Studio: The Orchard
Director: Guy Pigden
Writer: Guy Pigden
Producer: Zoe Hobson
Stars: Harley Neville, Jocelyn Christian, Mike Edward, Ben Baker, Reanin Johannink, Simon Ward, Mark Neilson, Patrick Davies, Matt Tane, Harry Love, Andrew Laing
The cast and crew of a low-budget horror film struggle to escape their shooting location when a real-life zombie apocalypse breaks out.
Horror-comedies, or “horrordies” as a character in “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” dubs the subgenre, usually aren’t my cup of tea. So in addition to making that disclaimer ahead of time, I sometimes calibrate my objectivity by keying into reactions of fellow audience members to gauge how the humor reads to those with presumably more of an appreciation for horror-based goofs than I may have.
It seemed like that might be an impossibility at the Screamfest premiere of “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust,” since seated to my immediate left was one of the drunkest, loudest, most obnoxious theater patrons one could ever experience the misfortune of having within arm’s reach. I’m talking the kind of loudmouth who howls and claps at every single gag, whether it is funny or not, or howls and claps simply if seven seconds has elapsed since the last time he howled and clapped.
I wasn’t enjoying “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” anyway. Its stale jokes fell flat. Its plotline was derivative. But I worried I was leaning towards a harsh opinion because I had a difficult time focusing what with my eyes rolling every time I had to listen to the fool next to me play MST3K.
Then I realized he wasn’t unfairly coloring my view of the film at all. He was actually enhancing my ability to see exactly what sort of person found it funny, and ended up being the perfect barometer for measuring how the movie worked as it rolled along.
Like a preprogrammed robot or laboratory-trained monkey reacting as his master expects, this idiot “ewwwwed” on cue any time something gross appeared onscreen, “awwwwed” during any and all tenderhearted moments, and yelled “woooo!” whenever something explosive took place like an ax being driven into a zombie’s skull. What this confirmed was that “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” was in fact pandering to predictably pedestrian appeal. His reactions were reflexive rather than responsive. As his alcohol-fueled enthusiasm waned into more politely toned reactions out of presumed deference to the filmmakers seated somewhere in the same theater, it became clear that “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” was incapable of sustaining the interest of even an easily-entertained nitwit.
Imagine you are tasked with creating a comedy that takes place behind-the-scenes on a film set, and your first assignment is to come up with characters based on every Hollywood stereotype imaginable. Write those down and see if your list doesn’t match the clichéd character roster of “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust.”
The set of the low-budget indie horror film “Tonight They Come” is populated with exactly the sort of personalities littering every other behind-the-scenes pastiche ever made. The egomaniacal director berates everyone beneath him. The disillusioned screenwriter fantasizes about grander visions. The prima donna action star, who resembles what a buff Clancy Brown might look like, is in denial about his homosexuality. The lead actress is a well-endowed diva. And the audience’s guide through this would-be madcap New Zealand romp is Wesley, a peon P.A. fresh out of film school and blinded by starry-eyed optimism.
Wesley, because glasses-wearing nerds never have names like Brad or Lance, arrives for his first day on set and immediately falls for craft services girl Susan. Under normal circumstances, both characters would by shy, awkwardly affectionate geeky types to make rooting for their romance an easy proposition. For whatever reason, Susan is instead characterized as cold and disinterested in just about everything. Their meet cute is Susan mistakenly chastising Wesley for knocking over her catering cart, setting their courtship on a curious course of questioning what it is that Wesley sees in her.
Anyway, the gag is that the crew is filming a zombie movie in a remote New Zealand location, so when an actual zombie outbreak infects the nearby town and spills over onto set, no one notices what is happening until all hell has already broken loose. That premise paves the way for slapstick setups involving characters oblivious to actual undead threats, and over-the-top actions that aren’t lampooning horror movie tropes so much as reusing them to redundant effect. Writing wise, laughs are of a predominantly lowbrow variety, meaning buckle up for a lot of boner jokes and toilet humor.
“I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” boasts a number of terrific gore gags, particularly a severed limb cauterization, a zombie film staple we’ve all seen before that is nonetheless painfully sizzling. Though taking the top prize as the single most memorable moment is a shot of an infected penis guaranteed to make every male viewer cup his crotch in squirming sympathy.
But the bottom line is that “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” isn’t a fresh enough concept, and its broad comedy is too rote to resonate. It is also surprisingly slow to turn the corner into full-on apocalyptic mayhem. However, it is of course possible that those with more tolerant tastes in horror-comedy will laugh more than I did, although probably nowhere near as much as the boob in my row. No matter where in that range you might fall, you still won’t be reaching to put your copy of “Shaun of the Dead” into the trash bin anytime soon. When it comes to Kiwi horrordy, I’ll stick with “Housebound” (review here).
Review Score: 50