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The zombie movie genre is one that just never seems to die, and with good reason. People rise from their death beds to wreak havoc in the world in which they were once living, and they can only be killed by severely injuring or destroying your head. I am not a violent person, but I think it’s fun to watch zombies get shot in the head or beheaded by a shovel. Why? Maybe it’s the fact that I will never get the chance to do it in my life and I am living vicariously through the hero of the zombie movies. Either way, it’s fun – or at least it should be. After watching Undead or Alive , I feel like I was the one being bashed over the head with a blunt object.
Let me paint a picture of the opening sequence that is supposed to set up some sort of plausible plot for the crapfest known as Undead or Alive . Geronimo, an Indian who died in 1909 (I did research), is sitting by a large fire, chanting some Indian rain dance or the fight song for the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians while beating a drum. Occasionally, he gets up from his log and dances around the fire like a pretty little girl at her first dance recital, or stares at the camera looking troubled or constipated. While all this action is taking place, the following words flash on the screen (this is a word-for-word translation): “The most legendary defender of Native American sovereignty was the Apache warrior and medicine man, Geronimo. Renowned for bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, Geronimo was credited with supernatural abilities. After many years of guerilla war, he was finally cornered by the U.S. Army. Don’t worry, the part where you have to read is almost over. Geronimo’s final act was making the secret medicine know as the White Man’s Curse. Okay, it’s over.” By the way, I have no idea what the hell this has to do with the movie.
It is never explained how this “curse” begins or was contracted by the man who starts spreading it around in the film – he just bites a chickens head off, walks around like he’s drunk, kills his family and, poof, we have zombie movie. No logic, no plot – just zombies and Chris Kattan dressing up like Marty McFly in Back to the Future III and acting like Mango from his SNL days. All you really need to know to know about this trainwreck is that Elmer (James Denton) is an Army deserter, and his unwanted partner, Luke (Kattan), is an effeminate cowboy wannabe. They steal some money from a corrupt sheriff named Claypool (Matt Besser), who eventually turns into a blood-sucking zombie after being bit by his deputy, Cletus (Chris Coppola). The only way any of them can survive is with the help of Sue (Navi Rawat), who is a direct descendant of Geronimo and knows how to rid the body of the “White Man’s Curse.” The rest of the cast just shows up to face unending humiliation at the hands of director/screenwriter Glasgow Phillips, who, judging by this catastrophe, is an imbecile with access to a camera pretending to be a filmmaker.
From what I gather, the following is Phillips’ formula to make a successful zombie western comedy: Crappy western must play during every fight scene, while music eerily similar to the theme song of Brokeback Mountain must play when two men are camping; the main characters must be completely naked while riding a horse or being tied up back-to-back (both, if there is time); the characters must drink lots of liquor and refer to women as whores; there must be at least one scene where offensive remarks about Indians and white people are spewed back and forth between two characters; there must be at least one sword fight so fans of pirate movies can get their fix; and there must be at least one easily detachable penis.
The problem with this movie is the execution of an original and creative concept. Zombies in the Old West sounds like a good way to be entertained for 90 minutes. I was looking forward to having a little fun, maybe a few laughs. Instead, I was treated to the plumber from Desperate Housewives stuffing a sweaty sock in some guy’s mouth and trying to kill zombies, whose makeup looks like they threw up on themselves and let it dry. Did James Denton really believe that this is the role that would thrust him into movie stardom? Taking second billing to Chris Kattan? This is a guy who ate an apple really fast while wearing a loincloth on SNL and, today, would be lucky to get a gig opening a Chuck E Cheese in Idaho. Not only that, he’s an annoying presence and a terrible actor – and, somehow, he gets the girl in the movie... sort of. When I say he’s a terrible actor, I mean, I have seen animals in movies that do a better job than he does – and they crap on the floor. The only logical casting decision made here is that of Leslie Jordan (an underrated character actor who won an Emmy in 2006) as the priest.
