For Better and Worse, ‘Army of the Dead’ is Definitely a Zack Snyder Film
Army of the Dead is headed to Netflix on May 21, 2021. If you’re a Zack Snyder fan, there’s plenty to love here. If you’re not, well…watch it for Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer, and alpha zombies.
What’s an alpha zombie, you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment!
Army of the Dead focuses on a ragtag group of mercenaries who enter a quarantined Las Vegas to steal a cool $200 million from the vault in a high-profile casino. Why is it quarantined? An army convoy accidentally unleashed a zombie plague that the government miraculously managed to completely contain inside Sin City, which makes them more effective than any other governing body in the history of the genre.
Sadly, the editors on the film were not as judicious. Army of the Dead comes in at a bloated two and a half hours that easily could have been between one and a half to two hours and would have saved the film from its often bogged-down pacing.
Did we really need the fourth and fifth subplots that extended and re-extended the ending? Probably not, but again, this is a post-Justice League Zack Snyder film. If only the guy who had directed the remake of Dawn of the Dead had shown up instead.
Now, I really don’t mind a long run time. I’m a sucker for the extended edition Lord of the Rings films after all, and I recognize that might make me sound like a bit of a hypocrite here. However, Army of the Dead would seriously have benefitted if Snyder had dropped some of the unnecessary subplots to punch up the main storyline of the film.
Example, almost all of the character development is packed into the first five to ten minutes of the movie in a montage. I’m all for an action flick with no character development at all. Ninja Assassin is a brilliant example of this type of film. The problem here is that Snyder obviously wants us to care about these characters. He walks us right up to the line of empathy repeatedly throughout the film without ever sticking the landing, and then seems to forget what he was doing.
It’s frustrating for the viewer, and you could almost see in a couple of scenes that it was frustrating for the actors, as well.
Speaking of actors, this film really has a great cast. Dave Bautista proves he can lead well, though I still wish he’d been given more to do. Sadly, there were times when he seemed bored on screen. That malaise can be felt in almost all of the performances in the film. Omari Hardwick has mad fighting skills, but there are definite signs of going through the motions.
The two real standouts, as I mentioned earlier, are Notaro and Schweighöfer. They’re the only two actors who seem to be having a really good time in the film.
Notaro famously joined Army of the Dead after another actor was removed from the film amidst accusation of sexual misconduct and harassment. She was brought in and added via green-screen and several re-shoots, and it’s possible this is what allowed her to tap into a different energy than the rest of the cast. Her tongue-in-cheek performance as a helicopter pilot who joins the heist simply to have something to do is absolutely a highlight.
As for Schweighöfer, his nervous safecracker, Dieter, simply stole my heart. Here is a guy in the midst of a zombie outbreak who has never really used a gun before much less had to fight for his life in any real sense. He takes on the job in a quest–not for money–but to take on the most badass safe in the world: the Götterdämmerung, aptly named after Wagner’s opera about the end of the world.
Then there are the zombies of Army of the Dead. They come in two categories: shamblers and alphas. Shamblers are the zombies most folks are used to. Alphas are not only faster and stronger, but they also think, form attachments, and communicate with each other.
What’s fascinating about that, is it allows the audience to develop a certain amount of empathy for them. They’re living their lives in their own little quarantined world, and thanks to the walls built around Las Vegas, they’re really not hurting anyone. It’s only when humans enter their domain that the real trouble begins.
Now, if I understand correctly:
- If a person is bitten by a shambler, they become a shambler.
- If a person is bitten by an alpha, they still become a shambler.
- However, if a person is bitten by Zeus, king of the Alphas, then they become an Alpha.
That mostly makes sense, except that toward the end of the film, they make a truck-sized plothole and drive right on through concerning the amount of time it takes someone to turn.
Look, despite all of this, Army of the Dead is not a terrible movie. Some of it is really fun, and the action sequences can get pretty intense. If you go into it expecting only that, then you should be fine. However, the film was almost sold as Ocean’s Eleven with zombies, and that is a promise that it just never fulfills.
If you’ve not seen the trailer for Army of the Dead, check it out below, and look for it on Netflix on May 21, 2021.
