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Saturday, December 21, 2013

ZOMBIE HAMLET -- DVD review by porfle

If you like madcap mockumentaries,  zombies, and Shakespeare, then ZOMBIE HAMLET (2012) may be just the low-budget indy mish-mash you didn't even know you were looking for.

Filmmakers seem to have fun making movies on shoestring budgets that are about how much fun it is making movies on shoestring budgets.  Here, aspiring writer-director Osric Taylor (Travis Wester) and his producer-partner Kate Spangler (Vanessa Lee Evigan) find themselves stuck with a fraction of the millions originally promised them by sleazy movie mogul Jerry (John de Lancie, best known as "Q" on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), and are forced to turn their epic Civil War-era version of "Hamlet" into a Southern-fried zombie flick.

Their Louisiana shooting location is the antebellum home of reclusive romance author Hester Beauchamps (June Lockhart) and her blonde granddaughter Annabelle, who wins both Osric's heart and the leading lady role in his movie.  June is one of the film's major delights, displaying a flair for dizzy farce that wasn't called for too often on "Petticoat Junction."

She's matched by "Good Times" vet John Amos as her shrewd, no-nonsense lawyer Edgar Mortimer, whose suspicions about these "Hollywood types" are proven correct when Hester suddenly dies and the filmmakers must pretend she's still alive (with Osric himself dressing in drag to impersonate her) in order to retain access to her bank account.

Amos is delectably deadpan while threatening Osric ("I'm a Louisiana lawyer--I can do anything I want!") lest he try to take advantage of Hester, and much of the fun centers around Mortimer's dogged attempts to get the goods on him.  Voodoo rears its ugly head at one point when Osric seeks a high-risk loan from some scary backwoods types. All of this is taped documentary-style for the eventual DVD by goofy makeup guy  Lester (Brendan Michael Coughlin), a local who sees the film as his ticket out of town.  Coughlin is very likable as the dorky Lester eventually starts taking his "documentarian" duties way too enthusiastically.

Shelley Long turns up as local TV gossip queen Shine Reynolds and proves that she's still a deft comedienne as her character gleefully eavesdrops on the secretive production.  Rounding out this impressive cast is Jason Mewes (JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK,  SILENT BUT DEADLY) as action star Zack Buckley, coming to the film's rescue at the request of his former girlfriend Kate.  Mewes handles the role of the self-impressed but not too bright star with just the right measure of drollness, while much fun comes from flashbacks of his previous action flicks. 

Naturally, the main draw of ZOMBIE HAMLET is watching the unholy communion between the Bard and the undead unfold right there on our screens, which does lead to much laughter even though it never achieves the all-out hilarity we're hoping for.  The pace rarely lets up and is helped along by lots of zippy visual exposition and cartoonish editing.

Director John Murlowski (SANTA WITH MUSCLES) and first-time screenwriter John McKinney go for broke with a really big slapstick sequence late in the film that doesn't quite come off, but for the most part they manage to keep things on track nicely and tie up all the loose ends for a satisfying fadeout.

The DVD from Level 33 Entertainment is widescreen with 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of trailers from this and other Level 33 films.  The main titles sequence is a cool montage of scenes from various Shakespeare and zombie films.

This briskly-paced cinematic amusement park ride hits the ground with its wheels spinning furiously and hardly lets up till the end.  ZOMBIE HAMLET proves that while "epic" may cost a lot of money, "funny" is limited only by the filmmakers' imaginations.

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