Zombie Honeymoon opens with newlyweds Danny (Graham Sibley) and Denise (Tracy Coogan) darting out of a church, flinging middle fingers and a red veil out of their car window on their way to a month-long honeymoon. They're relaxing together on a deserted beach when a figure slowly emerges from the surf and spouts a stream of black bile over Danny's face. His cadaverous attacker keels over immediately; Danny isn't pronounced dead until after Denise has dragged him to the hospital. She doesn't even have a chance to let the news sink in before Danny sits up in his bed, ready to head back to his uncle's beach house. Normalcy seems to return quickly enough: his skin's peeling a bit, but Danny's as amorous as ever, and he's awfully spry for someone who's just died. Whatever's happened has also made him even more determined to march forward with their plans to move to Portugal, so...marital bliss and all that.
This being a movie with "zombie" in the title and all, it goes without saying that Danny hasn't come back quite right, as Denise soon discovers when she pulls back a shower curtain and sees her husband feasting on a mouth-breathing jogger's innards. She darts right out the door, naturally, but a blood-soaked Danny pleads with his wife and convinces her to stay. Denise isn't a prisoner -- she has plenty of chances to leave but chooses to stand by her man. She looks at Danny's quickly deteriorating condition as a disease, focusing more on the "in sickness and in health" end of the vows than "till death do us part". Danny insists that he'd never hurt Denise, but he's casting a different kind of hungry stare her way these days, and with as ravenously as he devours everyone else in sight, it seems as if it's only a matter of time...
Forget the usual genre formula that pits a team of bickering survivors against the legions of the undead. There may only be one zombie (well, one at a time) here, but it's because of its smaller scope...the intimacy of a character-driven drama with only five main-slash-secondary cast members and rarely more than two or three actors on-screen at once...that Zombie Honeymoon works as well as it does. Writer/director David Gebroe manages to sell how in love Danny and Denise are without resorting to eye-rollingly flowery dialogue or clunky backstory, and even though the first few minutes don't consist of much more than the two of them fooling around or deftly delivering a bit of exposition, there's something so instantly likeable about 'em that I really didn't want to see them attacked by zombies.
Gebroe knows how to use quiet moments as effectively as splatter, and even though there is a twenty minute stretch early on between anything particularly zombie-like, there's not a boring or inessential moment in the movie. There's no sappy music or overwrought dialogue, and its characters behave believeably and convincingly throughout. Although the movie is much more about Denise's response to seeing everything she loves about her husband gradually rot away, Danny is the character that's likely to prompt the most discussion. Gebroe states in his audio commentary that "love is consumption", and Danny's attacks are as frenzied and carnal as the series of sex scenes that open the movie, as if one really isn't all that far removed from the other. Graham Sibley likens his character's decomposition to cancer, Gebroe thinks of him as a reluctant monster, and an early review in Variety compared Danny's ravenous hunger to some sort of drug addiction. They're all valid interpretations, and, as strange as it is to type a sentence like this, Zombie Honeymoon is thought-provoking enough to inspire quite a few discussions like that. I'm barely scratching the surface, but the goal of this review is to try to get you to buy the movie, not to bore you to tears with an overanalytical rant, so I'll move on.
There may be more bubbling under the surface of Zombie Honeymoon than most of the recent crop of walking undead flicks, but it more than passes for a horror movie. There are quite a few attacks, and they're all swift, bloody, and brutal. Gebroe mostly steers clear of jump scares, preferring instead to draw out the tension. There's never any doubt whether or not Danny will rip a chunk out of someone's throat -- it's just a matter of when -- but having him act more or less like a normal person for short stretches and then suddenly turn feral...that makes the inevitable all that much more effective. Zombie Honeymoon doesn't rely on gore as a crutch, though. The most tense moments in the movie don't even have a zombie on-screen: near the climax, Denise sits silently in an upstairs bedroom, resigning herself to whatever fate awaits while trying to drown out the sounds of her husband feasting on the remains of several people he'd just slaughtered. That scene was so unsettling (in a good way) that I had to pause the movie and walk away for a few minutes, something I almost never do. It's not all so bleak and somber, though. There's a steady undercurrent of black comedy throughout, as skillfully mixed in as the surprisingly effective blend of romance, horror, and drama.
