Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: The Collective Vol. 5

I still love zombies.  I always have, and I always will.  There are a lot of people, however, who would have you believe that everything that can be done in the zombie genre has been done.  The Collective begs to differ.  According to JABB Pictures, there’s life left in the old, shambling, desiccated corpse yet; and they’re out to prove it with The Collective Volume 5.  You Cellmates already know of my love for JABB and these collections.  You also know what the deal is with these by now, but for those new to this Dead Man’s Party (admit it, it’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it?), here’s how this goes.  10 different filmmakers (actually, 8 this time around) are given a central theme. For Vol. 5, it’s zombies. They each produce a 10-minute short film giving their take on the concept. So, did Jason and crew breathe new life into a tired genre, or are they just beating a dead horse?  Let’s see…

Marauders – Jason Hoover

In the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, a group of psychos terrorize the survivors.  Jason Hoover’s are usually among my favorite entries in these Collective collections, but this one was all style over substance.  Visually, it’s got a cool idea, with everything in black and white except certain colorized characters or items.  As usual, Jason shows he knows how to move the camera and compose a shot well.  The problem is that nothing much happens.  There are some really nice touches that make the Marauders creepy and interesting, but we spend way too much of this watching them driving around hoopin’ and hollerin’.  When the mayhem finally does start, it’s of the “out of frame” variety.  I like the look, but a story, or at least a clear concept, would have been nice.  It’s also the least “zombierific” of the bunch, as we never see a zombie., and it actually could have taken place in any post-apocalyptic setting.  There is one line in particular that is REALLY funny though.
Voice Over – Arsonist Pictures

A man is bitten by a zombie, and as the change takes hold, that inner voice just won’t leave him alone.  That’s gonna make his date tonight a little awkward.  I loved this one.  I’m a big fan of animated opening credit sequences, a-la Night of the Demons or Blacula, so I knew when I saw one that this was gonna be good.  While I could do without the occasional  “same shot/jump cut” thing, everything else was perfect.  The verbal interplay between out protagonist and his inner zombie voice was hilarious and played very well by Noah East.  The comic timing is on point.  In fact, the people I watched it with and I imitated that voice for days.  Very well done horror comedy, and definitely the best use of the Zombie theme.  One of the two major highlights of this volume.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this.

They Said They Were Here To Help – Over Analyzed Productions 

When a strange plague begins, a freelance journalist finds himself in the middle of a government cover up.  This is a case study in how to pick a great location and squeeze every last bit production value out of it.  It ends up looking way better than it probably should for the budget.  While his climactic monolog seems somewhat forced, Collective veteran Brad Scaggs does a good job in the lead role.  The atmosphere reminded me a little bit of the original 1973 The Crazies.  By the way, if your goal with the name of your production company was an inside joke on us reviewers, then well played Over Analyzed.  Well played.

Consumption of the Heart – Copp Films 

A couple’s romantic flame has fizzled…until they discover that a mysterious plague is also a potent aphrodisiac.  This is the other big highlight.  I dig this kind of psychosexual stuff a lot, but too often it’s done completely from the crotch and less from the brain or heart.  While it’s certainly the most erotically charged entry in the series to date, it is also an intelligently told “love” story.  It works on a “blood and tits” level, but it also works on an “exploration of how mankind, stripped of their limits, will follow desire to the point of self destruction” level.  Visually, I was impressed by the use of color.  Some scenes have a bit of a middle-period Argento look to them.  Could Italian horror have been an influence?  The Cat in the Brain poster on the bedroom wall says maybe.   The strength of The Collective is that different filmmakers get to show off their unique styles, and this one certainly has a lot of style.    Great stuff.

A(Gore) aphobic - Quattro Venti Scott Productions

During the zombie outbreak, a woman trapped all alone in her apartment does her best not to lose her mind.  With the exception of a couple of scenes of the zombies outside (which are probably the best looking zoms in this collection), we spend the entire time in the apartment watching our heroine slowly lose it.  With a movie of this sort, you have to have a great performance out of your main actress.  Now don’t get me wrong, Athena Prychodko is good, and she would have been fine in a normal role, but one written this introspectively required a little heavier dramatic lifting than she could pull off here.  If she had been given a little more to do, it might have worked a lot better.  Also, those pesky sound level issues rear their ugly heads here. 

Zombie Soup – Liberty or Death Productions

A bunch of people, including some of the Collective filmmakers, answer questions about the zombie phenomenon.  This is where this volume really heads off the rails and careens downhill for me.  In all of the previous editions, there were entries that I loved and entries I hated, but they were all artistic endeavors and felt like the filmmaker actually had something to say.  For the first time, I feel like the Collective has filler.  This ten-minute talking head segment offers up a couple of laughs (certainly NOT the lame political jokes); but – if anything - this should have been a bonus feature on the disc rather than one of the shorts.  It feels like they were short a segment and had to whip one up right quick.  Honestly, as I watched it, I was shocked that this made it in. 

