Directed by Joe Bowes
Starring Todd Snethen, Eve Cusack, Lisa Kendall, Jack Coakley, Jake Viaene, and Peter Murphy
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
The moment audiences decided zombies were funny, a huge proportion of horror filmmakers threw down their litre bag of watered-down-ketchup and grey face paint, and moved to ghosts, ghouls and garish theatrics with ouija boards. What was the horror genre’s loss was the comedy film’s gain, as short, indie, and theatrical films started to be produced where zombies play the central role as a source of humour not horror. American Zombies, a short film from director Joe Bowes, dives straight into this subgenre, with a movie that tickles your ribs whilst grossing you out.
Set inside a family home where mother (Lisa Kendall), father (Todd Snethen) and son (Jack Coakley) are attempting to enjoy the spoils of some together time, American Zombies is like The Brady Bunch meets Shaun of the Dead. The aforementioned family are not the soon-to-be victims of some evil unleashing of plague or outbreak, instead they are the zombies in question; we follow them on a routine evening where they attempt to live family life whilst sustaining a diet of human nutrition. Bringing in two fresh captives, the father is reprimanded for keeping them both alive, as humans taste better cold...apparently. Even though his “Quinoa Club” told him otherwise. This scene gives you a pretty clear idea where Bowes’s film takes his audience.
Subversive comedy like this is still a really fresh taste for audiences, especially those who enjoy movies such as the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead or something like Zombieland. The beauty of a horror-comedy blend is that you appeal to both sets of viewers (which are large contingents in themselves) whilst being able to cherry pick the elements which you want to carry forward, casting away those which are unattainable or useless. American Zombies has a biting comedy, in particular in the script which is comprised mostly of incoherent mumblings from the performers but hilarious subtitles which translate their undead utterings. This is partnered with lashings of blood and gore, in particular when the human meal is introduced to “Piglet” (Jacob Viaene) downstairs. Such a partnership rarely works with other genre crossovers, but here the result is hilariously gripping.
There is a chaotic abrasiveness to the audio in American Zombies, especially during one scene where Eve Cusack continually screams. It was obviously fitting for the scene, as she witnesses another human (Peter Murphy) being eaten alive, but the comedy was lost in the noise and the horror seemed slightly banal. That being said, this is my only nitpick in a short film which is otherwise fantastic. The performers are also pretty engaging throughout, maintaining a deft balance between home life and horror.
The set design and aesthetic is brilliantly done to capture this white-picket ideal, whilst the tone of the horror felt reminiscent of the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), combined with the farcical spoof levity of a Mel Brooks movie.
If you like your blood and guts with a side of funny bone, then American Zombies is a terrific piece of comedy filmmaking with devilish horror and just a touch of normal life...everything you could ask for really.