26.3.08

The Forever Dead is Horrible

I never know how I'm going to end up talking about a movie until I start watching it. Many films can be covered in just a sentence or two. For example, here's my review of The Mist: Turn it off one minute before the credits roll, and you've seen a good movie. Watch the last minute, and you've seen a terrible movie.

Some movies, though, demand to be examined. Poured over in detail, their every moment considered. Such a film is The Forever Dead.

It's a little difficult to synopsize the film, as it plays pretty fast and loose with continuity, so where possible, I'm going to minimize describing the jumping around in order to keep things as coherent as possible.

The film's assembly is so fractured, in fact, that the very first thing that appears onscreen is the film's ending. Not that this is one of those films that starts with a scene from the end of the film, then flashes back to explain how all the characters ended up at the top of the Eiffel Tower being held hostage by Muppets. No, this movie literally opens with the film's last image, then proceeds to play the entire last ten-odd minutes of the movie backwards at super-speed. So the audience watches a bunch of characters get un-killed by zombies, then flee quickly back into a house, which the zombies help them barricade before wandering away. Then the people inside the house bicker with one another, but luckily the audience is spared hearing all the bickering for now, as everyone's dialogue is rendered into buzzing by the speed of the playback.

Then the film proper starts, as a mother and daughter are driving to the new house they're planning on buying. On the way, they stop at a diner for a second to meet some monstrously ugly non-actors, then pass a woman shooting someone, then finally arrive at the house they're interested in buying. So the film cuts to the house, where the estate agent is waiting for them.

To be fair, they do refer to it as a 'fixer-upper'

There's some kind of a noise inside the house, so the estate agent heads in to investigate. She doesn't seem to find the huge bloodstain on the wall suspicious, or warranting a call to the police. No, she just grabs a table leg that leans conveniently against the wall and goes to investigate the noise. She is promptly killed by a zombie. Who is this zombie, and where did he come from? I'm not entirely sure. He does have an eyeball hanging out, though, which would identify him as some sort of a singular, memorable zombie, if a number of other zombies didn't share this trait.

Arriving at the house, the mother wanders in, and mistakes the estate agent's complete silence and lumbering zombie gait as a high-pressure sales technique, and her firm, unrelenting grip as some kind of lesbian advance. All confusion is resolved when the zombie attacks, biting the mother's lips off, thereby turning her into a zombie as well. Zombie Mom then attempts to devour her daughter, who manages to run down mom in the family car before crashing and knocking herself out.

Now we're introduced to two more of our main characters: Crazy Guy and Doctor. It seems that Crazy Guy has just released a diseased rabbit into the wild before running off himself. Doctor sends a female lab assistant to chase after the rabbit. This is literally all of the effort he puts in to catching the diseased test animal, a fact a proudly attests to in a telephone conversation with his never-clearly-defined boss. The conversation performs the dual duties of informing the audience of what the consequences are should the rabbit escape capture (to quote Egon "It would be bad") and establishing the Doctor as a worthless person, as he hands off all responsibility to whoever he's talking to on the phone before cleaning out his office.

Science!

The fact that he's got a video of his experiments isn't really relevant to the plot, I just wanted to include a picture of this tape to point something out. No, not how strange it is that in the world of Forever Dead scientists are still using VHS tapes, I've made my peace with that. Usually when lettering needs to be done for a prop, it's up to the person on the crew with the best handwriting to take care of it. I'm just happy to see that there's someone out there with worse printing than mine.

In another tangentially-related note, in this scene, and all subsequent scenes set in the lab, it's impossible to miss the fact that the lab is, in fact, a school. No attempt is made to creatively shoot around the fact or redress the locations. Intense conversations are held in front of lockers, and laboratory walls are covered in posters such as this one:

I swear my grade school library had this exact poster

That's right. It's a picture of a gorilla with the slogan "Go Ahead, Make My Day" written above it. Nothing screams "science" like... Well, okay, if I'm being honest, everything screams "science" more than that.

