I Survived A Zombie Holocaust (2014)
Dir: Guy Pidgen
Written By: Guy Pidgen
Starring: Harley Neville, Jocelyn Christian, Ben Baker, Reannin Johannink
UK release: Frightfest 2014
A satirical take on the overdone zombie genre, during which an enthusiastic young runner finds the film set on which he’s delighted to be working overtaken by the un-dead.
Zombie movies are totally overdone. Even the zom-rom-com subgenre is overstuffed at this stage, which is really saying something. And, just when you thought every possible rip on the genre had been done, this nifty little New Zealand comedy/horror comes along to turn everything we thought we knew on its head before tearing it to pieces spectacularly, for our viewing pleasure.
In an interesting twist, the zombie outbreak at the heart of I Survived A Zombie Holocaust actually takes place on the set of a low budget zombie movie, on which plucky runner, and wannabe writer, Wesley (Neville) has just landed his dream job. With a loopy director who demands to be referred to only as the initials SMP and a cast of nightmarish diva actors to contend with, Wesley soon realises he’s the only one who can stop the zombies. But, in the meantime, he really wants to pitch his movie to anyone who’ll listen.
I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is writer/director Guy Pidgen’s second feature, his first foray into the difficult horror/comedy genre, but watching the madness unfold onscreen you’d swear he’d done this a million times over. He attacks what many would consider a stale genre with flair, establishing from the get-go that he knows the ins and outs and is perfectly poised to exploit them for all they’re worth.
There’s an impressive amount of splatter from the outset, with the emphasis on gooey, old school practical effects. The flick is loaded with on-the-nose references to budgetary restrictions, actor demands, how comedy-horror mash-ups “never work” and, in one particularly clever twist, a certain performer going a bit too Method for a B-movie – naturally, when things start going to shit, nobody believes him as he continues reiterating his line “the zombies are coming” with increasing desperation.
The main message, though, is that zombie movies are played out and nobody has any interest in them anymore, not least from New Zealand, the land of hobbit epics. This allows for nodding winks to something being wrong with the town’s water supply, and for one character to matter-of-factly ask why they can’t just outrun the zombies, because “It’s not like they’re fast”. In less capable hands, Zombie Holocaust could’ve come across a bit cynical, but everyone is having too good a time, and too much thought has gone into landing every little detail that the amount of love for the genre is undeniable.
Somewhat surprisingly, for a film of this nature, the cast are consistently great, and totally up for being lampooned, with Neville in particular taking more than a few hits as try-hard Wesley. The main actors in the film within the film, a spoilt rich girl and a dumb Himbo, are given two of the meatiest roles, not to mention some of the best lines. When Wesley’s crush, a kindly catering assistant who can’t cook to save her life, demands to know why she doesn’t get a gun, Ben Baker’s hilariously-named Tane Henare replies simply “why don’t I get a vagina?” Later, Wesley notes that “Even when he’s dead, he’s overacting!”
For once, the female characters aren’t providing background noise either, with Reannin Johannink’s wannabe superstar Jessica getting a couple of the best, and most disgusting, scenes of the film, one of which takes place in a Portlaoo. In another, her colleagues wrongfully assume that she’s purging in public, as though it’s nothing to be concerned about, and leave her to it. Welsey and his paramour are clearly set to be the only survivors, but it doesn’t make it any less fun watching everyone perish around them. Refreshingly, though, the characters in Zombie Holocaust aren’t caricatures, rather they’re well-considered reflections on well-known film tropes.
It’s impossible to dislike a film this clever, even if it does drag slightly while we wait for the zombies to start creeping up. Incredibly self-referential, with lots to say about the seemingly unfair amount of hatred thrown at zombie flicks, this is a horror comedy with lashings of both that knows exactly which side its bread is buttered – or its skull is chopped – and exploits that fact to hugely enjoyable effect. Fantastically gory zombie carnage is balanced expertly with well-drawn, three-dimensional characters and a climactic battle sequence is balls-to-the-wall mental. It all ends rather well too, without the filmmakers feeling the need to hint at a sequel for once.
The zombie genre isn’t actually overstuffed. It just needs a little kick up the arse to get it going again, and I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is just the film for it.