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘Bury The Bride’
Bachelorette parties can be such a disaster.
June Hamilton (Scout Taylor-Compton, Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN) has invited a group of friends and her sister Sadie (Krsy Fox, Allegoria) to her new humble abode to party and to meet her new hubby to be. Having to drive out far into the treacherous desert to a shotgun shack with no one else around, ‘cabin in the woods’ or rather ‘cabin in the desert’ jokes ensue as the red flags rise up one after another. Warning signs that are inevitably buried under a wave of alcohol, games, and unburied drama between the bride, family, and friends. But when June’s fiancee shows up with some gritty, redneck buddies of his own the party really gets started…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bury The Bride going in, but was pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and turns it took! Taking tried and true genres like ‘backwoods horror’, ‘redneck horror’, and the always entertaining ‘marital horror’ to craft something that caught me rather off guard. Directed and co-written by Spider One and co-written by co-star Krsy Fox, Bury The Bride is a truly fun and stylized horror hybrid with plenty of gore and thrills to keep this bachelorette party interesting. For the sake of leaving things to the viewers, I’ll keep details and spoilers to a minimum.
Being such a tight-knit plot, the cast and cast of characters are key to making the plot work. Both sides of the marital line, from June’s urban friends and sister to redneck husband to be David’s (Dylan Rourke) macho buds, play well off of one another as the tensions rise. This creates a distinct dynamic that comes into play as the desert hijinks escalate. Prominently, there’s Chaz Bono as David’s mute sidekick of sorts, Puppy. His expressions and reactions to the ladies and his browbeating friends were a highlight to be sure.
Though a bit of a minimalist plot and cast, Bury The Bride makes the most of its characters and setting to make a truly fun and entertaining bridal horror movie that takes you for a loop. Go in blind, and bring a good gift! Available now on Tubi.
Panic Fest 2023 Review: Final Summer
August 16th, 1991. Final Day of summer camp at Camp Silverlake, Illinois. Tragedy has struck. A young camper has died while hiking under the care of camp counselor Lexi (Jenna Kohn). The grandson of alleged campfire story monster Warren Copper (Robert Gerard Anderson), it only adds to the tension s its announced that this tragedy among other factors has led to the dissolution and sale of Camp Silverlake for good. Now left behind to clean up the mess as the campsite gets ready for the chopping block, a killer with a skull mask and an axe has taken to killing every camp counselor they can find. But is it an actual ghost story come to life, the real Warren Copper, or someone or something else entirely?
Final Summer is a pretty entertaining summer camp slasher homage, particularly to the more grounded and brutal seasonal horrors of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Madman. Complete with bloody stabbings, beheadings, and bludgeonings that are not played for laughs or winks or nods. It’s a pretty simple premise. Bunch of camp counselors marooned at an isolated and shutting down camp getting picked off one by one. But, the cast and through-line still make it an entertaining ride and it sticks the aesthetic of the time period and style of slasher to make it enthralling if you’re a particularly big fan of Sumer Camp Slashers. Though set in 1991, and with some fashion and then present, it doesn’t quite utilize the time period to its fullest. Extra kudos for featuring some veteran actors of the genre like Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ own Tommy Jarvis, Thom Matthews as the local sheriff.
And of course, every great slasher needs a great villain and The Skull Mask is an interesting one that stands out. Wearing a simple outdoors get-up and the creepy, featureless formfitting skull mask, he rasps, walks, and slices his way throughout the campsite. Once scene that pops to mind was a brutal beating involving a sports trophy. Once the counselors realize there’s a killer in their midst in the dark of night on Camp Silverlake, it leads to a high energy stalk and chase that keeps its momentum to the end.
So, if you’re in the mood for a summer camp slasher movie that reflects the genre boom at its heyday, Final Summer may be the kind of film you’d like to watch near the campfire, enjoying s’mores, and hoping there’s not a masked madman nearby…
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘The Once And Future Smash/End Zone 2’
Freddy Krueger. Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. These are just a few examples of many slasher killers who have ingrained themselves into pop culture and have attained immortality. Both in that no matter how many times they die, they keep coming back and how their franchises just won’t stay dead so long as they have a fandom to revitalize them. Like Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, they live on so long as the fan believe they will. It’s in this way that even the most obscure horror icon can have a shot at a comeback. And the actors that portrayed them.
