The prosaically titled "Zombies" starts out on a course that largely veers away from a standard, post-Romero realisation of the returning dead in movies, and takes its mythology more from the "vengeful dead" motif more usually found in traditional ghost stories. Set in a remote region of Pennsylvania — the fictional Addytown, a mining colony from the early part of the twentieth century — the film conjures an eerie fairy tale lost-in-the-woods feel; an "Evil Dead" vibe of rotting log cabins and secluded dark old houses with fleeting glimpses of something malevolent dwelling in the wooded shades. The "twist" here is that, rather than a spirit returning to take revenge for the sins of departed fathers, the film presents us instead with a group of pick swinging zombie children. Crimson-mouthed, dark eyed and with haunted china doll-faces, they've returned after being buried alive in a mining accident back in 1914 to take revenge on the son of the evil mine owner, whose exploitation of children and general bad practice, led to the horrific accident all those years ago. They lurk in the woods until that time ... feeding off of the blood of the local population (although no one seems to have noticed this for years, until now). The son of the original mine owner, (Martin McDougall) continuing in the Carlton family tradition, is an evil property developer who plans to tear down the old Carlton house and numerous surrounding old mining houses, for the sake of a new housing project he's going to make a killing on.
Into this deceptively quiet community comes Karen Tunny (Lori Heuring) and her family. Recently widowed, Karen has inherited a small, remote house in Addytown, a property she never knew existed — her late husband never having mentioned anything of his childhood spent growing up there. The film is constructed around an achingly formulaic scenario with some predictable character types: Karen is the typical determined, resolute (but still foxy) blonde protagonist, trying to control a "difficult" teenage daughter, Sarah (Scout Taylor-Compton), who doesn't want to live in the back of beyond, and an ultra sensitive youngster (Chloe Moretz) who keeps disappearing into the woods to visit an imaginary friend. The struggling family trying to keep itself together while under threat from a malevolent outside force, is a well-worn theme in mainstream horror; and "Zombies" doesn't even try to do anything stunningly original within those constraints. Furthermore, the simple plot unfolds in monotonously predictable fashion. A dank cellar beneath the house is conveniently furnished with old newspaper clippings detailing the events of the accident in which the mining children were "killed"; and for good measure, there is a cache of old photographs hidden in a box — one of which is of a child clutching the same doll as the one Karen's youngest daughter now carries around, claiming it was given to her by her "imaginary" friend — all elements included for the purposes of some clunking plot exposition, although at no point are we given any explanation as to how the zombies were actually created (usually zombies have to be made with a voodoo spell, or, in modern terms, via a space-born virus).
Although taking a rather measured, slow building atmospheric approach in the first half — reminiscent of the recent Hollywood trend for imitating the ghostly atmospherics of Japanese horror cinema — the second half of the film sees things take a decided turn for the gory. Director, J.S. Cardone, generally strikes a good balance between outright on-screen gore and brooding, finely-wrought scares. The zombie children don't shuffle in traditional zombie fashion, instead moving in a more ghostly, ethereal way; their pale, emotionless faces in marked contrast to the ferocity of their pick axe attacks! The zombies still display Romero-like proclivities for human flesh though, despite these more haunting qualities of the film. Cardone features enough grizzly human remains being munched on with relish by the killer children to satisfy hard-core horror enthusiasts; it's just a shame that the plot is so utterly formulaic, sequence after sequence playing out as though the whole script were just an exercise in horror writing 101. There are some genuinely chilling moments though and some good performances all round make this a worthy, low profile flick, at least worth a rental.
The DVD features a seventeen minute 'making of' featurette.