Just how thin our pop-cultural vogue for zombies can be stretched is the pressing question behind “It Stains the Sands Red,” which hinges almost entirely on the suspense that can be wrung from one woman fighting off one bitey, bitey z-man. Is that premise enough for a feature? Not this one, not quite, although Colin Minihan’s film and his leading lady Brittany Allen can’t be faulted for lack of trying. Watchable if never really scary or funny enough to leave a memorable impression, this middling endeavor should nonetheless pull in a fair number of home-viewing horror fans with its offbeat theme and lurid title.
An impressive opening CGI shot shows Las Vegas in smoking chaos, presumably due to an outbreak of the undead. Fleeing that mess are Molly (Allen) and Nick (Merwin Mondesir), a crass couple whose precise alliance is vague (flashbacks make it clear that she’s a stripper, but whether he’s her lover, dealer, pimp or all the above is a bit murky). Not that it matters for long. Driving down an untrafficked desert road to a remote airstrip where they’ve secured spots on a small plane getting the hell outta Dodge, their car gets stuck in the vicinity of a lone, fugly albeit suit-and-tie-clad zombie (Juan Riedinger).
Nick runs out of bullets trying to stop the unstoppable man-thing, leaving the living duo no option but to hide in their auto until “it” shambles somewhere else. When it seemingly does … well, suffice it to say Nick’s role here is not a lengthy one. Grabbing a few water bottles, assorted recreational drugs and a phone (which contrary to modern horror cliché actually does work, complete with GPS), panicked Molly commences the only path left to her: hiking 36 miles cross-country to the airstrip.
She soon discovers, alas, that she has a companion: That walking corpse won’t go away, seemingly drawn by the scent of her, um, fresh meat. At first it’s easy enough to outpace his lurching progress. But unlike Molly, “he” is not at risk of sunstroke or dehydration; he never needs to rest, let alone sleep. He’s even dressed more appropriately, as her fun fur, bustier, leopard-print tights and platform heels are not exactly wilderness-ready gear.
This one-on-one peril gets monotonous fast, and while Allen sustains the film with a committed performance, Molly is nonetheless something of a cliché — the wisecracking “bad girl” with a heart of gold — whose killing-time monologues to her uncomprehending pursuer aren’t that amusing or revealing. Likewise, her crises are staged effectively enough, but seldom take us by surprise. When she makes “friends” with the thing she’s by now dubbed Smalls (a dig at his imagined organ size), his taming makes no sense whatsoever beyond the fact that the film has simply exhausted the potential of their relationship as nemeses.
Nor does the movie improve itself by eventually mining a flashback-driven sentimental core in which we glean all wayward Molly ever really wanted was to be a good mommy to the child she abandoned. (This factor squares rather poorly with the film’s effortfully badass closing-credits “thanks” to such inspirations as Charles Manson, Anton LaVey and Jeffrey Dahmer.)
Admittedly, it’s very hard to pull off this kind of drastically downscaled primal conflict — even one eventually expanded by a few additional characters, which also allows some late-arriving extra gore. One senses that this conceit is best suited for a shorter narrative format. In fact, it’s already been proven so: A decade ago, Richard Gale’s cult-favorite $600 wonder “The Horribly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon” got wilder, funnier mileage out of a similar idea in just 10 minutes.
That said, Minihan’s film still holds attention against the odds, however unevenly. The director, who with co-writer Stuart Ortiz (as “The Vicious Brothers”) crafted prior B-horrors “Grave Encounters” and “Extraterrestrial,” again proves resourceful within limited means. His well-turned overall package is nicely shot by DP Clayton Moore, making good use of impressive locations in Nevada’s Valley of Fire park region, with a decent score by Canadian electro-punk unit Blitz//Berlin.