So the Lab Assistant goes chasing after the diseased Bunny. Her plan to catch it? Running through the woods, alternately yelling after it and the Crazy Guy that released it. She doesn't have a chance of catching the Bunny though, since it's already arrived at the site of its first attack, a run-down house where two hillbillies live. This leads to a frankly inexcusable scene of the drunken hillbillies chatting with one another while nothing interesting happens. It's excruciating to watch, and consists of either impossibly awkward improv, or the best-written recreation of impossibly awkward improv I've ever seen.

Luckily things speed up again when the hillbillies are attacked by the diseased bunny. It was at this point that I became convinced that the film had to be meant as a joke. If the hillbillies' awkward attempts at comic relief didn't tip me off, then the fact that the entire attack can't be interpreted as anything but a reference to the Vorpal Bunny in Monty Python's Holy Grail sealed it for me. Then the next scene unsealed things for me once again.

A woman named Tracy and her boyfriend are doing dishes and arguing about whether to get rid of her cat. I'll skip their conversation, since it would be even more boring to transcribe than it was to watch. The cat then turns up with a dead rabbit. The dead rabbit, in point of fact. When Tracy and her boyfriend come out to have a look, the rabbit, despite being having been somehow flattened by the cat's attack, comes back to life and attacks the Boyfriend's leg.

The rabbit in question

Again, it's impossible to interpret this scene as anything but comedic in nature, as Tracy awkwardly sticks a knife into a piece of fur on a stick, while someone off-camera pushes the stick at the boyfriend's bloody leg over and over again. Which raises an interesting question: could a rabbit's teeth tear through denim? The rabbit then makes its getaway, with the aid of the person holding the fishing line off camera.

video

Somehow this slideshow is less jerky than the actual film

All of this seems to point towards comedy, but then, ten seconds after the attack, Tracy leans over a sink spends fifteen seconds vomiting into a sink in an incredibly realisitc fashion, featuring chunks of food splattering all over the inside of a sink. It's singularly unpleasant and unnecessary, and serves to brutally kill whatever goodwill the film's attempts at comedy might have built up to this point. Moments later Tracy helps her boyfriend out to their car, quipping that she can't carry him because he's "too fat". Sadly, this can't be interpreted as funny. No comedy can exist after what I've just borne witness to.

They drive away in the car until the boyfriend zombs-out and attacks Tracy. Luckily she has a gun on her, and manages to shoot him in the head as he tries to bite her. Something strange happens with the gun here. It's never fully on camera for more than a split second, but I couldn't help but think there was something wrong with it.

Spot the error.

If you've noticed something strange about the screenshots so far, it's probably that they all look horrible. If you've noticed two things, though, you've probably noticed that they're very washed out, bleeding white off in every direction. The entire film looks like this. It's kind of a problem for a film shot largely during the day, whose climax takes place in an empty house with white walls. Someone apparently told the filmmaker that putting a fuzzy haze on all of the white in the film in post would make the film seem less like it was shot in someone's backyard on a camcorder from the late 80s. That person is a filthy gosh-darned liar.

Tracy then stumbles out of the car, horrified by her actions, only to be followed by her zombie boyfriend, who isn't quite dead enough yet. She tries to wave down the passing car that carries the mother and daughter, but fails, and then shoots a few more times at her boyfriend. This is depicted through the use of digital bullet wounds, which used to be a fun novelty, but now just seem like lazy filmmaking, acting as a crutch for people who can't be bothered to build a practical effect. Her gunfire failing to generate the desired result, Tracy flees from the car and out of the film, at least for the time being.

So it's back to the Lab Assistant who, in her search for the bunny, stumbles across the rednecks' hovel. Before arriving, though, she pauses to announce that she forgot to bring her cell phone. Actually saying “Dammit! Why didn't I think to bring my phone!” Well, at least it's more creative than 'no service out here.'

As the Lab Assistant walks up to the hillbilly house, the other hillbilly, the one whose eye isn't hanging from its socket by a vein, demands that she help his injured brother, because she's a doctor. She explains that she's not that kind of doctor, leading to the only relevant question – why did they think she was a doctor? Because she was wearing a white coat, I suppose. To be fair, though, I had to stop wearing my white raincoat because every time I went into a drug store, customers thought I worked there.

