Canadian heavy metal superhero Jon Mikl Thor (of the masterpiece that is Rock N Roll Nightmare) is a teenage baseball fanatic named Tony Washington who gets run over by a gang of trouble making teenagers (one of whom is played by a young Tia Carrera and another of whom would go on to direct Night At The Museum). Tony's mother is understandably distraught over her son's passing and so she enlists the services of the mysterious Molly Mokembe (Manuska Rigaud), a local voodoo priestess who, after an elaborate ceremony, brings Tony back from the grave as a zombie with vengeance on his mind. One by one, those involved in Tony's murder wind up dead themselves and only a cop named Frank Sorrell (Frank Dietz) suspects anything is amiss. Unfortunately for Frank, his superior, Captain Tom Churchman (Adam West), would rather he keep his nose out of other peoples' business while zombie Tony cruises around wreaking havoc on local teenagers in hot tubs and limping as he walks.
Does that sell you on Zombie Nightmare? No? OK, well act now and we'll throw in scenes of Adam West reading off of a script on camera, John Fasano fighting thugs while wearing grey sweatpants, a zombie played by two very different looking actors, a guy in his tighty-whities murdered in a Jacuzzi, and some strange Montreal locations. Made in Canada at the height of the tax shelter program that was put in place to shoot some adrenaline into the Canadian film industry of the early eighties and lure American filmmakers north, Zombie Nightmare was made for $180,000.00, most of which went to Adam West. Co-directed by an uncredited John Fasano (who also wrote the script, again, uncredited) and a full credited Jack Bravman (the exploitation producer and director responsible for Night Of The Dribbler among others), the movie doesn't really make a whole lot of sense thanks to some incoherent editing but it sure is a lot of fun.
Infamous for the skewering it received at the hands of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, Zombie Nightmare was made at a time when it wasn't difficult to land an aging star on your film for a couple of days for a nominal fee. This explains Adam West's presence, though to West's credit, he does as good a job as can be expected here. He's game for the material and seems to be having a good time playing the shady top cop of the unnamed city in which this morality tale unfolds. It's also interesting to note how the film predates films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, a fact which Fasano elaborates on quite interestingly in the commentary and a fact that he seems fairly proud of, noting that he doesn't care for films in which the killer just kills randomly and for the sake of an increased body count. The MST3K version, which was fullframe, was slightly edited in a couple of the murder scenes, Scorpion's DVD presents the film in its uncut version and with an R-rating for which is just barely qualifies. Don't expect the blood and gore of a Romero style zombie film, as it's not that type of movie.
When this film was originally being made, a body builder named Pee-Wee Piedmonte was originally meant to play the zombie but he didn't last long - this left the crew in the unique spot of needing a Canadian bodybuilder who could act to replace him. Fasano's wife was friends with Thor's wife and although Fasano had no idea Thor was Canadian (despite the obvious accent), he called him up to see if he could suggest anyone. Thor wound up heading from New York, where he lived at the time, to Montreal to fill in and that's how he wound up in the film, though scenes shot with Pee-Wee are used and they stand out like a sore thumb. Thor, to his credit, makes for a good zombie, walking with a limp and really bringing a physicality to the role that makes his performance a stand out one. Thor's involvement also helped get bands like Motorhead and Girlschool on the soundtrack. Tia Carrere is here to look pretty and doesn't really do much more than that. It was her first feature film role after some television experience and while she's fine in the part, she doesn't really do much here.
Chock full of rope-a-dope headscratching moments, inane dialogue, bad acting and even worse effects, Zombie Nightmare is terrible by any standard but in spite of, or even because of this it's a whole lot of fun. Everyone here is trying, and as awful as the end results are, their enthusiasm and emery are infectious. Grab a six pack of Canadian beer and a bag of pretzels and enjoy this hokey monster movie for the beautiful piece of crap that it is!
NOTE: This review is based off of a test disc (though it appears to at least represent finished product).
Zombie Nightmare looks good in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The progressive scan image shows only minor instances of print damage and while it does have that odd sort of early eighties softness to its cinematography, detail is generally pretty good. Color reproduction looks fine, though this isn't the most visually impressive film ever made in that department, and black levels, while not reference quality, are quite strong as well. Flesh tones look good, there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement at all.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track on this is also quite strong. It's well balanced, easy to follow and free of any hiss or distortion. A few sequences sound a little bit flat but that's likely got more to do with the nature of the recording than with the DVD. The various metal songs used throughout the film, most of which involve Thor, sound pretty decent as well. All in all, it sounds quite good. No alternate language options or subtitles have been provided for this release.
The most substantial supplement on this disc is a commentary track with John Fasano and Frank Dietz who are joined by Thor who calls in on the phone from Vancouver. Fasano has the most to say here, talking about how and why he wound up not only writing and co-directing the picture without credit but also starring in it. Here we learn the pros and cons of wearing grey sweatpants on camera, how Steven Segal taught Thor to stage a fight scene, who was a dick on set and who wasn't, and how Jack Bravman's direction on this film tended to be limited to instructions such as 'act like Clint Eastwood' and 'now you're Don Johnson.' All involved speak highly of Adam West and not particularly highly of Bravman and point out a few interesting notes about what some of the people involved with this production have gone on to do, including a fifteen year old actress who was hired to do a nude scene (which was obviously axed). Oops! It's a fun track with some good information that doesn't take itself too seriously, though Fasano and Dietz tend to talk over Thor as if there's a slight lag between them. Frustratingly enough, Fasano talks about how the film was edited by people who didn't have a script (which is why you'll see Adam West reading from papers in one sequence) and how some of the best shots were used for the trailer which was cut from the negative - though the trailer, which Fasano says in the commentary he has, isn't included here.
From there, check out Remembering Zombie Nightmare in which Fasano, Dietz, Thor and Bravman are all interviewed about their experiences in putting this project together. Again, Fasano gets a bit more screen time here than his counterparts as he explains how this was originally meant to be a blaxploitation picture and how and why he isn't credited in the film for his work. It's not the prettiest looking supplement ever made but the content is good. Rounding out the extras is a ten minute phone conversation with Fasano, Dietz and Bravman, menus and chapter stops.
Zombie Nightmare is a horrible film by any standards but it's so deliciously goofy that you can't help but have fun with it. If you're looking for serious cinema, stay far away from this one but experienced bad movie fans already know this one by reputation alone. Scorpion's DVD is an upgrade over previous versions, offering up a strong transfer of the uncut version and some solid extra features. Definitely recommended for those who can appreciate it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.