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Zombie Self-Defense Force

ADV Films // Unrated // October 13, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted November 2, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
In the decade before he became the God Almighty of the Lord of the Rings franchise, Peter Jackson was a glorified horror geek. He loved monsters and mayhem, the gorier and goofier the better. His first film, the loony labor of love Bad Taste, was a clever combination of alien invasion and living dead spectacle and in between all the skin snacking and arterial spray, a new level of fright flick funny business was created. But it was Braindead (released in the US as Dead Alive) that really proved his zany zombie mantle. To this day, the story of Lionel Cosgrove, his domineering, demonic mother, and the Sumerian rat monkey that turns a tranquil New Zealand weekend into a corpse strewn splatter rampage remains a post-modern classic. What this has to do with the jaunty Japanese scary movie Zombie Self Defense Force is not really obvious at first. But once you get past the obvious political grandstanding and Tokyo First stances, this overripe romp instantly reminds one of the days when Jackson thought that a sly cinematic ipecac was better than a full blown fantasy epic.

The Plot:
While on military maneuvers, a group of soldiers see a flying saucer crash land into a nearby mountain. It is an event also witnessed by a pop star and her publicity photo crew, a married restaurant owner and his pregnant girlfriend, and a couple of gangsters and their latest contract "hit". Soon, radiation is spreading everywhere, with the unexpected consequence of reanimating the dead. Of course, this sucks for the mobsters, but it's also a problem for the adulterer since he's just accidentally killed his gal pal. Soon, zombies are blanketing the valley, and our military crew must find a stronghold from which to operate. Guess who's snack shack the Self-Defense Force camps out in? As the undead pursue their unholy, hungry aims, one of the female GIs starts suffering from weird flashbacks. Turns out she has a secret identity, one that will come in handy against hordes of the living dead.

The DVD:
Much better than the similarly themed Attack Girls Swim Team vs. The Undead and about 2000% less sleazy, Zombie Self Defense Force is one odd living dead duck. The movie begins with a literal rant, the filmmaker deciding that the best way to win over his sure to be Japanese audience is via a five minute long assault on American foreign policy. As the War in Iraq is referenced and then tied to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the various atrocities committed by the US in the name of freedom and democracy are delineated, as the unseen voice goes from angry to insane, we worry that all of this otherwise giddy gorefest will be clouded in a kind of anti-Western wash that will be hard to stomach. But then director Naoyuki Tomomatsu dives right into the realm of Jackson, Sam Raimi, and George Romero, ignoring the opening diatribe to deliver a sunny, sluice filled splatter slip and slide guaranteed to have you laughing and gagging at the same time.

The best bits here involve a whiny, self-absorbed singer whose pert pigtails and Cupie doll demeanor hide a hideous she-shrew, complete with man manipulation skills and deranged diva tendencies. Watching her work the room, roaming from guy to guy hoping to find someone who will save her from the invading horror horde is worth the price of admission alone. Similarly, the arrival of a zombie baby, complete with complimentary evil fetus cackle, it just too much. As it flies around the room - you read that right, FLIES - we are reminded of similar scenes in other famous fright flicks. Of course, no one does depraved better than the Japanese, and some of the killings are downright cruel in their wicked level of invention. Death shouldn't be this undignified, and yet Zombie Self-Defense Force continually throws decorum out the window to significantly up the arterial spray factor. Unlike other foreign fright films that keep the camera off the violence (or the Italians, who seem to offer nothing but), Tomomatsu uses blood to excellent effect. We get moments of jaw dropping disgust alongside sequences that make us smile in their vivisected greatness.

The only elements that don't work here, however, are the bookend bits about the invention of a robot soldier and an old WWII vet buried in a mountain cave. The former comes out of left field and doesn't deliver on the pyrotechnic promise of such a last act facet. The latter gets at least three mentions during the course of the narrative, so we know a reanimated war hero is going to be coming out of the ground sometime, ready to take on all who dare defile the name of Japan. Unfortunately, this means an overlong sword fight with lots of well worked out choreography and by now familiar wire-fu. Since the zombies are more or less left out of this sequence (the old war horse is one, by the way), we miss their mindless shuffling. In fact, this unexplained last act transformation into tweaked martial arts action flick really throws this otherwise merry macabre for a loop. It's fun for a while, but before long, we miss the main reason we came to this title - bloody bedlam and lots of it!

The Video:
Looking much more polished and professional than a homemade horror film forged on camcorders should, Zombie Self Defense Force is given a decent digital package by distributor Switchblade Pictures. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is terrific, if a little soft. We lose a few details here and there, but the overall look is colorful and clean. Sure, some of the CGI sucks (love those obviously animated vapor trails), but for an earnest exploitation cheapie, one couldn't ask for better.

The Audio:
The Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 track is very good, crisp and easily understandable. The John Carpenter inspired score comes across well, and the dialogue is easily discernible, thanks in part to some excellent subtitles that catch every nuance of the narrative.

The Extras:
Sadly, there are none - unless you count a collection of trailers that run at the start of the DVD, and then are also accessible via the main menu. Instead of focusing on this particular production, the minimal added content acts like advertisement for other Switchblade Pictures' titles.

Final Thoughts:
There is nothing wrong with a good splatterfest, especially one that tries to satisfy your buoyant bloodlust in new and unusual ways. Like Peter Jackson pre-Frodo, Zombie Self-Defense Force is a bucket full of bile topped off with a crazy comedic take on cannibalism. The only misstep arrives when our timid Terminatrix turns into a butt-kicking babe, all to battle a pissed of part of 1940s Japanese history. Outside of said facet, the film definitely deserves a Highly Recommended rating. It is meant to be stupid and weird and eccentric, and the minute our narrator opens his yap to give Uncle Sam a new blowhole, we know we're in for something sublimely eclectic. If you go in expecting genius, you'll be disappointed. But if you take this movie at its disemboweling designs, you'll really enjoy yourself.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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