Monday, December 30, 2013

ZOMBIE HAMLET (2012) movie review

Zombie Hamlet (2012) d. John Murlowski (USA)

First time director Osric Taylor (Travis Wester), hot off the success of his Planet of the Apes-inspired fast food chicken commercial, lands a deal to helm his longtime vision of Hamlet set during the Civil War. Unfortunately, as soon as things get underway, financing falls through and the decision is made to capitalize on the current zombie craze in order to secure additional funds. This bizarre creative compromise is only the first of many that Taylor must undergo to get the Bard in the can, including hiring a C-list action star (Jason Mewes) and the adorable but dim-witted niece (Emmalee Wilson) of the primary investor (June Lockhart) to assay the lead roles.

Right off the bat it needs to be said that, in spite of the title, this is not a horror movie, or even a horror/comedy, but rather a goofy farce about “the trials of independent filmmaking.” The only undead that show up are the pasty-faced ghouls shambling about in the film-within-the-film, and while one of the supporting characters does keel over dead at one point and there are some corpse-concealing shenanigans, it’s all done in cartoony fashion that harkens back to the days of Abbott and Costello, only with more shaky-cam.

Ah, yes, let’s talk about that shaky-cam. Like its fictitious subject matter, Zombie Hamlet is a cheap little flick, with plenty of rough edges and outlandish solutions. The loud and obnoxious soundtrack plays like a parody of loud and obnoxious soundtracks. Much of the onscreen footage comes courtesy of the “behind-the-scenes” camera (handled by local loony makeup man-turned-documentarian Brendan Michael Coughlin), but a lot of it also comes from a standard omniscient lens, and even more comes from Shelly Long’s snoopy news reporter looking for a scoop. In other words, by any narrative device that comes to mind. (There are even reaction shots from one character to another when there’s only supposed to be a single camera in use!) Wacka-wacka sound effects, CGI explosions, and freeze frames with onscreen titles sink collective IQs even further.

This all may sound like nitpicking, but it’s indicative of the “anything goes” methodology that director John Murlowski and screenwriter John McKinney trade in. 90 minutes of nonstop “We gotta make this film” wackiness goes a long way, with most of the laughs feeling predictable and cheap, like an extended sitcom episode complete with stunt casting. (Seriously, what are Shelly Long, John Amos, John de Lancie, and June freaking Lockhart doing here???) Granted, there are a lot of viewers out there who dig the sitcoms, so I’m loath to condemn the enterprise as a whole. The loud and raucous performances suit the loosey-goosey material, everyone seems to be having a good time, and while there’s an abundance of camera-winking, it’s relatively inoffensive in the grand scheme of things.

With lowered and managed expectations, Zombie Hamlet could be an amusing enough time-waster. Plus, with a title like that, I doubt anyone is going to be expecting Citizen Kane...or even Survival of the Dead.

Zombie Hamlet is available on DVD December 31 from Level 33 Entertainment.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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