The Lab Assistant once again finds herself on the run, this time from two hillbilly zombies. These ones run at a much faster clip than any of the previous zombies in the film, or indeed, any of the zombies to come. It seems that the actors playing the hillbillies are just as happy using awkward improv to essay the rolls of zombies as they do their drunken hillbilly dialogue. Nowhere is this more apparent than the moment at which one of the zombies decides to take a break from the chase to hop on a rope swing and use it to travel roughly a foot and a half before falling off of it. Luckily he was doing a fake Tarzan yell the whole time, so at least he's left with his dignity.

video

At this point we're only half an hour in this is the most boring zombie film I've ever seen. And I've seen Oasis of the Living Dead. At this point, according to my notes, I found it hard to believe there was an entire hour of film left. And still, the worst was yet to come. The two zombies corner the Lab Assistant against a tree stump and strangle her, but just before moving in for the kill, the zombies wander off, suddenly disinterested.

Now we move on to the next to last main characters of the film, the monstrously ugly non-actors who were seated in the diner when the mother and daughter stopped there earlier. I don't mean to harp on their appearance too much, but there's casting people who look 'realistic', and then there's punching the audience in the eye every time they're unlucky enough to glance at the screen.

Key features redacted to protect the identity of this horrible, horrible monster.

Had no one involved in the production ever heard of makeup? Or shampoo? Yes, the relationship between the filmmaker and their audience is a complex and layered one, but watching this scene, I began to suspect that Christine Parker, this film's writer and director, actually hated me.


The three thuglies sitting at the table announce their plan to rob the diner, then immediately we cut outside and see the gang fleeing the diner as a clerk with a shotgun follows them out. Once against establishing the film's fantastic production values, the clerk aims the gun past the camera and shakes it slightly as a shotgun sound plays on the soundtrack.


Continuing their run through the woods, the gang happens across the two zombillies, and are forced to turn around and run the other way. They are joined in this flight by the Crazy Guy, who happens to run out of the woods at exactly this moment. One of the gang members is so surprised by this turn of events that he forgets to look where he's going and runs into a tree, impaling himself on a broken branch. According to my notes, this was the moment that, 35 minutes in, I ceased hating the film, and began hating everything.


Luckily, the Crazy Guy is a doctor, and manages to stabilize the injured man, in part by taking off his own shirt and using it to stanch the blood flow. They then decide to build a fire and camp for the night. I'm not exactly sure why, when walking back to the road and going for help seems like the better plan, but then again, I'm not the one being chased by zombillies. While staring at the fire, the Crazy Guy begins to have bizarre visions of himself watching a television set, on which he appears shirtless and confused. Pictures of him are quickly replaced by video of those two fan-favorites, the zombillies, who continue with their hilarious brand of awkward rambling.


The reverie ends soon enough as the zombillies return and proceed to gorge themselves on the flesh of the injured gang member. This freaks out the remaining two gang members and the the Crazy Guy, who flee, but not before the zombies have a chance to tear off tear off Crazy Guy's pants, leaving him running through the woods in only his underwear.


Now the film cuts to a completely unrelated group of campers in the woods, who are quickly dispatched by the roaming zombies. Just for future reference, it's important to note here that having new characters show up to do nothing but get eaten by zombies isn't a plot. It's a series of events. There's a difference. It's okay if the average man on the street doesn't know that, but the second you actually try to make a movie, you should read up on these things. It's like in the worse Friday the 13th films (that's right, there's a scale), when utterly unrelated characters would pop up for five minutes for a little slaughter vignette before disappearing and never being mentioned again. For the record, Part 5 was the worst for this, with three separate instances of characters turning up for no other reason than to get killed moments later.


Now we move on to the last central character of the film, the Doctor in charge of the lab where Crazy Guy worked. When we last saw him, he was cleaning out his office. Now he's dragging a corpse out to a shallow grave. It seems like his day has been much more interesting than the rest of the film, and the movie suffers from not just following him around. He drags the body to the shallow grave, where it proves to be not quite dead yet, but he finishes the job with his shovel before stooping down and doing something with a plastic bag.


The mystery deepens!


