“ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction” is part of a rare breed: a horror-comedy that’s actually consistently funny and occasionally almost scary. Unbelievably violent even by zombie-movie standards, the film is nonetheless weirdly good-natured and often quite clever, and reps a promising start for debut director-scripter Kevin Hamedani. Though it’s a bit too roughly hewn to have much theatrical life, the film should get plenty of play in its natural habitat — on DVD and at midnight screenings near college campuses.
Heavily indebted to George Romero (as any good zombie film ought to be), “ZMD” uses the familiar genre trappings to satirize homophobia and the jingoism and xenophobia that flourished around the beginning of the Iraq War. These subjects are so exhausted that they can barely be roused for the ribbing, so it’s fortunate that the film opts to tackle them through twisted humor rather than through preaching or heavy-handed symbolism.
Set in the conservative island community of Fort Gamble, Wash., in 2003, the film offers parallel stories of two outcast residents: Frida (Janette Armand), an Iranian college student coping with the community’s suspicions that she’s a terrorist, and Tom (Doug Fahl), a gay businessman reluctantly returning to town with his boyfriend (Cooper Hopkins) to come out to his mother.
Come nightfall, a wave of lurching zombies descends on the scene, and small-town prejudices come to the fore. The redneck contingent suspects Middle Eastern terrorism, while the bingo-loving churchgoers are certain the gays are somehow to blame, and the two protags are forced to make allies of the hostile townfolk to survive the onslaught. The targets here are easy ones, the stereotypes stale and unfair, but somehow it all works more often than not.
The early going is a little slow, but once the action starts, pic hits its stride and offers a steady stream of sharp jokes and gruesome setpieces (a truly shocking sight gag early on indicates the filmmakers are game for just about anything). Director Hamedani proves impressively capable of conveying total apocalypse on a budget, as well as maintaining a light, cartoonish tone through increasingly horrific mayhem.
Bloody, old-school special effects are very ably and cleverly pulled off, and the score nods to the Moog-heavy music of the pic’s late-’70s inspirations.