Sometimes you just know you’re going to love a movie. Even if - as in the case of Joe Chein’s Zombie 108 - it goes against your better judgement. Chein had a game plan going into this. He knows that there’s a market for this kind of filth. So he ramped it up, repackaged it, and booted it into the stratosphere.
Zombie 108 isn’t just a zombie movie. Chein knows – with the walking dead sprouting up all over the place – you need to take a bigger bite if you’re going to satisfy an insatiable zombie horror fan base. So not only is he launching a horde of decaying corpses at your TV screen, he’s throwing in a huge dollop of torture porn for added detestation. Zombies, torture porn, naked flesh and degradation. Chein’s film was made for a certain breed of film fan. That would be us then.
After surviving a deadly car crash, a young lady pulls herself from the wreckage and tries to find her daughter. Unbeknown to her, a catastrophic accident at a top-secret research lab has released a deadly virus into the city. All hell is breaking loose. Chein is happy to obey the rules of zombie horror in the opening act, with an all out assault on the sense and senseless.
Our protagonists - if you can call them that - are a ragtag bunch of misfits, murderers, gangsters and police officers. Controlled by a local crime lord, District 108 is the one place in the city the police don't want to go on a normal day. But today is not a normal day, and the crack SWAT team ordered to help evacuate the uninfected must do just that. The local gangs don’t take too kindly to the intrusion, and both sides suffer heavy casualties before they realise that the enemy is not – by definition – living among them.
It’s your traditional zombie horror movie, then? Yes and no. At the halfway point, Chein gets bored of rampaging corpses, and decides to throw a spanner in the works. A rubber faced, murderous serial killer who preys on survivors and tortures them for his own perverse pleasure. It’s a neat hook in the right hands, one that could have seen a more established director digging into the human psyche.
It’s the age-old question really, even if it is presented in such an extreme manner. If you knew you could get away with something, is there anything that would stop you from doing it? Especially when the world has fallen apart and you might not live to see another day. It could have been an exploration of the twisted, tortured soul. A bleak and biting journey through the darkest doors of the mind. In Chein’s hands, however, it’s just another excuse for gratuitous rape scenes.
The second act gives way to exploitation, farce and sleaze, but with so much going on you won't have time to notice. Production values aren’t high, but Chein makes the most of meagre funding and utilises his shoestring budget to great effect. There are too many characters, and some of the performances – particularly those of the western actors – are incredibly weak. Zombie 108 is blessed with a detestable bunch, but sometimes that works in a horror movie's favour, because it’s always fun to watch an irritating character die in a satisfyingly brutal fashion. Chein ensures that his characters come to a grisly end, and Zombie 108 pushes the boundaries of bad taste to its limits on several occasions.
The final act descends into comedy, unintentional or not, and some of the bizarre make up effects only serve to frustrate. Yes, mutated gangster arm, I’m talking to you. But despite its limitations, Zombie 108 embraces the scattershot approach to filmmaking and makes for an evening of guilty pleasure. Naked flesh, bloody heroines (why are girls covered in blood so attractive?), a sprinkling of comedy, zombie carnage, cool effects and terrifying effects - what more could you ask for on a Saturday night? Unless its date night of course.
Zombie 108 does feel like two horror shorts thrown together in a blender, but with so much energy, bloodshed and vulgarity, it’s hard to ignore such a chaotic waste of time. If Chein is able to rein it in a little next time out, his could be a name to look out for. Bizarre but occasionally brilliant, crude yet incredibly colourful, Zombie 108 is as frustrating as it is engaging. But I liked it. I liked it a lot. AW