NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (1981) DIRECTED BY JOEL M. REED
Review By John Szpunar
To quote the mighty Chas. Balun, “Oh no! What’s THIS one doing here?”
A sound and solid question to be sure, but just like rock and roll, this dipshit oddity (courtesy of director Joel M. Reed) is here to stay. Ever wonder how XXX star Jamie Gillis would perform in a non-porn movie that was financed by Broadway producer Lorin Price, lensed by Groupies director Ron Dorfman, and co-edited by Spike Lee protégée Samuel Pollard? Ever fantasize about the onscreen chemistry between Mr. Gillis and Alphonso De Noble (the fat guy from Alice, Sweet Alice)? Ever wonder how a zombie movie would fare with absolutely no blood and gore? Wonder no more! That’s right, kids, we’re talking about Night of the Zombies, the film that all but threatens to be the notorious director’s swan song.
Also known as Gama 693, Battalion of the Living Dead, and a zillion other titles, Night of the Zombies (the title that this reviewer is sticking with) is yet another poverty-row project that Reed decided to tackle in exchange for a few hot meals. Shot in Munich, the Central Alps, and in Reed’s usual New York stomping grounds, Night of the Zombies lays waste to logic at every turn. The common consensus can be summed up in a single sentence: If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it once too many. With that fact acknowledged and accepted, allow me to take a few steps back, pop the tape into the VCR, and give the film a second look.
|Are you really sure you wanna do that?|
Jamie Gillis stars as Nick Monroe, a down and out CIA agent who is sent to the Bavarian Alps when a United States Graves Registration officer is killed under mysterious circumstances. The head of the CIA (Ron Dorfman) believes that his death may be linked to several missing canisters of Gamma 693, an experimental gas that the United States planned to use against Germany in World War II. A very young looking biochemist (and WWII vet), Dr. Frank Proud (Ryan Hilliard) is also interested in the canisters. He and his niece (Samantha Grey) soon join Nick in his investigation.
|They'll be no boning in the ski lodge hot tub this time around!|
Things take a bizarre twist as soon as the trio hit the Alps. It seems that a letter was found near the Graves Registration officer’s dead body. A letter written by an American GI believed missing in action in 1945. A letter dated 1979.
Soon, Nick finds himself running with a group of neo-Nazis (headed by Joel Reed himself), unearthing ghastly military secrets, and surviving several zombie attacks from a group of undead GIs who have been hiding in the German countryside for thirty-five years.
|Let's morse code in some Der Wienerschnitzel take out|
Nick learns that 693 was a chemical developed to keep wounded soldiers alive until they could be taken to a medical unit. Several mortally wounded WWII soldiers hijacked the supply to suit their own needs and are reenacting battles in the desolate Bavarian Alps. Dr. Proud was once one of them, before he was exiled from their camp. He now desperately needs another dose of “the gas” before he begins to rot away.
The film ends with an unintentionally funny looking Proud attacking his niece as she lies in bed. Nick interrupts Proud’s meal just in time and saves the day. But there is the slightest hint that Nick is now one of the walking dead himself.
|It'll be a deadlock when I wear this sweater to my interview at Sears|
Night of the Zombies is a far cry from the perverted excess of Blood Sucking Freaks, but the film still contains several signature sequences and off the wall performances that hold their own. Reed’s cameo as a neo-Nazi leader is a prime example. Joel, dressed in a powder blue sport coat, gives the film’s best performance. His interpretation of the German language is beyond terrible, a strange mix of “neins” laced with a New York accent. “It vas the Jews, the Jews! With ze industrial might ve have today, ve could crush them!” Alphonso De Noble’s performance as an undercover agent is almost as good. Bloated beyond belief, he struggles with a German accent, but when attacked by Jamie Gillis, he reverts back to New York speak: “Hey, buddy— buzz off!” Ron Dorfman looks like he’s reading his lines off a teleprompter. And Ryan Hilliard is more than over the top as Frank Proud: “Please. Just give me a bit of the gas! THE GAS! Oh no, it’s too late!” The camera lingers on a German prostitute as she undresses for Jamie Gillis. She might just as well be undressing for Joel. And then, there is Joel’s death scene. Stabbed in the back by a mysterious gloved hand, he spastically flops around the streets of Munich like a marlin out of water. One of the most memorable scenes has Jamie Gillis examining the blood of a wounded zombie and concluding that it is very similar to vegetable oil.
|TelePrompter is broken...FUCK!|
Does Night of the Zombies work as a horror film? Not really. The elements are there, but unlike Blood Sucking Freaks, the envelope is barely addressed, yet alone pushed. Does the film work as comedy? Again, not so much. Reed’s twisted sense of satire seems to have taken the back seat on this ride. Does the film work as an espionage thriller? That’s debatable, but that’s probably where Night of the Zombies fares the best. Yet still…
There’s something so loopy, fucked up, and otherworldly about the film that everything almost seems to fall into place (and make perfect sense) after a second, third… hell, in my case, probably twentieth viewing. And to be honest, Reed’s direction is solid, and Jamie Gillis is surprisingly believable as a CIA agent who is sent off to Germany to investigate World War II zombies in 1979.
Well, you have Night of the Zombies (also known as Gama 693, Battalion of the Living Dead, and a zillion other titles), Joel Reed’s last film to date. An insane mess of priceless dialogue and plot holes, a totally mindless roller-coaster ride to nowhere. This is the film that Broadway producer Lorin Price took a gamble on. The mind wonders what kind of film Joel and Lorin would have cooked up if they had worked together again…
To read more about Joel M. Reed and his films, be sure to check out John Szpunar’s interviews with the man in Headpress 19 and 2.4. An honest-to-goodness book on the subject (Blood Sucking Freak: The Life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed) is forthcoming from Headpress.
Crank here, cutting in for just a second, thanks so much John for doing a special guest review! John Szpunar has been such a valuable friend and the secret weapon for TOG in securing talented contributors who've worked for Deep Red magazine and knew Chas Balun. We're ecstatic to finally get a review from him and know that our readers are on the edge of their seats in anticipation for his next book. Read our interview with him here and support Headpress Magazine.
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