Zombies by Design (2006) – By Duane L. Martin

 Those of you who’ve been following this magazine for a while know that I’ve been reviewing Dave Wascavage’s films since 2004, and during that time I’ve gotten to watch him grow and progress as a film maker. He’s one of those guys who really wants to make films and doesn’t let anything stop him. With his fifth film, Zombies by Design, now in the can so to speak, he’s got not one but two more films in the works.

Dave is one of those "do-it-all" kinda guys. He does his own CGI work, writes, directs, produces, casts, edits and scores his own films. His super supportive wife Mary is always there right beside him as well, working with him on the writing, costumes, acting, and basically just being there as his support system. With a team like that, you come to expect the final products to be something special. What’s special about Dave’s films is that even though they don’t have Hollywood type special effects and the acting isn’t always the best, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time when you watch them.

ZBD is about a reality home makeover show where the show’s host, crew, a couple of carpenters and a bitchy interior decorator go around to various homes and redecorate them. Unfortunately, this time around they ended up being called into the home of a mad scientist who’s created a device that he spikes into the heads of dead people. The device allows him to control the zombies remotely using his laptop and a joystick.

He tries to sell the technology to the military, but after they turn him down, he goes even more insane. This is about the time the makeover crew shows up at his house. A camera guy and an announcer from the crew whisk him off to some resort under false pretenses so the rest of the group can give his house a surprise makeover, which was arranged by his wife as a surprise. Needless to say, things go downhill from there.

The crew stumbles into his laboratory and discovers one of his zombies laying on a table. They trip a sensor that he had set up in the lab and the zombie wakes up and attacks one of the crew members. The zombie also has a bag of those head spike things and sticks them in the heads of his victims so the scientist has more zombies to control. What about the people who don’t get the head spikes? Well, if they get bit by the zombies, they turn into just normal zombies that aren’t controlled. They’re just your normal run of the mill every day zombies who mosey around the countryside looking to relieve people of that few pounds of gray matter that they probably weren’t using anyway.

The rest of the movie revolves around the crew and the scientist’s wife’s struggle for survival and the mad scientist’s efforts to make an army of zombies as an example to the world so he can auction off his creation to the highest bidder.

This film is Dave Wascavage’s most ambitious project yet. He did a good job with the zombie make-up, and some of the gore effects, while cheesy, were totally fun. This film also had a larger than normal cast, which included Juan Fernandez, star of his previous film Tartarus, and his wife Mary as the two carpenters who were there with the reality show to do the makeover. The interaction between these two was just awesome and even included a burping contest in the back of the truck on the way to the house.

Another great interaction was between the hostess of the show and the bitchy interior decorator. They couldn’t stand each other and at one point even had this great scene where they were just standing there casually calling each other bitch, whore, slut, etc… In fact, pretty much everyone in this film did a great job with their characters except for one person. The mad scientist. He came off more annoying than mad, his line delivery was horrible and there was a bit of a lisp or something that really got on my nerves after a while. I didn’t feel the evilness coming from him that should have been there that would have made the character more believable and more interesting as well.

Making comedy can be difficult. Sometimes things that sound funny on paper or in your head when you think it up end up not being all that funny when you get them on film. Fortunately, most of the comedy in this film really works. For example, there’s a great little short cut scene with three zombies using a skeleton as a battering ram and just barely tapping the door with it. There’s another scene where Dave, who plays the cameraman on the house crew, gets torn apart by zombies and not only takes forever to die, but gets this awesome look on his face with his tongue hangin’ out and stuff when he finally does. Another scene has a couple of zombies eating what is obviously raspberry jello out of the opened up skull of a skeleton. Then there’s the burping contest I already mentioned, and what is perhaps my favorite scene in the movie when the scientist’s wife tries to make a run for it. She goes out and starts attacking the zombies to show the rest of them how easy it would be to get away. One of the crew guys goes out to help her, but when they get mobbed, he grabs her from behind and starts swinging her around and around, using her feet to knock the heads off the zombies. There’s an awesome point of view shot in that scene of her feet from the knees down swinging around and whacking zombies. It’s all just the kind of goofy fun that I’ve come to love about Dave’s films.

Something else that’s fun is the little things you spot here and there. Things like continuity errors or references to his past films or even stuff that just kinda shows up in the background. There’s a great scene where the two carpenters are trying to get a generator out of the shed and get it to the house so they can have power (which had been previously shorted out by the zombies), and in the background you can see a road with cars going by. I was like, "Why don’t they just run over to the road and hitch a ride out of there?" The cars weren’t supposed to be there. That’s why it’s funny and a lot of fun to watch. There’s another scene early on where the carpenter guy is loading up his tool belt and he tries to shove his hammer through his tape measure holder. It goes through after some struggling but it ends up hanging there all crooked. Remind me not to hire them to do my house! I won’t even get into the spot where zombies were killing a bunch of people about twenty feet away from the carpenter guy and he didn’t even notice. I mean, I know a saw makes a whole lot of noise, but you’d think people screaming bloody murder twenty feet away would get your attention. Again…it was funny. It’s funny because it’s stupid, and stupidity is the foundation for most of the funniest things in life.

Seems like most films nowadays try to beat you over the head with some message you don’t really care about or go on and on with some deep exploration of the relationship issues between the different characters. That’s why Dave’s films are so great. They’re entertaining, but they don’t beat you over the head with any messages and you can actually make a game out of spotting various little things that would go unnoticed to a less critical eye, thereby allowing you to actually have fun with his films on more than one level. You can choose to use your brain and work at spotting all the funny little stuff, or you can just kick back and enjoy the show without having to think too much about anything at all. Having that sort of a choice is really nice, and in some ways, quite relaxing as well.

Dave’s got a couple of his movies in distribution right now and all of his films can be purchased through the Troubled Moon Films website. This particular DVD comes packed with behind the scenes footage, bloopers, and a commentary track. It’s all great stuff and is just a bonus to an already great movie.

Zombies by Design marks a major step forward for Dave in nearly every respect. It’s by far been his most ambitious film and goes a long way in showing his ability to grow and develop as a film maker.

If you’ve never seen a Dave Wascavage film, do yourself a favor and start with this one. So far it’s the best of the bunch, and is a whole lot more fun than those boring old zombie films that everyone’s seen a million times before.

If you’d like to find out more about this film or about any of Dave’s other films, you can head on over to the Troubled Moon Films website at http://www.troubledmoonfilms.com.

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Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: Mad Scientists

Duane’s Review Site: B-Movie Central