When reality show The Force, a Cops like program, decided to film Officer Bridge and see a little bit of what life was like for a small town cop just back from the big city, the last thing they expected to film was a house full of the undead.
For the life of me I will never understand why Zombie Cops never made it on to mainstream television. What’s Zombie Cops you ask? I guess I should have seen that question coming considering one of my favorite shows was only ever televised on ZTV, a zombie owned television station not to be confused with the Indian Zee TV. Zombie Cops is fairly self-explanatory, it’s just like Cops, only it details zombie police hunting down zombified criminals. You might remember a bit back when I mentioned how creatures of the night tend to police their own, with vampire cops taking care of their blood sucking criminals, werewolves taking care or their hairy criminals, zombies taking care of their rotting criminals, and so on and so forth. I’m sure Vampire Cops is an enjoyable show in its own right, I never watched it personally, didn’t have much desire to watch them flitter around chasing each other, and Werewolf Cops was fun for its gratuitous violence and gore, each show ending with both cop and criminal ripped apart, but Zombie Cops was where it was at for me. We zombies are a notoriously ornery bunch in the best of circumstance, get a pint of whiskey and the cops involved and you might as well have just skateboarded across an old man’s lawn while screaming obscenities. Zombies will take nearly any opportunity to be argumentative assholes and just because some rotting cop shows up at our door to tell us to knock it off doesn’t mean we’re going to start being all niceity nice. It makes for an extremely entertaining show, hell, it was almost a badge of honor to have been on Zombie Cops. I tried myself to appear on the show, but all I got was a few overnights in jail, which for a zombie is just a hole in the ground. It’s a show that both the living and the dead can enjoy so I’m not sure why no network other than ZTV picked it up. The closest thing would probably be the fictional Death Valley. You’ve never heard of that one either? Well I guess I know what I’m going to have to review soon.
Our film begins in a small, rural town with a Cops style reality show called The Force. They are there to follow newly returned police officer Bridge (played by Godsmack lead singer Sully Erna) who gave up his job in a bigger city to move back to his hometown, but so far nothing very exciting has happened, their biggest bust being two horny teenagers about to get in on in a parking lot. While the trio of show host Kayla, her cameraman Dave (played by a Joey Fatone that has let himself go just a bit), and Bridge try to find something more stimulating to film, two other officers are investigating what was called in as a domestic disturbance. What they find is an entire family slaughtered save one mysterious little girl who knowns more than she’s willing to say, but before they can look into it further, the officers are attacked by an unseen assailant after a strange light disorientates the pair. When the two officers fail to radio in, Bridge, still accompanied by Kayla and Dave, meets up with a few other cops to find out what caused them to stop responding. Once there, the group are forced to deal with the same disorientating light that affected the two officers previously sent to investigate, and when it disappears the mysterious little girl from earlier appears among them, but they find something strange when they examine her, she seems to be devoid of both a pulse and a heartbeat and at the center of whatever is happening. Kayla, Dave, and a medical examiner wait outside with the little girl, and Bridge, along with two fellow officers, further explore the house hoping to find their missing friends. What they find instead is horrifying. In an attic the three discover a man painting unknown symbols on the walls in his own blood, a man who then slits his throat. As if their situation wasn’t already horrifying enough, the dead inside the house no longer want to remain dead, reanimating and immediately attacking anyone still living. Those not killed by the reanimated dead, the group consisting of Bridge, Kayla, Dave, the medical examiner, a drunk that had been in the back of one of the police cruisers (Nick Principe who played Chromeskull in Laid to Rest), and a nearby local man affectionately known as Crazy Earl (Michael Berryman) must work together in order to stop the zombies from getting to the little girl or face an Earth overrun by demonically possessed living dead.
I always worry about watching a movie when it spends an inordinate amount of time talking about who stars in it versus trying to entice me to watch the movie for its own merits. I understand wanting to advertise who is going to be starring in a film, especially if you’re paying a lot of money to get a specific actor, filmmakers are after all not just paying for talent but name as well. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have gotten a Judge Dredd movie where Dredd takes off his mask to reveal he’s really Rocky Balboa. That’s not to say that just because a studio wanted a bigger name they weren’t hiring great actors, but the bigger the name, the bigger the paycheck they’ll need to shell out, so they’re well within their rights to hype the ever loving hell out of the people who are going to be in their flick. Not to mention that certain actors have a fan base behind them of people that will see anything as long as said actor is starring in it. There are also actors who, when you see them in a certain film type or genre, you automatically want to see how they’ll do, either having a feeling that they will fit the role perfectly or wondering if they will fall flat on their face. Well, this zombie flick stars actors from both sides of that equation with people like Michael Berryman, Nick Principe, and Tony Todd fitting the former, and others like Joey Fatone and Sully Erna fitting the later, so I can’t blame them for wanting to hype who they’d hired to fill the various roles, knowing that advertising such a diverse cast that contained a few horror legends was bound to bring in a whole host of viewers. What made me wary was in the way most everything being put out about Army of the Damned pertained to who was going to be in it. It seemed like they were saying “Hey, look at all the famous people we hired…oh yeah, it’s also more or less a zombie movie.” Their reliance on who they were hiring to star made it feel like they didn’t have much confidence in their product beyond the cast. Still, I gave it a shot anyways, their faith that some people would watch regardless due to the cast involved proven right with me. I’m a huge Tony Todd and Michael Berryman fan, so I picked up a copy, and, even though Tony Todd really doesn’t have much of a part at all, maybe appearing in five or ten minutes tops, I’m glad I did. It’s not the greatest movie, and there are a couple faults, but it was still a decent enough addition to the zombie cinematic library that was a fun film to watch.
