Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Invasion of the Undead (2015)

Directed by:
Torey Haas

Pretty, unemployed, recent college grad Allison Hillstead (Marie Barker) moves into an inherited family mansion three miles out in the country. Right after she sets up a promising interview about an assistant manager position for later in the day, wouldn't you know it, but a zombie turns up in her bathroom to ruin her day. Wilderness scout Ashley (Josie Levy) shows up at her front door soon after with a possible solution to Allison's problem when she whips out a business card for Desmond & Jake, who run the town's premiere paranormal investigation / extermination service and promise to eliminate all manner of monster for a fee. Desmond (Greg Garrison), an immature, arrogant, skirt-chasing, smart ass clerk at a video store, and Jake (Dylan Schettina), a geeky, level-headed grocery stocker and the real brains behind / backbone of the operation, finally manage to sneak out of work long enough to go Allison's armed with an arsenal of special zombie killing tools. Guns? No. Grenades? Nope. Chainsaws? No sir, none of those either. How about ordinary table salt, which somehow counteracts the living dead's negative life force and shrivels them up like slugs. They're also in possession of an ancient trident that needs to be kept in its ceremonial wrappings in order to hold its own charge.

Jake soon determines they're not just dealing with run-of-the-mill zombies, but the undead servants of a primordial demon called Z'athax, aka “The Pale King,” who's been causing problems ever since the Dark Ages. Allison locates a diary belonging to her Great Great Uncle Drake (Andrew Puckett), a member of an organization called B.O.N.E.S., an acronym for the Brotherhood of Necromancers and Evil Sorcerers. During the early 1900s, the organization offered up their talents to the highest bidder and Allison's uncle's specialty was voodoo. Evil Uncle Drake planned on using his own son as a human sacrifice to open up a gateway to hell in an effort to gain limitless power, but his wife (Candace Mabry) managed to sneak the boy out of the house and ended up becoming a sacrifice herself. Now the home and nearby woods are not only haunted by red-eyed demon Drake (Nathan DeRussy) and his legion of demonically-possessed followers, but also some zombie slaves residing in the basement of the home.

This inaugural feature from MonsterBuster Entertainment is a very low-budget effort (17,000 dollars; part of which was raised via a IndieGoGo campaign) but shows plenty of promise and is surprisingly enjoyable as a whole. Though characters, some plot points and the very self-aware, meta attitude to whole thing are all overly-familiar these days, the unknown cast (particularly the male lead) is good enough to really sell the material and there's lots of surprisingly sharp and often amusing dialogue (“Alright everyone, look alive!”). Films centered around wisecracking protagonists who spout snappy witticisms nearly the entire time can quickly grow tiresome, but the characters here are grounded in reality just enough to keep them on the good side of annoying. Balance is achieved not only by the actors, but by the script, which has some heart and provides the lead characters with enough humanistic qualities to keep them feeling like real people worth rooting for.

The director is not only ambitious enough to create his own fantasy mythology behind the events (shown via flashback) instead of resting on over-worked living dead origins, but he also presents the story in a rather striking comic book style. Invasion is downright gaudy in regards to its color schemes and special effects but wonderfully, almost exquisitely, so. Once the supernatural events begin, the movie is awash in bold, somewhat trippy blue, red, green and purple lighting. This is also a rare instance where cheap digital effects actually work in the film's favor as it's already lighthearted and cartoon-like to begin with. The addition of some stop motion fx at the finale are also very welcome and add personality and charm. Not only that, but the whole thing looks pretty good, too, especially considering the shooting format and budget. The cinematography from Nick Lauinger and the lighting schemes are impressive and often highly imaginative.

Clear affection for genre films is evident throughout, but not in a way that's obtrusive to the film's own original story nor in a way that threatens to turn this into a throwback / homage film. Issues of Fangoria and Tales from the Crypt are seen and, during one amusing scene, the voodoo zombies (who can talk, reason and eventually are even won over by our heroes) do a complete 180 of expected zombie behavior by actually helping the protagonists board up the house to keep the other zombies out, all set to music clearly in tribute to Night of the Living Dead (1968). This may just be a low-budget B movie, but it's an enthusiastic and surprisingly fun one if you enjoy these kind of films and I hope it can find an appreciative audience.


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