anything more than a random visual afterthought. If there had been something about the zombies drawing power from the fallout and becoming invulnerable, say, or if one of those radio announcers you so love to employ as a poor man’s Greek chorus had said one fucking word about a reactor core meltdown, it would be different. But the subject of radioactivity never comes up in the main body of the film— not even once. As for the “killing our forests” business, none of the characters in this movie so much as chops firewood, for Christ’s sake! “The message is clear,” my ass.
Moving on now to the theological implications of Zombie Bloodbath 2, let’s just say, Mr. Sheets, that Thomas Aquinas you’re not. First of all, I have to ask why the zombies created by Satanic magic would want to climb out of their graves and kick ass in response to people doing evil on land that a devil-cult once considered sacred. Shouldn’t the forces of darkness be thrilled when Slade and his boys show up and start spilling innocent blood on their turf? Secondly, and of greater importance, once the zombies show up, all the characters who aren’t gleefully evil spend a great deal of time talking about prayer and faith and how God will protect them and see them through the crisis. Well maybe you didn’t notice this, Todd, but the zombies win! You want us to read your movie as an affirmative statement of your heartfelt Christian beliefs, but what do you have “Jesus Christ, [your] savior and salvation” doing when innocent souls are trusting in Him to keep them safe from horrific harm at the hands of Satan’s minions? You have him yanking his yutz and not lifting a finger to help, that’s what!!!! Now one might say that in doing so, you’re just being true to life; indeed, if the history of humanity reveals anything at all about the nature of God, it’s that he has an extremely impressive record of yutz-yanking when the chips are down. But somehow I don’t think that’s quite what you were aiming at, was it? It just goes to show that Jesus meshes about as well with gore-horror as he does with death-metal— although I note from the closing credits (music by Enochian Key, Mark of the Beast, etc.) that you don’t let the disconnect stop you on that score, either…
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.