Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Every week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but each selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
American Zombie (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube), is not found footage. THANK CHRIST. It is, however, roughly 75% mockumentary, by which I mean it’s a fictional movie meant to look like a documentary, except it frequently deviates from what a documentary would actually capture. Those deviations (the editing process somehow fails to excise footage of the crew committing a crime, for example) can be a little infuriating to purists like me, but maybe I just need to lighten up. Hey, maybe so do you. Seriously man, look at yourself. Smoke a cigarette or something.
Semi-somebody documentarian Grace Lee is the mind behind this serio-comedy undead expose. No that is not her in the picture above and you are racist for thinking so. Lee is a pro filmmaker, but her horror bona fides leave a little something to be desired. In American Zombie, she tackles a traditionally gore-laden sub genre without so much as a dedicated special makeup effects designer. Not that severed limbs and arterial spray are necessary to make a good horror movie, but the zombification process here appears to consist of fake warts and crinkly patches of latex paint. Instead of boldly defying genre conventions, Lee comes off as being willfully ignorant of them. It’s almost as if she finds the task beneath her, relying on her profoundly original take on the zombie mythos to convince horror fans – known for their obsessive savviness – to look past genre failings that are at best lazy and at worst flat out insulting.
The main thing American Zombie has going for it is the general premise, which to its credit is fairly interesting. In most respects its zombies are the necrotic revenants we’ve all come to know and love. The twist is that many of them remain highly intelligent. They return with no memory of their former lives, but otherwise they’re basically regular folks. Despite a few…quirks…they’re able to do things like hold down jobs, establish advocacy groups and organize Burning Man style music festivals. It’s a great idea that allows for some really neat possibilities, though truth be told the whole gag could be fully delivered in about 20 minutes.
Another selling point is the cast, including some of the individual zombies followed around by Lee and her sardonic, morally ambiguous film school pal, John. John and two of the zombies, Ivan and Lisa, are legitimately funny and magnetic. Every time they’re on screen the movie heats up a few degrees. Lee needs to keep her ass behind the camera a little more though. She improvs just fine but her scripted scenes could have used a few more hours in the oven.
You know, on second thought, you probably shouldn’t watch this movie. It’s slow as shit and you know exactly what the punchline will be way before you ever get to the much hyped LIVE DEAD festival. You should go watch Fido instead. It’s not available for free ($1.99 on both Amazon and YouTube), but it has the benefit of being actually funny, which will make you significantly less likely to be mad at me after you watch it.
Added bonus: Zombie drugs! Comically oversized vials of glowing blue zombie drugs that are prominently featured but never fully explained. Because, well… aw fuck it. I’m sorry.