‘What would you be doing if you hadn’t turned into a zombie?’
In the early 1990s, Rodman Flender climbed the directorial ladder from Roger Corman quickie (The Unborn) through sequel (Leprechaun 2) to teen horror comedy (Idle Hands), but has mostly worked in television since – though he made a minor comedy Play Nice in 2014. This return to quirky genre has a youthful feel, harking back to the underappreciated Idle Hands – and manages to ring a few changes on the zombie epidemic theme. Scripted by Michael Herro and David Strauss, from a novel by Jeff Hart, it has a lot of deliciously flip, ick-making ideas but is overall so cheerful, bright-coloured and sweet-natured that even its most extreme moments (a children’s party clown dropping a bottle of lube into his trick bag before setting out on a molestation spree – interrupted by brain-eating zombie vigilantes) are somehow inoffensive.
Narrator Cass (Sarah Yarkin, who was a bright spark in Happy Death Day 2U and gets a bigger showcase here) is a government-sanctioned psychic working on a covert team to limit the zombie infection – which is spread sexually. Regular teenage clod Jake (Jake Cannavale), whose school aptitude test suggests he’s underqualified for a career of braindead shuffling, undergoes a transformation after a back-alley hookup with the punk zombie equivalent of Typhoid Mary … and finds that he’s formed an unlikely bond with his long-time crush, cheerleader Amanda (Angelique Rivera), who’s been infected by her doltish jock boyfriend Chazz (Ty Headliee). Jake and Amanda head across country, with Cass’s team on their trail – and Cass comes to sympathise with the runaways, while nurturing suspicions of her own bosses’ intentions to exploit the undead as slaves or grunts. Chazz, for instance, is put on a leash and used as a sniffer dog. The kids, who remain capable of articulate speech and seem to have more complicated thought processes now they’re dead, run into a pair of lesbian zombies (Kym Johnson, Kristin Daniel) who are trying to find an ethical way of life despite their frequent urges to eat people. They’ve mapped out a selection of rapists, killers, paedophiles and sundry creeps across the country and take detours from their road trip – in search of a rumoured cure – in order to snack on these disposable folks.
It has the feel of the first of a series, with an ending that almost qualifies as a cliffhanger and seems to promise more complications to come, but does get through enough story to provide an arc for the first season of a TV series (indeed, it could be lumped in with iZombie or Santa Clarita Diet in its take on the zombie/cannibal genre). It’s not as explicitly retro as many recent attempts to evoke ’80s or ‘90s VHS era horror, but it has more of the sense of fun of that era than most – and there’s a wicked, satiric streak that applies well to the present day.