Description (from the DVD insert):
Bored with booze, strippers and a little light armed robbery, Frank, Keno and Milton plan and execute the perfect bank heist – only to end up in the county morgue after a horrific car crash. Fortunately, Frank’s latest sexual conquest is a demon-worshipping pole dancer with big plans for a trio of crooks who can’t be killed… because they’re already dead. Now, with an intrepid police detective hot on their rotting heels and a girlfriend from Hell pulling their strings, our criminal geniuses have their work cut out for them. If only they can keep from falling apart… professionally and physically!
Kevin Santry as Frank Creed, Daniel T. Cornish as Keno Bondi, Phil Duran as Milton Rivera, Jamison Jontry as Chloe Tate, Paul Alsing as Detective Orser, Jason Witter as Randy, Joseph West as Officer Romero, Devin O’Leary as Rupert
Commentary, Making Of, Interview with Billy Garberina, Dan and Bill Get Nerdy, Trailers
As has been discussed (quite a few times) before, I am a fan of the zombie genre, in general. I’m not one of those zombie fans that will love any film – no matter how big the pile of crap it may be – as long as it has undead in it, I am a bit more selective. I don’t discriminate between horror or comedy, since zombie movies can be either (though they’re pretty-much-always gonna be violent, even if they are not truly “horror”), and having seen so, SO many – I have 57 in my collection as of today – I am grateful when I see a zombie movie that is not just the same ol’ same ol’ undead story. STIFFED is not that average zombie story, by far.
Billy Garberina has tried to do “different” genre films as a director. Yes, they are within established parameters – no 60-minute black & white dialogue-free experimental films or anything like that – but he tries to slip in something that the genre fans will not have seen before. On his last directorial effort, NECROVILLE (review here), he promised me he had “killed a vampire in a way you’ve never seen in a movie before,” and he came through with that promise. On top of that pivotal death, NECROVILLE was a fun mash-up of various horror genres (it had vampires and werewolves and zombies, oh my!) all presented via a Kevin Smith-like approach to the dialogue and humor; when I heard Smith was making his own horror film, the incredible RED STATE, I expected to be in the same vein as NECROVILLE (and man, was I wrong). STIFFED is a zombie film, but to be more specific, it is a zombie-supernatural-crime-comedy, which is a different spin on a familiar trope.
STIFFED jumps right into the action, opening with the main trio of characters looking for their absent bank robbery getaway car, and moves into a nice non-linear introduction to the characters. Frank, Keno, and Milton are low-level thugs into a little light bank robbery and spend much of their non-working time at the local strip club, where Frank has gotten the attention of stripper (and black magic priestess) Chloe. They’re not overly bad guys – as Frank explains, the “gun’s just a negotiating tool… things are much more clear with a gun” – but on the other hand, boy scouts don’t plan heists in strip clubs. When their getaway car finally arrives, they think they have made it… until the untimely explosion of a dye packet causes a head-on collision with a semi-truck, and the demise of the trio.
Movie over. Main characters are dead. What a nice 10 minutes. Oh, I almost forgot, Chloe happens to pray to Baphomet, and has her own coven of stereotypically-goth witches. Enter zombies. Chloe and her coven bring Frank and co. back from the dead, to do her bidding as zombie slaves; but they are not your average zombies, and certainly nowhere near the idea of the voodoo zombie slave. At first they do not even realize that they are dead, they have no craving for human flesh or brains, they are completely cognizant, and they are not physically impaired by the fact that they are dead. They are basically the same old Frank, Keno, and Milton… except a bit paler, and they are impervious to pain. What a perfect “machine” for going out and committing some crime! Since STIFFED is a crime movie, there has to be the story of the police that are trying to solve the case. Enter Detective Orser and Officer Romero (which, while an obvious George A. reference, also is an incredibly popular name in NM, so very fitting), at first trying to solve the case of the “Garbage Bag Bandits,” then trying to figure out how his dead crooks are still continuing their crime spree.
