Evilution (2008): Zombies With a Twist

I don’t know who came up with the idea of Parkouring zombies, it might even be this film that started the whole trend. It’s amazing that zombies just know how to Parkour. I guess it’s a little how vampires just know Kung-Fu. Either way, as I’ve always wanted to be able to run up walls and jump through windows or over a stretcher, it would almost be worth getting ‘zombie-fied’ just to be able to Parkour like a pro.

Evilution is the first in what was meant to be a trilogy that was set around the apartments in the film(s). Basement Jack was the second film and the third film was going to be centred around the apartment building (ominously named The Necropolitan) and it’s eccentric, mysterious manager. Unfortunately funding for the third film in the series fell through and we’ll never get to see actor  Nathan Bexton take centre stage as the Manager.

Eric Peter-Kaiser plays Captain Daryl Hall, the only survivor from an Army research base in Iraq. Code named Sand Trap, the base is doing tests on an alien bacteria that is an ultimate parasite. This parasite takes over it’s host (people) turning them into violent infectious zombies. Hall escapes as the experiment goes wildly wrong and the zombies have take over the base. The last thing he sees in his Jeep’s rear view mirror is the base being bombed.

He turns later in front of the Necropolitan apartment complex where he rents a room. The ‘r00m’ looks more like a basement storage area and Hall has to pass down a rubbish filled corridor.The Manager (Bexton) gives him the ‘three penny’ tour.

I’ve got to have a quick word about Bexton as the Manager. I first saw him in that role when I watched Basement Jack (out of sequence) and I said then that he made me think of Johnny Depp playing Ed Wood Jr. I still think that. Bexton’s manager is eccentric, smiley and…strange. At one point in the film, someone knocks on his door.

He opens it. He is wearing latex gloves and eating an enormous turkey leg. His face is literally drenched in sweat. It makes for a very amusing moment. Later in the film Bexton walks down a long display case that is full of various murder weapons and implements of death. You can tell that he loves his collection and that he will continue to collect things as long as he can. He is very mysterious and to me he completely makes the film. It saddens me that we’ll never get to see a film that centres around him.

The first person that Hall meets, aside from the manager, is Madeline ‘Maddie’ Gilbert (Sandra Eloani) they exchange greetings as the pass each other on the stairs leading to Hall’s apartment and the laundry room.

Hall then meets gang bangers Random (Noel Gugliemi). Random must be the worst gang member in the world. He is always getting shot and Hall has to patch him up. After Random is shot the second time (it’s much more serious this time) Hall gives him an injection of the alien bacteria to keep him from dying.

He also meets Random’s other gang members, Killah-B (Guillermo Díaz) and Asia Mark (James Duval) who also seem to be pretty poor excuses for gang members as well.

While Random is recovering in Halls apartment and he is on the hunt for some water for his patient, a druggie walks in and steal the vial holding the alien bacteria thinking that it is some sort of illegal drug. He ‘fixes’ using the bacteria and rapidly turns into a host for the parasite in the vaccine.

The Army is still trying to track Hall down and Sargent Gabriel Collins (Tim Colceri) finally catches up with his target when he’s gone back to his place to check on Random.

In the meantime the druggie zombie is very busy knocking on doors till someone answers and he attacks them creating more zombies. The building is soon overrun with zombies and Hall, Maddie, Asia Mark, Killah-B and Sgt Collins must stop the zombies from leaving the building and infecting the entire town.

Director Chris Conlee (Boo, Butterfly Effect  2) did a good job with Brian Patrick O’Toole‘s screenplay. Some of the acting was a bit under par but for the most part everyone delivered well.

I have to admit that I  laughed when Hall goes up to Maddie’s apartment to borrow some water for the wounded Random who’s back in Hall’s basement pad. Apparently he’s not too concerned about his patient’s well being as he takes the time to have sex with Maddie and then tell her a little about his past.

Colceri is one of those jobbing actors who work very regularly and can be counted on to give a good performance. He did not disappoint. Peter-Kaiser was good as Hall, but unfortunately his haircut, glasses and three day’s growth of beard made him look like a bargain basement Alexis Denisof.  Eloani was good at playing the girl next door, but, some of her lines felt a bit flat. Although later in the film when she comes in contact with the virus she knocked it out of the park.

It was also great to see David Groh is a cameo as an Army research Doctor. I haven’t seen him in ages and it was nice to see he’s still got the chops.

That the film is a low budget affair is obvious, but, despite the small budget the film still delivers in a lot of areas. The zombie attacks are choreographed very well and range from funny to scary. That the director and the crew were fans of post-apocalyptic zombie films was obvious. The did a brilliant job of coming up with a different way to deal with the zombies and I enjoyed the film immensely. In what I am sure was a nod to The Night of the Living Dead by Geroge Romero, the zombies are actually an parasitical alien bacteria that invades the human host. In Night of the Living Dead, a comet passing too close to the earth causes the dead to come back to life. Both are not of this planet and both the comet and the bacteria have the same end result. I liked the twist.

Evilution is another of those ‘Drive-In Theatre’ type of films. In other words a B-picture. There’s nothing wrong with B pictures. They are kind of a celluloid version of Mad Dog 20/20. Mad Dog 20/20 is a wino’s drink of choice because it is cheap, but friends and neighbours, it’ll still get you drunk.

