Snuffin’ Zombies (US-2008; dir. Karl Benacci)
The opening scene of Snuffin’ Zombies offers hope that this no-budget zombie film might be a relatively classy affair. The rattling passage of a train and the effective music on the soundtrack are atmospheric and create a sense of ominous anticipation. We follow a hobo as he wanders into a nearby warehouse and is attacked by something that may or may not be a zombie. It’s hard to tell from the minimalist make-up. In fact it’s only the film’s title that makes me think that the attacker might be a zombie. But uncertainty doesn’t matter at this point. Uncertainty can be a good narrative hook. I’m still there.
My imaginative connection with the film’s possibilities doesn’t last long however. Once the film latches onto its main characters, any positives are soon threatened by inconsistent acting, a totally unsympathetic protagonist and the annoying tendency of each scene to linger well beyond its dramatic Use-By date.
As the story progresses, albeit rather lethargically, curiosity value drags me along for a while, despite misgivings. I wonder where the slow-paced plot might lead. Frank Wilkens (played with a zealous lack of likeability by the director) is a complete loser who through greed and laziness finds himself forced into the prospect of making snuff movies. Okay, I think, that’s where the snuffin’ zombies come in. He’s going to circumvent the dilemma of having to kill living people on film by killing dead ones — you know, the zombies unleashed by the classic living dead plague. Not bad. Good idea.
But no! I’m wrong. This isn’t a take on the Romeroesque zombie apocalypse at all. Much further down the track, as Frank and his gormless, if more ethically concerned, mate take to killing more and more people, the zombie element finally reveals itself — Frank’s victims rise from the dead, thanks, one assumes, to the involvement of a voodoo priestess, herself snuffed in the very act of resurrection. Okay, it’s a revenge-from-beyond-the-grave story. The ironies inherent in that could work.
For the longest time, though, the risen dead seem to just hang around off-camera somewhere while Frank goes from bad to worse, even though he repents his actions to some degree. In the end the zombies only get really involved when the climax looms and then we get some zombie attacks and some gore. The attacks are rather minimal though and not very bloody. There’s little dramatic impact. The appearance of the zombies is still rather minimalist, too. Even on a zero budget, zombie make-up can be better than this. Check out the next “zombie walk” when it comes to a town near you.
It’s hard to achieve balance in reviewing a film like Snuffin’ Zombies. Director Benacci and his cast are obviously enthusiastic and also obviously without budget, high-tech equipment or professional filmmaking experience. So it’s unfair to expect much polish. This is a film born out of enthusiasm and perhaps unrealistic ambition. It’s a family affair, too, as a quick glance at the cast list suggests. Such origins can work to produce an energetic and entertaining indie film, albeit one rough around the edges. Unfortunately, for me, there simply aren’t enough positives here to nudge Snuffin’ Zombies into low-budget cult status. It remains an experience that might be amusing if you can tolerate the complete lack of characters you’re able to care about and provided your attention can be held by occasional witticisms. For most people though, watching the film to the end will be a philanthropic act.
In hindsight the main problem with Snuffin’ Zombies isn’t amateur acting, unsophisticated technical aspects or a lack of sympathetic focus. The real problem is poor pacing and narrative structure — a problem that’s all too common in no-budget films, particularly ones that aim to be comedic. Scenes go on too long, unimportant and unnecessary dialogue creates an effect like that of someone trying to explain the humour behind a joke, and the editing is uninspired or even absent. Gags, comedy set pieces, dialogue, even explanations: everything goes too long (except, in this case, the violence, which is almost token and completely lacks impact).
Sometimes ineffectively structured no-budget films are entertaining anyway, despite or even because of their roughness and scattershot levels of energy. Snuffin’ Zombies may be one of these for you. For me, it didn’t quite get there.