Then he finishes burying the body. It's important to note that this entire scene is scored to a soulful R&B tune that's meant to add some depth to the whole affair, but it's matched so poorly that that it just winds up seeming funny. In exactly the same way that the film's attempts at comedy have proven the most fear-inducing parts so far. You know, if the writer/director would just commence doing the opposite of everything her creative instincts tell her to do, she could really be on to something here.


In a moment of reflection, and possibly the only well-staged and framed sequence in the entire film, the Doctor pauses to sit between the headlights of his car and smoke a cigarette. He looks at his wedding ring and muses to himself: "Nothing personal, baby. Just protecting my interestst. It's just business." Of course, these comments make little to no sense just moments later, when it's revealed that the Doctor just murdered his wife because she was having an affair with someone.


The audience isn't given time to think about how little sense that makes, though, because just moments later an injured man stumbles out of the darkness, and is subsequently mauled by a zombie. The Doctor kills the zombie by cutting the top of its head off, and then digs up his wife's shallow grave and dumps the zombie's body in there. Once he's finished covering up the grave up again he turns around and is shocked to see the man that the zombie mauled is still lying next to his car. Frustrated with himself for forgetting to bury all the bodies, the Doctor digs the grave up a third time, but just as he finishes the injured man stands up. Amazingly he hasn't been zombified, but was just badly injured. He begs to be taken to the hospital, but the Doctor decides he can't have any witnesses to his serio-comic killing spree, so he murders the man and dumps him in the grave. Covering it up for the third and final time, the Doctor quips "Next time I get a divorce lawyer!" Of course, things aren't over just yet, as the three corpses crawl their way out of the shallow grave and come after the doctor, as the R&B song picks up on the soundtrack once more. He runs to his car, but for some reason it won't start, and he's forced to run off into the dark woods alone.

If that scene's synopsis seemed a little long, it's entirely due to the source material. That scene lasted a full nine and a half minutes. If you don't count the credits, the film is only 95 minutes long. Which means that an entire tenth of its running time is devoted to a scene of the Doctor's misadventures as he attempts to bury his wife, a scene of no consequence beyond the fact that it establishes why the Doctor is off wandering in the woods on his own. That reason? When he gets back to his car and attempts to escape the zombies, it doesn't start. Why doesn't it start? There's a plot contrivance wedged in the fuel injection system. The strange part here is that there could have been a totally logical reason for the car to not start. After all, he left the lights on for the entire scene, which takes place over at least two hours. Also, that R&B song was probably in the CD player on 'repeat'. The worst part is that they needlessly missed out on an easy creep scene. He's standing over the grave, zombies start to crawl their way out of it, and just then the headlights die, putting him alone, in the dark, with hordes of zombies and a dead battery. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

By an amazing coincidence, all of these characters wander to the same house. Tracy, the two thugs, the Crazy Guy, the Doctor, and the daughter, who was still unconscious in the car when Tracy arrived at the house. Once they're all inside the house, it's time for the plot to stop and the sniping to begin. That's right, after a long flurry scenes of poorly-realized drama, the film stops dead so it can poorly-realize some characters bickering with one another. Part of this bickering involves Tracy waving her gun around, allowing me to more clearly see just what was wrong with it.
Maybe if she shot the zombie in the eye?

That's right, it's a screw hanging off the bottom of the gun. The screw that keeps the CO2 cannister in a compressed air pistol in place. I know this is a low-budget movie, but couldn't they be bothered to remove the one thing that kept their prop from looking like a real gun?

The only thing of note that happens over the next few minutes is that the Doctor decides they need to find out more about the zombies, so he runs out and grabs one. Finally, all pretensions the film had of being even slightly comedic go out the window as the it spends the next five minutes on the subject of the Doctor gradually torturing and killing his dead wife's zombie. He claims that he wants to figure out how to kill zombies, but it's clear that no, he's just an incredibly evil sicko. All of this scientific investigation fails to reveal just how his wife became a zombie, if zombieness is bite-transferrable and she was already dead when he tossed a zombie in the grave with her.

