Zombie Hunter (2013) is the kind of movie I wanted to enjoy. It has all of the elements of a classic splatter flick: over-the-top comic gore, action, and Danny Trejo—who can still maintain the same level of cool even though his filmography looks like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-style sandwich. Plus, with a kind of gritty animation from a grindhouse flick established on the cover, one would think this movie would be a rollicking good time if only a little corny…but, it only gets a little rollicking and that doesn’t transfer to a good time.
The movie is directed by K. King, who also directed Cyborg X (2016), and produced both Zombie Hunter and a film that is currently in post-production titled The Dunes. While I’ve never heard of King, I think there should be some encomiums given for an explosively “going for it” first outing. I believe a lot of other directors would be timid when it comes to the violence associated with a splatter flick or the topic itself (zombie apocalypse), but King doesn’t pull away and this results in some pretty audacious attempts to shock the audience, including zombie decapitations and an axe fight between Trejo and a massive CGI train wreck.
The lead actor, Martin Copping, who both narrates and portrays Hunter, a “badass” in the wasteland of future zombie-plagued America, talks with a sort of Clint Eastwood grit that adds to the films grindhouse-theme, which also helps elevate his character, but inconsistent tone create a weird void where the viewer isn’t sure whether they are supposed to take him seriously or if they are supposed to treat him as a reluctant hero. It is so utterly important to nail a good character that an audience can relate to, but I think King leaned too heavily into his setting and forgot to punch up the on-screen personalities.
In regards to the plot, the audience comes to find out that the film has little to offer in the way of original story. It is similar to the Robert Rodriguez film Planet Terror (2007) in that the heroes of the film are trying to get to somewhere else (a storyline that maims so many prospective zombie thrillers), thus it becomes a generic monster movie fairly quickly.
If you will, I would like to sum up Zombie Hunter in this short bout of dialogue:
“Man, we are stuck here at Point A!” Hunter said.
“I know of a place where there is sunshine and women, and no zombies to be seen! It’s at a place called Point B!” replied a crazy old pilot guy who will undoubtedly die because he sucks.
While the same could be said of the finale of Dawn of the Dead (1978), I would argue that Director George Romero’s film was set in an iconic-looking mall where the heroes’ plan was to remain there within the walls of consumerist idolatry indefinitely, thus the characters are able to flesh themselves out in an organic and unique way through interaction. That’s how truly great horror movies are made, by examining the experience of the prospective victims and how it changes them.
Zombie Hunter, meanwhile, does not try to play with the clichés rife in the movie. For instance, consider all of the classic Zombie Hunter characters that appear throughout the story: dirty blond lady, ripped religious Mexican guy, petite shy girl who is hot for the protagonist, old pilot guy, and fat pervert. It’s like a terrible collection of Pogs.
Not to mention, Danny Trejo’s role as Jesus, a hard-boiled leader of the survivors, is seemingly restricted to where he as an actor could shoot scenes, which appear to be mostly from his living room. There is a dinner scene in the film where it looks like Trejo is sitting at the head of the communal table as the other characters sit around and converse with one another. The camera snaps around the room, catching pieces of exposition from the other characters, and then occasionally veers back to Trejo who is nodding and smiling in a completely separate shot, never really joining the scene with anyone else.
This sort of lameness extends to the unnecessary CGI antagonist, which has no practical effect (literally), nor does it act as a separate antagonist. It merely appears, kills characters, and leaves; or, in the case of the finale, randomly shambles about in the background because the effects department didn’t know where to put it or what to do with it. The rest of the CGI comes off cleaner—but not by much.
The ideas are on the screen, but they just aren’t executed well, which I think is a good summation of the film.