Take the hysterical, unrelentingly gory
climax of Peter Jackson's splatter-comedy Dead Alive, mix in the skewed visual eye and sense of humor of Evil Dead 2, infuse it with enough caffeine to maintain that manic energy for 100 minutes, and you have some idea what to expect from the Argentine zombie epic Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone.
Mutant Zone kicks off immediately where the original Plaga Zombie left off, but don't fret about the backstory. You learn everything you need to know in the first couple of minutes -- medical student Bill Johnson, has-been cowboy wrestling superstar John West (complete with merchandising and an infectiously catchy theme song!), and dweeby mathematician Max Giggs have been stranded by the FBI in the 'burbs after an experiment goes awry. Their sleepy, zombie-infested little town has been isolated from the rest of the world (with a nice nod to the twisted remnants of the bridge in the Evil Dead series), and although there is a map somewhere showing the one and only way out, they have to avoid being ripped apart by the thousands upon thousands of zombies that have overtaken the city to get their hands on it.
Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone is a blood-soaked love letter to Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson's horror-comedies. It's practically a live-action cartoon, with just enough story and characterization to string together its over-the-top kills and gags. One early example: a zombie with an armful of still-farting intestines in his hands squeezes a stream of shit all over Bill, who then yanks out a couple dozen feet of the zombie's guts and uses 'em to tie him to a lamp post. The pacing's never given a chance to drag -- the first wave of zombie attacks starts just before the ten minute mark, and the next one's never more than a minute or two away. Even
with the incalculable number of the walking undead who are butchered throughout the course of the movie, they're like rotting snowflakes...no two are ever destroyed the same way, and Plaga Zombie is constantly one-upping itself, coming up with the most gruesome, grotesque ways to kill what's already dead. The movie was shot on video for less than you might've paid for your widescreen TV, and although it doesn't have the same multimillion dollar production values as Dead Alive or Evil Dead II, the movie's fueled by so much creativity, energy, and enthusiasm that it more than compensates for any budgetary shortcomings.
I know it's a lazy cop-out to say something like "I can't do it justice; you have to see it for yourself!", but I'm both lazy and a fan of copping out, so...really, go see it. All of the marketing blurb's comparisons to Dead Alive and the Evil Dead series really are deserved; Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone is an incomprehensibly fun zombie flick, and Media Blasters and Fangoria International have given it an impressively lavish release on DVD.
Video: For a
no-budget, shot-on-video horror movie, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone looks surprisingly alright. The video has been processed to give it more of a film-like appearance, and it's more convincing than a lot of other movies I've seen that have tried the same. The full-frame image doesn't hold up well when it's splashed across a big widescreen display, but it looked decent enough when I switched to a smaller 4x3 set. The palette is brown and dingy, and there's some slight aliasing at times, but that's kind of just the way the movie looks. There aren't any print flaws for obvious reasons, and the authoring seems adept enough. Any gripes about the presentation owes more to the way the movie was shot than this DVD, so...no real complaints.
Audio: As you could probably guess by the pre-colon part of the title, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone is presented in Spanish with optional player-generated English subtitles. The Dolby Digital stereo audio (192Kbps) is pretty robust, packing a decent low-frequency wallop and presenting the film's dialogue about as clearly as can reasonably be expected.
Supplements: The first disc in this set kicks off with two audio commentaries with a bunch of the cast and crew. Since the filmmakers hail from Argentina, one of the tracks is in their native Spanish (helpfully subtitled in English), and the other has their best efforts at an English commentary. I listened to the Spanish track first, and it's really comprehensive: they point out the numerous homages to various movies, note which portions are
extended in this cut of the film, gripe about what they didn't think worked, explain some things I missed the first time through (I glossed over all of the homoeroticism, I guess), and cover all sorts of technical details of shooting a movie on a budget this slim. They admit at the start of the English track that this isn't their primary language, and they do struggle a bit with their accents and limited familiarity with the language. I didn't have much problem following them, but skimming through the track, it seems to be covering a lot of the same bases as the Spanish commentary, so it doesn't seem essential to listen to both.
The other big extra on disc one is a half-hour of deleted scenes. This reel shows the footage in context, marking which portions of the scenes were trimmed out and which ones made it into the final cut. The commentary points out that a lot of this was cut for pacing, but there is some good stuff in here, especially a rooftop battle involving a shovel, a floating mathematician, a swimming pool, and an abandoned body bag. Other highlights include a chase with a dwarven zombie, undead ninjas, and even bigger, bloodier battle sequences. A pair of trailers round out the extras on this disc.
Disc two has the original 69 minute Plaga Zombie as an extra, and like its sequel, it's presented full-frame, subtitled, and in Spanish stereo. The plot's pretty much unchanged, only this time all of the action takes place in and around one house, and John and Bill are decked out with zombie-slaying syringes. The Farsa team was still in high school and working with a sub-$100 budget when they made this movie, and since they were still figuring out how to make movies, this one's not as fast-moving, funny, or clever as Mutant Zone. It's still nice to have it as an extra, and the movie's been spiffed up and remastered for this release. This is the sort of DVD where even its extras
have extras, and Plaga Zombie has a trailer and a solid English commentary where they talk about the movies that influenced them and how drastically the scale of the project changed over the course of shooting.
There's also a forty minute documentary on the making of Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (titled "Lots of Zombies and a Few Nuts") which covers a lot of ground that the commentary doesn't -- different ideas they'd tossed around for this sequel, the tremendous headaches of shooting a movie over four years that prompted them to stop and make a different movie to refuel, continually encountering the cops and angry neighbors, the assembly of the elaborate John West shrine, the agony of enduring the make-up effects day in and day out, and the difficulty of assembling such a massive amount of footage into a 100 minute movie (in fact, editing ran so long that it wasn't finished until 40 minutes before the theatrical premiere and had to be played back on a laptop). A great documentary.
Other extras include a set of trailers for other Fango releases, an extensive still gallery that cycles through different zombie-centric photos for more than five minutes, and transcriptions of several different Fangoria articles, including one for Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone.
Conclusion: Don't be fooled by the cover art, which makes Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone look like a deathly serious zombie epic. This low-budget import is a frantic, hypercaffeinated, endlessly gory comedy, as if all of the funniest, bloodiest parts of Evil Dead II and Dead Alive had been chopped up and strewn across one after another for an hour and a half. There are a ton of extras in this really inexpensive package (one online store has it for under $9 shipped as I write this), so there's really no reasonable excuse not to buy it. One of my picks for the best under-the-radar release of 2005. Highly Recommended.