It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.
Thursday night was Action Zombie Night! No comedy, no micro-budgets, just dedicated action with serious (as can be expected) takes on the undead. And our choices turned out to be a major hit and a major miss. Let’s take a look at the bad news first.
Gallowwalkers first came to our attention in 2005 when it was called The Wretched and Chow Yun-fat was set to play the lead zombie bounty hunter. Unfortunately, that fell through, and instead, Wesley Snipes took on the lead role. Normally, having Wesley Snipes as your lead in an action-packed zombie western would seem like a no-brainer (no zombie pun intended), but life would intervene.
In 2006, Snipes was indicted for tax evasion and he responded by declaring himself “a non-resident alien” of the United States, whatever that means. Facing an arrest warrant on the charges, the shooting of this film in Namibia, Africa was problematic, to say the least. In December, Snipes returned to the US and was arrested. In February 2008 he was found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns and was sentenced to three years in prison. He began his sentence on December 9, 2010 and was released on April 2, 2013.
Due to all of this trouble, the film went through hell trying to get finished, but before Snipes went to prison, the film was done. However, it didn’t get any sort of screening until 2012 and was finally released on home video in 2013.
While I appreciate Snipes’ work ethic, getting this film finished before he went up the river, sometimes you’ve just got to cut bait.
Gallowwalkers centers on Snipes as Aman (clever name). A few years earlier his lover had been raped and killed, so he murdered everyone involved – and everyone else in the prison in which they were being held – but was mortally wounded as he escaped. His mother, who happened to be part of a religious order of nuns who guard the gateway to Hell, sacrificed her life to the devil (?) to save his life. And the devil being the devil, there was a caveat. Aman would be brought back to life, but so would everyone he killed.
So the people who raped and killed the love of his life were also resurrected as sort-of zombies who, for some reason, skin people and wear their flesh as their own bodies decay.
There are a lot of great ideas in this film. It was written by Andrew Goth and Joanne Reay, and directed by Goth. Reay, who also produced the film, organized having the film shot in Namibia thanks to the low costs, a decent infrastructure for filmmaking, and the fact that they wouldn’t have to meet union pay requirements.
Not sure I’m down with that.
On the plus side, Namibia is beautiful and the gorgeous cinematography was effortless.
Following the story of this film, however, is not effortless.
The plot is jumbled and it feels at times as though entire scenes are missing that would explain motivations, who characters are, and just what the hell is going on. Snipes’ voiceover is forced and melodramatic, while his performance is made up mostly by striking poses and then hitting or shooting someone. Despite having beautiful scenery to shoot against, the majority of the film is boring and uninspired.
And the dialogue.
Part of me thinks that if we were watching this in Italian and reading the dialogue in subtitles, it might not be all that bad. But there’s just no way for the actors to speak these words and sound believable. It’s just extremely poorly written and then cut together with no sense of how to tell a story.
If you’re a Snipes completist, Gallowwalkers might be worth checking out, but for everyone else, this is a waste of 90 minutes. It makes me sad typing that. With all the time and effort spent making sure that this movie was even completed, the fact that it’s such a misfire is painful. There’s a great idea and a good movie in there somewhere; the talent involved just couldn’t bring it to the screen.
I wonder if they’ve considered adapting it for comics?
Luckily, our second film of the night was a home run.
Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz is the third film in the Outpost series and takes us back to WWII and the origins of the whole Nazi Zombie experiment. If you’re not familiar with Outpost, the first film, Outpost (2007), featured Ray Stevenson and Michael Smiley as mercenaries who stumble on an abandoned Nazi bunker with crazy zombie sci-fi tech. It’s pretty freaking awesome. Outpost: Black Sun (2012) follows a modern-day Nazi-hunter as she discovers the horrors of the crazy zombie sci-fi tech. Both films are big stupid fun as we watch our heroes slaughter Nazis.
And who doesn’t enjoy slaughtering Nazis?
I will admit that my love of watching Nazis get killed may be coloring my enjoyment and recommendation of this film, but so what?
In this film, a group of Russian Special Forces, the Red Guard, are slaughtering Nazis behind enemy lines when their luck finally runs out and most of the squad are murdered by fucking bastard Nazis. The Russian leader, Dolokhov (Bryan Larkin) and another soldier, Fyodor (Iván Kamarás) are taken prisoner and Fyodor is experimented on, becoming an ultra-violent super-soldier (sort of). There’s not a lot to the story; they’re captured, they’re experimented on, they escape and kill a shit-ton of Nazis and Nazi-Zombies.
Fyodor sacrifices himself so Dolokhov can escape, and then the movie is over.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz is just under 90 minutes and there’s never a dull moment. This isn’t an existential film about life and death, although it does get serious about how war is hell, and there’s not a lot of subtext about disease, capitalism, or any of the usual suspects. This is a film about how some people are made for war and some aren’t. And those who aren’t are wood for the chipper.
Scottish actor Bryan Larkin is fantastic as Dolokhov. He’s a hulking brute with a strain of classic Russian pragmatic intellect. Michael McKell is pitch-perfect as Nazi scientist Strasser, who finds something to admire in Dolokhov’s spirit.
The film is directed by Kieran Parker, who produced the first two films in the series, and nails the claustrophobic nature of the underground setting while effectively orchestrating some brutal on-screen violence.
So essentially, if you like zombies and you hate Nazis, this is the film for you. Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz is easily the best film of the marathon so far.