Evilution may be low budget, but it still entertains. I’d say that this is a one bagger. One large bag of popcorn and a large coke.

Basement Jack (2009): Corman-esque Schlock

Cover of "Basement Jack"

You know you have divided feelings about a film when it takes you twenty minutes to think of a title for your review. Basement Jack fits firmly in the ‘ambivalent’ arena for me. After watching the film (for the second time, I have to add, so I could pay a bit more attention to it) I decided that I really did like it. I also wondered where the money went from their estimated million dollar budget, it certainly wasn’t spent on special effects.

Directed by Michael Shelton this is his maiden voyage into the directing field. Basement Jack has a competent cast.

Michele Morrow as Karen Cook

Eric Peter-Kaiser as Basement Jack

Lynn Lowry   as Basement Jacks Mum, Mrs Lowry

Sam Skoryna as Chris Watts

Nathan Bexton as The manager

Tiffany Shepis as Officer Armando

The plot is fairly straight forward and is an amalgamation of several different horror classics in the slasher genre.

Basement Jack is Jack Riley. A boy whose father died in the electric chair. A fact that his ‘mad as a hatter’ mother tells Jack as she repeatedly abuses him. The fact that she likes to shock Jack, starting with a battery when he’s really small and graduating to an electric lead when he’s bigger, shows how nutty this woman is.

Fast forward quite a few years later and Jack is no longer the blond cherub who was the target of Mom’s loving torture. He’s now tall, dark-haired and homicidally nuts. At the beginning of the film he murders Karen Cook’s family and she narrowly escapes, wounded, but alive.

Fast forward a lot more years and Jack is out of the booby hatch and on another killing rampage. Karen is following him across the country tracking him by his trail of murdered families.  She thinks that Jack is searching for her to finish the job he started when she was a teenager.

The plot devices work pretty well. We know from Basement Jack’s frequent flashbacks that electricity was a pretty dominant factor in his young life. Whether it was Mom shocking him, or Doctors applying ‘shock therapy’, or Mom handcuffing him to a metal clothesline pole during a thunderstorm, electricity ran through Jack’s veins.

I really cannot praise the cast enough. Their efforts made the film work. The interaction between all the characters was believable and real. The only exception to this was Nathan Bexton as the manager.

Bexton acts like Johnny Depp ‘acting like Ed Wood Jr‘  in Ed Wood. His manager is campy, weird and ‘hammy’, unbelievably this works well for Bexton as it made the manager a weird enough character that he actually stood out. In one scene, he answers the door wearing oven gloves and a kitchen apron. He’s talking on the phone and is clearly covered in blood. As he is admonishing Basement Jack for banging on his door, he gets stabbed. As stand-out moment in the film.

While the film works well in its apparent homage to just about every slasher film ever made and its characters. The film falls down, unfortunately, with its poorly executed ‘bargain basement’ special effects.

The scenes where Jack has to run someone through with his ‘rubber’ machete are laughably bad. In one scene he ‘buries’ the machete in someone’s head. when he removes it, it has been clearly ‘stuck’ to the side of the actors head. In another scene, as he is ‘running’ the blade through someone’s neck it is clearly behind the victim and nowhere near them.

At another point Jack hits policeman Chris Watts with an odd sword and it clearly bends showing that it’s made of rubber.

Unfortunately it is not just Jack who has the misfortune to have his stunts so badly filmed. An English detective (a quick note here. It is never explained why this ‘grunge-punk’ looking Englishman is on the force or how he is even allowed to be a policeman, let alone a detective) has to shoot Jack mid-rampage. With his gun obviously pointed just to the side of Jack, it is clear that the crew were playing it safe with the blanks in the gun. The detective fires and misses but Jack dutifully flinches as the ‘bullet’ still magically hits him.

Most of the laughably bad effects could have been avoided if  director Shelton had not opted for a close-up each and every time. Because the camera lens was right on top of the action the illusion was effectively shattered.

But…But…  The fight scenes were choreographed brilliantly for the most part. Both of Karen’s battles with Jack are masterfully done and very entertaining to watch. The interactions between characters were, as I said before, very well done.

This ‘straight-to-video’ production made me think of the old Roger Corman classics with a bit of Ed Wood thrown in for good measure. Both of these film makers specialized in the ‘B’ features that you had to watch as well as the main ‘A’ listed feature you really wanted to see at the theatre.

As we know, both Wood and Corman were ‘cheap’ showmen who delivered an entertaining film for a fraction of the cost of a ‘big-budget-film.’ Although. it has to be said, Wood’s films were entertaining for a much different reason. Corman’s brand of schlock was a completely different animal. Basement Jack felt almost like vintage Corman to me. Although the direction of Shelton felt very ‘woody.’

That the director is a horror fan is evident by the inclusion of two of tinsel towns better known ‘Scream Queens’ Sherpis and Lowry. That fact combined with the many ‘nods’ to now familiar films like Halloween and Friday the 13th drive this home.

I can only mourn the passing of the Drive-In. Oh I know there are a few left, but if ever a movie was made for Drive-In viewing, it would be this one…Basement Jack.

*I would like to point out that the one million dollar budget I quoted was incorrect. Mr O’Toole very kindly pointed this out to me. I am grateful that he did so and I’ve included this ‘post script’ to correct my mistake. I can only blame incorrect sources.*

English: American filmmaker Roger Corman.
English: American filmmaker Roger Corman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)