RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SHATTER DEAD (1994)

DIRECTED BY:  Scooter McCrae

FEATURING:  Stark Raven, Flora Fauna, Robert Wells and John Weiner

PLOT: In the near future, people can inexplicably no longer cease to exist. Death means rebirth into a dead body and the undead walk among us.  A young woman tries to survive as the increasing numbers of dead do their best to convince her to die willingly and join them.

actress Stark Raven
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTShatter Dead contains some strange allegories.  It opens with a lesbian Angel of Death impregnating a mortal woman, which somehow begins the undead phenomenon.  In this zombie film, the dead are not flesh eating monsters.  They merely want to reestablish society—and they want the living to voluntarily take part.

COMMENTSShatter Dead is a low budget zombie movie. It also happens to be one of the most imaginative and interesting zombie movies ever made.  It is certainly the most unconventional, while remaining basically serious. There are some attempts at surreal symbolism, but they are not gimmicky efforts to deliberately make the film look arty. The entire piece flows like a compelling dream, which while twisted, is so interesting that we are reluctant to awaken from it.

In this offbeat yarn, the zombies are  “regular” people who happen to be dead, and yet still think and function. The dilemma in this morbid version of reality is that one lives on as a corpse forever, permanently trapped in the physical condition in which one found oneself at the time of death. Many have committed suicide in order not to spend eternity old and feeble. Postmortem injuries, regrettably, are permanent.  If a zombie breaks an arm for example, it is the same as if you or I sustained a broken arm that won’t heal for eternity. This phenomenon figures prominently in the plot.

The alluring and mesmerizing Stark Raven (yes, it’s a stage name, and no, she’s not a porno actress) plays Susan, a young woman who is one of the few living holdouts—and she would prefer to stay that way. Well armed, pragmatic, sensible, and highly self sufficient, Susan must contend with the mischievous antics and criminal sabotage of some highly eccentric zombies. In short, the unliving present a tremendous pain in the ass.

The dead take to pranks such as siphoning mortals’ gasoline so that their cars run out of fuel. When they do, hordes of zombies descend upon the stranded motorist—and requisition the car in the name of the nonliving masses. (“Power to the former people!”) Susan’s vehicle is seized in this manner. Next she has to cope with a cascade of misadventures as she runs a gauntlet of bizarre obstacles while trying to find her way home to a lost boyfriend.

A zombie pick-up artist wants to seduce her, and an undead neighborhood watch captain lures her into a safehouse that turns out to be a zombie refuge masquerading as a haven for the still-alive. Once there, a gorgeous lesbian zombie comes on to her in the shower. Next, physically handicapped zombies raid the facility in a blaze of gunfire in order to maliciously disable the resident “healthy” and fit zombies. To make matters worse, Susan must continually dodge a sinister religious zealot zombie in her quest for sanctuary.

As she heads home to her waiting mate, a few more surprises and ordeals await her. Wrought with ironies, Shatter Dead is part surreal nightmare, and part symbolic allegory, never taking itself too seriously, but always remaining above the comedic and absurd within the context of its premise. It is a pensive odyssey that explores some rather pragmatic speculations about what reality would be like if true death no longer existed. The film does not attempt to be overly arty, but it does not limit itself to any sense of convention either.

I prefer grim zombie movies over comedic ones. Within this context, the only zombie films that impact me are Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, 1968 and 1978 respectively—until I saw I saw this film and became entranced with it. Deliberate or accidental, grade “B” or “camp” films do not hold my interest for some reason, but Shatter Dead is not in that category. Shatter Dead is a “B” movie, but only by necessity, not by design or incompetence. The director was underfunded, and not thoroughly trained in slick, formulaic Hollywood filmmaking techniques. Shatter Dead is shot on video and the acting is unpolished in places. As a horror movie and a work pop art, however, it is solid, entertaining, thought-provoking and effective.

While the piece has a few humorous and even mildly absurd elements, they are neither overriding themes nor digressions. Shatter Dead is remarkably well shot and edited for its a modest budget. It does not restrict itself, and yet it manages to avoid having a cheap or incomplete feel. Shatter Dead is highly unusual, but consistent—which is to say, while flawed, it still works.

I was very wary of this one at first. As a horror fan I was captivated and amazed upon seeing it. How refreshing it is NOT to see well worn thespians whom I recognize. For instance, if I have to swallow the convention of mediocre, big name actors like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt pretending to be vampires one more time, I shall soil myself. I was pleasantly able to suspend disbelief while viewing Shatter Dead because it did not follow a hokey formula or sport a recognizable cast. At the same time, it worked within its context. The roughshod acting gave the work a realistic feel. Better still, Shatter Dead was not the sort of amateurish, schmaltzy attempt at gritty realism that the cheap, annoying and juvenile Blair Witch Project turned out to be.  We are able to see the action and understand the antagonists.

Bravo to independent film makers like McCrae who are full of creativity and manage to execute a reasonably sound job of scripting, directing, framing and editing their fresh ideas. This is a movie that I will remember and think about for a long time. Shatter Dead has become a new barometer by which I shall gauge the quality of other inexpensive, independently produced works of fantasy.

And yes, there is some impression-making gore and violence, but not the gratuitous splatterfest found in most zombie stories. There is frank but unsensationalized nudity, enough to be titillating without detracting from the plot. There are several bizarre scenes, but somehow they don’t seem so out of place given the avant-garde nature of the film. The striking Stark Raven carries herself in a distinctive manner. She projects a screen presence that memorably characterizes Shatter Dead‘s unique look and attitude.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…It’s one of those movies where half the time you don’t know exactly what’s going on, but the gritty video makes it realistic and scary enough that you don’t really care. The production values are pretty abysmal, but the New Zombie World created by director Scooter McCrae is relentlessly depressing and a gorehound’s feast.”–Joe Bob Briggs, Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In

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