Zone of the Dead

I'm bitter and snarky, like all critics.

 

I enjoy life’s little incongruities: the image of the Virgin Mary showing up on a tortilla, monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs, great big fat guys who lift weights at the gym once and a while as grounds to insist that they are in “pretty good shape” and need to eat double cheese burgers for the protein. That always makes me laugh. No less unexpected is Zone of the Dead, a zombie movie made in, get this, Serbia! I know! How often do you get to see a Serbian made genre film, much less a zombie picture? Good or bad, I knew that had to see it.

 

Certainly no less puzzling than a Serbian zombie movie would be finding Ken Foree in said film. Surprise! That is exactly what you get. No longer in his Dawn of the Dead fighting trim, Foree gamely takes his paycheck and does his thing – dropping zombies with earnest gusto. What’s a dazzling American urbanite like Foree doing in the backwaters of the former East Bloc? Well, according to the script he’s an ex-CIA tough guy who married a Serbian woman 20 years ago and became an Interpol agent who took up residence in then communist Yugoslavia. Now that’s some serious shoe-horning. I’m getting bit ahead of myself.

The movie opens with an archeological dig, a lovely open pit with a few more or less skeleton-ish corpses. All is not well, the head archeologist explains to a plainclothes cop. The bodies are probably plague victims from the Middle Ages.  There are other oddities relating the grave; such as the worker who cut his hand on some of the remains and dropped dead, explains the archeologist, showing the policeman the worker’s dead body lying covered on a ambulance gurney. The plainclothes policeman tells the archeologist that he wants the bodies sealed up and removed from the site. The dead workman rises from his gurney, mouth agape and running with gory zombie goo. Yee-haw! Now the opening credits roll.

A little later we pick the story at a train station. It’s a typical night at Hootervic Junction. The station master, between shuffling around and reminding a local cop who is hanging around the station to be alert, gives us a little exposition. The cell phone towers are down due to military exercises in the area. Also, a train of important toxic cargo will be arriving soon. Three soldiers turn up at the station, the cop tells them that the station is closed. One of them explains to the cop that they are AWOL and that one them is an American, who the other two plan to show a good time. Rollicking fun ensues, a shot is fired which hits a tanker car causing a great jet of creepy green zombie gas to spray deadly clouds. You can probably work out for yourself what happens next.

Elsewhere, Agent Mortimer Reyes (Ken Foree) and Agent Mina Milius (Kristina Klebe) and their Serbian police sidekicks are transporting a very special prisoner to Belgrade. Agent Milius is really excited about her mission. It’s her first one. We know this because it’s only mentioned about a three dozen times. She is also stoked because the legendary Agent Reyes is her partner on this one. We know Reyes is legendary because we get to hear people talk about how great he is over and over again. They must have seen Dawn of the Dead too.

Tagging along on this important mission is Reyes’ super special bestest friend in the  whole world, Inspector Dragan Belic (Miodrag Krstovic), who seems like the sort of guy who’d be perfectly fine tying people up to chairs and pulling out their fingernails with pliers. and an assortment of disposable agents whose chief duties are to tell everyone how great Reyes is and remind everyone that Milius is on her first mission and Reyes is on his last. Okay, one of these agents kind of stands out – the one annoyingly named Savini. That Foree was able to bark lines like “Savini! Cover us!” or “Savini! Shoot that zombie,” with a totally straight face is a testament to his consummate professionalism. And here comes the fun: Our heroes’ jolly caravan is routed  straight through the middle of zombietown. Again, You can probably work out for yourself what happens next.

You are reading this, so I can assume that you probably like zombie movies. You’ve probably had the “What’s your zombie plan?” conservation at least once. Sure. you have. Have you ever actually taken concrete steps? How about stashing guns, hoarding water, or building an armored motorhome to drive to Alaska just like you talked about? No, Of course not. That would be crazy and you’d be crazy to do it. Or Charleston Heston. In Zone of the Dead, there happens to be a schizophrenic (Vukota Brajovic) who believes that the world is about to end via zombie plague. He’s been planning, training and hoarding guns for years in anticipation of the event. At one point he calls out, “This way! I have plenty of weapons for everyone! Let us drive this filth back from whence it emerged!” He was probably sitting his padded cell for years practicing that line. Talk about validation!

As I said before, Ken Foree is here for the paycheck and probably the catering. I have nothing against the man. He seems like a nice enough guy and I don’t begrudge him in the least for cashing in on his Dawn of the Dead cred. If I had any cred, I’d cash in faster than you can say, “Zombie Jack Robinson.” Foree is a real trouper. He delivers some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard and delivers it with utter conviction. Also, I get the impression that even though a tremendous fuss is made over his character, he could have easily been written out of the script. It’s like writer/director Milan Konjevic wrote the Reyes character in after he found out Foree would do the film. I’m not saying that is what happened. I don’t have any insider information. I’m just saying that the screenplay doesn’t require Agent Reyes. His role as mentor to Agent Milius could have been easily filled by Inspector Dragan Belic.

The movie, zombies aside, is mostly about Reyes’ new partner, Agent Mina Milius. Kristina Klebe plays Agent Milius as if she was a character straight out of the American TV show Law & Order.  She, like Foree, plays it totally straight and like Foree, she is able to make it work.

The zombie effects are a definite notch above the blue-gray face greasepaint you see in most zombie movies. The make-up is varied, which is nice. Some zombies have a bit white foundation with black greasepaint to give them the classic dead look. Other zombies have appliances and more elaborate make-up. Overall, the zombie effects don’t suck. These are mostly shambling zombies, though some are able to get a slow jog going. There is one thing that is a little odd about these zombies – they roar. Yes, they roar. I kid you not.

It doesn’t take too much to make a decent schlock zombie movie. If you have decent special effects, professional actors, competent direction and editing, you’re more than halfway home.   Zone of the Dead has all the basics.

Starring:

Ken Foree
Kristina Klebe
Emilio Roso
Miodrag Krstovic
Vukota Brajovic

Screenplay:
Milan Konjevic
Vukota Brajovic
Milan Todorovic

Director:
Milan Konjevic
Milan Todorovic

Two out of five Vincents

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