Blu-Review: Zombies of Mass Destruction

Directed By Kevin Hamedani
Starring Janette Armand, Doug Stahl, Cooper Hopkins and Russell Hodgkinson


Zombie movies and social commentary go together hand in rotting, dismembered hand. Genre pioneer George Romero is certainly no stranger to imbuing his movies with biting (no pun intended) social insight, using undead hordes as a means of taking liberal digs at mindless consumer culture, while Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead – arguably the best modern zombie film – offers its zombies up as a metaphor for the arrested development of coasting-through-life adult men unable to take the plunge into being “real” grown-ups. Now, with Zombies of Mass Destruction, co-writer/director Kevin Hamedani takes aim at right-wing prejudice and post-9/11 paranoia with his zombie comedy, and while it lacks the deft tonal juggling and sheer greatness of its aforementioned genre forebearers, it’s a low budget horror gem with a great sense of humour.

The small island town of Port Gamble is the embodiment of right-wing middle-American values – the mayor is a conservative crackpot with a hatred for gays, townspeople carry guns everywhere, including church, and the neighbours are fearful and ignorant of anyone not white. It’s with a heap of natural apprehension, then, that New York stock broker Tom (Doug Stahl) returns home with his boyfriend to come out to his mother. It doesn’t help the situation when a zombie outbreak hits the island, with the sensationalist local media attributing it to a terrorist attack and the redneck neighbours’ suspicion falling on Iranian-American Princeton drop-out Frida (Janette Armand). Soon it’ll be left up to a couple of gay guys and an apathetic Iranian slacker to save Port Gamble from certain doom.
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The fundamental problem with Zombies of Mass Destruction is that it isn’t quite sure if it wants to be an outright spoof, an earnest grindhouse throwback, a darkly comic social satire or a simple horror-comedy. It’s all of those genres rolled into one, but without the finesse to make the parts mesh well together perfectly as a whole, nor does director Hamedani quite know what his film’s strengths are or how to play to them. The satire that encompasses so much of the film is broad, heavy-handed and doesn’t have much to say beyond “small-minded bigotry is bad”. The bigger gags wouldn’t feel out of place in the Scary Movie franchise (but are thankfully much funnier than anything in that series) and feel at odds with the straight-faced character moments the film spends so much time on.

Those character moments also serve to highlight that this is an inexperienced cast who don’t have the comedic timing to nail every joke or the acting chops to sell the dialogue, especially since his dramatic moments fall into overly stereotypical territory already. It’s hard not to feel like Hamedani would’ve been better off either going the full cheesy grindhouse route to suit the actors’ abilities or simply pare down the character drama and lend more focus to the gore and comedy, where the film really excels. But it’s tough to fault a film for at least attempting to throw in a little substance and satirical bite amongst the bloodshed, and once the outbreak kicks in, the gags and gore fly fast enough that it’s almost impossible to linger on the problems, especially when it’s so often laugh-out-loud hilarious.
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The low-budget splatter movie effects are creatively (and disgustingly) well designed, from face-peelings to devoured eyeballs and despite the shoestring budget, there’s a few impressive shots and nifty camerawork, too, as military aircraft start to fly overhead later in the film. But while the zombie carnage is appropriately messy and does proud the low budget horror flicks it pays homage to, the gore often takes a back seat to the comedy, where Zombies of Mass Destruction really shines. There’s more than a few over-the-top broad gags which manage to be incredibly funny, but the script is laced with a tonne of wittiness, intensely funny left-field jokes and random non sequiturs that land just as effectively and hilariously as the obvious sight gags. While so many tiny-budgeted horror films simply stoop exclusively to low-brow humour, it’s refreshing that writers Kevin Hamedani and Ramon Isao have cooked up a genuinely funny, witty script for their movie.

Ultimately, the film suffers from a shaky, uneven tone, while the lack of experienced actors with great comic timing dampens the intended drama and lessens the impact of a few jokes, it’s still intensely funny and leaps and bounds above the quality of most low-budget horror movies. Zombies of Mass Destruction is a gore-filled horror-comedy with more smarts and laughs than most and manages to be incredibly fun and utterly hilarious throughout.
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On the Blu-ray:

Optimum Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release packs a pretty great 1.78:1 1080p video transfer which looks fantastically detailed during daylight scenes. The darker moments of the film tend to show a lot more grain and noise, but that’s par for the course for such a low budget film and the HD transfer on offer looks as great as the film is likely to. Likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (there’s also a PCM 2.0 stereo mix) is incredibly well presented for what the film is, with dialogue, ambient effects and the ’80s synth stings of the score clear as a bell, but it’s not the sort of film that you’ll use to show off your surround system. Unfortunately, there aren’t any subtitles for those that desire them.

On the special features front, there’s a short 5 minute ‘Making Of’ feature that provides a few interview snippets with the cast and the effects team. There’s also a trailer, which you’re better off avoiding until after you’ve watched the film, since it spoils one of the film’s best gags. All in all, while the extras aren’t plentiful, the film itself looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, and it’s a movie that merits rewatching.

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Zombies of Mass Destruction is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from today.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

(Note: The images above were captured and saved at a reduced quality, and though they give an idea of how the film looks, they aren’t intended to reflect the true quality of the Blu-ray image itself.)