Take a look at that DVD cover. Upon seeing it, maybe you think “What’s this? A zombie movie I haven’t heard of? How did this happen? I want to see it!”. That’s when I let you know that Zombie Nation is a very low budget straight-to-DVD film with no big names attached. Upon hearing this, you might go “Oh. Well, that doesn’t matter. It should still have lots of fun zombie killing and cheesy action, right? I mean, a whole nation of zombies? Sounds sweet!”. And that’s when I try to explain how it’s a god-awful movie, but at that point, you might have already left to try to find the film, giddy about the ensuing thrillfest such a movie is sure to provide. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. If not, hear me out.
At the time of this writing, Zombie Nation sits at #10 on IMDB’s list of worst rated movies ever, just a spot above the tasteless Paris Hilton college comedy Pledge This. This is fitting, since Zombie Nation recently displaced Pledge This as the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen any of the nine films that’s ahead of it, and I can assure you that I don’t want to. It’s not that I can’t imagine a movie being worse than Zombie Nation, because I can. It’s just that I prefer not to.
Take another look at the DVD cover above. If there’s anything about it that appeals to you, know that it is a complete lie. The zombie pictured looks okay, but there is nothing in the movie even remotely resembling it. And if it’s not the art that draws you in but the title, that’s hogwash too. There is no massive outbreak of the undead going on, unless you count half a dozen zombies as “massive”.
And they sure take their sweet time to show up. Most of the movie centers around police officer Joe Singer (Günther Ziegler) who has a penchant for abducting and killing women. Said women eventually rise from the dead to exact revenge on him. Until that happens (way into the movie’s second half), we get to witness a potpourri of nonsensical scenes and soon-to-be-abandoned plot treads. A fellow cop investigates the strange disappearances (only to vanish halfway through the film with no mention, despite arguably being the hero to that point). A strange voodoo ceremony featuring snakes and spiders (don’t ask where they end up going). Two people beating each other up (their punches clearly whiffing wildly) in a Fight Club-esque setting. The most random and unworthy Maraton Man reference ever (“Is it safe?”). And a liberal sprinkling of recurring flashbacks to a hospital patient getting his ass caned by a sadistic doctor. Don’t expect this to make any sense whatsoever as the film progresses.
The man behind this mess is Ulli Lommel, who as an actor frequently worked with esteemed director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Having since moved on to a his own career in directing, it’s clear little of what Fassbinder did has rubbed off on Lommel. There is nothing competent about Zombie Nation. The story is incomprehensible, as mentioned in the above paragraph. The movie looks ugly as sin, the kind of ugly that burns the eyes. At times it seems like the film might be some kind of subversive parody. For instance, the scenes happening at the police station are blatantly framed to reveal that it’s taking place on a set in a warehouse. But there is little else to suggest that this trainwreck is intentional. A bad film is a bad film, but there is something very unsettling about not being able to tell whether crap is to be taken at face value or not.
I refuse to accept the lack of budget as an excuse for the movie being bad. Shane Carruth had but a modest $7000 to work with when he made the compelling time travel yarn Primer, and while I suspect Zombie Nation might have been even cheaper, there are clearly ways to play to the strengths of the genre you’re in even if money isn’t abundant. Instead, here we get zombie make-up that consists of nothing more than black smudge around the eyes, making the supposed undead look more like raccoons than anything. The perturbed man seen on the DVD cover is an extravagance in comparison. And don’t get your hopes up violence-wise either. There is a scene or two of bloody murder, but this is still a film that for its title spends a disproportionately small amount of time on zombies and gore.
So if we establish that this is indeed a turd of a film, the question becomes “Is it so bad that it’s good?”. I’m afraid I can’t answer that. I’m not much of a connoisseur of legendarily bad cinema, having never seen Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: Hands of Fate, Trolls 2 or The Room. I’m sure there are some who will be able to find some entertainment in the random nature of the plot, the narmy acting and the unmeasurable goofs in the production. That is not me, though. I’m not wired that way. I was too busy shaking with rage at the mess taking place on the screen to find it funny. I’d like to think I’m not prone to hyperbole, so it is with certain confidence that I say that I could probably make a better movie than this. And I’ve never worked with film before, much less with any Fassbinders.
For me, Zombie Nation is entirely without merits. If you want a zombie film, go watch Dawn of the Dead. If you want silly b-movie fun, go watch Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. If you want blood and guts, go watch Inside. But please don’t watch Zombie Nation. Please.