Thursday, April 21, 2011

3.1 EXHUMED (2003)

Exhumed (2003)
Dir. Brian Clement

Well, this is the first dud of the bunch this year, but it's not for lack of trying.  Writer/Director Brian Clement does everything right in what is probably the most adventurous film of this year's marathon.  However, the end result is a perfect example of one's eyes being bigger than one's stomach when it comes to low-budget film making.  It will still look good on his resume, though.

Exhumed tells its story in three parts.  The first is in medieval Japan, the second in 1940s America, and the third in a weird grab-bag apocalyptic future.  That, in itself, is an impressive attempt.  The stories are all linked in what is, ultimately, a time-travel narrative that, with more money, better actors, and someone who knows how to handle professional lighting, could have been amazing.

Hell, just someone on lighting duties would have made this much more enjoyable, as most of the film is underlit and at times its nearly impossible to tell what exactly was happening.  Which is too bad, because Clement obviously loves film and film making.  There are enough references to classic films in this one to write a book about, and the combining of three distinct genres into one overarching plot is a great idea.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think better lighting would have made me like the film.  As it is, I can't really recommend it as much more than a noble failure.

Although, just listening to the description of the film makes me want to see it remade, a la Evil Dead 2.

Spoilers ahead!

You see, back in feudal Japan, there is a "Forest of the Dead" where a mysterious artifact can cause the dead to rise.  A young samurai and a young monk meet on the road to the forest.  The samurai's goal is to find the artifact so his master can raise an army of the undead.  The monk's goal is to stop him.  However, they quickly become friendly, and after doing battle with the "zombies" (more on the quotation marks later), the monk goes power mad and claims the artifact, while the samurai realizes that the "zombies" are more like animals and can't be controlled.  Needless to say, no one makes it out of the forest alive.

Part Two, "Shadow of Tomorrow" is a 40s film noir piece involving a female private eye, a runaway ex-wife, grave robbing, and murder most foul.  This section runs a little too long, taking too much time to build up to a climax involving a mad scientist, a murdered Russian ambassador, and a police detective with shady ulterior motives.  But the story cuts off right before the conclusion, which confused me at first, but there's a payoff in the end.  I was also a little put off by a couple of the actors' attempts to mimic classic dialogue styles, but I assume that was intentional on the director's part.  It pulled me out of the film, unfortunately, instead of entertaining me.

Part Three is called "The Last Rumble" and opens with Vampire Mods facing off for a rumble with Werewolf Rockers.  That, in itself, makes me want to love this movie.  Especially when the rumble is interrupted by machine gun toting humans in full-body protective gear and gas masks.  It's a striking visual that never really lives up to its promise.  Anyway, a female vampire and a female werewolf are captured and are going to be used to fight in a pit for the amusement of the humans.  This, of course, leads to the vampire/werewolf lesbian sex scene.

How could it not?

Like I said, everything about this movie makes me want to love it.  Especially when it turns out the humans are being overrun and working on a crazy time travel device to throw their consciousnesses back through time.  It all involves a trip to the Antarctic lifted almost verbatim from Lovecraft, which again, shows that Clement's heart is in the right place.  The "zombies" turn out not to be actual zombies, but the results of the experiments.  The Japanese undead were animalistic because they were actual animal test subjects.

Then things get hectic and we cut back to the conclusion of "Shadow of Tomorrow" and get our grand conclusion, which somehow involves the vampire and werewolf existing outside of time and undermining the humans' grand plan.  Somehow.  It's not entirely clear what's going on, except for the fact that the monsters are going to win.  Or, more likely, I admit, my attention just drifted and I didn't really follow what was said.

Oh, and there's also an alien named Mister Grey.  He opened the film, serving as a sort of narrator, but then enters the actual narrative at the end.

There's so much to love with the ideas on display here.  But the budgetary constraints (IMDB notes that the film's budget was a paltry $5,000, and it shows) hamper the execution in just about every area.  It's clear that the actors are not professional, but are probably friends and family of Clement's, which doesn't help to really bring the piece to life, although there are a few notable tries (Claire Westby, as P.I. Jane Decarlo, for one).  That wouldn't normally be a deal-breaker for me, but when compounded by the lack of effective lighting, which makes the film difficult to even see, the amateur qualities were exacerbated.

Fans of low-budget film making will enjoy this, I suppose.  While the ideas were impressive, I was so distracted by the poor lighting that I found it hard to let go and enjoy the gonzo qualities on display.  I really want to go back and see his earlier zombie films Meat Market and Meat Market 2 and look forward to seeing his bigger ideas get better funding.

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