Written and directed by: Scooter McCrae
Starring: Stark Raven, Flora Fauna, Robert Wells & Marina Del Rey
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“My sin is quite literally on my sleeve for eternity.”
Independent film has been a major blessing to the horror world and it seems as though people are quick to forget this. Many of the classics we treasure today started out as b-movies that would define generations of drive-in enthusiasts. In the exploitation heyday, indie flicks could be caught all the time and in the eighties you just might get your flick picked up and distributed on video. In general, the flicks had low budgets, but in all their modesty, the successful ones generally had just enough money to make them look like movies. But, the subject at hand today is one of the really low budget shockers that managed to see the light of day. Made for around $30K, Shatter Dead took the underground zombie world by storm back in the mid nineties. I first become aware of the flick by scouring for all the zombie titles I could find and my interest was really piqued when the director, Scooter McCrae, was featured in the liner notes for the Anchor Bay release of Hell of the Living Dead. In them, the editor proclaims that Shatter Dead is a much better film than the one contained on the DVD I held in my hands. Without ever seeing Shatter Dead, I figured it was most likely true; the film it was being compared to truly was Hell. A handful of years later, I’ve finally tracked down a copy of Scooter McCrae’s first film and I couldn’t wait to pop it in and find out just how it stacks up to its zombie brethren.
Susan (Stark Raven) made a trip to the grocery store with her gun in tow today. The homeless people she walked by on the street weren’t just homeless. They were stone cold dead. But, in death, they were also alive. The zombies weren’t trying to attack here, merely trying to get a handout so they can go on with their lives, or is that deaths? As she’s driving back to her apartment, she’s overcome by a hoard of zombies who aren’t just friendly bums. The undead have devised a plan to siphon the gas from cars in the town and maul them once they run out of gas on the side of their road. After taking the human out of their vehicle, they refill it with gas and confiscate it for their people. This flock of death is lead by The Preacher Man, who is hell bent in Christ to bring his brothers to the resurrection of their savior.
Susan is picked up on the highway by a friendly traveller. She is wary of him, however, so she uses the standard procedure to check whether or not he’s of her kind. She places a mirror under his nose and when his breath doesn’t show up, she knows just what he really is. She gets him out of the car and takes it as her own. A block leader in this world torn to shreds (martial law is in place) takes Susan to a safe house to live until she can make it back to her home and when she is there, she meets a woman named Mary (Flora Fauna) who eagerly wants to shower with her. She needs soap and she’s been out for days. Mary strips down and hops in the shower with Susan and although she looked just fine a moment ago, bruises are now visible on her lower back and buttocks. She’s a zombie. Mary is very poetic about her zombieness, and Susan lets her slide… for now. But when all seems to be going right, everything takes a turn for the worse and we see Susan’s world Shatter before her very eyes…
Shatter Dead is a film low on budget, but high on creativity. It’s always bothered me that fans seemingly have to pick a side involving living dead films; you either have your Romero Shufflers or Return of the Living Dead High-tailers. The idea of the dead rising is so interesting that it’s sad that many viewers demean it merely on the behavior of the zombie at hand. I prefer the slow walking zombies, but the running ones aren’t exactly terrible. It really just depends on the movie; if the zombies are decayed and rotted, it’s silly (as silly as the dead rising?) to think of them running the 100-meter in 10 seconds. If the film is like Dawn of the Dead and utilizes tenseness and claustrophobic hoards, then it’s most likely that the film will work with the slow moving kind. Shatter Dead doesn’t worry about any of things. When the humans begin their second life, they look as they did when they died. The drawback? They lack the sense of touch and taste, but they still feel on the inside.
The character of Mary is our first window into this new world where the dead and the living collide. She looks perfectly normal except in her dead state, her body bruises when she stays in the same position for an extended period of time. This is where the film takes the romantic allure of a vampire tale and executes it on the level of a zombie. Susan is alive and well, but she will age and she will die. When she dies, she will come back in the state she was in at her moment of passing. So, wouldn’t the smart thing to do is to beat your maker at his own game? By poisoning yourself, a young body would remain young forever. The only drawback is you would be a zombie, and the living would not understand you. The living don’t fear the zombies, they view them as a nuisance; outcasts, uglies with horrid disfigurations. They’re like the new homeless people of the world and there’s some great social commentary in all of it.
So, the premise is awesome, I can’t get enough of these new takes on zombie films. They have been popping up more and more in the last decade or so (mostly on the indie circuit) with flicks like I, Zombie and Zombie Honeymoon, but in 1994, it was a much less regular occurrence. It’s quite refreshing to see such a newfangled chance of pace on the proceedings, but the flick is not without its faults. The acting is poor and the dialogue is sometimes weak. At other times, this shot on video flick pulls out a nice one liner that would make even fans of gothic horror smile at their ingenuity. There are a lot of things left unsaid; the film is basically a personal reflection on the Seventh Seal-like scenario and what it would be like to be enveloped in this madness. The flick is always weird; it begins with a lesbian scene where one of lusty lasses suddenly sprouts wings and appears to be an angel. I had no idea what the hell this meant and only the back of the DVD box saved me. It turns out she is the Angel of Death and she impregnates a mortal woman and the dead stop dying. 17 months later, the story begins as described. The lack of explanation of this scene somewhat bogs the rest of the film down because it's so bizarre that you just can't get it out of your head.
The splat-tastic gore effects are cheap but effective and there’s more than a fair share of blood sprays and a sure-fire shotgun blast abortion that does no harm at all the a pregnant lady’s child of questionable origin. The film gets even weirder and sickening towards the ending in a scene where a gun is visually inserted into a woman’s vagina XXX style, but to spoil that part of the plot would be just cruel. Generally I only see something like this when I unwrap the latest Severin Films release. My favorite scene of the film involved a droplet of water taken from a faucet and held to a zombie’s eye to mimic a tear that in death it is not capable of. Great stuff. Sub Rosa released Shatter Dead on DVD in its proper full screen aspect ratio with Dolby Digital sound. The video is as you’d expect for a low budget shot on video gem; there’s grain and blemishes and the audio is usually clear but at times it’s hard to hear the actors over the film’s music. The DVD is also packed with features, including three commentaries, behind the scenes bloopers, set tours, trailers and a nearly half-hour interview with Scooter McCrae where he covers a lot about himself, his films and indie love in general. Shatter Dead isn't universal, it has many low budget flaws that are to be expected, but has undeniable poetic appeal; a thought-provoking journey into not only the death of life, but the life of death. Without a doubt, one of the best indie zombie films I’ve ever seen. Buy it!
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