May 27, 2010

Attack of the Vegan Zombies (Review)

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Attack of the 
Vegan Zombies (2010)

Director: Jim Townsend


2 / 5 zedheads

Horror from the grape vine that lacks balance and body but still manages a professional aroma despite its budgetary limits and odd performances.

Does Attack of the Vegan Zombies want to be a spoof of B-movies, a satire of the zombie genre, or a genuine attempt at a frightening zombie film? I really can't tell you because Attack of the Vegan Zombies is unable to settle on a tone. As a result, the story waffles between hollow B-movie camp and forced attempts at drama. While the plot is frustrating to watch as it unfolds, and several characters are completely unbearable, Attack of the Vegan Zombies is a very good looking movie that stands as a testament to the production quality achievable by today's creative independent filmmakers.

On a vineyard, Dionne (Christine Egan) and her husband Joe (writer/director Jim Townsend) are struggling to raise a crop after several seasons of disappointment. One more year of failure and they will be financially ruined. Joe is already so defeated he's falling back into alcoholism, so Dionne turns to her mother (H. Lynn Smith) in an effort to save the farm and winery. Dionne's mother, you see, comes from a long line of powerful witches. Although Dionne turned her back on her mother's mystical ways in the past, Dionne's mother reluctantly agrees to cast a spell to help them. A year later, they have the best crop of their lives! There's so much crop that they hire four college students and their teacher to help harvest the grapes. Unfortunately, something is terribly wrong with the grape vines and people begin to turn into green-faced zombies with an insatiable thirst for wine -- the wine in the blood of their victims.

Although the film is titled Attack of the Vegan Zombies, the zombies aren't really vegans; they're alcoholics. Also, with a title like Attack of the Vegan Zombies, you'd expect something over-the-top and silly in tone like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Attack of the Vegan Zombies, however, begins on a very earnest and ominous note. Joe is tending to his dying fields while tense ambient sound design and quick cuts to shots of dead birds begin to establish an effective atmosphere of dread. Jim Townsend and Christine Egan also give some very believable performances at the beginning of the movie. Egan in particular really sold me on her character, making the ridiculous and matter-of-fact introduction of witches and witchcraft believable. She was the rock of this movie -- a touchstone that kept me interested when I didn't care for other character interactions.

When we fast-forward to one year later, the movie takes a severe nose dive. After giving the impression that Attack of the Vegan Zombies, contrary to its name, is going to be a serious film, we're introduced to two college nerds and two cheerleaders whose characterizations skew the movie into the ridiculous. They feel like characters from an entirely different movie. For one thing, the two nerds look like they got lost on their way to a 1980s casting call for Revenge of the Nerds. Think big glasses, flip-up sunglasses clipons, pocket protectors, and high-pitched nasal whines.Watt Smith as Louis is particularity grating. The cheerleaders are no better. Vapid and poorly acted, their only real reason for being in the movie is for lazy sex jokes and a nude lesbian scene apropos of nothing. I'm willing to forgive the hokey zombie makeup (green face paint) and the cheesy effects (moving vines on a stick attached to camera), but these four characters are atrocious. I think we have to conclude that this movie is no longer to be taken seriously, right?

Then why does the film continue to develop a serious subplot about the conflict between Dionne, her mother, and her husband? We learn that the mother has been keeping secrets. In the aftermath of their revelation, there are several scenes of Dionne, her mother, and her husband dramatically hashing it out -- to the point that one character tells them to stop their "family therapy bullshit." But this family subplot is definitely more interesting than what's occurring with the off-screen zombies and is 100% more interesting than anything involving the nerds and cheerleaders. So, I have to ask: am I supposed to take this movie seriously or not?

Too bad the film couldn't iron out a consistent tone because, from a production values standpoint, the film looks good. Hokey low-budget effects aside, there's a very professional feel to the cinematography and framing of the scenes. The audio quality rarely falters, the picture quality is clear, and the editing is consistently effective. The sound design is heavy-handed at times, but if the film were made to be actually scary then the music would probably work better.

I'm interested in seeing what Jim Townsend brings us in the future, but I would suggest that for future projects he stay away from campy humour. Attack of the Vegan Zombies would have made for a great short film after a name-change and excising the nerd and cheerleader characters.

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