Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Len Kabasinski Special Part 1- Swamp Zombies.
Let me introduce you to a man named Len. He’s a cheap and cheerful director of pure schlock from Pennsylvania. I’m going to go through all his films in order, and attempt to do actual criticism of them, rather than throw the word “cunt” around a lot. So it these may not be the most entertaining reviews I’ve ever done. Nevertheless, here we go with his debut feature, 2005’s Swamp Zombies.
Swamp Zombies is a fairly simple film made excessively complicated. Basically, an evil scientist dude is tinkering with a serum to re-animate the dead. Anyway, there’s a school trip to the swamp near his facility, and sure enough the dead come back to life and start terrorising the living. The sherriff, Jack, eventually cleans things up and saves the day.
Firstly, the acting in this is pretty bad. Len himself plays Jack and he’s not too bad, actually, and he’s supported by Porn Star Jasmin St. Clair, Blue Meanie Brian Heffron and Pamela Sutch. St. Clair is comfortably the best on-screen, but I suspect that’s because she’s had the most experience. However, the real revelation here is Heffron- if I didn’t happen to know that he made this before Fist of the Vampire then I would honestly believe that the films were made the other way round. He’s much more “natural” on-screen here, and it’s a much better performance than the later role. The rest of the support is clearly comprised of amateurs, and it’s pretty obvious.
The writing is a touch ropey, and I’ll come back to this in a minute. Len himself wrote it, and there are problems- it’s contradictory, the mad scientist plot is, I’m pretty certain but stand to be corrected, straight from Resident Evil (the game, not the piss-poor Anderson film) in that he’s stimulating electrical energy (I think), and it’s otherwise a fairly generic zombie film. The dialogue is also laboured, and some of the characterisation makes little sense. To be fair, this is because a lot of the characters are little more than zombie fodder.
This is clearly an almost zero budget film so there’s no real point criticising it. There’s never going to be extensive CGI or impressive makeup in a film like this. The gore, on the other hand, is thrown around all over the place, and it’s well done and in a little schlocky film like this there’s no point at all in sparing the claret. To Len’s immense credit, this is the second film I’ve seen, he clearly doesn’t feel any need at all to spare the blood.
I happen to know, because Len said so, that Troma was the model for Swamp Zombies, but the point of a lot of Troma films, notably Poultreygeist and Toxie, is that there’s a strong thread of satire running underneath the gore and gross antics. Swamp Zombies is completely lacking this sly intelligence which is a shame, because that’s really what makes Troma as great as they are. Having said that, though, Swamp Zombies is intentionally funny on more than one occasion. The best example I can give is the sequence where Sutch is escaping from the zombies. She’s trying to put her top on and the living dead are shambling along behind her. It’s an intentionally funny sequence, and feels really reminiscent of Benny Hill. I don’t know if this was the model, but I wouldn’t be surprised either. The other stand out funny sequence is when Jack’s deputy is being killed and he’s doing DIY. This is so absurd, and so well done that it shows considerable promise.
There is a strong sense of slapstick to the film. Len’s background is martial arts and he always throws in a good amount of fighting. In this case, the scenes with Jack fighting the zombies are downright funny on occasion as the undead get tossed around like rag dolls. While I’m on this subject, the best piece of shot composition in the film is during one of these sequences- Jack slams a zombies head through a closed car window. The camera is placed inside the car and the zombies head smashes the glass right up to the camera. It’s a really good shot, and stands out in the film.
The other thing that Len clearly understands is the nature of these type of films, and isn’t shy of getting his actresses naked for the cause of cinema. St. Clair gets a completely pointless and gratuitous shower sequence, Sutch runs along with her tits out and so forth. There’s a lot in the way of nudity here.
Nevertheless, this isn’t a terribly good film. I’m giving it a lot of latitude because it’s a debut, but I’m sorry to say that for a lot of the time Swamp Zombies is boring. Basically, every single idea that they had is regurgitated on-screen here. There’s no sense of control and it’s run time is credited as 90 minutes on IMDB, but honestly felt a lot longer. A more tight edit (a lot of this should have ended up on the cutting room floor) would have made a world of difference to it. Shame.
Secondly, Len himself choreographed the fight scenes and they’re not great. The problem here is that he’s working with amateurs. Heffron stands miles ahead of the rest of the cast here, but he should with his wrestling background. The problem is that the fight scenes are far too slow and you can see a lot of punches/ kicks etc miss the target. I totally understand that Len can’t go about clobbering his extras but these scenes drag and look amateurish. If I had to give out a bit of advice regarding this, it’s another cracking example of less being more, and the big climactic scene itself feels really flat.
Overall, Swamp Zombies is a bad film and I don’t recommend it. However, I would say that it does in fact show some promise. The car-window smash suggests that Len has genuine potential, and the St. Clair shower scene is worth the price of admission by itself. Finally, when the comedy works, it’s quite funny. However, for most of the time the film doesn’t work, drags and is kind of dull.
All in all, it’s not a good film, sure, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I actually think that it might be better than Fist of the Vampire- it certainly doesn’t offend as badly, you can see and hear what’s going on (unlike fist) and there’s no crappy CGI that I remember. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, Troma this ain’t.
I give it 1.5 Juggs out of 4 (there really is an awful lot of nudity here).
Until next time (Please don’t hit me Len),