The Bottom Shelf: Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Krampus The Christmas Devil

It's our round-up of horror DVDs and Blu-rays for December...

So you’ve seen all the publicity about U.S comedy darlings Adam Scott and David Koechner combining powers with Muriel’s Wedding star Toni Collette for a totally fun-looking comedy horror caper in the vein of Tremors, Lake Placid or Gremlins, right? Looking forward to catching a nice bout of seasonal black humour with lashings of SFX gore and tongue-in-check terror? Well, sorry, but our first film this month isn’t that Krampus. We’re really sorry.

Skilfully swerving any possible copyright-related confusion with a teensy ‘The Christmas Devil’ thrown in to the DVD bundle, the bargain basement Krampus manages to squander both the nasty Alpine myth about the anti-Santa who punishes naughty children and the considerable talents of rent-a-baddie Bill Oberst Jr, no mean feat. Written and directed by Jason Hull, who has inexplicably managed to obtain funding for a sequel (Krampus: The Devil Returns, out next year), this unlikely first entry in a cult horror franchise sees Hull reunite with A.J Leslie (the star of his take on the four horsemen of the apocalypse, The Four), who plays a boy who survived abduction at the claws of Santa’s little helper only to grow up to be a cop tracking down said festive felon years later. 

So, a semi-decent premise with the unnecessary but always welcome inclusion of Oberst Jr as a shouty serial killer is thrown away by almost universally poor performances, weirdly static direction from Hull and a presumably budget-saving lack of sightings of our eponymous anti-hero and the viewer is left pondering whether this is their own punishment for being on the naughty list.

Speaking of obscure films given a mostly unasked-for – if timely – new lease of life on DVD and Blu-ray in light of other, much bigger film releases, the meat in this month’s sandwich of gore (although surely that would mean the meat on the outside and bread on the inside? Anyway….) consists of what must have been The Martian‘s key inspiration, Robinson Crusoe On Mars, and nineties-based Brazilian Back To The Future, The Man From The Future.

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Robinson Crusoe On Mars is indeed Byron Haskin’s 1964 sci-fi retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of a man marooned with little to no chance of rescue and just his wits to rely on for survival. Filmed in America’s Death Valley and with the resplendent colours of Techniscope, Eureka’s Blu-ray restoration, complete with stunning martian landscapes and psychedelic green-screen skies, is nothing short of beautiful.

Released eleven years after his iconic fifties interpretation of War Of The Worlds, Haskins’ return to Mars sees the weirdly postmodern combination of an alien Man Friday and Wellsian spacecraft as our hero, U.S astronaut Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) proves himself way easier to watch than Matt Damon’s flippant space-going irritant and much more thoughtful to boot. Captivating throughout, this is perfectly-made meditative sci-fi from a bygone era with the added bonus of a pre-Batman Adam West cameo for good measure.

The Man From The Future, out on DVD presumably as a belated cash-in tied to October’s not-at-all-annoying ‘Back To The Future Day’ tomfoolery, sees Wagner Moura, the star of the critically acclaimed Elite Squad and, more recently, Netflix-produced Pablo Escobar crime series Narcos, as a weird mix of a more slapstick Marty McFly and a more downright dangerous Doc Brown, to varying degrees of success.

Moura plays Zero, a scientist who accidentally creates a time machine whilst pursuing the noble goal of a new energy source for mankind, as is often the case in these situations. Zero, a forty-something loser (apart from at the science side of things) remains in love with his college sweetheart, whom he lost in the early nineties, ostensibly due to poor life choices (rather than bad karaoke) and so heads back in time to right wrongs and brighten his own future. Nothing could go wrong there, right? Cue multiple versions of the same person, a nice twist on Biff Tannen and a sweet (if laboured) message about the virtue of suffering.

Moura chews the scenery slightly too much in his various guises and the whole thing just goes on way too long with too many plot-holes unfilled, though there’s a nice existential thread underlying Claudio Torres’ movie that marks this out as something far more interesting and darker than the standard high concept popcorn fare The Man From The Future at first appears to be.

The quest to rescue doomed romance brings us neatly to this month’s final film, cult Italian hero Lucio Fulci’s belated semi-sequel to his horror classic, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, and by ‘neatly’, of course, that means there are naked breasts on show and deadlings getting in the way of that. Originally released as Zombi 3 (Zombie Flesh Eaters, A.K.A Zombi 2, being marketed as an unofficial sequel to Dawn Of The Dead, released in Italy as Zombi. Got it?), the only link between this and Fulci’s previous film is a) the name and b) zombies, and the traditional rule of diminishing returns regarding sequels holds true here.

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Claudio Fragasso, who would go on to direct the phenomenally terrible Troll 2 (see the documentary Best Worst Movie) takes script duties here, and it shows. Cremation of corpses pumped with enzombifying fluid (I can only assume that’s what it’s called) leads to the fumes infecting local feathered friends and scenes reminiscent of a really bad tribute to The Birds as they spread the sickness to the human population. Fulci himself understandably jumped ship halfway through filming though not before leaving some of his trademark classy direction and the odd genuinely chilling, smoke-filled image.

With some vintage Italian cheesy synth (all the best horror synth is Italian) and closing hair metal credits music, along with awful dubbing, terrible acting, not even cardboard cut-out characterisation and a generally patchwork feeling, this is either everything you’d want from a violent cult favourite or just a badly-made movie barely justifying being made, let alone getting a new DVD and Blu-ray release. I’ll leave you to decide which it is. 

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