I live for the living dead -- my stack of DVDs with "dead" or "zombie" in the title is larger than most of my friends' movie collections in total -- and my kneejerk reaction is to put Zombie Honeymoon somewhere in my top five. It's not just a very good zombie movie, though; it's a very good movie, period, benefitting from strong writing and direction, a talented cast, and effects and a visual eye that transcend what I'm sure is a very slim budget.
Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video looks great -- fairly sharp, colorful, and all of those other adjectives reviewers traditionally throw at DVDs. Zombie Honeymoon was shot on HD video, so there naturally aren't any specks or nicks marring the image. Though not as dazzlingly sharp as some of the other shot-on-HD movies I've watched recently, the photography's typically crisp and clean throughout, and no compression artifacts or other authoring hiccups were spotted.
Audio: Most of the action in the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (448Kbps) is anchored towards the front and center. The surrounds are constantly being used, but they draw so little attention to themselves that it's easy to forget they're there. Even in the scene where Denise shuts herself in a bedroom and blasts the TV to block out the sounds of crunching bones and devoured flesh downstairs, little of that creeps into the rear channels. The lower frequencies are noticeably punchier than in the 2.0 mix also provided on this DVD, but don't expect your subwoofer to get much of a workout. It's a serviceable mix, but it really doesn't take full advantage of what surround sound has to offer.
Along with the 5.1 mix, there are also stereo tracks in English and Spanish, and the DVD is closed captioned.
Supplements: The first of the DVD's two audio commentaries pairs the stars of the movie, Tracy Coogan and Graham Sibley. It's loose, light, and chatty, and Tracy's Irish brogue makes it an even more endearing listen. They mostly talk about their approaches to their characters, such as Graham likening Danny's descent to cancer, and they also point out little details lurking in the background like a mangled finger and a cockroach that darted out from under a sweater.
The actors' commentary is a breezy listen, but the track with writer/director Dave Gebroe has a lot more meat to gnaw off the bone. His discussion is more about the "why" than the "how", focusing on characterization, pacing, deliberate attempts to overturn genre conventions, and his methodology as a writer and director rather than purely technical details or goofy anecdotes. It's a more serious conversation than the other commentary track (understandable, since Gebroe goes into great detail noting how closely the film draws from a real-life tragedy in his family), but his dry sense of humor permeates the entire thing. Not a lot of people can compare what they've done to the likes of Cassavetes, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Bergman without sounding pretentious, but Gebroe nails it, and he's grounded enough to recognize some of the movie's (very minor) shortcomings. A first-rate commentary and an essential listen for anyone renting or buying this DVD.
On most DVDs, "behind the scenes featurette" is code for "extended trailer with some fluffy soundbite interviews", but the ten minute clip on Zombie Honeymoon steers away from that, instead concentrating on what really goes on behind the scenes: location scouting, shooting a couple of memorable attack sequences, and how producing a low-budget movie like this can push you to the brink. The featurette closes with a lengthy discussion about the drive that's necessary to see a project like this through, and that's also the central focus of Christopher P. Garetano's documentary Horror Business, nearly eight minutes of which are excerpted on this DVD. Aside from picking the cast and crew's brains about what drew them towards the grueling 18-to-21 hour days of shooting an independent horror movie, Zombie Honeymoon's special effects are also featured prominently.
There's also a small still gallery with ten shots or so, and plugs for a few other Showtime DVD releases round out the extras. The DVD features a set of animated 4x3 menus and eight chapter stops. The disc comes packaged in an insert-less keepcase.
Conclusion: Don't get tripped up over the title: the fiercely original Zombie Honeymoon is a smartly written, perfectly cast, and wildly effective blend of several different genres, so at long last, gorehounds now have a date movie. Highly Recommended.