Writer Scooter McCrae has mined some good ideas out of that noggin of his, mostly pretty damned original. For example, the Zombies here are as unconventional as those in Dead & Buried or Les Revenants. When the world goes all Zombie on us, the dead don't rise up to rend flesh, eat brains and dance with Michael Jackson. No, the dead actually just seem kind of irritated by the whole thing. They can't get jobs, they realize they're both stinky and ugly and they really want to take a bath now and again.
If I'm presenting this as if it were a zombie spoof or some farcical comedy, perish the thought. Shatter Dead is as serious as it gets. Usually. As a viewer of all kinds of amateur, independent and off-the-grid films, I can point out one thing that separates the film makers from the wannabes. Comic Relief. Here, as in many amateur films, the comic relief doesn't come off as timely or witty. Instead, it comes off like a newly discovered splinter in the heel of a marathon runner. It completely breaks the stride and feels really wrong.
This is where Director Scooter McCrae simply can't quite bring the ideas of Writer Scooter McCrae to the screen. That's too bad, because there are some good ones. It just doesn't quite cut it. McCrae clearly is trying to be clever and artistic in his camera work and at times he comes close. Close enough to give him an "E for effort". Note, the director of Corpses Are Forever tried some of the same things and failed as miserably as a Hamster might fail at Beach Volleyball! Instead of Travesty, the worst we can pin on McCrae for his attempts is "Close but No Cigar".
Take the opening scene in which a woman is being taken from behind in a passionate sex scene with an incredibly large breasted woman... who is having sex with her doggy style and successfully impregnates her... because s/he is an angel. Yeah, the wings spread out and everything. It looks cheap, it's incomprehensible, but... there's a molecule of intent that's visible here and while I can't say I quite see it coming to fruition, I'm givin' McCrae that "E" again.
The cast (of deceptively familiar sounding names) is led by actress Stark Raven, who, yes, at times does come off as "stark ravin' mad". While her character Susan isn't exactly what one would call pretty, she does have a certain Sex Appeal, especially when she's stark naked.
Susan, like the dead, is really irritated that the world has gone to hell. Wanting to get back to her boyfriend's pad, she picks up some groceries and... gets carjacked by Zombies. Uh... huh... In my family, that's what we call "Saturday".
This sets off a series of weird events, including her repeatedly coming across a madman minister for the dead, identified only as "The Preacher Man" ( Robert Wells). She's also given refuge in a sort of "halfway house" (because it's halfway between the living and the dead) run by the same woman who has carnal knowledge of that male angel with incredible breasts from the beginning. Though she's pretty young looking and obviously pregnant, the character's name is "Grandma" and she's played by an actress named, no shit, Marina Del Rey.
If you're wondering at this point just why you've sat through all this, there is a pretty damned interesting fully naked shower scene between Susan and her new friend Mary, who really is played by a pretty woman... named Flora Fauna! Where did "Scooter" find these people? He's also got actors named Johnny Bravo, Pericles Lewnes, Dale Customer, Eeytan Zzdysz, Barbara 'Candy' Coster (that's the naked but not really androgynous Angel) and Kamal Du Pree (that's the other naked but not really androgynous Angel).
But back to Flora Fauna. She's hot. She makes Stark Raven look hotter when they're showering together. Thank you. Both.
The film keeps going on with the alternately faux-artistic moods and boring non-acting. When McCrae gets a good idea, he seems to really get a good idea, and I can imagine Scooter McCrae with a big budget might have a very fine film in him. As it stands, just when he's about to convince me of something cool, he loses it and ends up showing me something unintentionally funny. Either that or something that he thinks is funny that falls flat as an HDTV.
By the time we actually meet her boyfriend Dan (Daniel 'Smalls' Johnson), we're already not sure if we care that much about Susan, especially when she tries to sound dramatic. Folks, it's just not quite there. Even when Susan decides to improvise and have full on vaginal sex with the barrel of a pistol while she vigorously masturbates. Yes, Scooter shows us that too. C'mon, Lady, buy a Strap On! She should've had sex with Mary. That would have been great.
That's just another area where Scooter McCrae could have nailed a killer idea, but either fell a few yards short, or kept going well past the "less is more" field goal into the slippery bleachers where he crashed. To be fair, this was McCrae's first film, and the fact that this little blip on the radar gained a following and was eventually released on DVD almost makes it a victim of its own success. Did McCrae intend for this kind of scrutiny? Maybe not. But he certainly wanted to come off as an artist here, and that desire shows through, even if the final result isn't really, well, art.
This film differs in a lot of inventive ways from other Zombie Films. As mentioned above, the dead in this film maintain their memories, their composure and even their minds. They never go marauding for Human Flesh, and they never eat anybody's Brain. They see themselves as immortal, which can be good or bad, depending on what unlife has to offer you. The concept that no one ever really dies can pose some interesting philosophical questions and McCrae and company certainly give them their due diligence. Should one grow old and die, only to walk the earth as an incontinent, wrinkled and senile senior citizen, or should one accept death in the prime of their lives and try not to pull a "Death Becomes Her"? Lastly, the dead can't be "killed" with a bullet to the brain, or with fire, as we've seen so often in other Zombie Flicks. As Mary tells us, it's not the brain, it's the soul.
That's a good enough description of Shatter Dead in one line. Shatter Dead is inventive and original in many ways, showing that Scooter McCrae has quite a thoughtful brain. However, there's just no soul in this movie. The acting often feels like a community theatre rehearsal, the make-up is straight out of a "Day after Halloween" sale and the overall execution looks amateurish. Still, with the kernel of cool ideas it is clear Scooter had, I'd love to see what he can do with a budget.
Two (generous) Stars out of Five for Shatter Dead, the little indie that could... but couldn't very well. Still, it did get Scooter McCrae's name out there, and afforded him the chance to direct 1999's Sixteen Tongues, act in 8 films (including this one, though he's credited as Robert "Bob" Ferrapples), work as a cinematographer, editor and composer, and even write the Liner Notes to the Anchor Bay DVD release of Hell of the Living Dead. He could do worse for himself. He could be an internet critic. Now that's a fate not even the Living Dead would Envy!
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