NOVEMBER 8, 2012
Here's the thing. Deadlands: The Rising is not a very good zombie movie. The pacing is wonky, the dialogue cringeworthy, the FX nearly non-existent, and the director's use of slow-motion could best be described as "frequently random". Also, for a 62 minute runtime, about 10 are devoted to opening/end credits (plus its MPAA style disclaimer about the sort of R rated material it contains), so once you factor in all the unnecessary slo-mo, the damn thing is only like 48 minutes and STILL padded with nonsense like a cutaway to a street light... during the day.
But I can't hate on it. It's a first time feature (I don't even think he made a short before) from a very small crew of passionate guys, and on a technical level it exceeds a few I've seen from "veterans" of 3-4 previous films that STILL can't figure out how to film a scene from more than one angle. In fact, a couple of rookie mistakes aside (the 180 rule is broken more than once), I was actually somewhat impressed with the editing here, and even more so when I listened to the commentary and learned he cut it on Sony Vegas, easily the most convoluted non-linear editor I've ever used. Godspeed, sir.
I was also impressed with how much support he got from the town. I've seen a few of these things (hell, I even tried MAKING one) that never branch beyond such exciting locations as "the director's house" and "the producer's house", but he's got the town hall, various interior/exterior locales, and even a legit traffic jam that the town helped coordinate. Thus, there's a sense of a good chunk of this small Maryland town coming together to make this movie, so even though it didn't turn out all that great, I was charmed by the "Let's put on a show!" attitude on display.
But man, if you don't have the ability to extend that sort of sympathetic goodwill, I'd steer clear. Despite its brevity, it takes a while for a zombie to show up, and again, there isn't a lot in the way of FX, nor is the zombie makeup all that impressive. You can take two paths - a lot of zombie action that lacks any character (looks like World War Z has taken this route), or you can be a bit more selective and really deliver on those occasional bursts of undead violence - but here we basically get the worst elements of both. Also, the actors aren't very good, which isn't a surprise, but it's a shame that many of them even ATTEMPT to react like a normal person would to a zombie horde coming at them - most just seem mildly inconvenienced by the whole thing. That town hall scene in particular; everyone is sitting around muttering angrily like the people in Jaws do - it's the behavior you might expect to see if the town was considering cancelling the town parade or something (or maybe shutting down a road to film a zombie movie), not for "there are undead monsters outside trying to kill us".
It also lacks a proper conclusion, but on the commentary we are told that was for a reason, and the final credit gives a hint: Deadlands 2 coming soon. I've seen this before, but I (think I) am happy to report that they indeed made their sequel, Deadlands 2: Trapped (with a third on the way, apparently), so grats to them on delivering on their promise. There are two commentaries, one with director/writer/star Gary Ugarek, the other with Ugarek, producer/star Brian Wright, and two others. Ugarek repeats a lot of the same info on both, and he has an unnatural obsession with both dates (paraphrasing, but at one point he's like "Today is August 5th, the film wrapped on June 3rd, we shot this scene on November 12th...") and the fact that the film was shot with four cameras ("This was the Panasonic AG-DVX100, but this was the Sony DCR-VX2000..."), but his enthusiasm and pride is infectious, and even though the film's budgetary limitations meant big scenes had to go and rewrites had to be commissioned, much to his disappointment, he's not whiny or bitter about it - he's merely pointing it out same as he would a shooting location or something. I wouldn't have minded a BIT of "I should have done this/that..." reflection - at one point a rather uninteresting reaction shot is showered with praise - but I'll take a rose-tinted view over a pity party.
The rest of the bonus features are fine; the most meaty being a pair of interviews with Ugarek and Wright, who interview the other in the same location, leading me to wonder why they didn't just plop a camera on a tripod and film it together. There's also an unrelated zombie short film called "I Am Zombie Man", but I couldn't get it to play on this DVD, only the intro which explains why it's on the disc (something about a messageboard that the director of the short was on with Ugarek). Some trailers for this and other movies (including one for something called Ghoul School that I must see at once) round things out.
I still feel movies like this should be released for free on Youtube, or self distributed for the cost of making the disc/shipping it out, rather than (originally) sold at 25 bucks a pop (400 copies sold would cover the production budget), PARTICULARLY in this case when it barely qualifies as a feature film. But as such things go, these folks really were putting a ton of effort into it while admitting they didn't know what they were doing, so speaking as someone who rented it for free, I couldn't get too worked up about it. I'm sure the sequel is an improvement; if so, kudos to them for keeping at it.
What say you?