Kudzu Zombies (2017)

KudzuNo matter the size of your film’s budget there are always challenges to face. Big studio pictures have nearly unlimited resources but the filmmakers must contend with meddling producers dumbing down their vision until it’s palatable to a wide enough audience. Conversely, indie filmmakers have the freedom to explore innovative ideas regardless of their marketability but face the challenge of attaining the resources to properly execute their vision. Despite this disparity, both indie and Hollywood films are fighting for the exact same prize, the limited time and attention of a finite number of viewers.

Considering the fact that there is no shortage of entertainment to spend our free time indulging in, why would anyone choose to watch films with inexperienced actors and homemade special effects over slick, high budget entertainment? Well, the reason you chose to overlook the rougher, DIY aspects of indie films is because they are the ones that push the creative boundaries and try daring new things that the high-budget films don’t have the balls to attempt. However, when an indie film simply tries to replicate the same generic experience of a Hollywood film, but with a fraction of the budget, you are left with a product that is truly the worst of both worlds. So, is Kudzu Zombie up to the immense challenge of not only overcoming its very modest budget but also being an innovative entry in Horror’s most over-saturated sub-genre? Well, let’s discuss.

The film tells the story of Lonnie (Timothy Haug) a crop duster who tries out an experimental new chemical at the behest of a pair of corporate scientists and, since this is a zombie film, you all know exactly how well that works out. Once the outbreak is in full swing most of the action takes place at the town’s music festival as Lonnie, his friends and the remaining uninfected must battle the hordes of the undead. There isn’t really much more to the plot than that, and that in and of itself is Kudzu’s biggest failing.

Now, let me be perfectly clear about this, if you are going to attempt to tread down one of the genre’s most well-worn paths, you absolutely must bring a serious amount of innovation to the table. Unfortunately, this film seems content with rehashing the same basic “group survival” plot we’ve seen countless times before and doesn’t even attempt to break new ground. It pays lip service to the invasive plant species the film is named after, but instead of using it as a launching point for a creative and original storyline, it is simply an arbitrary catalyst that results in a very by-the-numbers outbreak.

Okay, so even if a zombie film isn’t willing to go to far outside of the box, it should at least deliver solid, well defined characters and brutal, realistic gore. At this the film also fails, as it portrays generic, one-dimensional characters with melodramatic, cliched subplots that will only succeed in making you hate them more. There is quite a bit of blood but not much in the way of gory practical effects and the ones that are attempted stand out as fake and poorly executed. There is, however, a whole lot of bargain-basement CGI used for everything from the blood splatter, to the explosions to the cartoonish looking fire, which all seem designed to ensure there isn’t even the faintest suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience.

To be fair, in this mess of CGI blood splatter and poorly conceived characters, there are some moments that the filmmakers do pull off effectively. The part where the fire-breathing sideshow performer uses his talents as a weapon against the zombies is well conceived. Similarly, the plane propellers chopping zombies and the RPG being fired into the town are heavily reliant on CGI but still pretty cool to watch.

Ultimately, this is a failed effort, but not because the filmmakers lacked the resources to make a zombie outbreak film, it fails because every instinct the they had was wrong. They didn’t innovate when they should, used CGI when they shouldn’t, and insisted on bad jokes and melodrama in place of realistic character development. Discerning horror fans would be far better served spending an hour and a half re-watching zombie films that actually do innovate the concept of an undead outbreak like Wyrmwood or 28 Days Later than spending their precious free time on a story that’s been done to death.


Guinea Pig 4: Devil Doctor Woman (1986)

Guinea Pig 4While Guinea Pig 3 tested the waters by branching out in a more comedic direction, the 4th installment, Devil Doctor Woman, jumps in with both feet, taking the series from horror to full-blown slapstick comedy. It still manages to be violent and disturbing but the tone is the absolute polar opposite of the first two, so different in fact that it is baffling that it could even be considered part of the same series. So, does this even more extreme tonal shake-up still manage to deliver the kind of satisfyingly gruesome experience we’ve come to know and love from these films? Well, let’s discuss.