This is the set-up to The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 created by Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein. In the sixties, the first true sports themed slasher was created with the film End Zone and it’s more popular follow up End Zone 2 in 1970. The film followed the football themed cannibal Smashmouth and was portrayed by both the egotistical diva Mikey Smash (Michael St. Michaels, The Greasy Strangler) and the “Touchdown!” catchphrase slinging William Mouth (Bill Weeden, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.) with both men laying claim to the character and creating a rivalry that would last decades. Now, 50 years later, a studio is lining up an End Zone requel and both olden actors are determined to return as Smashmouth while attending a horror convention. Leading to a battle for the ages for fandom and gory glory!
The Once And Future Smash and its companion End Zone 2 stand on their own both as loving satires of horror, slashers, fandom, remake trends, and horror conventions and as their own fictional horror franchise complete with lore and history. The Once And Future Smash is a funny mockumentary with bite as it delves deep into the horrifying and competitive world of the convention circuit and the lives of guests and fans. Largely following Mikey and William as they both desperately try and regain their former perceived glory and leading to all manner of awkward and hilarious inconveniences such as being booked to the same table- despite absolutely hating each other! The cast complimented by A.J. Cutler as the put upon A.J. Working as Mikey Smash’s assistant due to a vow by his father who worked on the original movies as Smashmouth’s partner in crime, A.J. works well as the straight man to the antics of the former horror stars in their demands and as tensions heat up. Having to go all manner of demeaning treatment and leading to A.J. wanting to escape the madness from behind the scenes.
And being a mockumentary, it only makes sense that there would be a wide roster of experts, filmmakers, and talking heads to interview on the subject of the End Zone franchise and history. Featuring a wide variety of icons and memorable appearances such as Lloyd Kaufman, Richard Elfman, Laurene Landon, Jared Rivet, Jim Branscome, and many more. Giving an air of legitimacy to End Zone being such a fondly looked upon slasher, or smasher, film series and Smashmouth being deserving of his infamy. Each interview providing further context to the weird details and backstory surrounding the End Zone series and grounding the idea further to make it like a palpably real series of films. From stating their favorite scenes from the movies, to adding bits about behind the scene drama, to how it influenced even their own works in the genre. Many points being very clever parodies of other horror franchise drama and trivia such as Friday The 13th and Halloween among many others, further adding fun parallels
At the end of the day however, The Once And Future Smash is a love letter to the horror genre and the fandoms that have arisen around them. Despite the conflicts and issues that can arise from nostalgia and trying to revive those stories for modern day cinema, they left a positive impact on their audiences and something for fans to rally together for. This mockumentary does for horror fandom and franchises what Christopher Guest’s movies did for dog shows and folk music.
Conversely, End Zone 2 makes for a fun as hell slasher throwback (or smasher, considering that Smashmouth pulps and drinks his victims with a blender due to his grotesquely broken jaw.) Allegedly restored from lost 16mm elements, the hour long 1970 slasher takes place 15 years later from the original End Zone and the Donner High Massacre perpetrated by Angela Smazmoth as Nancy and her friends try to move on from the horror by having a reunion at a cabin in the woods. Only to fall victim to Angela’s son, Smashmouth and his partner in crime, A.J.! Who will survive and who will be pureed?
End Zone 2 both stands on its own and compliments The Once And Future Smash both as a companion piece and a genuinely entertaining throwback horror film on its own. Homaging other slasher franchises and trends of yesteryear while forming its own identity with Smashmouth. A bit Friday The 13th, a little Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a dash A Nightmare On Elm Street in a fun football theme. While both movies can be viewed individually, you get the best out of the two as a double feature as lore about End Zone 2 and the stories of its production history from The Once And Future Smash come into play.
Overall, The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 are two highly inventive films that deconstruct, reconstruct, and lovingly goof on everything from slasher franchises, horror conventions, and the true terror of behind the scenes drama. And here’s hoping we’ll one day truly see more Smashmouth in the future!