Ed. note- This is a retro review from my former gig. I almost totally revised it, so it reads much better now. And yes, I invoke the name of Hugo Stiglitz. Enjoy this review as part of Mon-Day of the Dead.- P.F.
Since I first saw HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, I’ve mostly had fun with Fred Olen Ray’s films. Movies such as SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY scream “camp” as loudly as they can. Sure, Ray makes trash, but for the most part it’s fun trash. So a few years back during my zombie obsession, when I heard that Ray had made a zombie movie, as a huge fan of both his catalogue and movies that involve walking dead I couldn’t wait to see ALIEN DEAD. Imagine my disappointment when, upon watching the movie, I concluded that it was… oh God, I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Fred Olen Ray film… boring. The “trash” half of the equation is there; but this film is totally devoid of the “fun.” And that leaves it dead on arrival.
It starts off with reporter Tom Corman typing. Let me make this clear: No zombie flick should ever start with someone typing. There’s no action in a typing scene. And Corman isn’t even typing frantically; relaxed at his old typewriter, he explains how he never expected anything out of the ordinary in the town of Oviedo, Florida, but now something extraordinary has happened. Segue to the Griffiths, out gator hunting. When the missus falls into the swamp and goes missing, a strange series of events begins. Ever intrepid reporter Corman (whom Ray named after low budget auteur, Roger Corman) gets no help from Buster Crabbe’s Sheriff Kowalski, even when it’s beyond obvious that there are zombies in the lake.
This is not, however, the typical “refuses to believe evidence of the supernatural that’s right in his face” sheriff; instead he’s the only example I’ve ever seen of the “I’m too lazy!/Stop interrupting my card game!/Now I’ve got to yell at you again, Corman!” cop. No wonder this never became a character archetype.
I can forgive Ray for many of the other problems with ALIEN DEAD. This is an exploitation film, after all. It was Ray’s second film; his budget was a mere $12,000, roughly 10% of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s, which came out 12 years earlier. Budgetary constraints obviously engendered mediocre to poor special effects makeup, poor sound quality and lighting, and the inability to hire quality actors. But money doesn’t explain the meandering script. The plot moves along lazily around a number of characters, punctuated every so often by another predictably telegraphed zombie attack. When a zombie flick is only 74 minutes long and a card game counts as an action scene, that’s a problem. The ridiculous dialogue doesn’t exactly help. As with his later works, Ray laces the movie with zingers, but in this case, they all fall terribly flat. Part to blame is the acting; as our hero, Raymond Roberts is so wooden, he should float, and the rest of the cast delivers some of the most uninspired performances I’ve seen in a zombie movie since Hugo Stiglitz graced the screen in NIGHTMARE CITY.
Granted, it’s not like he’s working with Marlon Brando (though that might be a good thing), but it’s atrocious. Add to this some bizarre cutting (including a fade out during which Corman never gets to finish his sentence), a soundtrack laden with country music (not a great choice if you aim to scare people), and wildly inconsistent zombie makeup, and any chance ALIEN DEAD ever had at being fun gets washed away in a sea of phony looking blood. There’s not even much nudity to boast about. In a Fred Olen Ray film.
With Ray’s wild imagination, it’s surprising he doesn’t even do anything fresh with the zombies. They’re standard issue Romero archetypes, who can be extinguished by head trauma. The latter part of the film itself closely adheres to Romero’s formula in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: a meteor crashes and causes the dead to rise and eat the living; the undead chase the survivors to a farm house; there’s a siege. The more imaginative days of Ray’s career were still years away, obviously, and that’s a shame.
As bad as I feel trashing the film given my fondness of Ray’s catalogue, Ray himself has no problem trashing it on every front, on his DVD commentary track (he also includes some funny, practical stories; it’s not often that one hears about a chicken pecking on an actress’ leg during filming). He’s brutally honest in his appraisal, and at the same time grateful that a fan who had a 16mm copy of the film offered it to him for the DVD release. He also claims he was just happy to get a film made, and given the quality of this flick, I believe it.
If Fred Olen Ray would have made ALIEN DEAD a decade later, it would have included a lot of boob and dick jokes, and Michelle Bauer would have been naked in it. Instead, it includes a card game and the initial scene of a guy typing. Oh, what could have been.