It's at this point that all the film's secrets are revealed, and it turns out that every person who randomly wound up in the same isolated house has some kind of connection with each other. We already know that the Doctor and Crazy Guy work together at the diseased rabbit factory, but it turns out that that Tracy is the private investigator that the Doctor hired to discover who his wife was cheating on him with--and she suspects Doctor of murdering his wife, despite his claims that she was killed by zombies. It turns out the doctor's wife was cheating on him with Crazy Guy, whose wife and daughter Mother and Daughter are--they left him because Doctor told Mother that Crazy Guy was cheating on her. One might think that having a father and his estranged daughter in the same house during a zombie siege would lead to some juicy drama, but no. Crazy Guy stays crazy, and daughter remains shellshocked for the rest of the movie, so they don't interact at all.

Then, in an extended flashback, the twist is revealed! It's all the Doctor's fault. In an attempt to get revenge on Crazy Guy for sleeping with his wife, he had Lab Assistant drug Crazy Guy's coffee, then injected him with a drug to turn him into a crazy guy. Then he clips a little bit of Crazy Guy's hair and puts it in a baggie, solving the mystery of what the baggie full of stuff he dumped into the grave was earlier. Doctor had planned to frame Crazy Guy for killing his wife, who Crazy guy was having an affair with. And he was going to accomplish this by dumping like six clipped hairs into a shallow grave.

Look, I know that CSI has popularized the idea that police scientists are basically modern-day alchemists, but how are they going to find six hairs in fifty pounds of earth? Even if they did, how could this possibly lead to framing Crazy Guy, when they were clipped, meaning that they have no skin or roots attached, making it impossible to get DNA from them.

The fact that Doctor was planning to frame Crazy Guy for the murder of his wife does raise an interesting question, though. Why did he try to bury the bodies of the zombies he killed? Whether or not he recognized them as zombies that resulted from the rabbit's rampage, his goal here is to have someone find his wife's body, so the frame can take place. Leaving a couple of zombie bodies next to the shallow grave would seem to serve that purpose better than trying to hide them, wouldn't it?

Oh, and the two thugs are connected because a couple of weeks earlier one of them had burgled the Doctor's house. He claims that in addition to some coins, he found beastiality-themed porn in the Doctor's house. What does that have to do with anything? I'm not sure. But the filmmakers felt I needed to know about it, so now you know about it too.

Next thing you know, the morning comes and zombies besiege the house. The survivors make a token attempt to escape, awkwardly stagefighting the zombies, swinging their weapons slowly enough to make sure no one gets hurt. One of the toughs attempts to use a can of hairspray and a lighter on a zombie (their experiments of the night before having proven that zombies, like people, are flammable). Of course, the film doesn't have the budget to demonstrate zombies' flamability, so that tough is quickly disarmed. This is followed by the survivors quickly retreating back into the house.

Right after that Tracy runs out bullets, and throws her gun away. She doesn't throw it at any of the zombies, though. The gun is heavy, after all, and could have hurt someone.

Back inside the house, the Doctor claims that he never wanted it to go this far. You know, when he released the bunny as part of his attempt to frame Crazy Guy. Because murdering a woman isn't bad enough. He had to also let an incredibly dangerous lab animal get away as well. Wouldn't it have made more sense if the suddenly crazy Guy had actually released the rabbit, causing the Doctor's otherwise simple murder/revenge scheme to spiral out of control? Seems like that would have been the better way to go, from a storytelling standpoint.

So the four remaining survivors are trapped inside the house, surrounded by zombies. Well, no surrounded, per se, there were only enough extras to fill up the front porch, but for the purposes of this film the windows and back door don't exist, so that' s good enough. What's their plan now? Who knows, because at this point the film cuts back to the Lab Assistant, who wakes up in the woods.

Remember the Lab Assistant that the zombillies spared for no reason? Well, she's back, not having been killed by any other zombies over the course of the night. She wanders out to the road, and finds herself in the middle of a zombpocalypse. People are running from their cars, being mauled by zombies, and kind of milling around waiting for their cue to be attacked. There are two pretty humorous notes in this scene. The first is that they couldn't afford to stage an accident, and the road isn't really blocked at all, so it looks like a dozen people just stopped their cars so they could be mauled by zombies, rather than just driving away. The second is that the national guard shows up, but by this point the director clearly wasn't up to staging any kind of an action scene, so they just kind of walk up to the zombies and push at them with their guns.

