The zombie genre is so saturated these days that most new entries just try and stir up the pot by default and do something innovative with the scenario, but it’s refreshing when a filmmaker goes for a simple, honest to goodness zombie film with little to no frills and we’re reminded of why we fell in love with the genre in the first place. William Kaufman’s Daylight’s End is an earnest, brutal and rousing undead post apocalyptic piece that benefits from a strong ensemble cast, wicked sharp tactical direction and a script that adds just the right amount of character work in between the gunplay and gore. Johnny Strong plays a lone gunslinger who bands together with a tight knit tribe of survivors protected by gruff leader Lance Henriksen, while undead forces gather against them and they try to fight their way out of a severely destroyed Dallas to somewhere safer. The only real deviation from classic zombie lore here is that these creatures can’t stand daylight and only come out when it’s dark, leaving the daytime scenes to have this eerie, desolate feel while most of the heavy action takes place atmospherically after dusk for a nice Vampirish flourish. Kaufman is a real master at staging tactical, realistic feeling action and as such blocks his actors, chooses his weapons and makes his kills feel exciting, propulsive and immediate. Strong is every inch action hero material, Henriksen makes a stoic and sage pack leader and surprisingly emotional work is provided by the usually cavalier Louis Mandylor as his son and top lieutenant. This is obviously a low budget film and one can see that but the story they’ve told and the world they’ve built using what they had is really impressive, and stands with some of the best zombie shoot-em-up’s out there. Check out Kaufman’s New Orleans set cop flick Sinners & Saints too, which also stars Strong as a relentless badass and also features flawlessly directed action scenes, they make a cool genre double feature together.
I’ve been ragging a lot on Cuba Gooding Jr. The past few reviews, so I’ll go easy and speak about a good one instead. Wrong Turn At Tahoe has a script that should have been given the royal treatment; it’s wise, brutal, thought provoking and very violent, with many sets of morals clashing against each other in true crime genre style. It didn’t get a huge budget or a lot of marketing, but what it did get was a renakably good cast of actors who really give the written word it’s justice, telling a age old story dangerous people who inhabit the crime ridden frays of both society and cinema. Cuba plays Joshua, a low level mafia enforcer who works for Vincent (Miguel Ferrer), a ruthless mid level mobster who runs his operations with an OCD iron fist. He also rescued Joshua from a crack house when he was a young’in, forging a father son bond that runs deeper than terms of employment. When a weaselly informant tells them that local drug runner Frankie Tahoe (Noel Gugliemi, reliably scary) has it in for them, Vincent brashly retaliates first by viciously killing him. That’s where the shit starts to get deep. Frankie was an employee of Nino (Harvey Keitel) that most powerful crime boss on the west coast and not a man to cross. Nino Wants hefty payment for the loss of Frankie, who was a good operative. Vincent, being the proud and belligerent son of a bitch that he is, bluntly refuses. So begins a bloody, near Shakespearean gang war in which both sides rack up heavy losses and the phrase ‘crime doesn’t pay’ collects it’s due. All parties were inevitably headed to a bitter end whether or not the Tahoe incident occurred, and I think the writer simply used that inciting incident as an example of many ways in which a life like that will always end up at a dead end. The writing is superb, especially for Gooding, Keitel and Ferrer, a vicious triangle indeed, all at the top of their game and then some. Johnny Messner is great as Gooding’s cohort who can’t keep his mouth shit, and watch for Mike Starr, Leonor Varela, Paul Sampson and Louis Mandylor too. Dark deeds, unexpected betrayal, self destructive ego, combustible machismo and ironic twists of fate are explored here in a script the remains as one of my favourite of that year. Really excellent stuff.