July 1, 2011

Enter...Zombie King (Review)


Enter...Zombie King (2003)

aka. Zombie Beach Party

Director: Stacey Case

2.5 / 5 zedheads


Masked Mexican wrestlers grapple in the ring while flesh eating zombies and busty, tattooed women watch the action unfold. Would you believe this is a Canadian movie?

Today is Canada's birthday, so in celebration of this beer-loving, snow-covered, overly polite nation I call home, I decided to review one of the most atypical Canadian zombie films I could find: the offbeat zombie / Mexican wrestling film Enter...Zombie King.

Filmed in and around Toronto, Enter...Zombie King evokes the Lucha Libre genre of action films in which masked Mexican wrestlers (luchadores) were cast in B-movies to fight all manner of cinematic villains such as international spies, mummies,  vampires, and even aliens. These silly, low-budget superhero films peaked in popularity in the 1970s but have maintained a cult status to this day. Enter...Zombie King picks up these cult tropes by introducing us to a team of masked heroes lead by Ulysses (Jules Delorme) in a world where zombies are as common as cockroaches. Ulysses -- "US" for short, with an appropriately American mask design-- joins up with fellow fighters The Saint, Mr. X, and Mercedes (the girl) to find out if their friend Tiki (Rob 'El Fuego' Etcheverria) is responsible for several recent zombie attacks. Tiki you see, wrestles zombies that he transports around in a U-Haul trailer. Is Tiki to blame, or could this be the work of the nefarious Zombie King (Nicholas Sinn) and his evil minions Murdelizer (Jason Winn 'J.B. Destiny' Bareford) and French Vixen (Jennifer Deschamps)?

Despite the American Flag, this is still Toronto, eh.
Enter...Zombie King is a strange smashup of horror and luchadore heroics. It's also a film that I really wanted to like. On a surface level, it has everything needed to give even Rob Zombie a wet dream -- a comic book feel, masked wrestlers, zombies, gore, shameless T and A, hot tattooed girls -- but some vital ingredient is missing from the recipe. And that ingredient is called "MORE."
More please! Mucho more!
More! More action! More zombies! More gore! More silliness! Enter...Zombie King flops because there's just not enough. The acting is wooden and the story is thin, but the world of Lucha Libre is a vibrant, kitschy one ripe for exploitation in substitution for storytelling. It's a world where half the people never take off their masks and all fights are conducted using the tried-and-true techniques of professional wrestling. Unfortunately, Enter...Zombie King gives us all the right elements but with the intensity turned way down.
There's a lot more of this than zombie action.
The wrestling fights, while integrated well into the plot, seem tame. The gore is quite nice but as sparse as the zombies. The exploitation of nudity seems like an after-thought rather than an integral part of the film's B-movie atmosphere. And the film takes itself too seriously. The original Lucha Libre films also took themselves seriously, but they became more laughable by today's technical standards. Enter...Zombie King is a technically well-made movie, so the humour needs to come from the characters and the story. Yet, for a story about colourful, masked wrestlers who body slam grey, shambling zombies, Enter...Zombie King is surprisingly dry. The dial on this movie is set at about "7," but it needs to be cranked to "11."

Ulysses always watches his back
There are also other incongruous elements that I found charming and amusing that others will probably find off-putting. The film is set "on the coast," by which we're supposed to think California, USA, where the tiki, surf, and rockabilly culture that embraces Lucha Libre thrives. Much to my amusement though, Enter...Zombie King is clearly shot around Toronto in the snowy months of the year. Snow's on the ground and in the air, and the all the beach-related scenes are done in the snow. Meanwhile, the film puts American flags all over the screen as characters remark that the weather is acting up lately; it's actually much warmer than the snow indicates. I've never seen a Canadian movie try so hard to be not Canadian, and that gave me a good Canadian chuckle. I'm fond of Enter...The Zombie King for these and other mismatched elements. I mean, what's more mismatched than a Canadian Mexican Wrestler movie? But my fondness does not translate into a recommendation.

Enter...Zombie King starts out with a great template and cult cultural cache, but in the end it's just not that fun. And the only thing worse than a badly made Lucha Libre film is a well-made Lucha Libre film that just isn't exciting.