I’m not going to get too much more into story, because I’d rather leave that for you to enjoy on your own. Let’s just put it this way: things never work out the way they are planned when crime (or the undead) is involved. The script by O’Leary is well written; the plot moves along at a steady pace and the dialogue is decently witty. There is obviously a bit of a Tarantino/Rodriguez/Smith influence on the speech, it is often snappy and at time there are even lines that made me laugh out loud (“First no zombie slaves, then no smoking. Tonight sucks!”) O’Leary does a good job of minimizing the expenses associated with producing the story; there aren’t too many locations to deal with (but there are enough to keep the film from seeming cheap), there aren’t a ton of characters to have to cast, and there are not any huge action sequences to deal with, besides a few beatings and shoot-outs.
For a low-budget “local” production, the overall quality is very good. The gore effects by Ben Chester are extremely well done and sufficiently squeam-inducing, and the limited CGi effects are put to good use without being distracting or making the film cheesy (as they often do with low-budget CGi). Garberina is a strong director with a good eye and the composition of the shots and movement of the picture works well; the camera is static when it benefits the movie to be, but frantic when the action on screen requires it. I did notice that a lot of the shots seem to be a bit too close to their subjects, and I could not figure out if this was done intentionally for some reason, or if it was because of the difference between what is seen on a monitor compared to what is the final output in the TV screen, but a lot of the shots are very up close and personal.
All of the major characters are well portrayed by the actors chosen to do so, some of the minor characters are a bit weaker, but that is truly to be expected in a low-budget production. None of the minor characters are so badly played that it takes away from the film, they just don’t stand up to the performances put in by the primaries. Santry feels very natural as Frank, as if this might be his day job (I hope not!), and Jontry as Chloe is also very believable in her evil. While Duran does a good job portraying Milton, I was confused why some who really does not appear Hispanic would be playing such a stereotypically Hispanic character; I kept waiting for that moment when someone in the movie called him out on it, but it never happened. For me, the highlights of the film were Cornish as Keno – he just really perfectly fit this character, and I had no problem believing anything he had to say – and Alsing as Detective Orser. I may be a bit biased in this opinion (as Alsing played the main character in my film, DEFECTIVE MAN!), but I truly felt that he stole the show as the cool, collected, and a bit naïve Detective Orser; his take on this character just truly resonated with me.
On the technical side, STIFFED does pretty well overall. The video quality, while in true 16:9 instead of the 4:3 the information included said it was, seems a bit “digital,” and I don’t know if that is because the film was shot on a SD digital camera or if that quality was imparted in either the import or export into the editing software, but the picture quality is just not nearly as crisp as I thought it would be. The lighting is also a bit choppy; in some scenes it is very natural and non-apparent, while in others it is more harsh and unforgiving. The audio, the downfall of many an independent picture, is overall very good. There are a few bits here and there where the dialogue could have been recorded louder, or the background hiss becomes more noticeable, but overall the sound is a strong aspect to STIFFED. The production design of the film is overall strong for a low-budget outing, especially in Chloe’s room and in some of the locations that were procured (such as the hospital and funeral home) which allow for good design just by the fact that they are what they are. Some scenes are not as strong (like Detective Orser’s office), but overall the production design helps instead of hinders.
Overall, STIFFED is a strong film. It is a funny, different mash-up of the “crime” and “zombie” genres, that has zombies pretty much unlike any I have ever seen. Truthfully, it took me a while to even click that this WAS a zombie movie, STIFFED is that different. Sure, it has some drawbacks, but nothing that is so glaring that it makes STIFFED a bad movie. The good (the script, the performances, the effects) definitely outshines the not-so-good (the video quality, the lighting), and overall I greatly enjoyed STIFFED and am really looking forward to seeing Garberina and O’Leary’s next film together.
Overall 7.5 / 10
STIFFED on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1478835/
STIFFED for sale (as of February 21st): http://www.amazon.com/Stiffed-Daniel-Cornish-Jamison-Jontry/dp/B006HH618K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325645315&sr=8-1
STIFFED site: http://www.stiffedmovie.com/