Horrid (2009)


USA. 2009.


Director/Screenplay/Photography/Digital Effects/Special Effects Supervisor – James Pronath, Producers – Mike Jorgenson, James Pronath & Jim Van Vonderen, Music – Brad Althouse, Special Effects – Four Finger Effects. Production Company – Six Foot Hamster Films


Roland Williams (Matt Clemens), Kevin Kiser (John), Kyle Berg (Craig), Liz Ribarchek (Maria), Amber Rae Halama (Valerie), Chase Stoeger (Private), Josh Mijal (Mark), Rex Sikes (Dr Roberts), Lindsey Gagliano (Jenny), Joe Drilling (Rodney), Charles Ramsey (Mac), Michela Kealey (Gabriella), Robyn Starkey (Lab Tech), Jim Van Vonderen (Jimmy), Erin Einbender (Helen), Scott Annala (Uncle John Clemens), Melissa Murphy (Patient Zero)


Two Milwaukee friends, Matt and Craig, take a third friend John out on a drinking binge for his bachelor’s party. After being thrown out of a stripper bar, they decide to head up to Matt’s Uncle John’s house in the northwoods. In a bar in the nearby town, they start partying with three girls before the brother of one of the girls breaks this up. They continue partying back at the house. Unknown to them, military and scientists have been in the area trying to stop a patient with an infection that gives them an insatiable need for human flesh. The patient has infected Uncle John and others before being shot. An infected soldier now breaks into the house, seeking a sample of John’s blood to create an antidote but manages to contaminate several of the group. The group now have to deal with a spreading outbreak of zombies around the town, as well as the infection of their own number.

In the 00s, the low-budget zombie film has become a boom industry after the successes of films like 28 Days Later (2002), the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). These were followed by a stumbling horde of zombie films, mostly of the low-budget, amateur-made variety. Most of these come to uneven effect – with at least plentiful gore and any cracks in production values usually being papered over with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The zombie film tends to be limited in story possibilities – as seen here, Horrid follows the basic plot structure in most of the films involving outbreak, rapid spread of the zombie infection, followed by an apocalyptic siege to the death. Many of these films try to throw novelty in by coming up with wacky collusions or parody titles – Zombie Beach Party (2003), Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006), Ninjas vs Zombies (2008), Zombie Strippers! (2008), Attack of the Vegan Zombies! (2009) and Romeo and Juliet vs the Living Dead (2009) to name but a few. Horrid is another of the low-budget efforts – and it is certainly one of the better entries.

Horrid emerges mostly assured, although there are undeniable touches of amateurism. Director James Pronath, for instance, fails to create a fight in a bar simply by wobbling a handheld camera around a lot. Pronath does get it together in the later parts of the film where the siege and attack scenes are directed with a reasonable degree of furious energy. Horrid is surprisingly low on the copious gore that is almost de rigeur for this type of zombie film. The infection makeup is reasonable, although there is frequently a tendency for it to end at the neck or be seen covering people’s faces but not their chests or bare arms. The film arrives at a reasonable downbeat climax [SPOILER ALERT] where the hero (Kevin Kiser)’s girlfriend (Michela Kealey) arrives, leaving Kiser fighting off the now transformed Roland Williams as he tries to devour her, where he has to shoot both Williams and then her as she becomes infected, before trying to shoot himself in despair but finding the gun is empty and being forced to impale himself with a machete.

The casts in these low-budget/amateur productions are largely hit and miss. The filmmakers here have at least recruited a cast with some prior experience on stage and in commercials. As the leader of the group, Roland Williams is not too bad, playing with a cocky assurance that registers with an authenticity – you feel like he is essentially playing himself. On the other hand, Kyle Berg is completely wooden in everything he does. The girls are generally good with Amber Rae Halama playing with great enthusiasm even if her character’s behaviour fails to always hit a convincing note. The best performance in the film comes from Josh Mijal as the hick redneck brother who plays the part with a determined surliness that convinces whenever he is on screen. The one thing that the film does well in this respect is make the youth cast feel like real people. When you compare them to the bland, self-absorbed pretty people that turn up in a modern slasher films like say April Fool’s Day (2008), they feel like real early twentysomethings depicted doing the most natural things that their age group do – partying wild and crazy, having sex.

One of the best aspects of the film is the amazingly beautiful autumnal photography of the forest locations, which Pronath (who also doubles as cinematographer) manages to render in some of the most sumptuous golds and oranges possible. It is either an amazing job of timing the shooting to a period of the year when the seasons coincide or of transforming the locale cinematographically; in either instance, a sterling effort has been conducted. One also liked the visit near the start of the film to a Frankenstein-themed bar in Milwaukee – one has no idea if such a real world place exists but it is a place that this author would happily turn into his favourite watering hole.

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