Okay, so maybe it’s not The Walking Dead or World War Z or, lord help us, Diary of the Dead. In fact even calling it a zombie movie is kind of a stretch, but Caleb Emerson’s feature directorial debut nevertheless boasts the Greatest Zombie Movie Title Ever, a swell soundtrack in which every song includes the line “die you zombie bastards,” and contains not only the final screen appearance by porn legend Jamie Gillis, but also the last footage and recordings of legendary rockabilly wild man Hasil Adkins. And dammit, that’s all worth something, right?
I honestly don’t know why I keep going back to Die You Zombie Bastards. Everything about the film is sub par, from the acting to the cinematography to the editing and the special effects. It was clearly a film aiming for Troma territory with its generous mix of boobs, gore, and atrocious tasteless jokes (as well as roles for several Troma regulars and a cameo from Lloyd Kaufman), but didn’t quite make the cut. Still, though, there’s something about its exuberantly strange genre mixing and sheer cartoony dumbness that’s hooked me, especially Tim Gerstmar’s um, enthusiastic, arm-waving, downright intense performance as the lovesick cannibal serial killer turned superhero, Red Steele.
(It should be noted that Die You Zombie Bastards! is actually a sort-of sequel to Emerson’s early student films, Red’s Breakfast Experience and Red’s Breakfast 2, in which many of Zombie Bastards characters, most notably Red, were introduced.)
Another thing that brings me back time and again is the simple fact that I can’t ever get enough of the great Hasil Adkins who, along with playing a pivotal role in the story, also bookends the film with an introduction and, well, I guess a summation or something. Who the hell can understand what he’s saying, anyway? Whatever it is he’s having a lot of fun saying it, and that’s good enough for me. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for any film with an exclamation point in the title and a character named “Super Inga.”
Normally there’s simply no point in reviewing a Troma (or Troma wannabe) movie. You enter Troma (or Troma wannabe) territory, you know what you’re getting into and it’s your own damned fault. But here we all are, so let’s just deal with it.
More love story, road picture, and superhero film than your standard shambling, flesh-eating corpse movie, Die You Zombie Bastards! opens with three nubile young archaeologists looking for evidence of the fabled “Amphibious Guy” on Hell Island (difficult research requiring they be topless most of the time) when they’re kidnapped by a frustrated alien super villain named Baron Nefarious (sometime Troma regular Geoff Mosher with a heavily modulated voice). Nefarious’ fiendish plot, see, involves using his Zombitron to transform the world’s population into the traditional “army of zombie slaves.”
While his hope is that these first three will serve as sex slaves more than willing to play into his assorted twisted fetishes, he finds them no more cooperative even after the Goth makeup has been applied. Yes, the zombies here are old school voodoo zombies, more Karloff and Lugosi than Romero and Fulci. They wear Goth makeup, move stiffly, don’t say much, and don’t offer much by way of gut-munching, though we get plenty of the latter elsewhere in the film.
Meanwhile and speaking of which, after a long day of hacking up hippies with an axe, Red, the lovesick cannibal serial killer, returns home to his beloved wife and fellow cannibal Violet (Pippi Zornoza). They’re a happy and happy-go-lucky suburban couple like any other, save for all the flesh eating and the wild sex.
It’s only after Nefarious sees Red and Violet on a game show and decides he must have Violet as his bride that things really get underway.
When Violet is kidnapped from a picnic in the park (“A picnic?” he’s asked repeatedly), Red puts serial killing aside for the moment and, assisted along the way by the mysterious and chameleon-like Stavros (Gillis), sets off on a frantic worldwide search to rescue her. Tip after tip leads him from Pittsburgh to Jamaica to Sweden to West Virginia and eventually to Hell Island in the Bermuda Triangle, most of which bear a remarkable resemblance to Connecticut. Along the way he meets a number of strange characters, hears any number of long and pointless stories, fights off occasional packs of zombies in proper Bruce Lee fashion, orders a pizza, gets lost, learns he has a young superhero sidekick he knows nothing about and doesn’t want, even somehow resists the charms of the fetching (to a point) Super Inga. We also get a flashback or two to Baron Nefarious’ childhood and some songs from Hasil Adkins.
Oh, it’s crass and dumb and loud and fast and, well, dumb, but the odd thing is at it’s core it really is a sweet and heartfelt love story about a married couple with a lot in common who will stop at nothing to be together. And when was the last time you heard about a couple of cannibals like that? Well, okay, sure, there was Eating Raoul but dammit that was a long time ago! I guess there was Parents, too. And Sweeney Todd, sort of.
Oh, just forget I asked the damn question. You know what the hell I mean. Fact is Die You Zombie Bastards!, a line that’s given plenty of play in the film, is still a hell of a lot more entertaining than any of the zombie pictures Romero has made since the mid-’80s.
Gerstmar may not be the fine, low-key actor Jamie Gillis was (poor Jamie never quite made the leap into mainstream acceptability like a few of his fellow porn stars) yet still there’s something in his complete over the top-ness, the extravagantly flamboyant line readings that leave you eager to hear what he’s going to say next (“Rubber dicks?!”). In his three turns as red Steele he really made the character of a lovable and charming serial killer all his own. It’s a shame he never went on to do much else.
Likewise Geoff Mosher, who despite all the comic book voice modulation still brings something to Nefarious, a sense of frustration, an unreciprocated arrogance, the pathos of the underappreciated. For all his power and evil plans, nothing ever quite goes the way he wants. The world’s most perfect woman isn’t quite perfect enough, and even his damn zombie slaves are uppity.
For all it’s failings, and boy does it have failings, Emerson obviously knew what kind of movie he was setting out to make: a goofy-ass madcap heavy metal gross-out love story, and that’s exactly what he made. I think I’d much prefer seeing a dumb film that knows its dumb than something made by some young pretentious moonpie trying and failing to be Bergman or Polanski. Zombie fans may be sorely disappointed by the lack of traditional zombies in Die You Zombie Bastards!, but show me another zombie film with a Super Inga in it.