‘Zombie A-Hole’ is an ultra-low budget grindhouse B-movie by young American director Dustin Mills. It’s his first live-action film, following on from 2010’s ‘Puppet Monster Massacre’ and was made for the princely sum of $1000. Can a film this cheap possibly be worth watching? Despite serious initial reservations, not helped by the ridiculous name chosen for the film, I surprised myself by concluding that the answer is a conditional yes.
For those who don’t know, which included me prior to watching this film, grindhouse is a term that refers to low budget exploitation films which feature sex or violence as a major part of the story. They were a big thing in the 1970s and many of those films have attained cult status since. ‘Zombie A-Hole’ is a definite homage to them, both in budget and subject matter.
The story, such as it is, follows the exploits of a nattily-dressed zombie serial killer Castor (Brandon Salkil). His victims are always semi-naked twin sisters. Don’t ask me why they have to be twins or why their state of undress is relevant to the zombie, but there you go. If the zombie kills enough of them, he will gain the power to destroy mankind, which is always handy. Intent on stopping him are three people. One is his twin, Pollux (also played by Brandon Salkil), who has realised that when his brother travelled to Haiti as a volunteer doctor, something went horribly wrong, leaving him as this twisted undead murderer. The second is a woman, Mercy (Jessica Cook), whose twin sister the zombie killed. The third is a local cowboy and part-time zombie hunter Frank Fulci (Josh Eal). They are initially ignorant of each other but as time wears on, their paths converge.
The zombie Pollux is killing at random across two Mid-Western States in the US, so tracking him down proves impossible until the cowboy Frank gets hold of a magic voodoo box containing an imprisoned gremlin. With the help of this supernatural dwarf, the cowboy and his two compatriots start to home in on the killer. Will they be able to find and kill him before he gains enough power to destroy the world?
The first time I watched ‘Zombie A-Hole’, I thought it was awful. The cinematography is ropey to say the least and although some of the special effects are quite well done, others are frankly laughable, which makes it difficult to suspend your disbelief. I also found it pretty hard to work out what was going on for at least the first hour.
However, on repeated viewings, especially after listening to the director’s commentary, my opinion improved. There is an interesting story underneath all the splatter and the film includes a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. There are also several strong elements to the film-making. One is Josh Eal’s excellent performance as the zombie-hunting cowboy. Another is an animated sequence half-way through the film, where we learn about the zombie Pollux’s origins. A third is the imprisoned gremlin that helps our heroes find the zombie, which is a bit of special effects trickery that comes across really well. On reflection, given the tiny budget that was available, I think that Mills has managed to tell his story pretty successfully.
On the other hand, there is still a lot to criticise. The production values are wildly inconsistent, though with a budget of $1000, that’s hardly surprising. At 108 minutes, it’s rather long for the material and could have been edited down to 90 minutes without losing anything important. The pacing is also inconsistent. The director repeatedly delivers ‘atmospheric’ sequences which last thirty seconds but where nothing happens. Then in the next scene, he’ll rush a murder, losing much of the tension that could have been created. The viewer is not provided with an emotional connection to any of the victims, so it’s difficult to care about them being brutally murdered. It also concerned me that there was only one strong female in the entire story, this being Mary seeking vengeance for her dead sister. All the other women act as helpless victims from start to finish, which is pretty disappointing for a film made in the 21st century rather than the 1970s, even when it is made in homage to that earlier era.
The DVD has three extras beyond the film itself. There is a trailer, a deleted scene that makes little sense and a commentary track by director Dustin Mills and actor Brandon Salkil. If you’re at all curious about how to make a full-length movie for $1000, I recommend that you listen to the commentary, as it’s full of interesting details and very humorous at the same time. In fact, it was mainly the commentary that changed my view of the movie.
In conclusion, if you like ultra-low budget grindhouse movies, are prepared to accept the premise of ‘Zombie A-Hole’ and watch it on its own terms, you’ll enjoy it. If not, you’ll probably hate it.
(Region 0: pub: MVD Visual B0085X31CS. 1 DVD 108 minute film with extras. Price: $14.99 (US), £ 6.64 (UK)
cast: Jessica Daniels, Josh Eal and Brandon Salki
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