Just in time for Presidents’ Day, here’s a little retro-review of this 2012 “mockbuster” from the fine folks at The Asylum.
Now, if you’re familiar with the output of that studio, you know in advance not to expect high art. I’m not saying all of their films are bad, I’ve seen many that I’ve found enjoyable for what they are. In a sense they’re like the softcore films that I review, you have to judge them by the standards of the genre that they’re in, which is not the same as mainstream films. For softcore films you want hot realistic sex scenes, with Asylum films you want mindless fun.
Written and directed by Richard Schenkman, based on a story by Karl Hirsch and Lauren Proctor, the film has a rather straightforward plot. During the height of the Civil War. President Lincoln personally leads a squad of a half-dozen Secret Service agents on a mission to a former Union fort in Georgie which has been overrun by Zombies. When they get there they find a group of Confederate soldiers led by General Stonewall Jackson, who are trapped inside and has to not only convince them that they are fighting the undead but to join together with them to contain the zombie outbreak before it spreads out across the country.
As far as plots go, it’s certainly not any more absurd than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the mainstream film (and novel) is clearly parodying. This totally could have worked better if the studio has simply put a bit more effort into its production. First, the script is illogical in several spots. It’s never exactly explained what’s causing the zombie outbreak. The zombies in this film are the traditional slow-moving zombies like from the Romero film, which I prefer over the more modern fast zombies, and they can also be attracted by sound. But sometimes the zombies are inconsistent in how they act, sometimes they’re faster than others, and there are several times when a zombie could bite someone, but doesn’t, just because the plot isn’t ready for that person to die, which lessens the feeling of them being such a threat. Several historical figures are needlessly shoehorned into the film, there’s a young boy named Teddy Roosevelt, whom Lincoln tells to “walk softly but carry a big stick” and Pat Garrett, a soldier whom Lincoln convinces to pursue a law enforcement career.
And there’s a plot twist that I saw coming a mile away. One of the Secret Service agents is John Wilkinson. When he acts extremely impressed to meet Stonewall Jackson, who is supposed to be their enemy, and casually mentions having experience as an actor, it’s clear that he’s actually John Wilkes Booth, who in this film is secretly a double agent for the Confederacy.
And the second, and biggest problem, is the budget. These are some very unconvincing-looking zombies. The makeup here is slightly higher than the level of a high school Halloween party. If they’d had Walking Dead-level special effects, it would have been easier for me to overlook the flaws in the script and enjoy the film.
The film also incorporates Lincoln’s assassination into the story, tying that to the zombie outbreak. I won’t spoil exactly how, but it didn’t make sense to me.
The only praise I can really give is to Bill Oberst Jr., who stars as Abraham Lincoln. He’s no Daniel Day-Lewis, but he plays the role with total sincerity. Actually, I could say that for all of the cast, they do their best with the material they’re given. I’ll also single out Debra Crittenden in a small role as Mary Todd Lincoln, Jason Hughley as the lone Black Secret Service agent (he’s the one who uses the name “zombies” to describe the undead, as the word comes from Africa), and Jason Vail as Wilkenson/Booth. They’re all fine, but they and this story could have been so much better.
Chacebook rating: THREE STARS
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