I am sure Phillips and crew had every intention of entertaining anyone stupid enough to give this pitiful waste of film a chance. You can tell they tried to make it funny, but they tried too hard – it’s like they’re bums begging for laughs instead of money. It tries to be Shaun of the Dead and Blazing Saddles, but winds up coming off about as funny as The English Patient and about as entertaining as watching your uncle perform a prostate exam on your grandfather. To make a successful zombie flick, you also need some decent action or some great special effects – this film has neither. The action sequences make Schindler’s List look like the greatest action movie of all-time. Watching this film is exactly what Phillips wants, but not because he is looking to make money. He is looking to take on the part of the blood-sucking zombie. By watching his film, you are allowing him to suck your life away. Don’t let him. Your life is too valuable.
There are times you just want the DVD to die after the main feature and, with Undead or Alive, this is one of those times. The disc, however, is like some of the zombies in the movie - they continue to get up and come back at you no matter how many times you shoot them in the head, yell nasty things at them, or tell them that they’re ugly. They just don’t stop coming at you, and it’s pretty damn annoying. I just wish they’d die, because the last thing we need more of is Undead or Alive .
If you’re brave, or you are one of the few that actually will enjoy this movie, you can take a look at the feature commentary with director Glasgow Phillips, Chris Kattan, James Denton and Navi Rawat. I admit, this was actually pretty funny to listen to at times because the four people involved didn’t seem to take it too seriously. They seemed to have fun with the commentary and made it almost like a Mystery Science Theater type of thing, where they poke fun of one another (acting surprised Phillips could read) and things in the movie, like when Denton cries out “brain pie” when a little girl is carrying a blueberry pie over to the window sill to cool down. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to really want to sit through the entire feature since you have to watch the movie again.
“From South Park to the Wild, Wild West” may sound like the creators of the hit Comedy Central cartoon may have had something to do with Undead or Alive, but as it says on the feature menu, “The creators of South Park and Comedy Central are not affiliated in any way with the featurette ‘From South Park to the Wild, Wild West.’ Somehow, Glasgow Phillips is affiliated with South Park – he worked as a writer on the show for 11 episodes during its sixth season. I find that amazing because this movie is so unfunny, and you actually have to be – or should have to be – funny to write for South Park. In the feature, Phillips talks about the idea of the zombie western and how it took a few weeks to “bang something out” for a screenplay (and the numerous “rewrites”, which didn’t help). Glad he took his time to create this forgettable masterpiece. Even funnier, most filmmakers have elaborate storyboards helping them set up certain shots for the movie. In one scene during this feature, they were drawing these storyboards in a legal pad (and it looked like those famous rewrites were done on napkins). If that doesn’t scream low-budget, I don’t know what does. My favorite Glasgow quote from the feature: “I tried to make it funny.” Try harder, douche bag. This is another 14 minutes of my life I want back.
If you’re still interested in how they made the zombies come to life – and I don’t see how – then you might want to watch, “Geronimonsters! The Zombies that Walked the West.” It’s another “Making Of” feature that gives a more in-depth look at the process of creating the undead. Phillips says that he had no ideas for how he wanted his zombies to look. Ok, that’s a problem. Not only is this idiot the writer of the film, he’s the director. Chances are people on set will look to him for ideas. He can’t sit there and say, “Umm, I don’t know how I want them to look, just make them look dead. No, wait, make them look undead, yeah. Like a zombie. You know, like ugly and not alive, but still being able to function as if they were alive. Wait, that’s not going to work. Yeah, I don’t know. What do you think?” He relies on others to carry out a vision he never had, according to the feature. He relies on people who had experience with gore and prosthetic effects, and are considered “scholars” of the genre where as he is just a “fan.” Then why the hell did you make this movie, Glasgow? This guy has no idea what he is talking about.
Yes, Glascow Phillips has a ton of enthusiasm for the piece of turd he calls Undead or Alive, but it doesn’t seem like half the ideas were his in the first place. He said his friends were the brains behind the idea of making a zombie western, and he let other people decide what kind of zombies would cause chaos in the Midwest. Where are the directors’ ideas? Can he not make a decision or do anything on his own? Let me guess, he lets mommy pick out his clothing for him, and rings the bell when he’s all done on the potty, too. I would almost guarantee that the only decision he made was to cast Chris Kattan, because only an idiot with no sense of humor would do something that stupid.
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