Image Entertainment // 1984 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 7th, 2004
They're consuming every living creature in sight! (Seventy-five minutes of your life are next!!!)
The first sentence on the back of the disc jacket reads: "For the lucky few viewers in the 1980s who caught Alien Dead." The operative word there is "few."
This take on zombie horror, set in the swamps of Florida, comes courtesy of Fred Ray, who would later go on to be a prolific auteur of direct-to-video fare and soft-core pornography.
In this, his first shot at a movie with a real budget ($12,000!), Ray goes after the zombie genre, with his only original contribution the milieu: the swamps of Florida, which seem an odd match with the undead.
And where did these undead come from? Well, a crashed aircraft carrying loads of biological weaponry of course! The toxic substance lodges in the swamps, and anyone unlucky enough to be exposed to its contamination immediately starts to ride the zombie Zamboni (I have no idea what that means, sorry.)
As reports of disappearances lead to discoveries of mutilated bodies, the small backwoods town begins to hum with fear. The intrepid Tom Corman, aided by Sheriff Kowalski (Buster Crabbe), canvasses the hillbillies, searching for the truth.
Meanwhile the bodies pile up, and the zombies stumble around in slow motion, wrestling their victims to the ground and chewing on them and stuff. They have also adopted a particularly effective tactic of swimming underwater and ambushing topless women stupid enough to go swimming in a gross swamp.
At 75 minutes, the film looks short on paper but manages to lumber around just as slowly as its zombies.
Apart from a handful of nifty gore moments -- the old woman lanced with a pitchfork and a group-cannibalizing scene -- the requisite blood and guts most gore-hounds will demand from their zombie films is unfortunately sparse.
So then, what have you got if you have a not-so-violent zombie movie? Well, you better have a relatively original, absorbing story, and Alien Dead doesn't. It's crammed with boring characters and a non-existent storyline that leads to a twist that is blown by simple plot descriptions.
The 16 mm film stock certainly ages the movie, but some may label that "nostalgic." To his credit, Ray wields the camera decently, and elevates the general filmmaking above a simple home-movie feel. Too bad, that there's nothing onscreen actually worthy of praise.
For such a low-budget, barely-there flick, Alien Dead scores a few kudos for putting together some half-decent bonus materials. The director's commentary (perhaps unwarranted for a movie seen by so few?) is entertaining, especially when Ray goes on and on about the ordeals of getting female nudity in the movie. It's particularly amusing to hear him gripe about an actress who had agreed to remove her top, then balked at the last second. Ray notes how she was brought on simply because of her chest size, diplomatically noting she doesn't have any "model-like" qualities (read: she could have been mistaken for one of the alien dead.)
We also get an "actors reunion," another odd addition for such an under-the-radar feature, but, hey, anything helps. Seeing a trio of no-names reminisce about their experience screwing around a backwoods bog isn't the most captivating experience I've ever had, but here's a thumbs-up for dragging these folks from the Arby's drive-thru window.
The video comes in a widescreen format, and, yes, of course, the quality is sub-par. But jeez, Fred Ray pretty much spliced this back together after miraculously stumbling on a surviving print. The sound is a hollow Dolby Mono.
There you go. Fans eager to devour any and all zombie movies will probably want to check this out. Everyone else will be bored stupid.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Commentary
* Actors' Reunion
* Still Gallery