What is our fascination with the undead? wonders Judge David Johnson. He's going to go hang out on a mountain for a while and contemplate that.
Over the centuries, many have tried to wield the power to return life to the dead.
Here's a unique look at the zombie genre, courtesy of writer-director Brian Clement. Exhumed takes three separate stories and attempts to meld them into one cohesive narrative. It's straight-up indie horror at its most daring, but does it work?
Facts of the Case
This self-described anthology tells three zombie-related tales: Shi No Mori (The Forest of Doom), Shadow of Tomorrow, and Last Rumble. Each story takes place in a different time period, but they are bound together by a mysterious artifact that has the ability to raise the dead.
• Shi No Mori (The Forest of Doom)
• Shadow of Tomorrow
• Last Rumble
There is some really good stuff happening with Exhumed. Writer-director Brian Clement has put together a few extremely creative, and sporadically entertaining, horror shorts. That's really what this is: a collection of vignettes. As a single logical narrative, Exhumed stumbles. Clement tries his hardest to sew everything together at the end, but the climax and its vigorous attempts at last-minute exposition are hilariously opaque. It's like Back to the Future II complex.
But up until that point, Exhumed succeeds as a piece of unique low-budget filmmaking. Of the three stories, my favorite is Shi No Mori. Clement's choice to do the whole thing in Japanese (with English subtitles) is audacious, and the two actors pull it off. Actually the two stars, Masahiro Oyake and Hiroaki Itaya, supply the best performances of the film. Maybe it's because they speak Japanese and I instantly think they're better actors because Japanese is a bitch of a language to learn. (Actually, how can I even be sure they spoke Japanese? Oh well.) Anyway, it's Clement's best visual effort in the bunch, it's the best paced, and it boasts some of better gore effects. One scene in particular stands out: Ryuzo (Oyake), surrounded by zombies, in a flurry of swordplay, swings and slashes, then stands still—and in true grindhouse fashion, the zombies' necks explode in fountains of blood.
Shadow of Tomorrow, an homage to '40s noir, sports some fine production elements, but horrible acting and a zombie-free trek of a story make it the weakest of the three. Finally, Last Rumble offers some very good gore gags (the oft-used chainsaw through a zombie torso is employed to surprisingly good effect) and a lesbian sex scene that is as superfluous as it is surprising—I find it rare to see this kind of nudity in these micro-budget affairs. The storyline is incoherent, especially toward the end as Clement attempts to segue into the finale, but the whole thing moves along quickly with enough violence to satiate most zombie flick fans.
In the end, that's what will determine if this is the film for you: Do you enjoy zombie flicks? If you do, I'd say give this a whirl. Clement is a talented guy, whose shortcomings as a writer are surpassed by a solid visual style and a penchant for letting the sinew fly freely.
The movie looks pretty decent. The full-frame transfer is crisp enough for the budget. Shadow of Tomorrow looks the best of the three segments, mainly because of its black-and-white presentation. Clement has a knack for lighting, which shows in this episode and even more so in Shi No Mori (a testament to the director's skills, as much of it is filmed in the dark). The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is adequate but nothing extraordinary, lacking depth and LFE punch.
Amidst the largely disposable extra features (a couple of outtakes and some stills), two stand out: a commentary track by Clement and actor Moira Thomas and a behind-the-scenes documentary. Clement is talkative and takes the commentary track—as well as the movie—seriously. When he starts prattling about post-modernity my eyelids grow heavy, but overall it's a fun and sometimes self-deprecating discussion. The documentary uses a clever spin, selling itself as a "Micro-Budget Horror Filmmaking Primer" and matching some witty pointers with the footage. My favorite: the how-to guide on do-it-yourself gore effects.
Though a mixed bag substance-wise, Exhumed wins big points for its fresh visual flair, the liberal use of blood and guts, and the ambitious—though flawed—storytelling.
Not guilty, though the court acknowledges it's not for everyone.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Go Kart Films
• Director and Cast Commentary
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