Undead (2003)

Saying that Undead is trying to have its cake and eat it too is an apt way of describing it. Here is a low-budget zombie film that tries to serious, satire, horror, comedy, sci-fi, zombie and mystery, while never quite succeeding on any of these levels. Oh, there are times when some of these genres get realized, but others when I found myself wondering exactly what Undead was supposed to be doing with my time.

The film opens up with a poorly created CGI explosion in space which sends meteorites hurdling towards Earth. They land, often hitting random people who end up with holes through the middle of their gut. These people become zombies; these are your typical, slow-moving and brain-eating zombies. There are also beams of light occasionally coming down from the sky, first sucking up things like grasshoppers, for some, unexplained reason, and eventually getting to people. One character reckons that aliens are behind everything, while everyone else wagers him mad. I agreed with them, because it would have been funnier if the prophetic character turned out to be wrong for once, keeping with Undead‘s theme of often trying to make fun of standard zombie movie clich├ęs.

Our lead is Rene (Felicity Mason), a former beauty pageant winner. She is trying to leave the small town of Berkeley to go stay with her grandmother, but, as you can expect, she’ll never get there. The car she’s riding in gets stopped, and her driver turned into a zombie. She runs away, finding a cabin in the woods owned by Clint Eastwood knockoff Marion (Mungo McKay). Marion even has the same type of hat and attitude as the stereotypical Eastwood character, except that he is able to perform stunts that would be too silly for an Eastwood character to do. At one point, he hangs from the roof in order to shoot zombies that he could hit just as easily if he were standing, with his only reason seemingly being that it looked fun.

But that’s fine, because it’s entertaining to watch. We eventually end up having a group of characters all fighting to survive and escape the zombie attack, all the while trying to figure out why the attack is happening. The attack is never explained apart from those meteorites, but in a zombie film that is all about the survivors, the way that people become zombies isn’t all that important, is it?

I can confirm that aliens get involved throughout the film, like that one character predicts, although they likely don’t do what you’ll expect them to accomplish. They appear ominously throughout, and then get one big scene near the end. I liked how the film ended, and while it’s obvious that it was done to set-up a sequel, (don’t almost all horror films do that though?), it served as a satisfying conclusion just in case a follow-up is never made.

It ends up being an incredibly cheesy film though, but only at certain points. At other times, it’s serious and wants you to take it that way, forgoing all of its gags and jokes for a darker tone. This is ultimately why Undead isn’t that great, because it never stays consistent or gives us a good idea of what its purpose is, other than to be a throwaway film that you’ll watch once, have a moderately good time, and then never watch again because there are a ton of cheesy horror films just like this out there.

It continues to look low-budget throughout, with really bad CGI in constant use. You know, when your CGI budget is limited to whatever programs you have on your laptop, I would think you’d decide to not use it whenever possible. That’s not what happened here, with more than a couple of scenes with CGI that is unnecessary. There are a couple of random fires added, and then there was also that random grasshopper abduction. I don’t understand the point, but maybe including bad CGI is part of the charm for some people. There’s also a ton of blood, sometimes completely covering the camera. Fine. I guess that comes with the territory too.

Also coming with the territory is bad acting, although, once again, that might be why some people would want to watch this. People are acted almost exactly like characters from other movies, stereotypes with one-note personalities, or so blandly that you can’t even tell if they have a personality. There’s just no depth to anyone, and some of the line delivery — the lines that were supposed to be serious, and as a result, sound as such — made me laugh when the film wasn’t going for humor. A few re-writes probably needed to be done to fix this tone, and maybe would have helped flesh out these characters as well.

Overall, I enjoyed myself enough to say that it wasn’t a complete waste of time, although it’s very clear that there could have been a lot more done with the premise. The parts where Undead tries to be funny usually work, and the over-the-top violence was enjoyable enough, even if there was sometimes a bit too much blood on the camera.

Undead is a film that needed more polish. It needed to fix its constantly flickering tone, and it also needed to have better characters. These films are about the survivors, but when I’m wanting them to be eaten or abducted or somehow removed from the screen, just so that there’s a possibility that someone more interesting will replace them, something went wrong. But it’s still an intermittently entertaining film with a really solid ending, so if you need another B-movie zombie film to watch, you could do worse than this one.

An afterthought: The two promotional tools that most people will look at (the trailer and the poster) do not represent the film very well at all. The trailer makes the film seem far more serious and scarier than it actually is. The poster, on the other hand, features a girl in a costume that is featured only in the final scene of the film. Disregard these when researching the film, because they are not indicative of the content that Undead has to offer.

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