I’m sure after reading my little rant on using actors’ names you’re curious about how they did, for the most part they did great. Michael Berryman is as wonderful as always, playing a character that seems almost completely crazy, but still the most useful of the bunch. His gung ho attitude was refreshing as the other characters waffled back and forth in their determination. His portrayal of Crazy Earl was the one I found myself rooting for the most, though that doesn’t mean he was necessarily my favorite character. That distinction would go to Nick Principe’s character Donald. When Bridge and the other cops first show up at the house to find out what happened to the other officers, Donald is sitting in the back of a police cruiser after being picked up for public intoxication. He was absolutely hilarious, and Principe was perfect for the role of the drunken hooligan, being both funny and charming. I was in stiches for most of his scenes, cracking up at the offhanded and out of place jokes his character would make. I have to admit that I had no idea that Sully Erna who plays Bridge was the lead singer of Godsmack when I first sat down to watch this, Godsmack not being a band I ever really cared for all that much, but while I might not like his music I was a fan of his acting. I’m hoping to see him take on more acting roles in the future. Joey Fatone I can’t really complain about since his portrayal of Dave could be funny and sympathetic at the same time. The problem came in the way most of his dialogue and mannerisms were written as self-deprecating fat jokes, Fatone having gained a little weight over the years. It could be funny, but it was such a constant with him that it got old fast. Most everyone does a terrific job with their characters, even the little girl with the mysterious role was great at combining creepy with innocent, but there were two that got old quicker than Fatone’s never ending fat jokes, David Chokachi as Officer Rhodes and Tom Paolino as Officer Sobecheck. They were supposed to be the comic relief meets stereotypical macho men, always trying to prove their masculinity, but it was so over the top that it just came across as ridiculous.
That was a problem with a lot of the movie though, how over the top things could be. They were obviously going for a B movie feel with Army of the Damned, but they just tried too hard, throwing in every zombie trope they could think of in trying to make this the zombieist of the B zombie movies. I could appreciate the thought and the angle they were going for in creating something that was almost a homage to the many B movies that had come before it. There’s even an obvious in-joke that occurs where a character’s shirt constantly appears and disappears between scenes. It’s never mentioned in the film, but one of the zombified officers will have her long sleeve shirt on in one scene, but the next will only have her in an undershirt, move ahead a little bit though and she’ll have that long sleeve shirt right back on her. It was such an obvious mistake and it happened so often that I’m guessing it was left in there as a small nod to some of the older zombie flicks where mistakes like that ran rampant. Again, I get what they were trying to do, but something they missed was the fact that some of those tropes, things like poor editing and cheesy dialogue, weren’t things fans loved about zombie movies from yesteryear, they loved those zombie movies in spite of those things. That’s quite a big difference, Army of the Damned was so focused on being as much of a homage to older zombie films that it couldn’t see past its own fervor. This is funny considering I’m not sure I would call this a classic zombie film. They are zombie like for sure in that they are dead and you have to shoot them in the head to put them down permanently, but they’re more demon possessed people with some kind of hyperactivity disorder. When someone dies around the house, a demon possesses their body and they become maniacally happy, bouncing around and laughing like someone has given them way too much sugar, before modifying their bodies to be more lethal by adding various weapons like a sledgehammer where a hand should be or blades in between fingers like an even more nightmarish version of Freddy Krueger’s glove.
Thankfully, the above mentioned scenes of bodily disfigurement, like the rest of the gore in Army of the Damned, look fantastic. This was one area in which they outdid themselves. The effects are utterly fantastic. You can expect quite a bit of gore, heads exploding, flesh torn asunder, and bodies ripped apart, and all of it looks absolutely amazing. I was immensely impressed with how much effort they put into the effects and make up, and all of it was done with practical effects instead CGI. Even the zombies/demons look fantastic. While I may not have thought of them as full on zombies, they looked like you would expect a zombie too look, just happier.
Army of the Damned isn’t a film that is going to blow you away, but it is enjoyable none the less. I’d recommend checking it out if you get the chance.
The Undead Review
Directed By: Tom DeNucci (Self Storage, Mummy Business)
Starring: Sully Erna (lead singer for Godsmack), Jackie Moore (Atlantic Rim, 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck), Joey Fatone (Red Riding Hood, Inkubus), Nick Principe (Laid to Rest, The Summer of Massacre), and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eye , Guyver)
Written By: Tom DeNucci (Self Storage, Mummy Business)
Released By: Woodhaven Production Company and Screen Media Films
Release Year: 2013
Release Type: Straight to Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Rotten Heads: Three Heads Out of Five