Zombie mania is still going strong. With The Walking Dead still leading the way, living dead lovers have all sorts of options to choose from in both TV and film. The trick is to find your own angle. The trend of focusing on the lives of the living rather than the dead is a welcome change from the genre’s
Romero-esque origins, but with the sheer volume of rotting flesh around us, how do you stand out from the rest? That is what director/writer Harrison Smith is attempting with Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, avail on Blu-Ray and DVD February 3rd.
In the hobbled together town of Elwood lives a small community of survivors doing the best they can. Their de facto leader, ultimately known as Doc thanks to his profession, does his best to lead, but not everyone sees eye-to-eye. There are of course the religious community members, led by Lia, (“Sleepaway Camp” star Felissa Rose,) and the more rebellious souls like the town pariah, Rory, (Brian Gallagher,) whose choice of taking a child bride (Mischa Barton) to be his wife upsets those in town. Billy Zane is Seiler, a militia man who trains the town’s youngest and strongest to protect the perimeter and go outside the town line for supplies. Although some seem too young to be soldiers, the group comprised of determined and tough men and women of Elwood. Among them is Nikki (Gabrielle Stone) and newest member Ian Sommers, (played by Michael Kean,) whose mother Sharon (Dee Wallace) is fading fast due to cancer on the outskirts of the town. What makes this more nervewracking is that the weak, infected or otherwise threatening tenants of Elwood are faced with eviction –taken to the fence protecting the town and either thrown to the dead outside, or choosing to be shot point blank to save themselves the agony. The problem with the system, besides the obvious, is that with Doc’s absolute power of decision on the matter, it becomes less than biased. When militia member Kennedy (Ashley Sumner,) goes AWOL and a supply mission goes wrong, the explanation of what caused the infection is proposed that perhaps it didn’t start with the assumed biological contagion, but an environmental consequence of the human race. Fracking, the process of forcing natural gas from the ground, have released a protozoa that until now the modern age has not seen. Possibly the culprit of the dinosaur extinction, this protozoa uses living bodies as a form of incubator, working its way through humans and animals alike. When the zombie hordes begin to charge upon the town, its residents must make a decision – whether to curl up and die, or run and try to continue living as best as they can.
What is the most intriguing about this film is the use of fracking, a very current and real problem, with the idea of a zombie infestation. An as of yet untapped concept, “Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard” follows in the rich tradition of our most successful reanimated corpse movies in that it uses the vehicle to make a commentary on not only environmental but social issues we are faced at this moment. The passive attitude of the citizens of Elwood is Smith’s take of the mediocrity that is seeping into our own society. By celebrating every action and relying on others to solve their own problems we create people who simply lay down and die when things get tough. But the people who strive to live are the ones that not only succeed, but are rewarded with hope. Not that this movie is lofty. Part of the fun of “Zombie Killers” is that it is aware of itself. Quips regarding how zombies walk in the movies and famous horror quotes, (“They Live’s” iconic bubblegum one being my favorite,) make you feel both comfortable and welcomed into the world that has been created. Add in a perfect peppering of an odd laugh here and there breaks the tension as well, bringing you back down from your horror high to get ready for another build.
What is most promising about the film is that the cast is as strong of an ensemble as you can get. Not a weak link in the bunch, the people that make up the town of Elwood are both fully realized and unique from one another, something that often can’t be said about horror movies. Add in the weight of such acting heavyweights as Billy Zane and Dee Wallace, and it is hard not to enjoy it. Standouts include Brian Gallagher as Rory, the rebel resident of Elwood set on protecting his family, and the strong core group that makes up the “Zombie Killers” crew (Michael Kean, Joe Raffa, Angel Anthony Marrero and
Kyle Patrick Brennan.) The scariest of all the movie elements is not the oncoming zombie storm, but actually Felissa Rose as the religious zealot Lia. A mirror of the groups of individuals that would rather put blinders on to the problems of the world, her steadfast and icy demeanor bring chills that no rotting corpse could ever achieve. Dee Wallace and Michael Kean’s relationship as Sharon and Ian Sommers are a highlight as well. Although Wallace and Kean’s scenes suffer often from blunt editing, their chemistry is deft and believable. With his mother Sharon standing as a metaphor for the life Ian must let go of in order to survive, the poignant decision scene between the two brings gravitas to an otherwise well-grounded movie.
No low-budget horror movie comes without its problems. “Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard” has its major stumble in effects. The CGI, although it is used sparingly, is so rudimentary that what could be a successful cineplex release becomes a SyFy original movie. As much as I appreciate the movie wanting to incorporate the idea that animals would also be infected, they would have benefited the movie by conveying that with practical props. Herds of CGI deer, fish and packs of wolves that all seem to go on forever yank you from the otherwise strong movie into a world where a wolf is clearly a 2-dimensional gray blob. A zombie deer carcass here or zombie fish there would have sufficed, conveying the animal infection concept without overshooting your technical reach. The film deserves far better overall.
Digital effects aside, I am looking forward to what “Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard” has to offer in the future and what the world responds to. With so many zombie movies and shows getting cranked out with not much thought to storytelling and performance, “Zombie Killers” is a solid addition to the
list of socially conscious and entertaining horror fare available. It seems that this movie has a lot of bigger plans ahead of it as well, a positive that invites not only a more sweeping story than most living dead films get but also room for improvement. A must-see for hardcore horror enthusiasts and zombie
“Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD February 3rd