Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras
Screenplay : Mike Lyddon, Will Frank, & Karl DeMolay
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Matt James (MacGuffin), Lorelei Fuller (Evil Go-Go Dancer), Jason Deas (Ninja), John Sinclair (Radio DJ), Keith Bien (Galileo), Roy "Rusty" Jackson (Bureaucratic Angel), Jerry Morris (Cajun Chef)
Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras, an ultra-low-budget horror comedy made by three friends and funded by a Louisiana psychiatrist, was released straight to video in 1999 and, from those who bothered to give a look, received some utterly awful reviews. Net critic James Berardinelli called it "the worst professionally produced film I have had the displeasure of sitting through," while Robert Firsching, whose web site The Amazing World of Cult Movies is a treasure trove of insightful and often humorous writing about obscure flicks, called it a "dreadful dungheap" that is "akin to being trapped in a fraternity basement while a bunch of beer-swilling dorks you can't stand show you taped-together reels of their Mardi Gras vacation."
Nevertheless, the movie generated something of a cult following, and it played successfully at the 1999 New York Underground Film Festival and the Light + Screen Film Festival. And now, two years later, the movie has gained enough notoriety that it is being given a limited theatrical run.
Cult following or not, the simple fact is, Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras is a terrible, terrible movie. And this is not the kind of "good terrible" that lends itself to a guilty camp enjoyment. This is genuinely terrible as in unbearable. Even though it was shot on a budget of only $5,000, Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras looks more like it was shot for about $50.
The plot is incoherent to the point that the movie becomes unwatchable. There is no way that anyone could sit down, watch this movie, and understand at all what is going on (I was only able to understand what was happening because I had a three-page, detailed plot synopsis to follow while I watched it).Of course, that is the point. Believe it or not, Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras is a dual homage to B-movie king Roger Corman and counter-cinema pioneer Jean-Luc Godard.
The movie's shoddy visual look is the homage to Corman: The filmmakers used outdated Kodak X black-and-white reversal film and lit their scenes with inappropriate filters in order to purposefully achieve a murky, ill-defined, impenetrable image (this is, without doubt, one of the most visually ugly movies I have ever watched). It looks like a home movie from the early 1950s that has been languishing in someone's basement for 50 years, which is, ostensibly, the filmmakers' intention.
The homage to Godard is the film's unconventional narrative. There is a linear story buried in the movie about an occultist and a go-go dancer who give rise to a zombie that then terrorizes Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. However, that story is surrounded by endless subplots and scenes that serve absolutely no purpose beyond their own existence. Aliens, a ninja, and a young couple mired in their own existentialism wander through the movie from time to time with no real purpose. There are a few moments of humor (such as when a couple has a banal argument in a diner while Zombie! slaughters people just outside the window), and plenty of drunk women baring their breasts (the film was shot during two consecutive Mardi Gras weeks), but mostly the movie just wanders around aimlessly, much like its titular living dead character.
While on paper this dual homage almost seems like a clever idea, in practice it doesn't work because what the filmmakers have done is take certain cinematic practices and strip them of their meaning, rendering them disingenuous. In other words, the movie is not so much an homage to Corman and Godard as it is a rip-off. For instance, although Roger Corman's no-budget black-and-white films of the 1950s looked terrible, he did not purposefully set out to make them look that way. He tried to make the best movies he could under the given circumstances, and the shoddy end products were simply the result of the economic crunch of quickie B-rate moviemaking. The idea that the makers of Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras would take their tiny budget and then seek for ways to make their movie look even worse borders on the ludicrous.
However, most disconcerting is their adoption of Godard's counter-cinema film practices. Starting with A bout de souffle (Breathless) in 1959, Jean-Luc Godard challenged the hegemony of Hollywood narrative and visual conventions for political and intellectual purposes. He had something to say in his movies, and even though everyone didn't get it or appreciate it, there was method to his madness. Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras, on the other hand, has no method, only madness. One begins to question whether the filmmakers were really serious about their dual homage to Corman and Godard, or whether they have simply used it as an excuse to justify a rambling, ugly piece of work that would otherwise be unworthy of anyone's attention.
©2001 James Kendrick