Another burst of ultra-low budget grue from the US then; once again brought to us curtesy of Screen Entertainment's Hard Gore label. As soon as one spots the name Joe Castro on the credits one can be fairly sure that a fair amount of extreme gore will be delivered at some point in the proceedings; by now, fans of low budget horror will recognise Castro as the king of indie film-making special effects -- as demonstrated in his own shot-on-video efforts "Butchered" and "Maniacal" (also available from Hard Gore). Here, he concentrates on the make-up effects while Brad Sykes handles the direction -- and delivers the most disgustingly mouldering zombie creations and some of the nastiest, bloodiest mutilation effects since the heyday of Lucio Fulci's Italian gore flicks! Unfortunately, most of the other technical aspects of this indie production let the side down quite badly.
"The Zombie Chronicles" is an anthology of supernatural/zombie stories which all take place in the same backwoods area of the US. Journalist Tara Woodley (Emmy Smith) is looking for a remote desert town -- famous for its proliferation of strange ghost legends -- which is to be the subject of one of her magazine articles. Unable to find the place, Tara stops-off for a nap and dreams of herself being pursued by the dusty, rotten remnants of the living dead, who rise unexpectedly from the dry dirt. Waking just as she is about to be torn limb-from-limb, Tara continues on her journey, and while attempting to study a map of the area and driving down a remote dirt track at the same time, almost runs over a hitchhiker! He turns out to be a local eccentric called Ebenezer Jackson (Joe Haggery), who, nevertheless, appears to know a lot about the ghost legends Tara is investigating. She gives him a lift and he manages to lead her to a dilapidated location he claims to have played an important part in the area's ghostly legends. Tape recorder in hand, Tara settles down to hear two of Jackson's macabre zombie stories -- apparently unaware that this very location featured earlier in her own dream...
The first thing that will strike the viewer during this opening wraparound story is the curiously low image quality of this DVD transfer: it looks like it was shot on a camcorder and then left to rot in a damp attic for ten years! For most of the time, the colour is so bleached-out that the film is on the verge of turning black & white; occasionally though, colours mysteriously appear quite vivid and bright in the middle of a scene! The fact that splodges of colour periodically dance around the screen throughout, suggests that there was something wrong with the video stock that the film was shot on in the first place! Also, on numerous occasions there is a bleary double image discernible. I've read elsewhere that the film was shot as a 3D movie; this seems unlikely but, at times, this does feel like watching a 3D film without the coloured spectacles! Another technical drawback is the inconsistent audio quality: the level of background noise varies a lot -- often in a single scene -- as the film cuts between shots. All this is rather a shame since the make-up effects are particularly effective: eyes are gouged-out in graphic detail; heads are literally yanked off by one of the zombie marauders; and, of course, there is plenty of gut-munching and crude organ removal by the crumbly flesh-eaters!
The two short stories that compose the majority of the film's seventy-minute running time are nothing special but they're both structured well enough. The first is about an ex-army drill instructor (Garrett Clancy) who travels into the town with his wife (Beverly Lynne) and promptly breaks down on the road. While Sgt Draper goes in search of a nearby army base, Marsha is attacked by some passers-by who attempt to rape here. She sees them off with a gun left behind by Draper, but when he gets back to the car he finds that she has disappeared. Draper searches the woods and eventually finds Marsha tied to a tree with several sticks of dynamite attached to her! A voice echoes out from nowhere, demanding Draper perform his own harsh army drill routine or else he will blow up Marsha! Finally, the mystery assailant forces Draper to dig a foxhole in a certain spot. Draper realises that that spot is the place where he hid and buried the body of a young recruit, Pvt. Wilson (Greg Brown) who died as a result of one of his over-harsh drill routines. But when he digs out the spot, he finds the body is gone! Is Pvt Wilson back from the grave to wreak revenge on his former tormentor?
The second story is about three campers who get lost in the woods on a camping trip and disturb the grave of a famous outlaw and his wife: Wild Jim and Crazy Mary! The two had a daughter, who, legend has it, continues to watch over the couple's grave! Unfortunately for the three campers, one of them accidentally chooses the site of Wild Jim's resting place to take a leak -- and the maggot-ridden, skeletonised body returns to life to take flesh-eating, head-removing revenge! Joe Castro's zombie creations and make-up effects take centre-stage here -- the design of crazy Mary (who collects the ears of travellers) is very effective and macabre while the facial mutilation meted out to the female camper is particularly gruesome and unpleasant. This is the better of the two segments since there is plenty of graphic zombie action throughout. The first segment has the better story though, and delivers a nice twist ending. The surrounding story concludes, not unexpectedly, with Tara the journalist finding her nightmares are about to become reality!
Fans of gore might just be able to put up with the mediocre acting and disappointingly bad video and audio quality in the film for the sake of such unremitting vileness from Castro's make-up box!