Seeing all this carnage, the Lab Assistant decides to turn and walk the other way. Before she can get very far an old friend waddles onto the road. That's right, it's the return of the zombunny. A fishing line dragged him out of the movie eighty minutes ago, and now it drags him back in just in time to get his head splattered by a rock just before the credits roll. Completely unaware of his impending fate, the rabbit slithers onto the road and surveys the carnage he's caused. Then he giggles. I know, it sounds crazy, but he actually giggles. Here, see for yourself in this crude video I've constructed:

video

Please forgive my inability to edit out the terrible music

With the rabbit dead the Lab Assistant walks off into the distance at a slow pace, not at all concerned about the horde of zombies rampaging maybe fifty feet behind her. The End.

But wait, what's that? What about the people back at the farmhouse who got no resolution to their story at all? Well, way back at the beginning of the movie what happened to them was shown in reverse order. What? That's not good enough for you? Don't worry. The filmmakers decided to show that footage again, in the correct direction this time. It's still so fast as to be incoherent, though, so that's something. The footage opens with the characters trying to drag someone into the house while the zombies try to pull the person out. The scene ends with a door being slammed on the person's arm, leading to it being cut off. What's puzzling about this scene is that I'd don't recognize the person they're dragging into the house.

This person appears nowhere else in the film

This made me suspicious. Then I noticed how different the white thug looks in the black and white footage from the end of the movie, and the colour footage from the rest of the movie:

The interim months were not kind to him


Note that his hair is considerably shorter in the left image, and he's mysteriously missing his thick watchband. The first time I watched this footage I wondered why they would have left it out of the finished product. After all, if you'd shot a whole zombie siege sequence, why not use it? I mean, sure, the film was already overlong at 100 minutes, but there's plenty that could have been cut (cough-hillbillies-cough). To make room for it.


A little research on the old webternet gave me the answers I sought. It turns out that what we were shown in fast motion at the beginning was a short film produced a year earlier. The writer/director decided to expand it to feature length, and apparently saw nothing wrong with reusing footage of people that don't appear in the new film, albeit in a choppily-edited, fractured way that disguised the fact that it was from a film with an entirely different plot. I don't know why they didn't just shoot a new zombie siege climax. It's not like they didn't have the extras and time, the zombie highway sequence is proof of that. Whatever the reason, the end result is the same, a film without any kind of a satisfying resolution. Instead of giving us any kind of closure on the characters we've been watching for over an hour and a half, you have the big finale to a character who barely had a name, and had disappeared for the past hour. Bravo.

Anyhoo, if, after reading this, you're interested in purchasing a copy of the amazon.com link. Sure, you could buy it from the film's official website, but then who will support the nation's middlemen? Do you hate capitalism?


If you scroll down to the bottom of the amazon page you'll notice a number of glowing reviews of the movie. Interestingly, they all come from people in North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Within a couple hundred miles of where the movie was made. I'm not trying to imply that they're all plants, but if they are, I totally understand it. Hell, even I have a fake positive review for my terrible book.


Sure, being mean to a no-budget film clearly made in someone's backyard with non-professional actors might seem like shooting fish in a barrel to some. On the other hand, if don't point out the problems in these things, how are the people who make them supposed to learn from their mistakes? As I type this review, the people who made The Forever Dead are working on another zombie film, A Fistful of Brains. So I guess it's a zombie western. I'm sure there's nothing Christine Parker wants more than to make sure that film is better than this one. And if my cruel, hypercritical comments can in any way go towards making that happen, then it will all have been worthwhile.


P.S. - My cruel, hypercritical comments will in no way go towards making that happen.

5 comments:

Tilting at Windmills said...

One film I'm going to miss - at least reading the review didn't take 90 minutes!!! Thanks for the heads up. Sounds like this makes Tarantino's zombie movie a work of art.

noticeable one said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendan L. Morrisey said...

um... Tilting at windmills. Tarantino never made a zombie movie.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was really long. Don't you have a life? Why spend so much time writing about something you hate? I stopped reading after six pages.

Anonymous said...

Salut! John Hoffman . payday loans