Who would have guessed that so many low budget zombie films had been made that take place behind bars…or that I actually have a bunch in my collection of horror movies? I must just really like zombies in jail, because there’s even a prison cell segment in my novella Zombied Out from my book Closet Monsters!
But back to zombie prison bitches in the movies….
PRISON OF THE DEAD (2000)
And speaking of gay zombie stories, Prison of the Dead is a film by homoerotic horror director David DeCoteau. However, what’s missing most from this film is anything particularly homoerotic! Usually there are shirtless young men in underwear running all over the place in his films. In this one, there’s only one guy in his tighty whities. After he only thinks he’s joking when he says to his odd girlfriend, “I’ve never had sex with a zombie before. Is this going to hurt?,” he of course returns as one of the sexiest shirtless zombies I’ve ever seen. The only question is—why did this zombie decide to put his pants back on?
Anyway, the film revolves an abandoned prison, a funeral, and a bunch of friends pulling out the good old Ouija board in the prison.
Up from the ground come the zombies—hooded, red-eyed executioner zombies from way back when (not sure why they were buried IN the prison). There aren’t many of them, so this isn’t a major zombie film in any way. Just a couple of undead baddies. The film is short, and needs to be. There are limited on screen deaths backed by some not-so-convincing acting. The actual climax of the film is the most entertaining, with one character running back and forth past the apparently dimwitted executioner zombies, who barely get a swing in with their sharp weapons.
I’m not even trying to compare, but when the friends all come back from the dead and pursue the sole survivor, there’s a tiny moment where I’m reminded of one of my favorite films, Night of the Demons. It’s only fleeting, believe me. Do not hunt this film down if you are a Night of the Demons fan. Or if you are a zombie fan. Or if you want a homoerotic DeCoteau film.
As if David DeCoteau didn’t even throw us a…um…bone in his living dead prison movie, we move on to an even less male-oriented film.
SHADOW: DEAD RIOT (2006)
Shadow: Dead Riot is pretty much a female/blaxplotation film posing as a prison zombie movie.
Tony Todd is the man in this film. I’ve had the hots for him since I first saw him in Candyman, and have wanted his hook in me ever since (or at least to be chained on the log with him with honey rubbed all over my body, too). He’s so big and imposing, with that sexy evil voice. Anyway, in this film, he is prisoner “Shadow,” and he goes all Rasta, with dreads and teeth he files to points. The film opens with him being executed, but things don’t go that well for the executioners thanks to supernatural voodoo goodness.
Cut to the present, and the male prison has now become a women’s correctional facility. And so begins Reform School Girls in Da Hood! There’s no Wendy O. Williams, but there is a black female body builder who reminds me of that Sheneneh chick Martin Lawrence used to dress up as on his sitcom.
Anyway, for almost an hour, we are treated to female shower scenes filled with tattooed naked chicks, locker room cat fights, lesbian feel-ups and kissing, and a pervy old white male doctor prowling on the female inmates.
Finally, all hell breaks loose, and it’s a fricking free-for-all. If I can follow correctly, the lead female character sort of brings “Shadow” (Tony Todd) back to life with some sort of psychic powers she has and by touching a symbol he had carved in the floor of his cell (which is now hers). The doctor turns the women into mega-powerful “zombies” that bleed from the eyes by injecting them with Shadow’s blood as part of his own diabolical experiment. Then the women help Shadow unleash all the dead male inmate zombies from the ground by bleeding on the lawn outside the prison (you wouldn’t believe how many female prisoners bleed on the lawn in this movie).
Anyway, once the horror finally begins (the horror that isn’t all that skanky lesbianism), we get some freaky looking male zombies infiltrating the prison, plenty of gore and gut munching, a nasty zombie baby birth scene, and the female lead character going all Crouching Tiger levitation karate on Shadow’s ass. This one is definitely meant to be watched by a bunch of inebriated people at a party.
ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (1987)
Men’s prison is where I want to be, and 1987’s Zombie Death House takes us there. The ever hunky John Saxon, after doing loads of horror films in the 70s and 80s, decided to direct this one, as well as play a role in it. But he’s overshadowed by the lead, Dennis Cole. Anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s will recognize this piece of blond beefcake, who was actually married to Jaclyn Smith for a while. He also appeared on Charlie’s Angels, as well as dozens of other TV shows like Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Trapper John M.D., The Fall Guy, and The A-Team. He was like a professional guest star.
In Zombie Death House, Dennis spends the first 20 minutes of the movie in a virtual mob flick, screwing the “boss’s” girl until the boss catches on and has him framed. Dennis arrives at the prison and is greeted by many catcalls from the prisoners already in their cells (one of whom comments on how he’d like to see Dennis bending over). Yeah, pretty gay. I was hoping for a cavity search scene like in Jeff Stryker’s classic gay porn Powertool, but alas. Yet, the gayness doesn’t end there. Dennis’s enemy behind bars is a big beefy mob daddy who wears half shirts and has a pretty new wave blond cellmate who looks like one of the “straight” members of numerous early 80s synthpop bands. The couple even has a poster of Dolph Lundgren hanging on the wall in their cell. And later on, one of the prison wardens gets the pretty boy alone and…well, you can imagine the rest. Crazy.
Before I forget, this is also supposed to be a zombie film. This time around, John Saxon is involved in some sort of virus testing…on prisoners. Things begin with them bleeding from the nose. The first to turn into a zombie looks like old school Michael Jackson in the “Thriller” video. All hell breaks loose. Prisoners go crazy, prisoners go zombie. There’s a reference to one character’s love of Twinkies, which is ironic, since that was a theme in Zombieland. Not sure I would say it was an homage to this movie though.
Dennis Cole has a sex dream about the female scientist trying to stop the outbreak so that we can have at least ONE naked female moment in this all-male prison film. Despite its clear b-movie cred, the zombies are pretty cool, there’s some fun gore, and there’s one awesome scene in a narrow hall where zombie hands reach through the prison bars, which reminds me of something out of an early Resident Evil game.
Aside from the melodramatic subplots involving all the characters, the other disappointment is the “family-friendly” outcome – there are children involved, but none of them, um, bites it.
DEAD MEN WALKING (2005)
I’ve saved the best for last. 2005’s Dead Men Walking is everything I want in a zombie film, including no mercy for the little ones! Bwah hah hah! My only problem with this film is that the voice track on the DVD isn’t synced properly, so at times, it’s like watching a Godzilla movie! People seem to hate this movie in online reviews, but I’m not sure what more they want from a zombie flick, because this one seriously delivers. I mean, I’d sooner watch this film than ever watch 28 Days Later again. EVER.
Where as Zombie Death House takes almost an hour to get into the zombie action, Dead Men Walking opens with a dude blasting away zombies in a house. But the law doesn’t see it that way, and he’s off to jail for murder. Unfortunately, he has already been infected, so he brings the infection along with him. Soon, he’s spewing up his guts on prisoners and wardens. Make contact with this guy’s bodily fluids, and you’re as good as living dead.
This film features running zombies, some serious gut munching, and old school disemboweling. The special effects and zombie looks are awesome, and there’s intense atmosphere, eerie lighting, and good jump scares. There’s a lot of contemporary shaky cam and choppy editing, but it’s never used to hide any lack of gore effects – those moments are the full Monty and the camera actually sits still to show all! There are also plenty of hot guys and yet another single blonde female trying to stop the outbreak! Plus, there’s vile kid mutilation! Oh no they didn’t! You won’t see that in a Hollywood film.
My overall favorite line in this film is when one of the guards gets puked on and barks, “I just dry cleaned this shit!” It’s a subtle nuance that shows the writer was thinking of what an actual person might say in a situation like this if he had no idea he was just covered in zombie puke. Dead Men Walking is definitely one of my favorite zombie films in my collection, and the one prison zombie film worth seeing out of these four titles. But just be warned. It kind of cheats and borrows the ending from a zombie classic, which is unfortunate, because walking away with that final cliché can tend to negate any appreciation some viewers might have for all that comes before it.