Review: “Toxic Zombies” (1980)

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Howdy campers! My name is Clinton, coming to you from deep in the heart of chainsaw massacre country. I’ve been hired on at dear ol’ CampBlood to teach everyone how to make leather-braided friendship bracelets, to lead the group sings around the bonfire (my guitar hymns are the illest), and… of course… to talk to all you kiddos about the gooey, shambling world of my own personal favorite sub-genre…

Zombie Movies.

So let’s get this  undead nature hike a-movin’, because Buzz hates it when Activity Hour bleeds into Nap Time.

Our first movie: Toxic Zombies (a.k.a. Bloodeaters), a slice of insane trash that encapsulates everything I love about horror movies despite being… you know… completely terrible.  Written, directed, and produced by one-shit wonder Charles McCrann (who, incidentally, was killed in the World Trade Center collapse on September 11th because the world is just weird like that sometimes), Toxic Zombies concerns… hell, a whole bunch of stuff. This movie is FAT with plotting, just bursting at the seams with story and characters and weird little moments that hint at rich, full worlds existing within the Toxic Zombies universe, though you get the feeling that the latter issue wasn’t exactly intentional.

Let’s see if I can streamline the chaos.

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The movie opens with two greasy, aggressively mustached dudes tooling around in the forest. They’re got guns, about a mile and a half of bell-bottoms between them, and they’re clearly up to no good. This is intercut with shots of a nude hippie girl washing herself out of a bucket with a dirty rag. It is the opposite of sexy; it’s almost clinical, despite the fact that she spends a disproportionate amount of time scrubbing down her dirty pillows and/or checking them for lumps.

Anyway, worlds collide. The gun-totin’ disco rats run across our bathing beauty and identify themselves as Feds. The hippie girl runs off, so naturally they shoot her in the throat. It’s cool, though, because a bunch of other hippies show up and murder the federal officers in cold blood. This action sequence, it should be noted, is so poorly staged that it actually starts to look real… TOO real, to the point where you start to think you’ve uncovered a snuff film and then you feel like Nicholas Cage in 8MM for a minute and that makes things worse, because obviously.

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From here, we enter into a brambley thicket of exposition. Two government guys pose in front of an ostentatious American flag and talk about how “they’ve just got to bust these hippies who are growing all this marijuana because, as you know, we’ve been after them for months now but there’s just TOO MUCH ground to cover and is the audience caught up now, okay good.”

Meanwhile, the aforementioned hippies sit around the saddest campsite you’ve ever seen (it looks like an Indian village after a smallpox outbreak) weighing the pros and cons of killing a couple of lawmen right before harvest time.

It’s all very gabby and uninteresting, so it’s best at this point to just soak in the performances of the actors; there are community college productions of Anything Goes that have yielded stronger dramatic work, but that’s fun in its own way. From early on in my viewing experience, I found myself charmed to pieces by the earnest, put-on-a-show vibe that radiates from Toxic Zombies.

Because I’m a positive person and my heart is a cartoon princess, I fully believe that Charles McCrann really was trying to make an awesome horror film, despite clearly having no concept of how one would go about doing that. It would make my heart ache like an infected tooth to think that he was just trying to earn a quick buck cranking out drive-in fodder. After it was over, I wanted to give Toxic Zombies a hug and a participation ribbon.

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At any rate, the government stooges decide to blanket the entire area with an experimental pesticide that’s guaranteed to kill all the marijuana plants. There might be “some side effects,” which of course means that it’s going to turn the hippies into zombies.

Or not. Not really, anyway. They’re zombies like 28 Days Later, as opposed to Dawn of the Dead: more angry and intense-eyed than anything else. Oh, and they can still use weapons and operate doors and stuff (there’s a fabulous moment of what-the-fuckery where the zombies turn up at an old house with torches -TORCHES -in an effort to burn it to the ground; can you imagine?).

So the not-zombie hippies kill the remaining hippies and wander off into the woods, looking for more people to hit with rocks/chew on a little bit.

Totally forgot to mention this: The government hires a cropduster to do the, well, cropdusting, and the actor playing him, as well as the actress playing the cropduster’s wife, damn near walk away with the movie. Both characters, drunken old fart and shrill harridan, respectively, are played with maximum emotive force and with all the subtlety of two clowns doing bellyflops into a pile of whoopie cushions. It is DELIGHTFUL, to say the least.

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At one point, during a screaming match, the cropduster’s wife starts fisting a raw turkey and slinging various guts and organs around. It’s the most graphic, disturbing image in the movie and I’m considering making it my screensaver. Anyway, the cropduster turns into a not-zombie, he and his wife kill each other with gardening tools, and we, the audience, are sad because you don’t come across trainwreck scene partners like that every day and them being gone from the picture tears a tiny but very real hole in our collective movie-watching soul.

Christ, we haven’t even gotten to our main characters yet. Okay, so there’s ANOTHER government agent… this one a good guy, and he’s about to go on a fishing trip (guess where) with his buddy. His wife, who looks like if Sarah Silverman was untalented in the 70′s, decides she wants to go too and then it gets WEIRD.

This is one of those sub-textual, peel-back-the-corner moments I was talking about earlier: every moment between our hero, his wife, and his fishing buddy… particularly early on… plays like a deleted scene from Brokeback Mountain, all winking references to her “disrupting their bachelor’s weekend” and so on, to the point where you find yourself scanning the credits looking for Annie Proulx‘s name amongst the catering crew. Not helping matters is the complete lack of chemistry between or hero and his wife. I found it hard to believe they’d even MET each other before, let alone been married for any significant amount of time.

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Elsewhere, the cast of thousands rolls on as we’re introduced to a family grilling out in the woods. Mom and Dad are quickly dispatched by the not-zombies, leaving the kids… and I use that term loosely, as the brother and sister duo appear to both be in their mid-thirties… to fend for themselves out in the woods. It’s with the character of the brother that we get a healthy dose of that pre-P.C. mentality that pops up from time to time in the horror genre. The brother is mentally challenged… retarded, in other words, and denoted as such by several characters (including his sister).

To further hammer home the point of his condition, the brother is outfitted in man-sized OshKosh B’Gosh overalls and forced to carry around a stuffed… animal? It’s not clear exactly WHAT his plush toy is supposed to be, though whatever it is does appear to have a very prominent penis. Not kidding. Phallic fun toys aside, the brother’s presence in the movie makes everything really, really uncomfortable… after all, no one REALLY wants to see a retarded person get eaten (well, maybe Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister).

The film wraps up with a climactic battle between our hero and the evil government agents, who show up out of nowhere and try to murder everyone for reasons that aren’t totally defined (X Files-ish cover up, I guess). The wife and the fishing buddy get killed… our hero is noticeably unconcerned by either death… and then the not-zombies show up and eat the goverment guys. The movie just kind of ends, after that; there’s a brief scene of our hero back at his office, packing up his things and having a super-weird, Don Draper moment with his secretary where he kisses her on the mouth for no reason, and then he drives off into the mountains… a toxic not-zombie killer no more.

And seriously, you guys – I left a bunch of stuff out. There’s even MORE crap thrown against the wall, but I didn’t want to write a dissertation over here. Do yourself a favor and rent Toxic Zombies - grab a case of beer and some similarly inclined friends and just let yourself sink into it’s warm awfulness. It’s craptacular cinema at its finest!

RATING (OUT OF 5):

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Thanks for reading, and I’ll see ya next time. Deuces!!!


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