Pathfinder // 2000 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 16th, 2004
You'll be awakened!
In the small mountain town of Sky Hook, the population has all but disappeared. In their place is a ragtag group of flesh-eating corpses, the creation of a psychotic zombie leader named Nefarious Thorne. Apparently the walking dead are all the result of some hideous genetics experiment, and their egomaniacal leader won't rest until every last member of the human race is either dead, or a member of the undead.
But the last remaining living resident of the city, a drunken dude named Bob, is proving difficult to contain. So Nefarious comes up with a two-pronged strategy. He will hire hit men to kill the wily wildman, and he'll also contact his nephew, Titan, to lure this last man out. When the hired guns -- including the disturbed Judas, his Eurotrash partner Johnny Gog, and their less-than-enthusiastic protégée Detroit -- fail to finish Bob off, Nefarious takes matters into his own decaying hands. With Bob captured, the evil leader unleashes his latest creation, a Frankenstein-like fiend called The Beast, to kill the captive. But Bob has a few survivalist tricks up his sleeve, and before long, he has the zombies on the run. It's up to him alone to save the rest of the world from this dead dictator's plan for total domination. If he fails, every other city will witness the carnage and chaos that comes when the walking dead arrive. Nothing can be the same since Necropolis Awakened.
A movie of wild extremes, Necropolis Awakened can best be defined as a successful failure or an incomplete masterwork. Lost somewhere between enormously good and atrociously bad, rests this Mad Max-meets-Resident Evil shocker that wants to have its action and man-eating corpses too. There is a real desire by triple threat Garrett White to make something unique, to fuse Reservoir Dogs-esque assassins with House of 1000 Corpses creatures to mix media and movie references into something uniquely his own. But part of the problem is that White never knows what to do with these elements once they are at hand. Certain facets raise the filmmaking to heights of heady imagination. Other issues nearly undermine all the effort.
As a director, White has a keen eye for framing and composition. He knows how to set atmosphere and mood, and stages a few scenes that really register on the scales of the suspenseful and the sick. From the gorgeous Oregon locations to the evocative surgical theater of the undead, this moviemaker understands his craft. But then he has to go and blow it all. He wastes all the time and effort put into the stunts, the action scene storyboarding, and overall look of the film by filling the movie with abysmal dialogue, narrative illogic, and some of the worst, most ham-filled acting to be found in any low-budget independent film. Just as a sequence is humming along on all six cylinders -- right when a moment needs a magical mysterious component to reinforce its effectiveness -- Garrett lets his father Duke mug like a Central Park scourge, giving endless grossly cartoonish line readings. And unfortunately, the words Duke White's son has given him to speak are ripe with retardation.
Now, no one really expects a horror/action/zombie caper to be the most literate work of dramatic fiction in the world. But it shouldn't sound like grade-schoolers having an argument about guerrilla tactics and codes of conduct among hit men. Necropolis Awakened just can't get the same gravitas out of its words that it can out of its mood. Several times, the chunks of churlish butt nuggets coming out of characters' mouths shatter perfectly engaging scenes.
And then there's the acting. Basically, Garrett essays the role of Titan, Bob's long-lost nephew, leaving the dual acting extravaganzas to pappy Duke (Bob/Judas) and brother Brandon (Gog/Nefarious). For the most part, Brandon comes out unscathed. A little wimpy in his hired killer role, he more than juices up the screen as head zombie Nefarious. But Duke is the main overacting adversary to this movie's accomplishments. His Judas is an exercise in underbite, grinding and grimacing his lines through an affected voice that is neither acceptable nor character-appropriate. Screaming three-fourths of his lines like his hyperactivity is laced with plutonium, there is nothing remotely subtle or successful about Judas. Bob is a little more laid back, but still filled with similar toothy tantrums. Duke, who resembles a much younger, more male model-like Brad Dourif, obviously believes in said actor's eye-popping psychosis as a means of channeling menace. But Duke never gets to Billy Bibbit's inner demons the way the acclaimed cult actor does. Indeed, everyone here screeches their dialogue in distortion-filled fountains of fury that are totally inappropriate for the movie's more mellow quality.
