Directed by: Ken Dixon
Films featured: Zombie, Zombie Lake, Oasis of the Zombies, Fear, The Invisible Dead, A Virgin Among the Living Dead & The Astro-Zombies
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďWhen the Gods are restless, the dead walk again.Ē
Wizard Video was big in the eighties, and I mean that literally. You may remember the seductive and morbid art oversized VHS boxes containing plastic treasures from across the globe. If you were a horror fan in the earlier days of videotape, thereís a good chance this very company proved to be your introduction to Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco. Although my memories of the big box VHS are as faded as the very box covers themselves from broiling in front of the sun one or two thousand too many times, I will never forget the first Wizard tape I got, Oasis of the Zombies. Not only did Wizard release horror films, they released compilation tapes that display scenes from their releases anthology style. Complete with a cheesy wraparound story to boot. Before it came The Best of Sex & Violence and then, Filmgore. Zombiethon proved to be the last of Wizardís compilations, and it certainly has its charm, even when the movies it features does not.
The wraparound story is pretty basic, a short interlude that usually ends or begins in a movie theatre where a bunch of rotted/masked zombies are sitting and enjoying flesh-eater flicks. A novel concept indeed; one canít help but think of the zombie movie-goers speaking excitedly after the films and debating who their favorite ďactorĒ of the big-name zombies of the day. Spoofing is the name of the game in Zombiethon and it has to be. It just wouldnít work otherwise. Vignettes also include the schoolgirl running away from a gutmuncher as fast as she can (yet he still manages to catch up, chugging along Romero style!) and another thatís much more interesting. A lady walks along the beach contemplating life beyond death as some sort of voodoo witch conjures up a zombie just for her. The dead man rises up from the sands Max Schreck style and carries her off to a movie theatre. Although the zombie film buffs want to see their kind on the screen, I guess there are still some things you always prefer warm.
Settling in at the theatre and we receive a condensed version of Lucio Fulciís eye-stabbing classic, Zombie. The first three films featured in Zombiethon tend to be much longer than the latter parts, and for the most part the charm of Zombie is surprisingly well captured. Thereís a ton of nudity and violence, including the epic shark battle and the scene in which the zombie that graces the cover of the VHS and Anchor Bay DVD release climbs back to earth and gets his eat on. We get most of the end battle and the aftermath. I had expected the film to only feature blood, gore and tits, but was surprised to see the odd atmosphere shot, which is absolutely essential to give Zombiethon a nice feeling of a mini-movie. As much as it was most likely made for cheap shocks for impatient horror fans that couldnít care less about story, they still leave room for some atmosphere so itís enjoyable for all and not merely a cheap schlockfest.
After Wizardís flagship chomper title was out of the way, they follow it up with their flagship shit smoothie title. Zombie Lake, a softcore nazi zombie French film that is about as low as you can go in the realm of horror films that remain remotely competent. There is so much bush and so many naked ladies on the screen in this one that itís hard to hate it completely, but other than a few tame zombie attacks and Howard Vernon, thereís absolutely nothing redeeming about it. On a positive note, itís much more enjoyable here than in its original feature length form. After pondering drowning yourself in Zombie Lake, nazi zombies are still the name of the game in Jess Francoís Oasis of the Zombies, which proves to be much more entertaining. Having seen Oasis of the Zombies twice, I find it gets better with time (I despised it upon first viewing) and the zombies are quite gooey and ugly looking. The compressed version generally shows the good scenes of the murky looking zombies from the film and features the wonderful shot of rotted zombie silhouettes climbing down a desert sand dune as the sun sets.
The next film up is one Iíve not seen, but have wanted to for a long time. The alluring video boxes from Wizard never got much better than Fear, and thatís saying something. Not even the green, helmeted, shrivelled nazi zombie pulling an innocent blonde beneath the surface of Zombie Lake was any match for it. Fearís cover portrayed the bleeding eyes of a woman buried up to her screaming mouth amidst tombstones and a terrifyingly black moonlit castle. Fear looks to be quite interesting and involves giallo style murders and zombies along with eerie castles and thunderstorms, magnified beautifully by that nostalgia-crying sub-par VHS transfer of the film. I have it kicking around somewhere and it will no doubt get a spin sooner rather than later after this. Gore-wise, a chainsaw to the neck kill spurts out as the shining scene of the film along with an awesome axe to the head. Itís quite hard to tell what happens in the film or what the exact plot is other than it involves an actor with a secret as by now in Zombiethon, the films featured arenít getting quite as much screen time.
Pierre Chevalierís bushy The Invisible Dead is screened next for the zombie crowds and fans today most likely will know it better as Orloff and the Invisible Man as a part of Imageís EuroShock line. The film looks cheesy to say the least, with an invisible ape running rampant and doesnít seem to have much in terms of zombie action. Itís hilarious watching objects floating here and there and watching an actor being punched by this invisible ape. Jess Franco steps up to the plate again with A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Or does he? Itís true, the film was directed by the man of a million movies, but the scenes featured in Zombiethon arenít anything Franco ever shot. Seeing as zombies were all the rage and Virgin Among the Living Dead actually didnít have any living dead, a cheap, crusty zombie attack was added to the film (along with a rape scene surprisingly not included here). If youíre looking for the moody poetry that is A Virgin Among the Living Dead, you wonít find it here.
Lastly, The Astro-Zombies is shown and is another Iíve not seen, but doesnít look too appealing. The acting is rather cheesy and the film centers around an alien-ish zombie going around killing people after a mad scientist devises a plan to save the minds of the worldís geniuses so they may live forever. Of course, the only brain available to him for testing is that of a psychopath and he still puts it into his alien body. Itís silly, but I could see this one being quite entertaining with a bowl of heavily buttered popcorn and a few buddies. Thatís all she wrote for Wizardís Zombiethon and all in all itís a pretty entertaining watch. It accomplished what it set out to do, make the viewer go out and rent or buy a few other Wizard offerings. As I look to my left, I see my VHS of Wizardís Return of the Zombies on my shelf and Iím pretty sure it must have been released after Zombiethon came out in 1986. It would have fit right in among these flicks and would have been a much easier sell as it has all the qualities of a decent and moody Spanish horror romp. Yes, Zombiethon is a lot of fun, making you want to see films like Zombie and Fear in their entirety while filling you with joy because you can finally watch Zombie Lake in 10 minutes. If you can find it, bury it in your VCR and watch the dead rise before your very eyes. Rent it!