Almost Dead (2016)
The first Italian morti viventi film in a while – perhaps because there’s no longer a huge industry of exploitation merchants eager to slap make-up on extras and turn out quickie cash-ins on The Walking Dead or World War Z. Sadly, it’s not up to much – it’s not the worst recent Italian horror film I’ve seen (that would be Morituris), but it makes several mistakes which severely limit its potential. When Dario Argento made his first film in English (Phenomena), it was laughed off the screen at the UK premiere because of hilariously awkward dialogue and had to be re-edited for English-language release. Director/co-writer Giorgio Bruno takes the same approach – making a movie in a language not his own presumably for commercial reasons but jeopardising the film’s release chances in English-speaking territories because his leading lady mispronounces the word ‘sausage’ and too much of the dialogue sounds as if it’s been fed through an internet translate tool (since a lot of the film consists of phone conversations, the awkwardness of the talk is a big handicap).
The premise is reasonably workable for a low-budget horror – a familiar pandemic is turning most of the human race into flesh-eating zombies, but the film is set entirely in and around a crashed car where Dr Hope Walsh (Aylin Prandi) wakes up with her mouth taped shut and suffering from total amnesia, though she is soon told by her dying kidnapper and her auto-dialled voice-over sister that she’s a CDC boffin who has synthesised a workable antidote to the plague. A rescuer appears, but Hope – having no idea of his relationship to her – lets him be swarmed by zombies, who eat his guts in a close approximation of the sort of scenes that were commonplace in the first wave of imitations of Night of the Living Dead – these films have got so far away from the Romero wellspring that low-tech entrail-fondling by slobbering, minimally-made-up extras packs a shock again. Hope fends off her kidnapper, a desperate woman who zombifies swiftly, and discovers another prisoner in the back seat – the car’s actual owner Donald Dawson (Sean James Sutton, a Brit doing a Southern accent to cement the fact that this is supposed to be taking place in woods outside Atlanta).
An amnesiac playing Cujo with zombies ought to be more suspenseful than this, but Hope is an infuriating character to be stuck with – and the film is weirdly half-hearted about its own premise. Told that a vital antidote might be in the car, Hope makes the most cursory search imaginable – when the final twist about its location (which is clever) would be much more powerful if she’d stripped everything and everyone within reach in search of the mcguffin. And, after the first attack, the zombies aren’t well-used – just a shambling crowd who aren’t that menacing.