EZMM 2023 Day 6.1: Valley of the Dead (2020)

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.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers!

Well, this is something you don’t see every day with zombie films. The 2020 Spanish zombie film, Valley of the Dead, is based on the novel Noche de Difuntos Del 38 by Manuel Martin Ferraras, adapted by Jaime Marques and Cristian Conti, and directed by Alberto de Toro and Javier Ruiz Caldera. And yes, like the film, the novel is about a zombie outbreak during the Spanish Civil War. Well, it was made in 2020, but thanks to Covid, the film didn’t get an actual release until March of 2022.

The film opens in 1938 as a troop of Nazis roll into a small village during a wedding. Everyone from town is there, making it the perfect opportunity to murder the entire population. Then, after donning gas masks, the Nazis toss smoke grenades at the bodies, filling the area with blue smoke.

It’s a grim opening, but Nazis are gonna Nazi. From this point on, despite the constant threat of zombification and the military, the film is more light-hearted and fun than I expected.  

Cut to Captain Jan Lozano (Miki Esparbé) standing in front of a firing squad. He’s a Nationalist (fascist) soldier fighting for Franco but is about to be killed because he’s too lenient on his soldiers and may be sympathetic to the Republican cause. (For more info about the Spanish Civil War check out this link) His high-ranking uncle saves him from the firing squad but sends him on a secret mission that may just as well be suicide. Lozano picks up a driver from a prison cell, Private Decruz (Manel Llunell), a lovable virgin with a knack for fixing engines, and away they go into the Spanish countryside.

After taking a shortcut, they end up behind the electrified barb wire fence of a Nazi/Nationalist zombie experiment training ground with a group of Republican fighters who captured them. Before too long they encounter another couple of Nationalist soldiers and both sides have to team up to survive the zombie onslaught until they can reach the secret base and try to find a cure or die trying to stop the plague of monsters.

We get some inventive plotting and by the time we’re finished we’ve got a few nods to other films – including a character claiming that “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth” is a folk saying in his village – and the climax gives just about everyone an opportunity to play the hero in one way or another, whether they survive or not.

That’s pretty much it. The film is straight forward, the characters are diverse and entertaining, and the zombies are creepy, but not too gory. The “opposing sides having to work together” formula is cliché but effective, given that each character gets at least a little bit of attention in order to distinguish themselves and build some empathy with the viewers. Particularly, Aura Garrido as Matacuras, or Priest Killer, Alvaro Cervantes as former motorcycle racer Mecha, and Maria Botto as the bad-ass shotgun toting nun Sor Flor.

There is a hint that the Russians are also working on a zombification weapon and the ending has a post-credit scene implying that the filmmakers could branch out and do a sequel if Valley of the Dead is successful enough on Netflix.

I’d watch it.

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