Wednesday, August 30, 2006


A heated argument between man and woman ends in a jolting act of violence, jump-starting Insane-O-Rama's latest excursion into the world of the undead, following their 2003 vampire feature STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN AT SUNDOWN. Right away, intense and sweat-drenched believable performances by the cast, accompanied by loud music and unsettling cinematography usher in what is in my opinion the most relevant and powerful entry in zombie film history since Scooter McCrae's criminally under-seen SHATTER DEAD (1994).

In LAST RITES OF THE DEAD, the living co-exist with zombies, but things are very problematic to say the least. The living dead are spat upon, seen as some kind of disgusting lower class by the general population, given the most menial and shitty jobs possible, and are routinely beaten by violent hoodlums. Life as a zombie sucks hard, to the point where voluntary euthanasia sites are set up for any who want to unburden themselves by having their brains blown out by masked psychopaths with shotguns. The story focuses on the recently-deceased Angela (Gina Ramsden), who is trying to adjust to life after death by attending a zombie support group whose members are literally falling apart, and the efforts of ex-boyfriend Josh (Joshua Nelson) and his pals to join a squad of exterminators hellbent on putting a bullet through the skull of every last piece of undead scum on the planet. Lead by a tough-as-hell woman known only as The Commandant (Christa McNamee) and armed to the teeth, the unit preaches a message of seperatism and superiority that's a stark contrast to the touchy-feely bubble Angela's support group tries to create. When she meets up with a cult of militant zombies who see themselves as the next evolutionary step above humans, the stakes increase and all-out war between the living and the dead seems eminent.

LAST RITES is on the one hand absolutely dark and brutal, spilling over with exploding heads and intestines and gore-soaked walls, and on the other, emotionally riveting and action-packed. The pacing is perfect, the acting is amazing, and every single act of violence resonated deeply with me. While the effects, performances and fight sequences are indeed top-notch, the story and characters remain in the foreground at all times. Not once do you get lost in the carnage, not once is it without meaning and point, not once does it seem gratuitous or showy. Ramsden, Nelson and McNamee are always on volume 10, keeping the audience connected and believing what they are seeing isn't some retarded gore movie, but rather events that are actually happening to actual people. I was seeing zombies get their heads cut off and placed on stakes, then blown apart with shotguns, and I honestly felt bad for them. This is how I know the movie works on the level it was meant to.

Writer-Director Mark Fratto gets right with this film what even zombie master George Romero didn't with either of his follow-ups to the classic DAWN OF THE DEAD; in both the underdone DAY OF THE DEAD and the overcooked LAND OF THE DEAD, special effects and hit-you-over-the-head political commentary both ultimately caused the elements that made NIGHT and DAWN work so well to take a backseat. LAST RITES OF THE DEAD is a movie about the very nature of our race, and how easily we let petty differences cloud the fact that we are all human. Why are you this important person, this privileged being when you're alive, and then as soon as you die, you're this disgusting piece of meat? What makes you different all of a sudden? The two camps in the film are both on the extreme side, and neither one is right. Their solutions only involve violence, separation, and superiority. Their supposed strength is in fact cowardice and ignorance, exposing the root problem of man's centuries-old inability to take a step outside and take a hard look at himself.

My favorite thing about LAST RITES is that it isn't making any one clear statement, but instead asks you to look around and ask your own questions, see similarities to the world around you, and draw your own conclusions. It may very well be the last zombie movie I ever need to watch, because in many ways it's the one I've always been waiting for.


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