A few years back, a stylish black and white short called “Nerve” was making the film festival and convention rounds. Written, directed, and starring newcomer Jose Prendes, “Nerve” was the story of a man – possibly a dead man – possessing a psychic link to a serial killer who had abducted his son. It was an interesting little piece, not entirely successful. The major drawbacks – muddy sound, a starring role for the abysmal curiosity Conrad Brooks (infamous for being a surviving member of Ed Wood’s stable), and, sadly, the inappropriate casting of the director in the lead. Prendes is just not a strong enough personality – coming off as a marble-mouthed lightweight throughout the piece. Where the movie succeeded, however, was in attempting to do something different, with an intricate story and impressive production values.
With “Nerve” winning accolades, Prendes decided to make a feature, incorporating his short into an even bigger story. The new movie, “Corpses Are Forever”, is a loud, colorful, exceptionally photographed mush of zombies, espionage, and intrigue. The plot here is even more intricate – to the point of incomprehensibility – over-flowing with characters and situations, and yet, it still suffers from the same exact problems (and possesses the same exact virtues) as the shorter “Nerve”.
Prendes is back again, alternately playing the personages of ‘Grant’ and ‘Quinn’. The go-teed ‘Grant’ is a super-spy involved in a military experiment – it seems that the world is over-run, yet again, by those pesky undead, and the only way to stop it is to find the patient zero, who happens to be old black-and-white ‘Quinn’ from “Nerve”. So ‘Grant’ is injected with ‘Quinn’s’ memories (thanks to a serum based on the man’s DNA), and we travel through the story of “Nerve” for a while. When he comes out of his trip down ‘Quinn’s’ memory lane, he finds himself involved in a military power struggle – the leads represented by b-movie superstars Stevens (scientist), Lynch (evil general) and Rochon (‘Grant’s’ wife, dressed in a black vinyl cat-suit for most of the film – which should clue you in as to why Prendes opted for the main role again). As it turns out, zombies are again a new race introduced by the Devil, but he created a plot that requires him – the Prince of Darkness – to jump through a lot of mortal hoops to carry out his plan. The Lord of Lies is the king of micromanaging, as it turns out, but a little murky on the big picture.
Thanks to Alvero Rangel’s photography, “Corpses are Forever” looks fantastic. Prendes emptied his entire trust fund into the production and it looks it. Stevens, Lynch, Rochon and Linnea Quigley (playing a character that is primarily – and annoyingly – deus ex machina) are all in top form. Even “Sleepaway Camp”’s Felissa Rose pops up, starring in one of the film’s most harrowing, disturbing scenes. There are zombies galore, in make-up ranging from fantastic to “what the hell is that supposed to be?” There are shots in this film suitable for framing.
But Prendes made a big mistake putting himself in the starring role. ‘Grant’ isn’t a smooth badass Bond, or a rugged Indiana Jones. He comes off like a nerdy teenager having a fantasy about saving the head cheerleader from the baddies. His limited repertoire of kung-fu moves are employed ad nauseum, but without confidence. He just doesn’t work – neither as ‘Grant’ or ‘Quinn’. At least Conrad Brooks is limited to the “Nerve” pieces and doesn’t return for any additional scenes (though a stand-in is employed near the end that almost makes you wish for the real thing – yeah, it’s that bad!). Virtually everyone else is terrific, even when it’s clear that they haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Lynch and Quigley, in particular, seem to be having a great time. But too much time is spent following ‘Grant’/’Quinn’ around, and too little is dedicated the rest of the cast. Unlike the current indie trend of sticking b-stars into movies at random, a lot of thought obviously went into the casting choices, so you wish they had been used to a greater effect.
“Corpses” is trying hard, to be sure. Prendes is directing his a*s off – that much is apparent – and the script must have made sense to him. Right? But he also wants to have it both ways. With a name like “Corpses Are Forever” (and a promised sequel titled “The Corpse Who Loved Me”), you’re expecting a parody, but the movie plays it straight – most attempts at humor fall flat because it’s so out of place. But it’s almost like the parody element is implied as a safety net (“Didn’t you get it? It was a comedy!”). The plot is filled with so many twists, it ends up doubling back on itself, but to no great effect. Ultimately, you watch it, stuff happens, and most people are going to be okay with that. A larger helping of gore might have helped him over some of the trouble spots, pacing-wise, but he should be commended as well for restraint in this area. It’s a gutsy movie; it just doesn’t work.
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