Zombie Brigade would be more accurately titled Vampire Brigade, but I guess that didn’t sound macho or ominous enough. What we have here is an enjoyable Ozploitation flick from the 80s about a town in the middle of nowhere wanting to build a theme park using money from a Japanese investor. The problem is that there is already something on the land, a concrete war memorial. The town council, being a bunch of odious idiots, just goes ahead and blows up the monument with dynamite the day the investor arrives instead of just moving it ahead of time like the land developer in Poltergeist. But if they had thought ahead there wouldn’t have been a fun movie to watch because this monument is, unbeknownst to them, a big grave full of soldiers who came back from the Vietnam War with a virus that makes them undead undead undead. And blowing it up caused them to be able to escape from the container the government had sealed them in. Now they are on the loose right as the town is throwing a big party to welcome the Japanese guy who wants to hand over lots of money.
Not only the title is misleading. The description on Tubi lies and says the monsters are under the park, which conjures up thoughts of a carnival with brightly lit rides and lots of people running away from zombies. In truth the park is not built yet, and the town is sparsely populated and even darker than your average low budget movie town. Which is to say that it’s hard to see what goes on in this movie. Luckily the filmmakers got around this by setting over half the movie the next day after the initial invasion, because these zombies, being vampires, are hiding from the sunlight. So what you get is a lot of character development and planning for what to do when the undead come out again that night along with the people they have bitten who are now also monsters. For most of the film the Japanese character Kinoshita is missing, and he finally returns wearing the mascot costume of the theme park’s star attraction who is a Voltron type robot, and you think he’s gonna kill himself some vampires but he’s actually turned into one of them and also immediately gets killed. Wat?
I know I’m not making this sound good, but there actually is quite a bit of intentional humor. It’s fun to watch everyone try to figure out what to do, even if the ending doesn’t make a lot of sense. At the time I first saw this movie it was during the wild west era of Roku channels that anyone could put up if they could afford to host, and it was on a channel that I think was called Cultarama along with some other Australian horror movies. Watching it back then I also liked it a lot, and also found that it kind of defied description and so I never reviewed it on my blog. The lead actor was the only thing I actually remembered about the film. His name is John Moore and he’s got quite a few credits. The female lead, Khym Lam, is a real actor too, and she also steals the show by jumping on stage with the band at the party. There’s also a cop that kind of broke my heart because he’s slowly turning into a vampire while trying to help everyone else defeat them, played by Leslie Wright.
This is a classic exploitation film which means it takes issues like racism, as well as the way that TPTB waste young people on their stupid wars, and puts them in corpse makeup to get your attention. Jimmy, the main character I’m referring to, is an indigenous Australian who had gone off to school in a city at some point but financial troubles meant he had to return to the crappy town depicted in the movie, which means that of course the people who never left the town are scornful of him. (Digression: I hate that trope. “You used to live somewhere else, so fuck you.” There are whole multi season TV comedies based on that same idea looking right at you Doc Martin and Ballykissangel and they’re not funny.) But Jimmy, along with his wise uncle Charlie who they turn to to defeat the brigade, is pretty much the smartest person in the town. The aforementioned Khym Lam plays a woman called Yoshie from Singapore who arrives with the Japanese investor as his assistant/mistress (and naturally the townsfolk are racists against them too) who joins up with Jimmy pretty early, and she kind of represents the world outside that Jimmy almost made it to, and that these local people don’t appreciate. She even makes a speech to Jimmy about how she loved living in Tokyo because there were so many different kinds of people there.
Anyway, it’s obviously going to be a mess thematically because it’s a horror comedy trying to make more than one Big Point, but it’s a fun watch. It reminded my husband and me both of another low budget zombie movie that’s a favorite of ours, the Troma relase Garden of the Dead. But Zombie Brigade is a little more self-aware than that one, which is an upgrade we got in horror sometime between the 70s and 80s.
I’m never sure if exploitation movies are over the top to get you to pay attention to the metaphors, or the metaphors are thrown in as an attempt to legitimize an over the top movie. Probably both, depending on the movie and the director. You can always find something deeper if you’re already looking for it, and that’s the magic of postmodern criticism. Shazam!