• Reel Zombies

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: February 11th, 2014.
    Director: Michael Masters, David J. Francis
    Cast: Michael Masters, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall
    Year: 2008
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    The Movie:

    A found footage horror comedy? This is probably going to suck, right? Found footage has been done to death and seems, these days at least, like a way to compensate for lack of funds and sloppy cinematography rather than an effective storytelling method. On top of that, a whole lot of us are pretty tired of everyone and their sister cranking out low budget zombie movies with all the originality of plywood. And how many low budget horror comedies have you seen that have been neither scary nor funny? Too damn many! Yet, Reel Zombies, surprisingly enough, doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s actually pretty good and at times, surprisingly clever.

    In the movie, co-directors Michael Masters and David J. Francis star as co-directors Michael and David respectively, two low budget filmmakers who review the unused footage from the two Zombie Night movies they released previously and decide that it’s actually better than what made it into those two cheapjack releases. They figure they can quickly and easily turn out a third movie and so that’s what they set out to do, using the mistakes that they made on past projects as a stepping stone to creating a better movie this time around.

    So they gather up a small cast and crew and head out to their locations completely unaware that an actual zombie plague has been unleashed. They go about the task of trying to get the movie made and, of course, run into all sorts of problems along the way, not the least of which is the presence of the walking dead… actual zombies hungry for human flesh.

    This one should have flopped, but Masters and Francis make it work in no small part by putting a lot of the emphasis on the foils of low budget moviemaking more so than on the presence of the ‘actual’ zombies. This is the source of the more effective moments of comedy in the movie and the premise that sets up the credence of the found footage aspect is that they’ve got a cameraman on set shooting behind the scenes footage to be used in an EPK (electronic press kit). We see the relationships that exist and further develop between the filmmakers and the cast and crew through some clever and funny dialogue that somehow manages to buck the odds and feel natural rather than forced and a lot of the little snippets of talk between characters give the movie a surprising amount of charm.

    Pacing wise, as the mockumentary/on set footage begins to past the half way mark, the zombies are introduced en masse and the movie does. It’s here that things do start to get darker, even if they never actually get scary. The ‘real zombies’ don’t wind up looking a whole lot different than the actors made up to look like zombies for the movie, a problem with a limited makeup budget you could suppose, but the movie ends on a fitting and unexpected note. Where the movie succeeds is in its depiction of a low budget movie shoot, warts and all. The bickering, the unexpected problems, the prima donna egos and actors and actresses alike and bizarre casts of characters that inevitably wind up drawn to low budget pictures all play a part here and if you’ve ever spent any time on a shoot like this, you’ll realize at times just how frightening accurate what you see in Reel Zombies really is.


    Synapse presents Reel Zombies on DVD framed at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. As this is a found footage movie meant to look like a low budget production shot on the cheap, it sort of has to look a little around the edges in order to work. Overall, however, the video quality is perfectly watchable. The colors are decent and despite some camera work best described as fast and loose, the image stays reasonable crisp and detailed.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is fine. It isn’t as enveloping or aggressive as you might hope for but it suits the low-fi nature of the movie well enough. Dialogue stays clear and easy to follow and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion of note.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from the movie’s co-directors Mike Masters and David J. Francis who are joined by their producer, Stephen Papadimitriou. These guys are obviously good friends and that comes through in the track as they talk about where some of the ideas that we see take form in the feature came from and some of the obstacles that they encountered while shooting the movie. They talk about themes and ideas, locations, effects and story issues and generally just provide a solid overview of the movie that they’ve made together.

    Aside from that we get just over forty minutes’ worth of deleted scenes - some of which are more interesting than others but their inclusion is welcome - a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Credit where credit is due – though Reel Zombies had, on the surface at least, all the markings of yet another found footage/zombie/horror comedy turd, it turned out to be clever, well made and more importantly than that, quite entertaining. Synapse’s DVD offers it up in nice shape with some solid extras too. A really fun release overall.