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Apocalypse of the Dead

Review by: 
Zone of the Dead
Release Date: 
Metrodome Video
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Milan Konjevic
Ken Foree
Kristina Klebe
Emilo Roso
Miodrag Krstovic
Vukota Brajovic
Bottom Line: 
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This low budget zombie-based offering is in many ways as traditional an example of its generic type as they come; although it will probably be of some passing interest to genre fans simply because of its canny ploy in acquiring the services of veteran "Dawn of the Dead" star, Ken Foree - who here plays a washed-up ex-CIA Interpole agent in a leather jacket, inadvertently stumbling upon a zombie holocaust while on one last final mission in Eastern Europe before his imminent oncoming retirement. Other than that, there proves to be very little to distinguish this Digital Video-shot effort from a host of similar fare likely to be found festering in a DVD bargain bin near you. Which is not to say that it isn't well made: in many ways the film belies its rather flat video look - usually associated with much more crudely rendered and amateurish product than this — with some pleasingly fluid camera work and a fairly dynamic directorial style that helps to keep the viewer's attention focused during the numerous set-pieces that bulk up its ninety minute running time. And it soon turns out it needs all this help, because, despite the relatively professional execution of the on-screen zombie business, there isn't a single scene or sequence or plot element in the entire movie that you haven't seen somewhere before, nor a single zombie movie cliché that isn't employed by the filmmakers at some point in the proceedings.
The one thing about the film that is unusual, and provides it with its one intriguing quality, almost proves to be the thing that scuppers the whole deal in terms of it being a serious viewing prospect: this is a Serbian-made film, written, directed and shot by a largely Serb crew; and, during the predictable course of the unfolding plot, the makers do manage to include one or two interesting local architectural and scenic anomalies (a picturesque church and an ornate Government building stand out in particular) to indicate that events are at least taking place in a location we don't usually associate with the genre  — even if we are more than familiar with those events themselves. Unfortunately, they also employ several Serbian actors (mainly in bit parts) who often sound like they're speaking a badly translated English script phonetically, without much idea of what they're actually saying. This leads to many scenes in which actors speak with odd and distracting intonation and/or facial expressions — something which tends rather to take you out of the experience, threatening to topple the film back into the realm of amateurish-looking indie dreck from which it otherwise does a manfully good job of extricating itself. 
Writer-director Milan Konjevic's screenplay (from a story by one of the film's lead actors, Vukota Brajovic) doesn't exactly set the imagination alight with his electric dialogue, being content instead to trot out a series of somewhat sketchy scenes that recall a rough mixture of "Assault on Precinct 13", "Escape from New York" and of course, the Romero zombie trilogy, something that enables Konjevic to use Foree to throw in a few deliberate Dawn references along the way: when someone suggests hiding out in a shopping mall, for instance, Foree wryly comments, "it would be too hard to secure and, believe me, they would still get in!". Even Dawn's 'when there's no more room in Hell' tag line is rephrased and given to Foree to repeat as something once said to him as a boy! Visually, the film takes its cue from the gorier Romero outing "Day of the Dead", thankfully minimising its reliance on low grade digital effects in favour of more visceral and satisfyingly gloopy physical ones. The zombie make-up itself is a pleasing compromise between the old-school rubbery, ashen-grey look of the "Day of the Dead" zombies, and the piercing eyes and blood-hemorrhaging ghouls seen in "28 Days Later". The film also hedges its bets when it comes to the characterisation of the zombies themselves: overuse of the shaky cam and the occasional sprinting zombie more familiar to recent genre outings (a sequence in which the zombies appear to rest until woken by a sudden noise also brings to mind "28 days Later" and similar ideas in the recent Will Smith version of "I Am Legend") do appear frequently; but these zombies can also shuffle ineffectually in the classic way whenever it suits the plot for them to do so. There is an offhand attempt to explain this at one point when it is claimed that proximity to the initial outbreak determines which 'mode' of zombie you become!  
