Judge Gordon Sullivan doesn't need to decode cinematic bloodshed.
What kills them only makes them stronger.
Two great tastes that taste great together is often the name of the game. Combine the right two things, and you make bank. Everybody hates Nazis, and everybody loves zombie movies. The logical conclusion is that the world needs Nazi zombie movies. There are more than enough entries in that tiny genre to justify its existence. Really, though, there's only so much you can do with Nazi zombies. I mean Hitler's a bad guy and all, but there have to be other dictators out there who could be fodder for horror flicks? Code Red proves me right: this time it's not Nazi zombies creating problems, but Stalinist zombies. Thank goodness somebody is doing something original. Or not. Despite the change from Hitler's hordes to Stalin's, we're still looking at a low-budget, European take on the zombie-action hybrid film. It might offer some delights to fans of the genre, but most will be put out by the wooden acting and low-budget production.
In Code Red, Stalin ordered the creation of a nerve gas, one that turned those exposed into the ravenous undead—but the gas disappeared after the Battle of Stalingrad. Now, in Bulgaria, it appears to have made a comeback, and Special Forces Captain John McGahey (Paul Logan, Mega Piranha) and NATO doctor Anna (Manal El-Feitury) must get out of the infected zone before things go Code Red, and the area is reduced to ash.
The bad news first: Code Red has a lot about it that's terrible. The idea of a U.S./Bulgarian co-production sounds sketchy on the surface, and Code Red pretty much lives up to those expectations. Acting is wooden, at best. The cast is obviously international, and English isn't always the best language for those involved. It's not like the script for Code Red provides Shakespearean dialogue for the actors anyway. The plot is a barely strung together excuse to get a bunch of people shot and a few more blown up. Everything looks pretty cheap (though I can't fault the use of locations). Overall, it's exactly what a low-budget horror film that's co-produced by one of the lesser-known European countries.
The good news: given all of the above, Code Red is actually a decent little film. No, it won't compete with larger, more well-funded action films, nor with the best of low-budget horror. However, for those looking for action and a bit of gore who don't mind being less-than-picky, Code Red generally entertains. After a while, the bad acting fades into the background, and we're left with a string of action/horror scenes that feature a surprisingly large amount of blood and a decent bit of gore. There's even an effective flashback to the World War II era that birthed the "nerve gas" that zombifies everybody. It's like watching a low-budget homage to Saving Private Ryan. Even if you don't enjoy the film, you have to admire the pluck of trying to match Spielberg's achievement on a shoestring budget.
Code Red also gets a pretty decent DVD release as well. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks good given the budget constraints of the film. Detail is generally okay, colors are pretty well-saturated, and black levels deep and consistent enough. Though not visually stunning, Code Red gets an appropriate transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is about on par with the transfer. Dialogue is generally clean and clear from the fronts, with the surrounds getting a decent amount of use during action scenes. Loud sounds like gunfire have appropriate "oomph" and are well-balanced with the dialogue.
The film also has a surprising number of special features for the U.S. debut of a foreign director (though Valeria Milev directed Re-Kill before Code Red, it hasn't made its Stateside DVD debut). Things kick off with an EPK-style making-of featurette that gives a pretty good idea of how the production of the film must have gone. Then there's the "uncut" version of the World War II-era material. Finally, we get a combo of behind-the-scenes footage along with outtakes. It's not a full-blown special edition, but surprising in both amount and quality for a feature of this kind.
I can't believe it took us over four decades of zombie films to get a film with the tagline: "What kills them only makes them stronger." Though that might be the best thing about Code Red, it's a surprisingly watchable action/horror flick. Viewers may have to stay through some painful dialogue and wooden acting, but their reward will be plenty of action, loads of blood, and some decent scenery. It isn't much, but what can you expect from a film like Code Red?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Deleted Scenes
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