God bless the weekend warriors. They’re the souls that instead of committing adultery or developing a healthy drug habit to deal with their mid life crisis, take to a hobby that many would dare not attempt. Usually because it’ll drain your bank account quicker than that Nigerian Prince that keeps spamming your email. Pair that with a couple college kids looking for a big break, and those that just want to make a horror flick and that’s exactly what you find with 2009’s PLATOON OF THE DEAD, written and directed by John Bowker.
The story starts off with three soldiers regrouping after an ambush that leaves them stranded and disoriented in enemy territory. Their ranks have been slaughtered by an army of the walking dead. These soldiers were a unit of the best of the best sent to eradicate a zombie army. Yup, the walking dead are armed and organized. I should also mention that these G.I. Joe’s have government issued lasers too. Take a moment to read these next two words aloud: Pew! Pew!
Congratulations, that’s literally the sound of you killing two zombies with your laser rifle.
After finding each other, these soldiers, the green horned Private Dillon, the alpha male Sgt. Butler, and the long haired leader Lt. Roberts, take refuge in what they think is an abandoned house. There they discover three females, a mute teenager Heather, a wandering soccer mom Jill, and Stacy who seems to be hiding a secret, holed up inside a two bedroom townhouse that’s supposed to double as a secluded cabin. The goal is to survive to dawn when they can all meet at the extraction zone and head to safety. The soldiers race to piece together what happened to them and uncover the truth about the women they’ve encountered and how they’re all connected.
Now let me take a moment to showcase what the film does do right. I’m always on the look out for films that expand the zombie mythology. And the unmined segments of this film truly are a goldmine. Now follow along, because I had to stitch it together myself. Five teenagers were screwing around with a Ouija board and unleashed an unspeakable evil onto our world. This demon raises the dead as zombies by placing the cursed souls of Hell into the bodies of the living. These zombie soldiers serve as an army to crush to living and provide Hell with new souls. Now the demon must find the last human stronghold to crush their resistance once and for all and part of this plan hinges on these three survivors of the ambush. Unknown to the soldiers is that one of the teenagers that summoned the demon years ago is among them, and their survival is conditional on the fact that the walking dead treat her as a savior and spare those in her company. Why this story wasn’t more in the forefront of the finished product is mind-boggling as it has such potential and back story that could easily serve for a prequel and a sequel. The sound quality is pretty top notch too for a film of this budget, allowing a lot of the rough edges of the movie to be smoothed over with continuous quality audio. It pairs well with some of the more adventurous cinematography attempted in this film like the 1st person shots that recall EVIL DEAD’s running camera sequences. The use of a proper score probably would have helped sell the effects these filmmakers were hoping to emulate.
The visuals are sub-par at best using digital after effects to show zombies and humans disintegrate thanks to Star Wars blasters they found at Toys ‘R Us. Any in camera effects are achieved with fake blood, butterscotch pudding, and leftover anatomy models from some biology class. Employing a real make-up artist would’ve worked wonders for this lackluster production. The wardrobe is strictly salvaged from the local Army surplus store. If you’re a war movie buff you’ll laugh yourself raw at this cracker jack unit of commandos. The acting is like watching sock puppet theater unmasked. It’s almost like the cast learned method acting from TROLL 2. The lone standout is Tom Stedham as Sgt. Butler. His dialogue and screen presence are roughly equivalent to crossbreeding Ernest P. Worrell and the Drill Sargent from FULL METAL JACKET. This film is pretty much intolerable, offering the amount of laughs and interest that should have been displayed in something half its running time. I was intrigued by where the story could have gone, but it decided to stay within the confines of tried and tired cliches rather than go the extra mile with the plot that laid underneath. If you’re a zombie buff expecting bloody deaths, you’ll be more disappointed than if you voted Al Gore for President.
The DVD offers a few choice features including Tom Stedham’s “Tough Tom’s Movie Boot Camp” where he basically barks at the cast for what a crap job they’re delivering. The “Zombie House Tour” offers a glimpse at the Oregon homestead where the film was lensed, which is in reality the Atomic Bonfire Art Studio. It’s almost like a hippie commune for goth kids to live when they’re all grown up and kicked out of their parents basement. The DVD commentary between John Bowker and the director of photography, Joe Sherlock, is lively and upbeat, serving as an almost fabled recollection of how they spent their time from October to December filming in the frigid forests of Oregon. But the Behind the Scenes featurette is the best example of their efforts in motion as they try to make sense of the hot mess they’ve started to create.
If I was asked to watch this film again, I would quote the one line of dialogue from Sgt. Butler that I actually remember from this zombie flop: “I’d rather you cut my dick off and fed it to me in pieces.”