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Outpost: Black Sun

XLrator Media // Unrated // November 6, 2012
List Price: $20.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 10, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Far more than fascist fantasy, The Thousand-Year Reich becomes a nightmarish reality when a legion of zombified Nazis are unleashed upon the world. Devoid of conscience, free will, or mercy, this army of the undead
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is both feared and envied by every major power on the board. These aren't slow, shambling ghouls that can be readily taken out with a headshot; they're clever, well-organized, and unstoppable. Forces from every corner of the globe swarm onto this speck on the map of Eastern Europe, on the surface to contain the threat, but secretly scheming to seize control of the reanimation engine for themselves. Caught in the crossfire are Lena (Catherine Steadman), a third-generation Nazi hunter, and her physicist friend Wallace (Richard Coyle) who's devoted the past decade to tracking down rumors of the Third Reich's darkest experiment. With a handful of Scottish special forces grudgingly at their side, Lena and Wallace march head-on into the hellish maw to disable the reanimation engine, and if they fail, civilization as we know it could be reduced to a bloody smear.

There's a reason that Outpost: Black Sun doesn't have "dead" or "zombie" in its title, in stark contrast to the endless glut of other horror films about the undead. It's not really a zombie flick, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Most of these movies are set against an apocalyptic backdrop; if civilization hasn't completely fallen, it's at least in its death throes. The rules that George Romero established decades ago are almost always followed chapter and verse. The endgame is a desperate attempt to stave off death for just a little while longer. Outpost: Black Sun breaks away from all of that. For one, the film is largely disinterested in gore. These undead Nazis aren't flesheaters; they're stormtroopers, as cruel and unrelenting in death as they were in life. They fight with blades, not with bites, and whatever it is that's reanimating them doesn't spread like a disease. Outpost: Black Sun is far more of an action/thriller than it is a horror movie, ratcheting up the intensity not just by pitting a handful of
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outmanned, outgunned people in close quarters against an army of the undead, but by a ticking clock. This small team is all that stands between the bunker and a quickly looming nuclear strike. If that final resort fails, a Fourth Reich is certain to rise from the ashes.

While most low-budget zombie epics wind up feeling like more of the same, Outpost: Black Sun's disinterest in the usual conventions greatly sets it apart from the rest of the pack. From its accomplished direction to the unnerving production design, Black Sun benefits from a hell of a visual eye. Even though the undead are often obscured and there's hardly any gore, the movie is still remarkably intense, crafted well enough to remain visceral without the viscera. The cast across the board is terrific, particularly Catherine Steadman in the lead. Drop dead gorgeous though she may be, Steadman is wholly credible as an ass-kicker, she's never reduced to a love interest, and it's her compelling, strong-yet-vulnerable performance that ultimately drives the film. The Scottish soldiers have a hell of a lot of personality, and it's definitely appreciated that they don't feel like a second-rate knockoff of the Marines from Aliens like just about every other military-infused horror flick from the past 25 years. I'm also
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intrigued by the way that Outpost: Black Sun approaches Nazis. They've gotten to be such stock villains in movies over the years that I sort of take them for granted, especially in the wake of campfests like Dead Snow, Werewolf Women of the S.S., and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Here, they're very much the threat they once were: an all-but-unstoppable force on the verge of consuming the world.

I'm really not left with a lot to criticize, honestly, and just about everything that didn't work for me comes near the very end. Even as Outpost: Black Sun draws to a close and all hell starts to break loose, my interest began to wane, particularly since the secret of the hidden chamber in this underground bunker isn't even a little bit compelling. The screeching 'Granny Goodness' zombie quickly started to grate on my nerves, and introducing a strung-up scientist who can shoot lightning from his fingers Palpatine-style seems wildly out of step with the tone of the rest of the film. There's also a last minute twist that seems wholly unearned, apparently just an excuse to setup another sequel that's already underway. There's also some less-than-convincing day-for-night photography and small bursts of underfunded visual effects.

Whatever, though; I had a blast with Outpost: Black Sun. I'm in awe of what director Steve Barker and company have produced on a budget this lean, matching studio genre films with twenty times as much money to play with. It's an honest-to-God movie too, propelled by story and performances, not just an excuse to string together a few splattery setpieces. Black Sun has also been written in such a way that it stands well completely on its own, with no need to have seen 2008's Outpost beforehand. For zombie completists ravenous for something different, Outpost: Black Sun is well-worth seeking out. Recommended.

In quite a lot of ways, Outpost: Black Sun looks terrific in high definition. The image boasts a strong sense of definition and is nicely detailed. Though its palette is largely desaturated as most genre films are, that aesthetic ensures that moments bursting with color -- the electromagnetic pulses and the climax in the regeneration chamber, most memorably -- are far more impactful. Some noise from the digital photography is visible upon close inspection, but that fine texture is rendered clearly and distinctly much like you'd expect film grain to be. Once the company credits are out of the way, I couldn't spot any issues at all with banding or missteps in the compression.

Contrast is surprisingly anemic, though, leaving Outpost: Black Sun looking rather flat and milky. Outside of the letterboxing bars, at least, there's not a true black to be found anywhere throughout the movie, and contrast particularly struggles under limited light. I have to admit that it does dull my enthusiasm for this Blu-ray disc a good bit. If you'd like to see one case-in-point:

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Outpost: Black Sun arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and the presentation has been encoded with AVC. An anamorphic widescreen DVD is also along for the ride.

Outpost: Black Sun features a reasonably strong 16-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Dialogue is consistently balanced well in the mix, and as heavy as the soldiers' Scottish brogues can be,
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every last line remains clear and readily discerned. More intensely action-oriented sequences are bombarded with sprays of gunfire in the surround channels, and lower-key moments still have no shortage of atmosphere attacking from behind. Weapon fire, mortars, explosions, and the low-frequency rush of the EMPs also seize advantage of the subwoofer.

I do wish there were a bit less restraint, though. A couple of EMP bursts aside, the bass rarely threatens to rattle the foundation. As busy as the rear speakers are, I hardly ever felt as if I were hearing, say, one soldier in particular lay down some fire and dash up front...or an undead soldier lurch around behind his hapless prey before swooping in for the kill. The sound design is very active, but I didn't consistently feel as if I could tie movement across the soundscape with specific actions on-screen, and that limits the sense of immersion. It's not a warm, thunderous, cinematic aural assault, no, but Outpost: Black Sun's lossless soundtrack is effective just the same.

The only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.

  • The Making of Outpost: Black Sun (5 min.; SD): This promotional featurette delivers some quick discussion about crafting a sequel to a movie where no one was left alive, and the rest of its brief runtime is devoted to recapping the premise and lobbing out excerpts from the finished film. Very little of interest, I'm afraid.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): The only other extra is a high-def trailer.

This combo pack also comes with an anamorphic widescreen DVD.

The Final Word
Though I can't say much about how well this sequel stacks up next to the original, Outpost: Black Sun easily ranks among my favorite B-movies from the class of 2012. Smart, brutal, well-acted, and ekeing out every dollar and then some from its lean budget, Outpost: Black Sun refuses to settle for being just another zombie movie. The lack of extras comes as somewhat of a disappointment, but as I write this, the asking price on Amazon is all of $12.99, more than easing that sting. Recommended.

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