The Horror Honeys: Zombie Killers: Elephant's Graveyard

Zombie Killers: Elephant's Graveyard

A Head Honey Indie Pre-Release Review by Kat

Zombie Killers (2015)

This poster has about zero
to do with the film.
I’ve said many times, both in writing and on podcasts, that the future of horror films is locked away in a secret world that not many people seem to experience. The concept of a true indie film is hard to explain to people as well, what does Indie truly mean in a world controlled by big studio money and big studio mentalities? Indie horror is the reason why I love this genre so much, and it’s full of films that are made by people who are truly passionate about what they do and have a rabid need to get their vision into the public eye. They don’t make movies to fill a need to be famous, they just need to create.

Now, that being said, there are a select section of indie filmmakers that should really just fucking stop creating. Seriously, please…please just stop, you know who you are, and deep down you know that people are lying to you. Stop. 

Thankfully, Harrison Smith isn’t one of those directors, and he’s also someone who has been extremely vocal about how he feels about zombie movies (they're lazy, and I tend to agree). So, colour me extremely impressed (but unsurprised) that his zombie movie is actually an indie zombie film that I really enjoyed. Smith has a habit of making indie films that are focused on the human story, which is something that low budget zombie films invariably skip over in favour of spending all of their money on bringing you more gore and more zombie killing action so you don’t notice that the film actually has no plot.   

Seiler with the Zombie Killers
The story: Welcome to Elwood. Elwood is a community led by a former military doctor who acts as the moral compass and also provides us with the initial exposition of the film. Elwood is a sanctuary, but the members of the community are fighting a losing battle against an unknown plague, and the gradual disintegration of their relationships, and their will to survive. Led by Seiler (Billy Zane), a group of young men and women who call themselves “The Zombie Killers” (they even have team shirts) act as the militarized fighting and hunting force for the community; they train with paintball guns and obstacle courses and provide some great distractions for the drama happening within Elwood. Zane’s character in Zombie Killers is honestly one of my favourites for him, as he is alternately endearingly funny, and appealingly old style Western serious as he encourages and trains his force. I might have a renewed crush on Billy Zane. Please don’t tell him.

Another face familiar to horror fans is Felissa Rose who also turns out one of my favourite performances in Zombie Killers as a religious zealot who enjoys her power in the community a little too much. Her intensity and religious fervour is captivating, and reminds me why I don’t open the door for the J-Dubs when they come knocking. Horror veteran, Dee Wallace, is the epitome of grace on screen, and although her role is meant to be a heartbreaking one, she plays it with style and a sly hint of humour as she delivers some of the most embarrassing and honest lines of the film. The cast is rounded out with young actors who hold their own against genre veterans, with only a few stumbles in delivery and reaction. Their connection with their co-stars is genuine, and there’s a surprising amount of eye-candy to go around for the ladies in Joe Raffa, Angel Anthony Marrero, Kyle Brennan and Michael Kean.  
Marrero as Duttra. Yes please.
The first thing that stood out about Zombie Killers was the complete lack of the usual stereotyping present in every zombie film, and there is more that makes it truly unique within the zombie genre. Smith sets up his human element first, and we don’t get our first look at the zombies until about twenty minutes in, but when they do finally appear, it’s immediately clear that there is something special about these zombies: far from being typical film shamblers with some blood splashed on them, these zombies have black eyes, and oily viscous blood… a look that’s undeniably different and enjoyably original. The reason for the unique look is twofold - these zombies aren’t the dead brought back to life, they’re infected with a virulent protozoa. This protozoa is found in the groundwater and is a result of a nearby fracking operation. And if you don’t know what fracking is (which I didn’t, and which spellcheck doesn’t seem to be familiar with either) a quick Google search will help you out:

Fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. Fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached. Petroleum engineers have used fracking as a means of increasing well production since the late 1940s. Fractures can also exist naturally in formations, and both natural and man-made fractures can be widened by fracking. As a result, more oil and gas can be extracted from a given area of land.
I'm scared of Felissa Rose. Again.
Ashley Sumner as Kennedy
In Zombie Killers, this extraction method has turned deadly and the effects of the extraction are starting to manifest in the natural world, infecting the water, the people, and even the animals in the area. How this is best examined, in a literally gut wrenching scene where the true nature of the infection is revealed in a pregnant woman. No spoilers, but it’s amazingly jarring and well done. Extra kudos to the fact that I didn’t even notice that one character was in her bra for the duration of the scene. Also worth mentioning, Smith's women aren't frail wilting flowers. They have their vulnerable sides, but they're also strong, fiesty, and definitely don't shy away from a fight, so don't look for any of the main female characters to scream and fall helplessly to the ground when the zombies make an appearance.  

Honesty: Indie movies aren’t without their problems, and as I’ve mentioned before in my reviews of Harrison Smith’s earlier films, his scripts are unashamedly ambitious, and sometimes that doesn’t work out for the best when it comes to the marriage of script to budget, and that’s not his fault. I love the fact that he dreams big and sees more for his films. I’ve seen two versions of Zombie Killers, and I have to say that I prefer the first version I was given access to. The addition of a scene which in theory sounds awesome, but in practice leaves a little to be desired as the CGI effects veer into SyFy territory comes towards the middle of the film.

Set up with an extremely creepy and effective sequence where infected zombies are puking black goo into the water supply, what follows is definitely a nice throwback to Piranha, but also left me a little uncomfortable. Then again, I’ve picked up dead salmon before… so I might just be being picky. This additional scene is something that I know Smith is happy with, but I can’t say that it packed the punch I know I was hoping for. There is also some roughness in the costume and makeup FX department, but these are details that I scrutinize on a pretty intense level, and not everyone will see what I see. Other problems are smaller and easy to overlook, as the young actors get a bit caught up in miming the kickback of the weapons, and some of the zombies can't decide if they're lurching or running... all details that are typical of zombie films in general. 

Dir Harrison Smith with Billy Zane & Michael Kean
The verdict: Overall, I was caught up in the unique details of the film - sweeping panorama shots of the landscape are beautifully done and are definitely not something you see in a zombie film, especially an indie, which are typically relegated to small spaces to save on production costs. If anything, the unique details are what I appreciate most about Zombie Killers because they serve to elevate this indie film to a higher level. At the heart of it all, Zombie Killers is a human drama (without being TWD all over again) set against a backdrop of environmental awareness, that also happens to have zombies running around. 

Recommended for fans of the genre who are looking for a zombie film that has something more to say than "Braaaiiins." 

4 out of 5 zombie fish love Zombie Killers

Zombie Killers will be available on DVD/iTunes/VOD/Netflix/Redbox on February 3rd - distributed by Anchor Bay. 

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