Zombie films are messy. It goes with the territory. They rip, tear, and chew. They never take bite-sized portions or use a napkin. Heck, even if they’re not eating someone, they’re slowly decomposing and gathering dirt. That’s all part of the fun. Sometimes, though, a zombie film can get messy for different reasons, which is what happens with Zombies of Mass Destruction.
Zombies of Mass Destruction begins in Port Gamble, a small town on an island off Washington, where a lone zombie washes up on shore and slowly begins spreading its infection through the isolated community. We only get the barest hints of that, though, as the film then takes us to Frida (Janette Armand), the daughter of naturalized Iranian parents who grew up here in Port Gamble. She’s on leave from Princeton to sort her life out and dead tired of trying to explain to the right-wing locals that she’s not Iraqi and, technically, not Iranian, either -- she’s an American. She’s also tired of her dad (Ali Hamedani) pressuring her to take over the family business. Then there’s Tom (Doug Fahl), a Wall Street banker who’s been pressured by his beau, Lance (Cooper Hopkins), to come home and come out to his mother. And there’s also some local political shenanigans between the incumbent conservative mayor (James Mesher) who’s just found out he’s campaigning against progressive schoolteacher Cheryl (Cornelia Moore).
As you may have gathered, the film shies away from the zombies for the first half hour or so. We catch a few glimpses of staggering locals here and there, hear a few folks chatting about getting nipped or bitten, but none of the characters think much of it until one of the walking dead finally takes a chunk out of Frida’s musician boyfriend (Ryan Barret) and ruins their night out. Her evening gets even worse, though, when she ends up hiding out with one of the local families and their wingnut father (Russell Hodgkinson) decides she must somehow be in league with the Middle-Eastern terrorists who have supposedly released the zombie plague. Things aren’t much better for Tom and Lance, who escape Tom’s zombified mother only to find themselves barricaded in a church with a preacher (Bill Johns) who tells his congregation the plague is God’s divine vengeance to destroy the heathen sinners and homosexuals of the world. In retrospect, the movie’s also very zombie-light through these points as well.
I’d love to say there’s more to this film but...well, there isn’t. Frida escapes the right-wing family with a little help from reanimated mom, the guys escape the church with Cheryl, they all meet up and get rescued, the end. All that is 10 minutes, absolute tops, and that’s including Frida stopping at home to take care of some family business and grab a shotgun. Yeah, the story ends pretty much just as the heroine grabs the shotgun. It’s so abrupt and anti-climactic that an hour later, while writing this summary, I couldn’t even remember how the movie ended and had to go watch it again. No, it’s not just me -- my girlfriend watched it with me and she couldn’t remember, either. The filmmakers don’t seem to know what to do once they’ve said their bit on political/ religious conservatives -- which amounts to “they’re idiots” -- so they wrap everything up just when the bigger story is finally getting into high gear.
Really, that’s the annoying thing about this film. ZMD has a lot of great moments in it, but they don’t gel together because it doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it’s trying to be. Is it a straight zombie flick with some biting social commentary? A comedy? A satire? A demo reel for makeup and special effects? The first big attack, where Frida’s boyfriend gets his face peeled off, is straight out of a classic Romero film, both in style and impact, but a few minutes later she rescues a little girl in a scene that almost feels like it should’ve been in Scary Movie V: Zombie Movie. Tom and Lance fighting their way across town is reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but their time in the church suddenly shifts gears to The Stepford Wives (a whole different kind of zombie). When Frida’s dad goes looking for her and rampages through the horde shouting his daughter’s name again and again, it’s straight out of Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. Screenwriter Ramon Isao and writer/director Kevin Hamedani have a scattershot approach to tone that keeps all the individual scenes from becoming a cohesive whole.
Going scene by scene, there’s nothing bad in Zombies of Mass Destruction. It’s all different types of gory zombie goodness, a few good laughs, and some not-so-sly winks at the ignorance and paranoia that have been gleefully fueled in America for the past seven or eight years. But a bunch of ingredients you love don’t automatically combine to make a great meal, and my chocolate-chip, rum, and hummus pizza stands as a testament to that. Without any actual theme or consistent tone, the film just wanders along. It’s not hard to wander with it, you'll have fun along the way, but in the end you don’t really feel like you’ve gone anywhere.
Alas, there’s almost nothing for special features on this DVD. There’s a preview and a making-of featurette, but it’s only six minutes long. Writer/director Hamedani gets a moment to talk about how the film grew out of frustration with people questioning him one way or another over the past few years, a few cast and crew members are introduced, and then it’s over. It’s maybe worth mentioning (because there may be a corollary here) that After Dark massively front-loads the disc with previews for all their other Horrorfests, plus some regular previews, and even a few ads for other movie-related services.
Zombies of Mass Destruction could’ve been something great, but instead it lingers on the low side of good. It’s not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, and zombie aficionados may want to add it to their collection. But it’ll probably be one of those films you watch once, enjoy, and then never think of again.