Zombies have become quite a big thing in popular culture these days. Bolstered by the successful receptions of properties like The Walking Dead, Plants vs. Zombies, and most recently a resurgence of interest in Max Brooks’s World War Z thanks to Brad Pitt’s feature pseudo-adaption, the public has grown quite fond of hordes of brain-eating corpses. Of course, once corporate entities begin to realize that money can be made, a deluge of cash-in attempts are guaranteed to come about. Sometimes, these shameless bandwagon works turn out to be pretty cool and fun; other times, it’s usually best that no one will ever know or care about them.
Enter Netflix. A company that needs to provide a robust catalog of streaming content in order to make money will inevitably fill the bottom of its library with unknown, clearly awful movies and TV shows, if only so it can boast about the sheer number of streaming options it provides. This is both good and bad: bad in that people are subjected to terrible programming; good in that people are subjected to terrible programming.
Rise of the Zombies ( 2012) is most definitely a bad movie. This film is clearly a cash-in attempt. Yet, I couldn’t help but enjoy the ride despite how bad I knew it was. I was drawn to the film by the one sheet that prominently features Danny Trejo. The description lists LeVar Burton in a starring role. I was sold. Confused, but sold.
The movie is set in San Francisco a few weeks into the zombie apocalypse, and sadly, that fact alone hurts the film. With next to no budget it seems, the city is incredibly empty. There are no survivors or zombies unless the story necessitates it. Now, i know that this is an expected trope for the genre, but the lack of visible numbers make the zombie “hordes” less intimidating. Alcatraz is used to decent effect as a base of operations, but is quickly overrun by a handful of zombies that are supposed to be far larger in number and more dangerous. This is where we meet a group of survivors led by our heroes: Dr. Lynn Snyder (Mariel Hemingway), Marshall (Ethan Suplee), Dr. Halpern (Burton), and Caspian (Trejo). The break in is enough to force the group to split up and flee into the city looking for a lone scientist who claims to have a potential vaccine and a means to escape to a possible safe zone.
The short version is this: season one of The Walking Dead handles most of the narrative plot lines in this movie so much better. The only genuinely interesting thread involves Halpern and his independent research into a possible cure. Burton really shines in Geordy La Forge sort of way as a scientist fighting against all hope to find some humanity left in the husk that was once his daughter, even going so far as to mutilate himself for family and science!
Everything else about Rise of the Zombies is groan inducing, mind-boggling, and stupid. Characters make dumb decisions, die unnecessarily, and talk like they have cue cards in front of their faces at all times. There is no point were any of the characters other than Burton’s Halpern meant anything to me – I simply didn’t care at all. But that was part of the fun; knowing that the film was not ever going to be good and watching that truth manifest. It was enjoyable because it was bad.
I will say that I’m a bit sad that Trejo and Burton are even in this mess of a movie. both of these guys could get better gigs in my opinion, though Trejo is less hurt by this than LeVar. Still, every famous actor is allowed a few direct-to-garbage releases (read: a paycheck). I wouldn’t recommend this movie for any other purpose than to torture yourself for an hour, and that only if you, like me, enjoy a bad movie every so often to better appreciate the finer arts of film-making and good story-telling.