Zombie Nightmare

Voodoo doo-doo. Zombie Nightmare is a train derailment from start to finish.

A tale of un-dead retribution, this one could’ve been far more impactful if its protagonist  were black, as originally intended. Instead, the production changed, moved up north, and a piece of Canuxploitation birthed.

And what a change.

In the lead, Jon Mikl Thor, a bodybuilder who could bend steel bars with his teeth (sadly, a talent not on display here) best known for fronting metal sword-and-sandal cheesemongers, Thor (check out their Spinal Tap-like sound on Lightning Strikes Again).

He’s a happy-go-lucky jock slugger (Tony), who in true horror form, gets a prologue that shows a pivotal moment growing up. In this case, he witnesses the knifing death of his father coming to the rescue of a rape victim in a city park.

All grown up (mostly) the muscle-bound home run hitter comes to the aid of a burgled shop-keep with a truly terrible Chef Boyardee Eye-talian accent. Young Tony, like pops, meets his maker as a Good Samaritan: a bunch of what passed for toughs in the 80s, drive over him and flee.

Instead of taking the body to the hospital or calling the cops, the shop-keep drives the deceased straight to Tony’s mom’s…lawn….And at this point, mom contacts a Haitian Voodoo priestess to bring Tony back from the dead, so he can exact revenge.

The rest of Zombie Nightmare is Thor’s unimpressive physical specimen replacement (at least when dressed in workout sweats), hunting down the suburban trash who made him roadkill. Where’d Thor go? Who knows? But like Plan 9, he was “Bela Legosi’d” with a stand-in.

The police, which includes Adam West as a Squinty McGee captain constantly chewing on a stoagie, are completely baffled as the bodies pile up. The MO of the killer is vertebrae snapping, so they surmise that the suspect needs to be a big, strong guy (several references are made to Tony’s massive stature, though he looks like he’s likely just north of 6′ in height. Thor’s doppelganger, smaller still).

Also of note, one of the teen thugs is Tia Carrere that “total babe Cassandra” from Wayne’s World.

Extremely odd, too brightly lit, and with ensemble acting about as bad you can get (even for such a maligned genre), Zombie Nightmare is a curiosity that justifiably made its way onto IMDb’s Bottom 100 List.

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of Zombie Nightmare!]

Murder by Phone

Its tagline could be “Scanners for dummies,” as Murder by Phone, aka, Bells features people causing harm to others remotely. If only we were remotely interested! To be fair, Murder by Phone is hilariously fun low-end crapola. And it features a cast that’s absolutely, positively better than it has any right to be: the portentous-of-voice John Houseman (Oscar winner for The Paper Chase) and star of stage and screen, Richard Chamberlain.

The beauty of Canadiana and Canuxploitation, was that filmmakers had to make do with very little, long before everyone had to (the state of affairs today, assuming you’re not making a superhero blockbuster or a franchise installment). And Logan’s Run and Orca director Michael Anderson acquits himself pretty well here, using Toronto locales like Bay St (Canada’s Wall St) and Museum Subway Station, a seldom-used TTC stop that serves the Royal Ontario Museum.

The plot is procedural, and pretty straightforward: someone is killing people using a phone. If you weren’t tipped off to that set-up by the movie’s title…well, there’s no helpin’ ya.

The first victim answers a ringing public pay phone…dumb move, and not just because receivers are havens for all manner of gross bacteria. The phone gives off a charge, obliterating the vic* and hanging up on her as far as sentience is concerned.

The coroner says the cause of death is heart attack, something the deceased’s professor can’t fathom as his student was a mere 25 years old. The professor/enviro-activist is Nat Bridger (Richard Chamberlain) and he starts poking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and this leads him to of all places, a giant telecom company.

And more residents fall victim…answering the call, as it were.

Murder by Phone offers up some fantastic Cronenbergian deaths, including an office flunkie shot out of his office window in his chair.

It’s inane Z-grade stuff, just the way we like it. And because this is Canadian it’s pronounced “zed.”

**1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our Murder by Phone / Bells Podcast discussion!]

[*Editor’s note: Death-by-phone made its way into our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons]