Few film genres can be as potentially painful to sit through as the low-budget comedy.
While horror, even of the no-budget variety, allows for a certain amount of cheap thrills and spectacle, humor tends to take actual talent; which is why low-budget comedies tend to fail so badly. We can dislike a bad horror film, but bad comedy feels like a personal affront. Comedy also requires a focus on many of the areas where films with limited budgets fail – particularly writing, acting, and editing. It takes sharp writing to wring comedy out of mundane situations (which tend to be the only situations present in films of this nature), and it takes talented performers to make this material work onscreen. The unfortunate aftermath of the success of Kevin Smith’s CLERKS is that it inspired anyone with three friends and a handy-cam to think that they could make something equally sharp and funny. The final results tend to be less than inspiring.
Even harder than simply making a low-budget comedy is mixing humor with horror in a fresh and interesting way. The comedy-horror genre has become so overstuffed – with certain entries towering above all others – that most efforts feel tired and cliched, particularly when met with the limitations of an ultra low budget. GEORGE: A ZOMBIE INTERVENTION has the added detriment of being a ZOMBIE comedy horror film, which puts it up against such heavy hitters as SHAUN OF THE DEAD and Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD (aka DEAD/ALIVE). Not company anyone wants to be up against. But director J.T. Seaton has some new tricks up his sleeve, along with a game cast of talented performers unafraid to put it all on the line in the name of comedy, and somehow manages to mine some seriously fun gold out of a familiar genre.
An opening animated slideshow – in the style of a children’s educational video – introduces us to the rules of the world in which GEORGE: A ZOMBIE INTERVENTION is set. A strange cosmic incident sent spores into the earth’s atmosphere which humans then began to breathe in, but lay dormant in their bodies. Once death occurs, these spores become active and the previously dead come back to life. However, unlike Romero style zombies, aside from an uncontrollable urge for human flesh, zombies in this world can live a fairly ordinary life as long as they avoid too much sunlight (or have their brains destroyed, which makes them uncontrollable).
George (Carlos Larkin) seems to be in denial about his zombification, though his friends have noticed a distinct change in his personality. Ben (Peter Stickles), Sarah (Michelle Tomlinson), Francine (Shannon Hodson) and Steve (Eric Dean) decide to get together with Intervention expert Barbara (THE CRAZIES’ Lynn Lowry) to confront their friend and try and get him some help before his cravings for flesh take him over completely. However, once they arrive at his house – and are joined by visitors ranging from their mutual friend Roger (Vincent Cusimano), a couple of Mormons, two strippers and a travelling salesman, things quickly spiral out of control. Can the group help George help himself? Or, will George’s zombie urges get the best of him?
The Intervention set-up might seem a bit silly, but GEORGE: A ZOMBIE INTERVENTION is a winner thanks to a clever script that isn’t afraid to go for unexpected pathos, while still keeping the tone pleasantly (and surprisingly) light. George is presented as cowardly and pathetic, but also completely out of control, with several intentional parallels to the sort of drug addicts common on the A&E show INTERVENTION. George is his best friend and the hero of the piece, while Francine is George’s concerned sister. Sarah is George’s ex, and brings along her asshole boyfriend Steve since he doesn’t have the emotional attachment that the rest do. The four (well, three) legitimately care for their friend’s well-being, and while Seaton hints at the general nature of a world where zombies have been integrated – he smartly lets the focus remain on these characters and how they interact with the zombified George.
Once things get a bit out of control, starting with the dickish Steve accidentally getting killed, the chaos (and bodies) begin to stack up, leading to a delightfully gory and unhinged conclusion – as well as an awfully fun post-script featuring cameos from Lloyd Kaufman and Brinke Stevens. Avoiding digital effects, the violence is appropriately cartoonish and exaggerated, while the relaxed nature towards death in general (a reality in a world where it leads to near immediate re-animation) gives the thing a pleasant carnival funhouse tone.
It is unfortunate, however, that the film takes so long to get into the meat of the intervention. While the first twenty minutes competently introduces us to the array of characters (notably named after characters from George Romero’s zombie films), it also starts to drag a little despite the enthusiastic performances. Lynn Lowry is a delight as interventionist Barbara (who advertises her business with a cutesy flyer), but it’s slow going until the gang arrive at George’s apartment. Thankfully after that it’s mostly smooth sailing, with Peter Stickles and Carlos Larkin in particular holding things down with their performances, smoothing out some of the rougher edges of the ensemble – particularly Eric Dean, who gets some of the best lines, but hits a few wrong notes.
Director J.T. Seaton cut his teeth on some notable gay-themed short films, and the reveal of a main character’s sexuality late in the film – while foreshadowed strongly – parallels some of bravery evident in George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which makes a brief television appearance here). But this isn’t a film that drowns in obvious messages, but instead captures a unique tone which displays Seaton’s deft comedic touch. It’s not scary, but it doesn’t really try to be, and it has enough nudity and gore to impress your average fickle horror fan. GEORGE: A ZOMBIE INTERVENTION proves that with quality performers and production, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to wring out of comedic horror – even when involving zombies. Definitely worth going out of your way to see.
Two Nightmares out of Five – SHOCKING SUCCESS
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
Join us this week for interviews with GEORGE’S INTERVENTION director J.T. Seaton and star Peter Stickles
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