In 2006 a low budget indie zombie flick called Deadlands: The Rising was released. Originally intended to be a short, it expanded into a feature length home made undead action flick seated stylistically somewhere between Demons and Return of the Living Dead.
Put together over a long period of time, the film showed what could be accomplished with $10,000, a community spirit, and a stubborn determination. The lessons of feature independent filmmaking are written large across all aspects of Deadlands: The Rising (both positive and negative), and consequentially the 2008 follow-up Deadlands 2: Trapped, confidently brandishes the fact that lessons have been learned throughout its 85 minute running time.
Taking place on the night that a new nerve gas is to be tested upon an unsuspecting Maryland city population, Deadlands 2 is clearly a product of the George W. Bush era when controversy, tribalism and distrust in your own government seeped into the American public’s psyche like never before.
Pushed by a soulless, dead-hearted project leader Dr. Robert Mitchell (played by Jim Krut, aka the helicopter zombie from Dawn of the Dead), any in-house dissent is quelled as the intended effects of the nerve gas are soon felt amongst the target populace. Unwittingly about to be caught up in a tragic disaster, Ugarek (editor/writer/director) takes his time to establish his protagonists, who are all played proficiently by a young cast, with Joseph D. Durbin (Sean) giving a particularly strong and believable performance.
Before they know it, six strangers find themselves trapped within a local movie theatre, surrounded by an army of zombies and with few options for rescue or escape, as one of them slowly suffers the effects of a bite from one of these … experiments.
The zombies in Ugarek’s undead action flick are different from the traditional Romero breed. For a start, these are runners, but not only that, they’re smart runners capable of working together to lay primitive traps and launch attacks on the living. Undeniably, the runner is a controversial figure in the zombie sub-genre – 28 Days/Weeks Later never featured zombies (rather infected humans), and the glossy-but-shallow Dawn of the Dead remake threw out subtle, creeping shamblers for the blunt-force trauma of sprinters – but Deadlands 2 stands above the negative connotations of this updated horror antagonist.
This flick has more going for it than running zombies; indeed the zombie action isn’t the primary focus of the script, instead it’s the characters and plot. Deadlands 2 is also an independent film, and similar to its predecessor, the sense of community spirit shines throughout. What’s more, on a budget of merely $6,000, Ugarek has done the hardest thing of all – make a good indie movie with a bigger scope (certainly bigger than normal indie fare) on less money than the original film.
All aspects of the filmmaking process – acting, writing, directing, shooting, editing, the lot – have come on leaps and bounds from the rough-edged learning curve of Deadlands: The Rising (also available on DVD). Looking, feeling and sounding a damn sight better than what you’d usually see in an indie flick; it’s clear that Deadlands 2, with its ‘deep shadows & brilliant highlights’ visuals, has been crafted with intelligence and endurance. What’s more the film is even prefaced by a short introduction from Helena: The Hussy of Horror, an internet horror hostess (www.hussyofhorror.com).
Compared to the work print (which I saw some time ago now), this final version of the film has a sure and more consistent pace, as well as a real sense of urgency and action whenever a shot of adrenaline is injected into the heart of the plot. What we are presented with is a kick arse zombie flick, with a truly independent spirit, and something a bit deeper going on inside its head. Zombie fans, indie film fans, and horror fans in general should really check this movie out – it’s an impressive step up in all respects.
Finally – the DVD package itself – available to buy from Anthem Pictures (www.anthemdvd.com/store), you will be treated to an informative and revealing set of interviews with the director (who also provides a commentary track) and cast, as well as a look inside the scoring process, and how to put together a convincing on-screen military presence with an extremely low budget.
Watch the official trailer on YouTube.
Dr. Robert Mitchell (Jim Krut)
Sean (Joseph D. Durbin)
Chris (Christopher L. Clark)
Jack (Josh Davidson)
Casey (Ashley Young)
Shelly (Corrine Brush)