Directed by: Kevin Hamedani
Written by: Kevin Hamedani
Starring: Janette Armand, Doug Fahl, Cooper Hopkins, Bill Johns, Russell Hodgkinson, Ali Hamedani, Cornelia Moore, James Mesher
Released: 2009 / Genre: Horror-Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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The debut of writer-director Kevin Hamedani – Zombies of Mass Destruction – is a sort of hybrid of old splatter-fest horror conventions and the modern penchant for broad social comedy. It is very much a post- 9/11 horror film, with Hamedani, a Middle Eastern American by family lineage, focusing much of the film on the paranoia inherent in suburban neighbourhoods. One early scene sees a young girl ignorantly mistaken as Iraqi, her ensuing correction having little effect on her racist acquaintances.
The film begins on a beach, the light blue water glistening in the sunlight. Slowly the water turns red and we cut to a blind man discovering the body of a decaying zombie washed up on the muddy bank. Hamedani moves his camera in on the zombie’s closed eye. Suddenly the eyelid opens revealing a yellowing iris. The camera cuts to black. The title card crash zooms into prominence across a black screen as the blind man is heard screaming amidst the sound of tearing flesh. It’s fast-paced, amusing, suitably horrific without giving too much away too early, but also derivative and predictable.
And that’s the problem with this straight-to-video zombie flick. The story is Night of the Living Dead with a helpful sprinkling of John Carpenter’s The Fog, while the comedy is half a decade out of date. The film interestingly hinges on the idea of a biological terrorist attack instigating zombie madness. But it sits awkwardly under the director’s heavy hand and isn’t the sort of thing you want to be thinking about when watching blood-spurting entrails. Kubrick did political satire and cultural paranoia in Dr. Strangelove but Hamedani doesn’t have the subtleties or intelligence of the Strangelove script, nor does he have Peter Sellers. While the film does play to American sensibilities more so than the better-constructed British horror-comedies that appeared in the 2000s, it still has a long way to go before it’s Shaun of the Dead. Indeed, I’d recommend Severance, The Cottage, Doghouse, and even Lesbian Vampire Killers, before I’d suggest sticking Zombies of Mass Destruction in the home video player.
But the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, moving swiftly from the initial set-up to the first scene of blood-soaked splatter. It’s wonderful to see prosthetics and make-up effects rather than computer generated images, and the film has suitable amounts of gore to highlight the skills of the special-effects department. But gore hounds will be demanding more, while everything we see – from arms being torn off to a little girl getting hit by a car to a hammer in the head – offers nothing we haven’t witnessed before. The “everything will be okay” line delivered to the little girl before she gets hit by a passing truck is a gag used in every Final Destination film since the franchise began – haven’t we had about 15 of those movies now?
Hamedani finds his best jokes work around a pair of gay men who have to contend with fanatical religious ignorance and the town’s backward old timers (a right hook at Christianity perhaps). The contraption that turns gay men straight is inspired even if it feels completely out of place in the film, and the line: “Don’t shoot, I’m gay”, is the funniest thing in the film.
Ultimately, however, Hamedani is too heavy-handed. He doesn’t have the visual ingenuity to cover the cracks opened by paper-thin characters that are either sat in the crosshairs awaiting an obvious fate or bland heroes we struggle to root for. His political satire sits uncomfortably at the forefront of farce and caricature, and while the film has one or two funny moments, it isn’t consistent enough to make us forget the film’s other major flaw. That it isn’t scary. There wasn’t one jump-out-of-your-seat moment that registered for me and that’s because the film relies too much on its influences to be a voice of its own.
Without its lofty ambitions, Zombies of Mass Destruction might have been able to concentrate on what makes the genre so good. But it ends up being a mismatch of social commentary and slapstick that rest as uncomfortable bedfellows under the guiding hand of Hamedani. The debut director will have to chalk this up as a lesson learned.
The DVD/Blu-ray is released October 18th in the UK.
Review by Daniel Stephens