The blame lies completely in the gall of Garrett White. He is reaching for the rafters here, hoping to transform a small-scale situation into something epic in scope. You can tell he is working with what he's got, utilizing friends, family, and favors to get his vision across. But the corner cutting really shows through. A horde of zombies ends up being about ten. Shots meant to conceal the number of extras in a crowd scene don't do enough magical maneuvering to avoid showing gaps in the group. And sometimes, during the mostly excellent car chases, you can see a cheat (background is not moving) or an effect (the video is being sped up). These moments of immaturity poke holes in Necropolis Awakened's otherwise inventive façade, and casts doubt over the rest of the director's routines. Also, there is minimal gore in a film that should be rife with it. Zombies -- even when not chowing on chest cavities -- are rotten, moldering cadavers losing flesh and fluids as they amble about. But everyone here is masked and anonymous, looking less like the living dead than like kids in Halloween costumes.
Based on the balls it has to mess with the classic corpse cinema, Necropolis Awakened deserves some credit. It's not everyday you witness Thunderdome-esque battles between man and monster. And not many filmmakers wish to examine the lost art of the car chase. But Garrett White does all this and more with his ambitious, flawed, and ultimately unsatisfying film. Credit must be given for the creativity. But there are elements too outrageous to warrant a strong recommendation.
Pathfinder's presentation of Necropolis Awakened is jam-packed with contextual creativity. Between trailers, biographies, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted materials, and a previous short made by these same neophytes called Monster (a modern Frankenstein story), the wealth of bonus material is amazing. Add on a full-length commentary, some storyboards, and a nice stills gallery, and you've got a very complete, complimentary package. As a movie, Necropolis Awakened looks pretty good. While the 1.66:1 widescreen image is not anamorphic, the images are crisp, clean, and nicely contrasted. Sound is another issue all together. Almost always distorted (the actors shout nearly all their lines, remember?) it's a headache and an ear infection in the making. While the music and more silent sequences are fine, the minute someone opens his mouth, get ready for the overmodulation. In Dolby Digital, or ground out onto a wax cylinder at the Edison Museum, this is one awful aural experience.
Quality takes a decided upturn with the advent of the package's bonus features. The trailer actually undersells the film, while the storyboards and biography make for intriguing viewing. But perhaps the best material is in the behind-the-scenes category. A featurette gives us a glimpse at what it took to bring this low-budget vision to the screen (and adds a wonderfully funny -- and frightening -- story about how some of the moviemaking material was mistaken for terrorism training by the government). The commentary by the Whites is equally engaging. They really love the end result of their efforts and are rightfully proud, though they go overboard with their praise. It is easy to agree with their takes on the tone and tempo of the film, but when they call the dialogue "some of the best ever written" and the acting "better than you see in most mainstream movies," you realize that someone needs to wake them out of their egotistical trance. Not every aspect of this movie deserves the congratulations they give it.
On the other hand, the 24-minute short Monster is very good, if a little overstylized. More or less a serial-killing crime caper mixed with Frankenstein (and a lot of directorial finesse), this compact narrative works better than some of the scenes in Necropolis. Partly because of the arcane quality of the shoot (all manner of camera tricks are employed), any over-the-top thespianism is subdued. Also, the story is told mostly in images, so there are no idiotic conversations or confrontations to spoil the ambiance.
In the end, it's a literal toss-up. Many of you may be able to overlook the lame-as-loogies writing and even more mucus-covered acting, and will praise Necropolis Awakened as a noble effort. Others will hurl not only epithets but also their cookies at all the juvenile screw-ups and off-tone tantrums being pitched by the performers. Necropolis Awakened needed a rewrite and a recasting to work as something special. Now it is merely a tolerance test for those looking for something new in terror territory.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary by Filmmakers Garrett White, Duke White, and Brandon White
* Behind The Scenes Documentary
* Short Film: Monster
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Original Trailer
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site