I was probably the first critic as such to watch this, landing one of the first screener tapes ever done around the Xmas 2002 holidays and having helped these guys debut much of the poster art, the trailers and stills from the film throughout 2001 & 2002 when no-one else had even heard of it. I’m eager to help out local talent, especially those working in genre material as this country so rarely produces anything good in the field.
In fact horror wise all the films we produce have been pretty shit (“Razorback” for example), but we have made three of the best drama/thrillers I can recall. One is the well-known Nicole Kidman/Sam Neill boating film “Dead Calm”; another is Peter Weir’s haunting “Picnic at Hanging Rock”; and the least known but still damn good years on is “Fortress” – not that crap Christopher Lambert sci-fier, but a kidnap/escape thriller about a group of country school kids and their teacher (Rachel Ward) taken hostage in the bush by four masked gunmen.
When I watched “Undead” however I came to two distinct conclusions. One is that the Spierig Bros. who created this low-budget horror/comedy schlock feature show that, given serious money, they could very well become great genre filmmakers. The other is sadly that for all the Net hype and local talk, “Undead” is sadly terrible – and not in a trashily fun way, rather in a boring sense.
This was played as a double with “Cabin Fever” at the local Sydney Film Festival in 2003 after it and the horror fans who sent in reports were all indicating they should’ve done ‘Cabin’ first as it was a paler film. ‘Cabin’ wasn’t great but it was at least a hell of a lot more fun and coherent than “Undead”. In many ways that’s why I’ve held off publishing my review til these many months later when the film finally gets a release, bashing this flick early in the process would’ve helped no-one and possibly damaged a piece of work which I may not like but I must admit show’s a lot of potential behind it.
Lets start with the good stuff and whilst this was made for less than a million dollars, the filmmakers have managed to make it look far more expensive than that. A meteor shower sequence at the start is every bit as splashy and impressive as a similar sequence in the expensive pilot episode of “Smallville” two years ago, and cinematography wise its very stylish and eye-catching. FX do get terrible but that’s expected for the material and lack of money, likewise there’s a lot of blood and gore but its all handled well and with a real tounge-in-cheek style. The humour whilst working at times, misfires quite a bit too by trying (and failing) to satirise old cliches of the genre.
Scare-wise though there’s nothing, no jumps at all really despite many attempts to do so. The film stars out quite well and in fact the first half-hour is well paced and has a good sense of urgency, then things turn almost “Assault on Precinct 13”-ish with our group of heroes surrounded. From here it just crumbles – every second line of dialogue is just “F*ck, lets get out of here, f*ck f*ck”. Likewise with maybe the exception of our heroine (a wide-eyed but easy to sympathise with Felicity Mason), none of the characters stick in the mind including the tri-gun wielding farm guy (Mungo McKay) who seems to have been preparing for this event all his life and mumbles like a 3rd-grader with a death wish.
In the last act though the film turns from simple comedy horror where it at least had a little strength, to a total mess of a sci-fi movie including a giant wall which reaches up to the heavens and aliens (the really cheap kind). The lack of script is a problem but in these type of movies one’s not really needed. However what is required is slaughter and whilst the many dispatches in the film are creative, they aren’t memorable. I can’t recall a single death in this film but when anyone mentions Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” or “Cabin Fever” to me, the likes of the tunnel sequence or the leg shaving scene immediately spring to mind.
I guess I’m the wrong audience for this flick. I have always been a massive horror film and love my schlock – vampires, slasher movies, Lovecraftian monsters, etc. bring ’em on. Oddly though zombie films was the one subset I never really got into (as zombie films go this is still one of the best I’ve seen). Likewise I’m a terrible judge of independent films as I avoid ’em as much as possible, so on both counts this movie wasn’t for me and as such I hated it. Then again whilst I enjoy it, I’m not a major “Evil Dead” fan either and look what happened to its creator there. Like ED, “Undead” does demonstrate that viewers can expect brighter things from the Spierig boys in the future.