Sunday, April 11, 2010

Movie Review: Raiders of the Living Dead (1986, U.S.)

When discussing the history of Undead Cinema, Scott Schwartz is not the first name that comes to mind. The name might not sound familiar, but you’ve most likely seen Schwartz. He played the spoiled kid in Richard Pryor’s The Toy and Flick in A Christmas Story among countless other movies. In 1985, he starred a little known film that is infamous in film geek circles: Raiders of the Living Dead. The film had previously sat in limbo for several months before a notorious production company picked Raiders up: Independent-International Pictures. The company was known for “re-working” unwatchable movies and turning a profit on them. One of their big claims to fame was saving and successfully selling Dracula Versus Frankenstein. Raiders is actually a retooling of a 1983 film called Dying Day. The head of Independent-International, Sam Sherman, decided to purchase Dying Day, reshoot a lot of the scenes himself, and included new actors into the film, including Schwartz, Bob Allen (a famous cowboy actor from the 1930’s) and Zita Johann (she starred in the 1932 version of The Mummy).

It's a strange one, but here’s what I’ve gathered from the three different versions of the movie that are currently out there: a scientist is creating zombies from dead prisoners at an abandoned prison (or terrorists are holding hostages at the abandoned prison); a news reporter and a librarian go to investigate rumors about the abandoned prison; Schwartz creates a laser gun out of parts from a laser disc player; the zombies attack the townspeople; Schwartz and his grandfather save the townsfolk with his ray gun. Did you follow all of that? Now, I’ve just given you the Cliff’s Notes version of this cinematic abortion. The entire terrorist sub-plot plays out for almost 30 minutes before the laser-gun totin’ Schwartz enters the picture. Raiders was never released in the U.S. but had minor success overseas. The film was actually premiered stateside on the B-Movie Show “Up All Night with Gilbert Godfreid” on the USA Network in 1989. The show was well-known for showing bad horror movies or T & A flicks with all of the violence, gore and nudity cut out of them.

I’m going to be honest with you guys: this is probably the worst zombie movie out there (with Zombie Lake taking a close second). The story and dialogue are so incoherent at points that I had to re-watch this movie several times just to write this review. The make-up is very low-rate. Most of the zombies look like they stuck their heads in an industrial sized vat of green Spaghetti-O’s. I think the only reason that you would want to watch or (shudder) own this movie would be for the pure simple reason of watching the evolution of a cinematic train wreck. I reviewed the 2002 release from Image Entertainment. The box set (I’m not making this up) features all three versions of the film, as well as commentary by the man himself, Sam Sherman. The transfer is decent considering the film stock that it was shot on. From a zombie point of view, you’re better off to see more Zombie Action in House of the Dead.

In short, an ugly baby is an ugly baby, no matter what color the “onesie” is. It’s incoherent, badly edited and makes my head hurt about 10 minutes in. I had seen this film when I purchased it back in ’02. I decided enough of the emotional trauma that it rendered back then may have subsided, so I decided to open up this little Pandora’s Box of fun for Zombie Zone News. They say that you shouldn’t have regrets in life, but me watching this movie is one of them. If one of your douchebag friends ever piss you off, this movie is a good way to get back at them. Consider it the “Two Girls, One Cup” (internet reference) of zombies movies. And now comes the part in the review where we come full circle. The failure of this movie turned into cinematic cancer for Schwartzman. His last film role in 1990’s Comeback led “Flick” down a different road… into Hardcore Adult Pornography. Schwartzman starred in several red-light delights, including: Scotty’s X-Rated Adventures, White Rabbit, Torn & Insatiable. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Schwartzman leaves the porn industry and decided to open up a very successful sports and film memorabilia store with his father, where you can find him today.

This movie is an interesting letter and possible warning for greedy film studios trying to slap a zombie in the title and hoping to repeat the box office numbers of the Dawn of the Dead remake ($102,356,381 ) of Shaun of the Dead ($30,039,392). While I am like a kid at Christmas with Zombies being the new Smurfs of the 21st century, you will have to take the dross out of the gold, so to speak. A small price to pay I guess, as for every Raiders of the Living Dead you will find an Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Until next time kids, always have two ways out of a building when the zombies come for you.

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