The plot itself soon develops along all too familiar lines, turning into your basic template for a zombie film set over the course of one long night and the following dawn, and therein lies the main disappointment. A short prologue set in Yugoslavia in 1985 seems to promise an interesting variant on things at first, when excavation work at an industrial site uncovers two 300 year-old skeletons believed to have been victims of the Bubonic Plague. When a workman is scratched by one of the bones in the process of removing the bodies from their pit, he comes down with an Ebola-like infection and quickly dies, only to be revived as a flesh hungry monster just as his corpse is being examined by an unwary police officer.
We then cut to present day Serbia, and while a bespectacled English professor waits at a Serbian train station, an altercation takes place between a trigger-happy guard and some oafish American servicemen stationed at a nearby base at which some kind of top secret military exercise is due to take place. Shots are fired which damage a canister being transported for the military by rail, whereupon foul green mist-like gas hisses from it, enveloping everyone but the professor, who manages to find a gas-mask which the guard just happens to have lying about.
Everyone in the area instantly dies and becomes a growling, haemorrhaging zombie, eager for the blood of the living. Meanwhile, rookie agent Mina Milus (Kristina Klebe from Rob Zombie's "Halloween") and a couple of her hard-bitten male colleagues, join up with veteran American Interpole agent, Mortimer Reyes (Ken Foree) and his pal Inspector Belic (Miodrag Krstovic) to help transport a menacing-looking criminal (although we never learn just exactly what he is supposed to have done) to Belgrade, where he is to be airlifted out of the country. En route they get caught up in the rapidly escalating zombie carnage and are forced to let their prisoner (Emilo Roso) loose to stand and fight with them if they are to have any realistic chance of surviving the ordeal. They eventually battle their way to a local police station, only to find it deserted apart from a film director and a group of young models (?) as well as the professor from the train station (who we've earlier seen joining up with the unlikely group for safety). The station is also conspicuously depleted of weaponry. As the zombie numbers increase, the group realises it is only a matter of time before the creatures break through the defences ...
The scenario is a familiar one, and at no time does "Apocalpsye ..." bring anything particularly new or exciting to it. Every move you'd expect the story to take duly turns up right on schedule: one of the group (Belic) gets bitten by a zombie during an intial battle, and eventually has to be disposed of as the infection worsens to such an extent that he becomes a zombie himself; one of the females in the group eventually becomes hysterical and lets all the zombies into the police base, prompting our heroes to attempt an escape up river as a last resort; the prisoner being transported by the Interpole agents earns their trust and grudging respect through facing perilous adversity alongside his captors, after initially having goaded them at every turn. Whenever the screenplay attempts something original, it doesn't really add up to anything concrete: Vukota Brajovic plays a bible-quoting soldier (once believed mad and kept prisoner by nuns, for some reason!) who never really gets integrated into the plot in any relevant way, and although there is a nicely shot end sequence down by the harbour (and also some great scenes of Foree being pursued by an army of living dead through an abandoned train carriage), somewhere along the line somebody forgot to tie up all the loose ends: the survivors walk away from the final battle and the film ends on an incongruously uplifting note as though everything has been resolved, when presumably the zombies are all still out there and increasing in numbers! A thickset Ken Foree brings authority to a thinly written part, but there are few others in the cast able to flesh out their meagre roles with enough character to make you give a toss what happens to them. In the final analysis, this film is techincally well-made but ultimately empty, containing neither fresh ideas or any real emotional resonance — something all the best zombie flicks of the past have usually remembered to include in the midst of their gory flesh munching and choreographed zombie shuffling.
Metrodome give "Apocalypse of the Dead" a relatively good showing on region 2 DVD although there are no extras besides a few forced trailers that pop up upon the disc loading. The DVD features a pretty sound transfer though (the film is shot on DV, so don't expect a visually arresting mis en scene) and we're given a choice of 5.1 Surround Sound or a basic  2.0 Stereo option. 

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