The film is essentially just a series of bizarre sketch comedy shorts that center around the unlicensed transvestite “doctor” known as the Devil Doctor Woman. There isn’t an overarching plot to speak of, just a series of nine disconnected segments with the only commonality being the presence of the Doctor or her alter ego, the Cleaning Lady. The segments themselves typically involve the Doctor introducing patients who are suffering from outlandish afflictions and attempting to cure them in weird, violent ways.

It isn’t really worth delving into the writing as nothing about this film is taken seriously and every segment is merely created for the purpose of eliciting gross-out laughs. Although, I’m not sure who’s laughing, because each of the witless segments provides little more than gags about body functions that feel like they were written by demented twelve-year-olds. Now, I’m all for fucked up comedy, but I do have the crazy requirement that it actually be funny and not just incredibly irritating.

One of the main things that made the previous Guinea Pig entries work so well, was the highly detailed, shockingly realistic violence. In this case though, the only thing shocking is how cheap and poorly crafted the special effects look. Heads explode on obvious mannequins, bad make-up reveals bald caps and the less said about the cheap Halloween prop with the floppy rubber spikes the better.

All that being said, though, there were some, but not many, positive aspects of this film. For instance, the segment involving the “Tasting Party of Human Flesh” was a brief highlight that made the film feel at least somewhat connected to previous entries. The idea of a posh gathering where people sample grotesque dishes like Cancerous Liver Curry and Severed Vagina in Blood Sauce at least show a level of gruesome creativity, despite the fact that the props still look like they were bought at a discount costume shop. There also is potential to the concepts in many of the segments, but poor execution and the baffling reliance on the over the top “comedy” completely sabotage them.

Overall, a poorly conceived concept and a baffling direction to take the film series in. The first three entries are well worth watching but new fans of the series would be better off skipping this one entirely. Just like the fourth season of Arrested Development this entry adds nothing of real value and only taints the memory of the three fantastic installments that came before it.


Guinea Pig 3: He Never Dies (1986)

GP3 He Never DiesFor its third entry, the Guinea Pig series goes in a very different direction with He Never Dies. Instead of the somber, grueling brutality of the first two, this film adopts a lighter, comedic tone. In fact, rather than classifying this entry as true horror, it would be more accurate to describe this installment as a black comedy, albeit an exceptionally violent one. So, does this incredibly risky stylistic shake-up actually work in a series known for realistic Snuff impersonation? Well, let’s discuss.

In addition to the change in tone, this is also the first entry to really use a conventional plot structure with clearly defined character motivation and a traditional story arc. At the center of that story is Hideshi (Masahiro Satô), a depressed office drone who just can’t catch a break. When he decides he’s finally had enough and cuts his wrist, he makes the shocking discovery that not only can he no longer feel pain…..he can’t die at all. Although initially distraught, he soon comes to the realization that he can use his new found powers to terrorize a coworker he’s jealous of. I know, hilarious, right?

So, while that may not sound at all like something that even resembles comedy, the story itself is portrayed with a goofy, over-the-top and undeniably comedic tone. Because this is such a jarring change from the previous films, it is best not to try and draw comparisons between them and simply view this as a stand-alone entry. Regardless, even at forty minutes, it still manages to feel long at times and you may spend the first quarter of it asking yourself “How the fuck is this a Guinea Pig film!?” Patient viewers will be rewarded though, because once it starts gaining momentum, it unleashes the well-crafted, gruesome effects the series is famous for.

Initially, I myself was very skeptical of the idea of a comedic entry in the Guinea Pig series, but since the first two films have such scant plotting and no overarching story to connect them, simply showing women getting tortured over and over again in the sequels would create stale, diminishing returns. In this case, things weren’t just changed, they were flipped 180 degrees. Rather than a somber, anti-plot structure showing violence inflicted upon women, it gives the viewer a comedic, classically structured film where a man inflicts violence upon himself.

So, while it may not deliver the traditional Guinea Pig experience, this is a bizarre piece of hyper-violent absurdist comedy that is surprisingly enjoyable and well worth the very minimal time investment.