Some fantasy films are made and immediately become a part of the cultural zeitgeist, integrating themselves into pop culture and slang, so that every movie-goer worth his or her salt understands a reference to Middle Earth, or can tell you what happens when you flick and swish your wand, chanting “Wingardium Leviosa.”
But not every film can be a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Some films are made and, through no fault of their own, never manage to find the enormous mainstream success that is so coveted. When this happens, these movies are banished to an ethereal storage dimension called the Cave of Forgotten Tales, and become lost to time.
But here in the offices of TheTorchOnline.com, we have a portal to this mysterious dimension, and from time to time, we venture into this cave, looking for the blockbusters that might, could, or should have been.
And then we review them.
Undead or Alive (2007)
One Torch (Out of Five)
I really wanted to like this movie. I’m a big fan of genre mash-ups, particularly when they’re outrageous on purpose. Example: Kill Bill is an old-fashioned Texas revenge movie spliced together with a Samurai Yakuza film and Hong Kong martial arts movie, among several others. The result is brilliant.
For Undead or Alive, I’d imagine that when the writers were throwing ideas at each other, it went a little something like this:
Writer 1: Let’s write a a Western.
Writer 2: Nah, they don’t do too well in the box office. How about a zombie movie? Zombies are hot right now.
Writer 3: Dudes! I got it! We’ll do a Western with zombies! And make it funny!
Writers 1 and 2: GENIUS!!
I’m not mocking them, because I would SO be one of those writers who would agree that the idea is really good. But somehow it just didn’t work for me.
Any zombie comedy will inevitably be compared to the apex of the genre, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, a wickedly brilliant film from our friends across the pond. This summer’s Zombieland carried Shaun’s torch by making a movie about zombies, yes, but seen from the point of view of genuinely interesting characters. Even if there were no zombies, I’d watch a movie about them. (See our review of Zombieland here.)
But Undead or Alive can’t boast such characters. James Denton plays Elmer, an grizzled army deserter, the straight man to Chris Kattan’s goofy Luke, who behaves just like Chris Kattan always does in movies. The two are joined by the unlikely companion Sue, the niece of Geronimo (seriously), who is beautiful and looks like a Marvel comics version of an Native American woman, and is on a mission to avenge her uncle’s death. Of course, it’s a comedy, so she looks, acts, and sounds like a 21st-century California babe, and her character even grew up in boarding schools in New York. So, there you go.
Unlike the current trend in zombie films, Undead or Alive explains how zombies came to be: it’s a result of Geronimo casting a curse on the white man, which is referred to as “bad medicine” and makes them go all undead and cannibalistic. But the curse is undone if you shoot them in the head, because, you know, that’s how you kill a zombie.
The story and dialogue leave a lot to be desired, but I’ll say this: the film looks great. I don’t know what the budget was, but it’s beautifully shot, with panoramic scenes of the frontier, endless desert, great old west town set pieces, and my personal favorite, the silhouette of riders on horseback against a magnificent sunset. It may be a slight cliche, but it’s gorgeous.
The zombies also look fantastic. A lot of work was done into making them joyfully gruesome, as zombies should be, and if you’re just into seeing blood and gore, you’ll be pleased.
If you’re looking for more, you might want to look elsewhere.