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Zombie Hunter
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by Jay Seaver

"Not great splatter/exploitation, but trying harder than most."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Good news, independent filmmakers: Recognizable character actor Danny Trejo will be in your movie. He may not do a whole lot to elevate it, but does this thing get into festival midnight showings and a much higher-profile home video release than many better movies without him? Maybe - it's also got an actress with some potential and some decent gore & CGI effects - but it's very much the sort of thing you watch to laugh at, rather than love.

This particular zombie apocalypse is the result of a new street drug gone wrong, but the important thing is that a year or so later, Hunter (Martin Copping) is driving across the American southwest, scavenging what he can, especially liquor, and putting down the undead. A trap laid along the road has him brought in by a group of surviovrs, more or less led by priest Jesus (Trejo) and including jackass Lyle (Jake Suazo), ex-stripper Debbie (Jade Regier), nice girl Alison (Clare Niederpruem), and her kid brother Ricky (Jason Wixom), although circumstances will have them on the run again.

By now, zombie movies don't need much in the way of explanation - in fact, this movie's backstory of some sort of weird drug is probably more than typical. Co-writer/director Kevin King still handles it in a weird way, though: The opening prologue is long enough and pointed in a different enough direction - grimy drug-den nasty rather than the sort of escapist post-apocalyptic scenario where the characters' lives are in constant danger but they get to be free and kick butt that dominates the rest of the movie. Even beyond that, though, the writing is pretty bad, even by no-budget zombie movie standards, the sort of thing where new dangers aren't mentioned until moments before the characters are going to have to deal with them, and the dialogue... It isn't good.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in craftsmanship where the story is concerned, it works to make up in terms of action and effects. That work isn't necessarily polished, either - although there are some folks who have worked on bigger productions, it's more a case of the cast and crew going out to the middle of the desert where you can flip a car without worrying about hitting anything valuable, pumping a lot of fake blood into a dummy, and having the sort of young/hungry cast that is happy to do their own stunts if it means a job. That practical effects are enjoyably wet and sloppy, and while some of the digital monsters look like they come out of a video game, the ambition is appreciated - sure, the giant hyper-muscled undead look kind of ridiculous and have no explanation in the movie, but not a lot of low-budget backyard horror is going to even try for a boss-level enemy, and it's better to fall short of lofty ambitions than to deliver mediocre mediocrity.

Of course, most backyard movies don't have the likes of Danny Trejo, and while he's not doing his best work here - and to be fair, Trejo's a guy who came to acting without much formal training and benefits from a more experienced director who can mold his persona a bit - he's contributing enough for it not to seem entirely like a paycheck or an extended cameo. After Trejo, Martin Copping's got the next-most impressive résumé, and while he's not great (and his Australian accent varies between unexplained and half-concealed), he's serviceable enough as the growling title character. Most of the rest of the cast seems to be local Utah folks, which isn't necessarily the deepest talent pool - Regier, Wixom, Suazo, and a couple of others don't stumble over their lines, but don't particularly impress. Clare Niederpruem looks like she may have potential, though; she's a notch or two better than many of her castmates and sells Alison's sort of oddball innocence nicely; she's appealing beyond being pretty.

Does effort and enthusiasm and a few surprisingly solid contributions make up for a lot of the work involved being somewhere between raw and amateurish? Maybe; it's certainly kind of fun with a midnight crowd that's worn down enough not to be demanding or jaded, and big enough to give a good roar when presented with a bit of blood, skin, or insanity. And even when looked at with more clarity than it particularly wants, it's the sort of thing where you can tell the relative newcomers involved to build on what they did well rather than to go back to their day jobs.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25477&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/25/13 17:10:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  N/A
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

UK
  N/A (18)

Australia
  N/A
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013


Directed by
  K. King

Written by
  K. King
  Kurt Knight

Cast
  Martin Copping
  Danny Trejo
  Clare Niederpruem



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