There was a period in 1980s horror that I distinctly remember, for introducing young, pre-teen protagonists: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2, MONSTER SQUAD, THE LOST BOYS, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH PART 4, GOONIES (Okay, that last one’s a stretch to call horror, but Sloth was pretty scary…). It was probably just an attempt to appeal to the younger crowd sneaking into the back of the movie houses, though at the time I hated it, probably because seeing youngsters in the movie meant it was less likely that I’d be seeing tits. There, I said it.
Now, I can better appreciate having a young protagonist in a horror movie. For one thing, younger people evoke a stronger empathic response in the audience. For another, they can more realistically make stupid mistakes, and their relative size and lack of strength can make them more vulnerable to attack.
Richard Kruger is an author of several horror novels, as well as an amateur filmmaker, and in 2008 wrote, directed, and provided the special effects for a low-budget movie called DEAD WORLD. Said to be the first in a trilogy of the Zombie Chronicles (nothing to do with Marvin Suarez’s work ZOMBIE CHRONICLES: THE INFECTED), DEAD WORLD details a child’s efforts to survive the zombie apocalypse. Or so the synopsis says. The results were somewhat… lacking…
DEAD WORLD opens with a child’s voiceover, narrating how an infection quickly spread through the world, bringing down civilization as it raised the dead, while we see a series of monochrome stills, some set up, others stock (and at least one I’m certain is from a real-life mass grave, the use of which I found jarring and distasteful). The child’s voice is also lost at times to the music blaring in the background. I’ll be getting back to the music shortly.
Set in and around Rohnert Park, California (where Richard Kruger lives, according to his MySpace page), the story centers around a young girl, played by Molly Kruger (Mr. Kruger’s daughter, who reminds me of child actress Kim Richards from ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. Sadly Molly doesn’t possess Kim’s acting chops); the character’s name is also Molly, but we don’t learn this until much later in the film. Daddy (Mr. Kruger himself) kisses his sleeping daughter goodbye while he drives off for a job interview, leaving her in the care of her grandmother (Emily McKee), who’s watching the news about the growing zombie plague. Yes, because if all that was happening, I’d want to leave my kid to drive off for an overnight job interview. But he doesn’t get far before he’s spitting blood, obviously infected. Meanwhile, a homeless man (Shawn Bernardo) is living in a tent in the wilderness, killing zombies and understandably feeling depressed over what he’s hearing on the radio.
Later in the day (or so I assume, something I ended up doing much of during the movie, given its incoherence), Molly returns from school, seeing bodies lying in the streets, giving them the same blank reaction my daughter does when I show her the empty carton of orange juice she put back in the refrigerator. From this point on Molly possesses an amazing power: the ability to change from a 10 year old to a 13/14 year old and back again from scene to scene. I know that low-budget filmmakers can often take months if not years to complete work, that kids do grow up quickly, and Kruger made some attempt to hide it, but it becomes too obvious to ignore in places. Molly comes home in time for a zombie to attack the house, getting Grandma and sending Molly on the run.
What has been semi-coherent, not helped by the poor sound and editing, becomes tedium, as Molly follows the same pattern for a long time: she goes someplace – a building, a house, a park – gets attacked by one zombie (conveniently always just one), and barely escapes. And in every scene, the exact same frenetic music piece is played. What’s worse, it’s played regardless of the context of the scene, whether she’s being attacked or if she’s just walking around unthreatened. Eventually, Homeless Guy finds her, instructs her about what’s happening, gets bit when they return to Molly’s house to find Zombie Daddy feasting on Granny, and Molly shoots Homeless Guy. It could have ended there. It should have ended there. Instead we get forty fucking minutes more of Molly doing the same thing she was doing before, only now showing Ripley levels of resourcefulness and determination. The ending promises Part 2 Coming Soon. No thanks, Mr. Kruger…
The zombie makeup is minimal (and their numbers pitifully few), the gore effects nonexistent, the acting at the level you’d expect, the script skeletal with no emotional or dramatic arcs or developments. Are there positives? Yes: the opening narration, with the photos, is a nice setup, even if the rest of the movie fails to live up to the apocalyptic images presented. The use of a child as the central character is refreshing from the bimbos and twentysomething’s we usually get. Employing monochrome adds a little atmosphere (as well as covers a multitude of budgetary sins). And there are moments when Kruger manages to create scenes of genuine menace, such as when a zombie attacks Molly in a car, reaching in for her through the half-opened window. But overall the extreme budget limitations cripple what could have been an epic, sweeping story, or a short but more satisfying one, had Kruger confined his characters to an isolated place, and did more with the character of Molly than just have her wander and evade the undead. Kruger has written a novelization of the film (available on Amazon), and it would be interesting to see if it possesses any depth that the film lacks.
Director: Richard Kruger (also writer, and special effects artist)
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars (only because of the use of a child protagonist)
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 2 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek O’Brien
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