Written by: David Wellington, John Fasano (uncredited)
Directed by: Jack Bravman & John Fasano (uncredited)
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, and Tia Carrere
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Hey, what's the matter? You okay? Feeling bad, huh? It's cool, we just killed somebody. No big deal."
Ainít no nightmare like a zombie nightmare. I think Kierkegaard said that. Certainly, there are few films like Zombie Nightmare, a completely precious slice of 80s Canadian horror. Sure, the Great White North has spewed forth its fair share of synapse-melting exercises in dubiously-esteemed cinema, but Jack Bravman and John Fasanoís undead revenge epic features a curious blend of splatter mayhem, teeth-grinding heavy metal, and the presence of a bronzed Adonis who split time between bodybuilding, acting, and music during his heydey. That his name is Thor only adds to the legend of this Canadian renaissance man, which sadly only extended to a handful of other films, including Fasanoís Rock ní Roll Nightmare, so thereís only one other movie that can really claim any kinship with Zombie Nightmare. Maybe thereís just no nightmare like a Canuxploitation nightmare.
A brief prologue set in the 50s or 60s (which only becomes obvious once you realize the rest of the film is set at least 20 years later, not that weíre ever completely sure since time is an irrelevant artifice in a film called Zombie Nightmare) lays our scene: despite its Canuck origins, the film opens on a baseball diamond, where young Tony Washington cheers his dad on as he hits some grounders to a local little league team. On his way home, the elder Washington thwarts an attempted rape and is stabbed to death for his troubles. Decades later, Tony (Thor) has grown up with a similar love for baseball, not to mention weight-lifting, as heís turned himself into a human boulder unafraid to show off his physique. Like his old man, heís got a heart of gold and no stomach for assholes, especially ones that attempt to rob his favorite corner store. His reward for enforcing some vigilante justice is falling victim to vehicular manslaughter when an out-of-control pack of other assholes run him down in the street. So many assholes.
Rather than call the authorities, his grieving mother instead summons local voodoo practitioner Molly Mokembe (Manuska Rigaud) and calls in a favor that involves resurrecting her son. His return comes with a caveat, however: he wonít be her son as much as heíll be a raging, howling, undead instrument of justice that will return to the netherworld once his vengeance is exacted, sort of like The Crow if Eric Draven were a gloriously mulleted beefcake. What follows admittedly sounds a lot like other undead revenge tales, as Tonyís corpse rises from its grave and shambles its way to vengeance, gorily dispatching the jerks that callously flattened him in the street, and, truthfully, the carnage isnít even all that impressive: a neck-crank here, an aluminum ball bat to the gut there. Iíve had more gore-soaked celluloid lovers.
Yet so few have managed to charm their way into my heart like Zombie Nightmare has, as what should be a disappointing death knell for a splatter film hardly registers in light of all the surrounding zaniness. A bizarre prologue (which winds up being recycled later in the film) gives way to a cascade of bone-crunching metal as Motorheadís ďAce of SpadesĒ scores its chintzy computer-generated title sequence. Call it love at first riff (and corny graphics). Fasano and Bravmanís earnestness continues to be evident because nothing so sappily delightful as Tonyís flashback could be born out of irony. Set to cornball music, the scene unfolds like a sitcom that quickly goes haywire, with the fatherís death providing a dour note that haunts the few minutes, at best. See, the air of grief should probably hang over Zombie Nightmare, but it has no time for such concerns. More important is its turbo-charged sense of propulsion that sends viewers bounding from one jaw-dropping scene to the next, whether itís following the exploits of Tonyís manslaughterers or the investigation of the bumbling police force, headed by Adam West (read: a thoroughly disinterested Adam West reading his lines right off of the script, I think).
If Tonyís killers seem like especially callous shitheads, itís because thatís exactly what they are. Picture the fun-loving, hard-partying gang from Return of the Living Dead, only more prone to bloodlust and general dickery. One of their ringleaders even throws spaghetti into his motherís face, a clear contrast to Tony, whose last act as a living being was buying some cheese for his own dear mom. Another pathetically fancies himself a Lothario, only to strike out with every girl he meets before forcing himself on one, an act that earns the filmís second best death scene. Among the group is also Tia Carrere making her first screen appearance in a rather forgettable role as a whiny girlfriend, a far cry from her turn as Wayne Campbellís ass-kicking dream weaver a few years later. Rest assured, all of these people are completely horrible and deserve to have every ounce of their blood spilled and every inch of their guts ripped out.
If all this werenít enough, thereís a semblance of story here, with a third-act plot twist that sends the film straight to hell (in the most radical way possible, of course). Set in a graveyard, the filmís climax exhibits the filmmakersí imagination despite the obvious constraints working against them. They win out, but not without emerging scarred and battle-tested: yes, Zombie Nightmare is a roughshod, low-rent production rife with jarring edits, tonal shifts, and outrageous acting turns, but such flaws are easily overlooked because the film is nothing if not sincere in its attempts to entertain the hell out of its audience. Between its top-notch gore and creature affects and its thrashing soundtrack, Zombie Nightmare is easy to love, warts and all. Hell, the warts might make it more endearing, as this is the sort of Z-grade movie that deserves sincere reverence in return.
Its status as an eventual target on Mystery Science Theater 3000 might suggest otherwise, of course, but this is one film thatís completely enjoyable sans the company of the Satellite of Love. Somewhat ironically, I note its appearance on MST3K not to accentuate its badness but to highlight my fondness for it and the show, as it was surely one of the very first episodes I ever stumbled upon (if not the first). Perhaps I was doing it wrong, but I often found myself entranced not only with the show's barbs but also with the films themselves, so Zombie Nightmare occupies a doubly special place in my heart. Luckily, the MST3K episode is readily available on DVD, as is the film itself, which received a special edition treatment courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. In addition to featuring a nice transfer from a restored HD master, the DVD also features a commentary with Fasano, Thor, and Frank Dietz. Bravman also joins that trio for ďRemembering Zombie Nightmare,Ē a 25 minute retrospective. A bonus phone conversation with the director rounds out the supplements for one of the most unlikely but well-deserved special editions youíll ever see. Many bad movies have ascended from pure infamy to treasured cult objects, and Iíll be damned if I want to live in a world where Zombie Nightmare doesnít make the leap into that pantheon. Buy it!
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