Judge Gordon Sullivan's using more yeast in his zombies now.
You can't kill what isn't alive.
Many monsters are fairly mutable. As the Twilight franchise has demonstrated beyond a doubt, vampires (and even werewolves) as creatures can go anywhere: what was once the stuff of darkness and nightmares sparkles and sells tickets to tweens and their moms. Zombies, however, are a little more resistant. Unless a flick is going straight for comedy territory, zombie films are essentially siege films with the undead standing in for the black-hatted gunfighters of old. Of course, there are exceptions, but just about every scary film with the zeds in it at least has a siege scene, even if it's not the entire plot. Some flicks try to camouflage this by giving new reasons for the zombies (radiation! a virus! spoiled food!), but just about all zombie flicks turn out the same. Even Romero's rightly hailed trilogy shows this. What fewer filmmakers do is change the place where the siege occurs; it's usually an anonymous military bunker or a lonely house (the better to keep production costs down). However, some filmmakers learn from the master's example and vary their locations accordingly. That's how we get Prison of the Living Dead—oh wait, excuse me Rise of the Zombies—where the usual reluctant group of heroes hides out in Alcatraz to escape the hungry horde. That doesn't quite save an otherwise bargain-basement production, but Rise of the Zombies at least gets an A for effort.
Rise of the Zombies begins after the zombie apocalypse. A group of survivors has sequestered themselves in Alcatraz prison. They receive a broadcast indicating that a cure has been found, so a group of the survivors head off the island and into San Francisco to find help. Naturally, things do not go smoothly with the undead wandering around.
Rise of the Zombies has two big things going for it. The first is its premise. Alcatraz may be the perfect place to hide come the zombie apocalypse (assuming, of course, you bring enough food with you to the island). It also puts the characters right next to a major port and population center if the cure is found. With San Francisco right there, plenty of options are opened up, both for the characters in the film, and in terms of ways the production could go. Besides, who doesn't want to imagine the Golden Gate Bridge overrun with undead hordes?
The second thing that Rise of the Zombies has going for it is the cast. We've got Danny Trejo doing his trademark badass. LeVar Burton playing a tortured scientist trying to find a cure for his infected daughter. Mariel Hemingway as another scientist obsessed with finding the cure while keeping her cool. Ethan Suplee plays a kind of regular Joe trying to survive with his scientific comrades. It's a pretty crazy cast for a low-budget picture. While none are going to win awards for their performances here, it brings a level of polish to what would otherwise be a totally forgettable zombie outing.
The Rise of the Zombies (Blu-ray) helps, too. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is sourced from HD video and looks clean and crisp here. Detail is strong throughout, and colors are cool but well-saturated. Black levels are fine and stay consistent, while no serious digital artefacts crop up to be distracting. The video is matched by an excellent DTS-HD 5.1 track. Dialogue is clean and clear, while the rest of the soundstage is filled with well-mixed effects that provide a surprising amount of immersion for a low-budget feature.
Extras include a 5-minute making-of and a 1-minute gag reel along with trailers for other flicks by Asylum studios. This set also includes a DVD copy of the film.
Of course, Rise of the Zombie is largely a forgettable zombie outing. Not even a cast full of recognizable faces can overcome the fact that everything beyond the premise is completely recycled from other, better films. Even the premise largely plays itself out quickly as the inhabitants are forced off the island, meaning we get a generic "search" flick with some recognizable locations. Though I can't fault the acting too much, the look of the film is sad in some places. Dodgy CGI is especially distracting. With this cast and some of the famous locations viewers will want desperately for the script to provide something other than a set of tired zombie clichés, but the film takes more of its cues from Frankenstein, stitching together a bunch of dead things.
There are worse zombie films out there than Rise of the Zombies. Those who are infatuated with the undead can't avoid a film that combines Danny Trejo and zombies. For them, the Blu-ray is worth a rental. For everyone else, there's nothing tempting here aside from a bizarre cast for a zombie flick.
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