Jim Mickle's debut Horror feature "Mulberry Street" gets a slight promotional 'tweak' from the cover design of its UK DVD release by Momentum Pictures: instead of the straightforward title you will see on the actual credit sequence of the movie itself, the DVD cover clarifies the issue (in case one was in any doubt as to the film's subject matter) by proclaiming, in large letters: - "Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street"! Slightly misleading, in more ways than one. For starters, although the film is a low budget affair, it's not quite the frivolous also-ran this rejigged title might suggest. Perhaps more to the point though, there aren't, strictly speaking, any zombies in the movie! The flesh eating antagonists of this little urban apocalyptic drama are actually rat-people: ordinary people, bitten by infected rats (we never learn what started this unusual plague) suddenly start developing sensitivity to light, sprouting great clumps of fur and a twitchy snout, and commence hungrily stalking people through the streets of Manhattan to feed on their flesh!
In every other respect, though, the film does fit very neatly into the ready-made template provided by the zombie genre as it has been developed since George Romero first popularised it. All of the story beats are familiar enough, and centre on the usual besieged group of protagonists who hole up together as the plague takes over, the infected clamouring at the barricades for blood. Mickle also follows in Romero's footsteps in terms of adapting the zombie genre to comment on various social and political issues of the day. As the plague spreads and chaos and panic start to take hold in Manhattan, a "Cloverfield-style" post-9/11 vibe is evident enough in the shakey-cam led guerilla film techniques; but more specifically the film is a wry comment on the gentrification of poor urban city areas: development schemes that aim to regenerate run-down regions by attracting middle class, prosperous residents, but in the process cause the displacement of the poor who have, up till then, always lived there and formed strong communities.
This particular theme accounts for the film departing somewhat from the usual cynical view of human social relations which, ever since Romero, has always been a standard trope of the zombie film. While usually the besieged protagonists of these films are atomised individuals who are reluctantly brought together because of the crisis, only to succumb in the end to infighting and bickering as the world collapses around them, in Mickle's film, we follow a small community who live in a tenement building where a redevelopment scheme is to result in all the residents soon being evicted. As the rat plague takes over and Manhattan is sealed-off, the residents lock and barricade themselves into their soon-to-be-lost home; and rather than jealousy and ego-led internal battles ruling the day, this already embattled, disparate working class group of people come together to look after each other. Their only downfall is the neglected state of the dilapidated tenement building itself, which, in this run-down area of town, makes it considerably easier for the persistent and blood hungry rat-people to break through its thin walls and rotting floorboards!
The first half of the film promotes a quiet, low key build up to the second half's rat/zombie-based carnage, and introduces us to the diverse lives and day-to-day travails of this likeable bunch of characters, struggling to make their way in difficult social circumstances and poverty. Ex-boxer Clutch (Nick Damici) lives in a cramped apartment with his best friend — a flamboyantly gay black man called Coco. He's shyly attracted to Kay (Bo Corre), the single mother who lives upstairs with her only son and works as a waitress in a local dive bar. Meanwhile his daughter Casey (Kim Blair) has just arrived back in the City from a tour of duty in Iraq, just as a mysterious virus seems to be starting to cause some degree of panic on the streets of Manhattan. As the streets become more and more dangerous, Clutch and the other residents of his building realise the situation is getting out of control when their landlord turns into a snarling, half-rat-half-human monster! While his daughter battles her way through the lawless streets to reach her father, Clutch himself sets out to rescue Kay, who is trapped at work. Meanwhile the rat plague spreads.
"Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street" is another low budget zombie-based vehicle then (if not strictly a literal zombie film), but it looks considerably better and more professional than most straight-to-DVD schlock. The character-based first half has a very authentic documentary feel to it. Some scenes and dialogue even look slightly improvised at times. The cinematography carries off a gritty 'on the fly' aesthetic while always looking very 'filmy' despite the low budget. When the plague takes over, Mickle prefers that violent shaking camera approach to shooting the action — first used in "28 Days Later" and then copied in the recent British TV zombie series "Dead Set". It's an effective way representing an increasing sense of panic, while in this case also allowing the film makers to bypass the fact that their rat-creatures look faintly ridiculous if you're allowed to look at them in too much detail! The whole shaking camera thing is rapidly becoming a zombie cliché though, and it's not the only one this film relies on. Once the plague takes over, virtually every sequence has probably been seen before — right up to the surviving characters having to face killing their zombie-fied (or should that be ratified?!) loved ones near the end. Everything is brought off well though and the film undeniably holds the attention to the end. If you love zombie films and simply can't get enough of them, then this is for you — just don't expect anything new from it.
The UK DVD from Momentum Pictures at first looks to feature quite a sizeable chunk of bonus material but this turns out to be misleading. The deleted scenes, Make-up tests, Visual Effects tests and featurettes etc. turn out to run no longer than a few minutes each and the whole of the bonus section can be viewed in little more than 15 minutes. There is also a trailer, Director's sketches and a Storyboard section.