Tempe Video // 1991 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 11th, 2007
Undead law enforcement vs. one pissed-off insurance salesman.
When detectives Joshua and Stevens answer a domestic disturbance call, they don't expect to come face to face with their old nemesis -- the drug-dealing, child-killing madman nicknamed Dr. Death. Hoping to take him out once and for all, our pushy policemen break procedure and go in alone. Joshua is ambushed and left for dead, but with this last breath, he shoots Dr. Death. Unfortunately, the multiple-murdering maniac has cursed our hero. He uses a voodoo spell to make Joshua into Zombie Cop, an undead officer fated to walk the Earth forever. Teaming up with Stevens after rising from the grave, Joshua has one simple goal -- destroy the also-reanimated bad guy once and for all.
Meanwhile, for Jerry Handley and his fiancée, life is pretty good. They're planning for their upcoming nuptials as he receives an invitation to an important insurance convention in Cleveland. Upon arriving, Handley hooks up with an old friend, and the two catch up on old times. But when a sinister individual approaches the pair about partaking of some "private" entertainment provided by their boss (read: partying with prostitutes), Handley flatly refuses. Later, he discovers something horrible about the whole set-up, and soon he is rushing home to protect his future wife from any criminal backlash. Sadly, Handley may be too late. Heaven help those who hurt his family. It's Maximum Impact for all involved.
There is a minor amount of backstory that needs to be considered before commenting on this super-schlocky double feature. Back in the early '90s, Tempe titan J. R. Bookwalter was approached by a California company with an interesting proposition. They needed direct-to-video product quickly. He had proven he could provide cheap genre outings with very little upfront money. Eventually working out a deal where they would provide the titles and he would provide the finished film, Bookwalter began work on what he would later call "his six pack." It consisted of Kingdom of the Vampires, Chickboxer, Galaxy of the Dinosaurs, Humanoids from Atlantis, and these two undeniably odd offerings. Fast forward a decade or so and, with DVD the latest technological trading space, Tempe was looking for a way to re-release these underperforming efforts. The answer? Something called the "Bad Movie Police."
Under this curious premise, Bookwalter could repackage his movies as so-called "crimes" against cinema. He would use a couple of lovely lookers (actresses Ariuana Albright and Lilith Stabs), dress them up like slightly fetish-esque cops, and have them play Shock Theater-like horror hosts for these appalling films. Providing a satiric spin on each title, the result would be a nice way of poking fun at some underachieving films. Oddly enough, this latest Bad Movie Police compendium ditches the entire set-up/skit section to simply provide this pair of cinematic tragedies. While Albright and Stabs are missed (they could really tear apart a lame amateur effort), one imagines that Bookwalter found the gimmick grating -- or too expensive -- to provide once again. In either case, what we are left with is an odd take on the entire Maniac Cop category of supernatural law enforcement and a weird revenge thriller that features snuff films, a black Italian Mafioso, and a term-life policy pusher as our Steven Seagal substitute.
In the case of Zombie Cop, the title is a thousand times better than the movie it marks. Between James Black's horrendous Jamaican accent (think Hermes Conrad mixed with Miss Cleo and you get the idea) as Dr. Death and Bill Morrison's actor-in-a-coma performance, you're surrounded by the very bottom of the acting barrel. As our lead, male model Michael Kemper isn't bad, he's just bandaged up. That's right -- due to a lack of F/X budgeting, his Det. Joshua is given a mummy make-over (lots of greenish gauze) to hide his otherwise supposedly rotting corpse façade. It's laugh out loud ludicrous. At only 60 meandering minutes, you'd think this film would breeze by quickly enough for a viewer to forgive its many wrongs. But when you consider that the entire last act is nothing more than an extended chase scene, complete with car stunts and foot racing, one is shocked at how stagnant it all is. Bookwalter could have tossed in a couple of CGI T-Rex's and a collection of murderous automatons and we still wouldn't care. The movie is so nonchalant in its narrative, so slipshod in its inner logic that infants waiting to be weaned can pick out the plot holes. For those who like really bad movies, Zombie Cop will test your tolerance levels. It's a lame lark, but in a taxing, tacky manner.
That's not to say that Maximum Impact is any better. Indeed, this is a film that can't figure out if it wants to be Death Wish, 8mm, or an insurance industry recruiting seminar. The premise is so preposterous, so convoluted in its attempt to mix the mundane with the menacing that it fails at both. The notion that a well-respected company president would hire a gangster to provide hookers to his employees seems...so...well...1958, and the presence of James Black as an African-American Don is really dopey. He's good, but some of his dialogue borders on the befuddling. Indeed, a great deal of Thomas Brown's script (buffered by Bookwalter) sounds like someone's idea of intense criminal repartee. Quentin Tarantino this ain't, however. Even more confusing is the movie's motivation. Handley makes it very clear that he wants nothing to do with the paid paramours, yet he shows up at the location anyway? After managing to escape with a witness, he fails to go to the police because? Huh? Unfortunately, we never know. While the ending has a nice vibe of purposed payback, the majority of Maximum Impact plays like a retarded Reader's Digest condensed version of an actioner. You'll definitely be on the edge of your seat. Otherwise, how can you get up and turn the damned thing off?
Available separately, or as part of a five-disc Bad Movie Police Crimewave Box Set, both Zombie Cop and Maximum Impact look pretty darned good. Their 1.33.:1 full-screen images are colorful, clean, and considerably better than one might expect. When we learn (in the accompanying commentaries) that each movie was painstakingly "rebuilt" from original stock elements and then given a definitive digital polish, we understand the terrific transfers. These are indeed some of the best Super VHS versions of homemade horror films to hit the familiar format. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Stereo is simple and direct. The conversations are occasionally covered up by ambient noise and overdone underscoring but, for the most part, these are aurally legible listening experiences. As for added content, each movie is provided with an optional full-length discussion by Bookwalter and various members of the cast and crew. For Cop, it features producer Scott Plummer and actors Bill Morrison, Jo Norica, and Ken Jarosz. Only Plummer is missing from the Impact track. Here, we learn about the video revamp, the trouble in casting and continuity, and how Morrison basically dismisses this entire facet of his career. Funny and frequently very insightful, this is an excellent piece of added content. In fact, it's the only piece, unless you count a trailer for each film.
In the rotten film domain, there are movies that are so bad they're good, and movies that are so bad they're abysmal. Zombie Cop and Maximum Impact are somewhere near the latter delineation. They're not the worst films you'll ever see, but they definitely come up cinematically short. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Tempe Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks on Both Films
* Trailers for Both Films
* IMDb: Zombie Cop