When I first came across this title I was soooo hoping it meant that humans were being turned into zombies due to a really bad case of gonorrhea!! Nope [cue sad music]. Even though THE BURNING DEAD (formerly titled “Volcano Zombies”) isn’t about a flaming case of the clap it’s a really fun zombie flick that entertains on a few different levels.
On all the promotional information for THE BURNING DEAD the first name listed as the star is Danny Trejo. This is obviously a pretty big draw. Trejo has been in some fantastic and iconic films in many different genres. But make no mistake; Trejo is not the star of this film. Hell, when it’s all said and done he was probably only in it for a combined six to eight minutes (and that’s being generous). But don’t worry; what we lack in Trejo-ness we make up for in other cheesy, yet competent, actors. Trejo plays Night Wolf, a Native American who doesn’t, not even for a second, pass as Native American. Trejo looks like MACHETE undercover at a Native American casino!! Anywhooo, Night Wolf is telling some children the legend of an evil spirit that has lived in the land for centuries but who’s been asleep at the wheel since the arrival of the white man. Nice job evil spirit!! Then we switch to pioneer times when a husband comes back home only to discover his family was wiped out and eaten by zombies. Luckily for him the nearby volcano erupts and wipes out the zombies.
What the above pre-credit sequences have to do with anything are anyone’s guess. I’m assuming it’s setting up the evil spirit and that it’s somehow connected to the volcano (angry spirit = exploding volcano?), but the connection is never clearly made. And who cares, really, because now we’re in the present day and the setting is the land where the zombies attacked that pioneer family. The volcano is also there and it’s pissed off again. Dr. Stevens (Kyle T. Heffner) and his new assistant Eve (Julia Lehman) have been tracking the recent volcanic activity and have predicted it’s gonna blow in about a week. Sheriff Denton (Thomas Downey) has been evacuating the nearby town. We meet up with him as he’s checking in on Mindy (Moniqua Plante), with whom there’s more than a little sexual tension, her daughter Nicole (Nicole Cummins), and Nicole’s boyfriend Ryan (Kevin Norman). The sheriff’s been having trouble getting Old Ben (Robert F. Lyons), Mindy’s estranged father, off the mountain and he wanted her to go talk to him. So we’ve met the main characters and have the typical SyFy Movie-of-the-Week setup. Surprisingly, though, this isn’t a SyFy channel movie!! So let’s bring on the zombies.
The volcano of course erupts a lot sooner than expected and traps our plucky little cast on the mountain. But before the lava started pouring out of the volcano, it started shooting out these greenish-yellow balls of fire that when they hit the earth caused zombies to rise out of the ground. Were the zombies inside the fireballs? Did the fireballs just happen to hit the exact spots where the previous zombies died? I don’t know. But what I do know are that these zombies aren’t you’re typical run-of-the-mill zombie. They’re filled with lava (imagine the merchandizing)!! Instead of dripping blood and gore from their mouths and wounds, piping hot lava comes out. You know the stuff, right? Lava is that molten rock that’s almost as hot as the jelly filling in a toasted Pop Tart.
Once the zombies arrive this is when the real fun begins. I put up with the obligatory “meeting the characters” part of the film while I patiently waited for the arrival of the lava-filled zombies, and I must say it was worth the wait. Director Rene Perez really keeps the action and gore moving along nicely. Perez doesn’t skimp on the gut munching scenes at all!! Writers Jason Ancona and Jeff Miller may stumble a bit on the characters but they really deliver on the zombies. The zombies here aren’t interested in creating a zombie army. They decimate their victims and leave very little behind to reanimate. If you find yourself in a close proximity struggle with one of these zombies all they need to do is drool and you’re toast (lava, remember?). And the first volcanic eruption was just the initial one. Dr. Stevens tries to warm the sheriff that the second one is going to be a Super Eruption!! This is actually a lot of fun as we watch the zombies chasing the gang stranded on the mountain. Lava flowing to the left; zombies chomping on the right … stuck in the middle with you. Or something like that.
The acting by the main cast is well done. Some of the supporting cast, though, left a lot to be desired. Right before the first eruption, Mindy et al are driving down the mountain and they spot a girl getting out of her car. The girl, simply known as “Photographer” (Jenny Lin) is there to take pictures. Her dialogue is priceless:
Mindy [to photographer]: You need to get out of here … the safety zone is ten miles that way.
Photographer: Don’t worry about me. I’m a professional photographer and blogger.
She then proceeds to walk into the dense woods alone, take her cloths off, and begin taking selfies of herself with the backdrop of the ready-to-burst volcano!! She’s a terrible actress but she has a great mountain range of her own so that kinda offsets everything. Her scene stinks of the producers realizing there’s no t*****s in their film so they hire the first actress they can find who will bare her chest and die within minutes of their first appearance.
Ignoring the above scene, there’s a lot fun to be had with THE BURNING DEAD. The characters all do exactly what you expect them to do. Mindy and her father reconcile, a few of the main cast die, the hero gets the woman at the end, and the zombies are defeated. It’s also pretty fun and wacky how the zombies are defeated, but I’ll let you find out for yourself. The film also contains one of the most pointless sacrifices ever made on film. One of the main characters, to save the others, dives on a zombie and they both go tumbling down a steep mountain side. I appreciate the effort, buddy, but the zombie was nowhere near anyone in the cast. You could’ve just ran right past the thing and everyone would’ve been safe. But ya gotta admire his moxie!!
THE BURNING DEAD is a fun B-movie. The acting and dialogue are fun, the zombie make up is well done, and there’s lots of gut munching and gore that is done via practical effects. Yes the CGI lava looks horrendous but that’s but one element. Trejo pops up at the end just to remind everyone he was actually in the film. All in all, THE BURNING DEAD is a lot of fun and gives us a different kind of zombie in a different kind of setting. Check this one out.
Director: Rene Perez
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer