Hollywood Gothique
LA Cinema Gothique

Laserblast: Zombie "Zeder" battles Summer doldrums

Not much new and exciting on video story shelves today. In fact, there is a notable dearth of fantasy films, mystery movies, and sci-fi cinema on DVD. Pretty much all that’s on display is a handful of older titles, repackaged or upgraded to new formats.

THE WARRIORS isn’t exactly science-fiction, but it does seem to take place in some future world where the night is ruled by gangs, and ordinary citizens – let alone law-and-order – barely exists. The film is quite good and worth checking out. It became available last year as a Director’s Cut DVD; now it’s out on Blu-ray disc.

A SOUND OF THUNDER was a pretty dismal adaptation of a fine Ray Bradbury short story. Now it’s packaged together with DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: WRATH OF THE DRAGON GOD, a sequel to the dreary DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS movie from 2000. How convenient – how you can skip both films at once!

FLATLINERS is one of those unfortunate films that managed to be a hit in spite of its rather obvious silliness. I guess a cast of hip young actors is all it took to sell tickets back in those days, but I do have to admit – the sight of Julia Roberts trying to look like an intellectual – by donning a pair of glasses – is almost funny enough to make the thing entertaining as camp.

The pickin’s are so slim this week that I feel compelled to offer something more interesting so here it is: ZEDER (a.k.a. VOICES FROM THE BEYOND). This is an Italian zombie film from 1983, directed by Pupi Avati (who in some cult circles is revered as highly as Mario Bava and/or Dario Argento).

Unlike the majority of zombie flicks from this era, ZEDER features little if any gore. It gets off to a great start with a prologue set in France decades before the main action, where an investigation into a “haunted house” goes wrong. The action jumps ahead in time to show Stefano, a young novelist, discovering the words from a strange letter on the ribbon of a used typewriter his wife has bought him. This leads him on a quest to discover the mystery behind the letter, which refers to “K-Zones,” areas where time stands still and where the dead, if buried, will return to life.

The plot plays out like a conspiracy movie, with a mysterious group staying one step ahead of Stefano and thwarting his efforts (although why is not exactly clear). Avati’s great accomplishment here (as in his previous creepfest, HOUSE OF THE LAUGHING WINDOWS) is that he manages to maintain an onimous atmosphere of unsettling dread throughout, even when not much is happening. You seldom see zombies, except in occasionally glimpses, and the whole thing feels like an ineffable mystery that remains just inches beyond the grasp of understanding – until it’s too late and the story spirals down into tragedy (the endign pre-figures the film version of PET SEMATARY by six years).

On the downside, Avati has little or no inclination for narrative credibilty, and he will throw in whatever twist he wants to keep the story going. In ZERDER, this results in the luducrous suggestion that everyone of Stefano’s acquaintances is in on the conspiracy – even thought he conspirators are based in France and Stefano lives in Barcelona. You end up scratching your head and wondering why all his friends don’t just offer him membership in the group instead of going to all the trouble of chasing around after him.

Script problems aside, the movie is weird and unusual enough to hold interest. By deleting the gore and focusing instead on interesting concepts – like the K-Zones – Avati captures a wonderful sense of the uncanny. One particularly remarkable scene as the French scientists welding a coffin shut to be buried in one K-Zone (to keep the revived body from escaping) and inserting a video camera so that they can keep watch on the resurrection process. The intersection of science and superstition has a wonderful kick – the premise actually starts to seem credible, and you can feel the hairs standing on the back of your neck.

Unfortunately, the DVD is a barebone presentation of the film, without bonus features. In any case, though ZEDER may not be perfect, it is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re tired of more conventional fare. (NOTE: The title comes from a character named Paolo Zeder, a dead scientist who returns after being bured in a K-Zone.)