Studio: Entertainment One
Director: Lowell Dean
Writer: Christian Piers Bentley
Producer: Don Carmody, Kevin Dewalt, Mark Montague
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Michael Shanks, Brendan Fehr, Brendan Fletcher, Nicholas Moran, Jesse Moss
A science retreat on the swampy grounds of a former prison becomes a fight for survival when inmates rise from the dead.
“13 Eerie” springboards off an interesting premise that could have made for a unique zombie film. Instead, it turns that premise into an excuse to put college kids and reanimated corpses in a setting for routine undead fare.
13 Eerie Strait Penitentiary is already inviting trouble with its impossibly ominous name. Six college students are vying for two spots in an exclusive forensic science program and Professor Tomkins has turned the remote swampland into staged crime scenes for them to investigate. The trouble is, there are more corpses on this island than the ones brought along by the professor. And having once been home to science experiments on Death Row inmates, 13 Eerie Strait has enough drums full of mysterious chemicals left over to bring all of these cadavers back to life.
Other than inmate experiments gone wrong, which rivals zombies in general as an overused trope, the setup holds promise. Early on, “13 Eerie” exposes its stellar FX work in digestible doses of science students slicing cadavers while dispensing CSI-style tidbits about how maggot length reveals the duration of decomposition. Here is an assemblage of smart people with a sensible reason to be surrounded by corpses in an isolated wilderness. Yet somewhere during character introductions, the film elects to abandon story development and settle for the same straightforward living versus undead scenario that comprises the plot of most other typical zombie movies.
One of the forensic students is shown to have a queasy stomach. Another feels claustrophobic while examining a cadaver underneath a bus. The other four students are given even less to define their personalities. One of the two females has her first line of dialogue mere minutes before becoming the first victim, preventing any chance of developing an attachment with the audience. Once blood starts soaking the wardrobe, two of the males become even more indistinguishable from one another. These are not so much characters as they are meat puppets to fight against and die from their reanimated attackers.
As the expedition leader, Professor Tomkins is more thickheaded than hard-nosed. His passion for imparting science on his students comes with a staunch refusal to believe anyone might know something he does not. When one student reports finding a dead body that is not part of his test, Tomkins replies, “impossible,” and orders her back on assignment. This is not a Bigfoot sighting or a shadow in the trees. The girl is speaking to him on a walkie-talkie while standing over a corpse and he insists it could not really be happening.
For a university science team, this group can be ridiculously dense. Then again, the professor does vanish for a fair chunk of the runtime, only to reunite with his surviving pupils at sunup, so maybe he had the sense to stay hidden while everyone else dealt with the undead threat. Or actor Michael Shanks was unavailable for those shooting days and the script decided to leave the curious disappearance unexplained. After all, the movie is more concerned with effect than cause, as black ooze from a leaky drum is the extent of the explanation for why the dead are attacking in the first place.
The saving grace for “13 Eerie” is that it boasts some of the best zombie makeup FX not created by KNB. Already intimidating with their face and neck tattoos, former inmates are given full body makeovers of undead flesh and open wounds. The blood also runs dark brown instead of bright red and it adds a distinct gruesomeness to scenes of organ chewing and intestine ripping.
There are also several fantastic gags. Particularly memorable is the scene of a zombie pulling her impaled face off a tool stuck to the wall. Key Makeup FX artist Emersen Ziffle and his team pulled off an outstanding job and their impressive work is an enormous win. Another notable kill is one of the students using a chemical concoction to stop a chasing corpse. This is the kind of unique element there should have been more of given the science retreat setting. Too many of the other moments instead deliver the same style of zombie violence found in any average episode of “The Walking Dead.”
“13 Eerie” does scratch the itch for zombie-fueled mayhem and flesh-eating gore. The movie delivers in the production value department despite its low budget, including an overturned and exploding prison bus for added measure. Unfortunately, the story gives up on adding any real depth to the eye candy and the interchangeable characters are just grist for the mill. Those content with any excuse to see the dead eat the living in satisfyingly horrible ways can add “13 Eerie” to their list. But expecting a fresh entry in the overcrowded zombie sub-genre would be a mistake, as this premise only goes so far.
Review Score: 45