(se)XX _ Z(ombie) – Silence in the Dead of Light 

What’s a group of gals to do for sexual satisfaction in the age of zombies?  Well, they could take care of each other…or they could use the ghoulish dudes locked in the basement as undead sex toys.  This is a pretty cool concept; an old school silent movie with old school silent movie music and old school silent movie title cards.  The whole “zombie sex slave” idea is pretty cool too.  Unfortunately, the possibilities presented by that central conceit are barely explored.  True, the proceedings are livened up by some zombie sex and a hilariously awkward “lesbian scene” (if you can call it that) between two ladies that seem like they’d rather be doing anything else besides said scene, but way too much time goes to watching zombies in their tighty whiteys milling about.  I wish the actual relationship and conflict between all of the girls had taken center stage more.  It does show progression as a filmmaker on the part of Athena Prychodko since her contribution to Vol. 3, so I’m interested to see where she goes from here.

Spooky Stuff: The Zombie File – Liberty or Death Productions

A couple of ghost hunters go to haunted locations looking for zombies.  Um, what?  At first I thought this was just a parody of internet ghost hunting shows.  Later, I found out that these guys do a real internet paranormal investigation show.  I wish I had known this was a joke episode of an actual “reality” series.  I would have understood what was going on better, and I would have seen that godawful ending coming.    Robin is actually a great personality on the web series, but she doesn’t get a chance to shine here.  The last location they visit, the 100 Steps Cemetery in Brazil, Indiana, has a really cool legend that could actually be a great basis for a short, but the “ghost hunt” format and overall jokey tone completely kill it.

The Dead Things Outside Your Door Parts 1 and 2 – Graphik 13
A grumpy electrician must save his ex from a drug dealer and zombies.  As with last volume, the last two segments are actually a two-part flick.  I was hoping for another fun as hell “Bloody Hooker Bang Bang” style romp to salvage the second half of the collection.  I didn’t get it.    What I got instead was garden-variety splatstick.  The opening title cards and stock footage would have worked much better as a voice over.  I’m sure the style of the humor will be some folk’s cup of guts, but for me it felt flat and was not quite as good as I’ve seen from these guys before.  I did enjoy all of the homages (Romero Realty, O’Bannon Construction), and the callback to Snapcase (Graphik 13’s excellent entry from The Collective Vol. 2) was awesome.  There are a couple of choice bits of zombie mayhem, but the devil was in the details.  You do not bang a foam hammer against a door if you’re not going to insert the appropriate sounds.  Speaking of sound effects, many of them seem to have been chosen for comic effect, which didn’t work.  I love the old “blood splatters onto the camera lens” gag, but it only works with practical blood.  With CGI, it just looks cheap.  Maybe I’m just being picky about my comedy, as I tend to do, but this one really didn’t do it for me.

Man, I hate to say it, but overall this one was a bit of a letdown, especially considering just how great volumes 1-4 were.  The bad news is that Collective veterans Over Analyzed, Jason Hoover, Quatro Venti Scott, and Graphik 13, while not all turning in bad entries per se (They Said They Were Here To Help in particular), each turn in their weakest work of the series.  What makes it worse is that I know from the other Collectives that all of these guys are capable of making some killer shorts.  How did all of you have an off day at once?  Liberty or Death, um, I’m not sure what the hell happened there.  Did you guys just stop trying, or was it a “down to the wire, have to turn in something” situation?  Either way, their two entries were hands down the worst of this bunch, and drug the overall average down with them.  Silence in the Dead of Light is the only production group who shows up better than they did before, as (se)XX _ Z(ombie) is a vast improvement over Jog from vol. 3.  This volume was extremely lopsided, with the four films I really dug being the first four.  After that, it kinda crashed and burned.
The good news is that both newcomers to the series, Arsonist Pictures (Joshua Hull) and Copp Films (Andrew Copp) knock it out of the park.  Voice Over and Consumption of the Heart both actually offer up something rare in the horror market right now, as well as the idea The Collective Volume 5 was based on…a unique twist on the zombie genre.  Voice Over goes for laughs, and it delivers.  Consumption of the Heart is more artsy and transgressive, and it succeeds admirably.  This was my first exposure to both of these filmmakers’ work, and I’m excited to see what else they have to offer.  Hopefully they will take part in future Collectives, because these two shorts are fantastic.
I know I’m being awfully hard on this one.  I remember when I was a kid and my folks used to give me that “If you were a C student, we’d be happy with these grades, but we know you’re capable of A’s, so you’re grounded” bullshit.  That’s kinda how I feel about The Collective Volume 5.   I think the problem here, and I know for a fact that at least one person heavily involved in the production feels the same way, is that it’s a case of burnout.  3 of these have been released in 9 months.  That’s just too much.  Slow down.  Release one every 6 months maybe.  I don’t want to give you the wrong impression though.  It’s still definitely worth checking out.  They just set the bar so high, especially with Vol. 4, that it’s gonna be tough to consistently hit that level of badassery.  Trust me, Voice Over and Consumption of the Heart alone would make this a worthy purchase, especially considering that it’s only 10 bucks.  That’s still one of the best horror entertainment values going.  I guess The Collective is kinda like sex.  When it’s good, it’s great!  When it’s sub par…hell, it’s still pretty  good.  One severed thumb up.   Nathan says check it out.


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