I haven't seen very many women-in-prison movies. I know the genre, of course, and can reference it from time to time but freely admit that it's not something I frequent with any regularity. What I do prefer are movies that aren't afraid to either push the limit, or at least put out a setup that makes the viewer say to themselves, "I know where this is headed and there's no way they're gonna do it..."; and then they do. When I first started watching Shadow: Dead Riot I really had no expectations of it whatsoever, except that I knew it was a mix of horror and women in prison films. As the film went on I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is unashamedly a crazy little film that trots out zombies, all out gore, "wire-fu" (to quote Joe Bob), and those aforementioned scenes of, "did they just do what I think they did?" You can boil it down to Caged Heat mixed with Ricky-O: The Story of Ricky and a dash of Beyond Re-Animator for good measure.
Serial killer Shadow (Tony Todd) is an inmate being led to his state appointed death. With symbolic carvings on his body and his teeth filed into sharp points, you just know this execution isn't going to be a normal one. One serial killer explosion and a prison riot later we flash forward 20 years, where the prison has been renovated into a women's rehabilitation facility. Run by a warden who has questionable motives, a captain of the guard named Elsa Thorne (if you get that reference bonus points for you), and a facility doctor who has plans of his own when not trying to fondle the inmates. Enter new prisoner Solitaire (Carla Greene), able to stand up to any of the hardcore prisoners as well as security, she soon discovers she has ties to Shadow, as well as unexplained strength. Coming back from the dead, Shadow and his army of the undead riot against the prison again and it's up to Solitaire and the others to stop him one way or another.
Shadow: Dead Riot was written by Michael Gingold, an excellent reviewer and contributor to Fangoria magazine, so it's no surprise that the movie has plenty of exploitation references and situations. It also helps to have the director, Derek Wan, come from a martial arts film background. His Hong Kong sensibilities bring a crazy jolt to what could otherwise have been a typical low budget affair. Some of the acting is a bit spotty but Carla Greene does a good job with her material, as does some of the supporting cast. Tony Todd is excellent, which should be expected, and yet all I can ever see him as now is either Candyman or Ben from the Night Of The Living Dead remake (which I enjoyed even with all its flaws – feel free to yell at me later). The action is insane, and the gore is off and on until the third act. Once that rolls around though the blood, fluids, and parts flow freely and it's a fun ride until the end.
The movie looks really good. Colors are strong for the most part and there's warranted grain and washout during scenes, mainly in flashbacks and during the zombie uprising. The picture is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The sound is also very good. Included are an English 5.1 digital surround which makes the most of the center speakers with strong bass and sufficient use of the rear speakers in the crowd scenes and action setpieces. Other options are English 2.0 stereo and Spanish 5.1 digital surround.
There's a plentiful amount of extras which are definitely worth your time. On disc 1 there's an isolated music score, the original theatrical trailer, and numerous trailers for other Shriek Show/Media Blaster films including Flesh For The Beast, Deathtrance, The Neighbor Number 13, and an original Italian trailer for Anthropophagus aka The Grim Reaper. If that's not enough, then there's also a separate set of trailers for films under the Fangoria International label; it was like sitting through 42nd Street Forever Vol. 2 ½. Commentary is also included featuring Michael Gingold, several supporting cast members including Erin Brown (previously Misty Mundae), and the special make up effects artists. It's a pretty decent talk, Michael moderates and shares some of the references he placed within the script, and the girls talk about certain scenes and other actors; but it's mainly Erin doing the talking. Every once in a while a separate commentary will pop in that has Tony Todd and Carla Greene talking about the scenes as well, but it's mainly Greene offering the anecdotes and Todd talking when he's prompted directly. It would've been nice to have these as two separate commentaries simply to keep track of things, but there's nothing that's discussed throughout that isn't included on the documentary. Which brings me to.....
Disc 2 consists of a "Grindhouse Trailer", basically the trailer dirtied up to look like the trailers of the seventies complete with scratches, grain, pops, "cigarette burns", and over the top exclamations. It was really creative and completely set the tone for the movie itself. There's a music video for the closing song, deleted scenes which were basically just dialogue extensions that didn't add to the overall film; a photo gallery of publicity photos and behind the scenes footage, mainly of the make up creations; an art gallery; and audition reels of Carla Greene and some of the supporting cast. These were fairly entertaining, especially how some of the girls acted before you see them in the film, but stick around for the surprise audition at the end – it's worth it.
The main goodness on this disc, however, is the behind the scenes documentary. It involves all the major players; writers, producers, director, make up guys, actresses, and they all have plenty to say. There's a great amount of footage showing the shooting of fight sequences as well as the make up effects and various zombie shenanigans. It clocks in at around an hour and there's a lot packed in. I actually had a better appreciation for the movie after seeing this. There's another short documentary called A Tale of Two Zombies. This involved talking to Bill Hinzman, the cemetery ghoul from Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and Captain Haggerty, the boat zombie from Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2. Both men have recollections of shooting with their respective directors and it was neat that they had been asked and could do the cameos they provide in Shadow. A longer featurette with the men would've been nice, but this set had already justified itself so I can't complain but so much.
With all the direct to dvd movies flooding the market now it's nice to know that some are squeaking by that are worthy of the disc they're printed on. Shadow: Dead Riot is a welcome surprise that exceeded any expectations I had of it and won me over by the genuine commitment of all involved. They knew what they were making wasn't going to be on the AFI list, but at the same time didn't pander to genre fans as a quick way to recoup costs. I didn't really care for Fever Dreams' first feature Flesh For The Beast, so it was nice that this was a marked departure and a better film altogether. If this trend continues I will definitely be looking forward to future releases from the company. Definitely check it out!