This was topped a few months ago when I wrote an entry giving some very brief reviews of a handful of zombie movies I had recently seen. Christine Parker, the director of one of them also replied to my entry. She thanked me for the honest review and offered to send me a copy of her new film to see if I would like to write a review for that too.
So I finally got around to watching the film today, and what follows will be my thoughts about the film. There is a degree of pressure this time around as there is a huge difference between writing a glib review that only your mates will see and writing a review of someones work when you know they will be reading your words. The deal was that I will be honest though, so I will strive to be that.
FISTFUL OF BRAINS:
Christine Parker's second outing (this follows The Forever Dead) is the third Zombie Western Ive seen but the first to get both the tone and the setting right. "Undead Or Alive" was a comedy more akin to Jackie Chan's "Shanghai Noon" while "The Quick And The Undead" had very much the spaghetti western tone but had a contemporary rather than period setting.
The pacing in the first 1/3 of the film lets it down a little. Some scenes are brushed over far too quickly robbing some sequences of their full potential in terms or both drama and (possibly more importantly) their full horror. Other scenes are left to drag somewhat and unnecessarily delay the arrival of the action. Before we hit the halfway point the film finds its own rhythm and it marches along quite nicely right to the end.
Some of the acting performances vary wildly. Often the standards seem to be of daytime soap-opera quality, but equally there are many game characterisations and the impression is very much created that everyone on screen was there very much because they wanted to be there.
Some of the characters come across as a little 2-D but all the great Western stereo-types are accounted for (from mule skinners to whores). The presence of the zombies help keep everyone interesting though. You will have seen versions of these characters dozens of times before but you will never have had to see them react to zombies before, which I guess is partly the reason why a zombie-western is such an exciting proposition.
This film is a huge improvement on "Forever Dead." Higher production values are present in many forms but are most visible in the form of decent sets. Too many independent zombie films are set almost entirely in empty warehouses. "Fistful" also has its fair share of good horror set pieces. The ripping out of a man's (intact) rib-cage and the biting off of a very fake looking breast are two of the highlights but are also fairly representative of what I'm learning is the trademark Parker humour.
Its always great to see independent zombie films being made, and this is head and shoulders above most of the ones I have seen. When watching it I found myself caught in the dichotomy of both admiring its independent and inventive production while simultaneously imagining what the finished product would have looked like if it was backed by Hollywood blockbuster levels of resources. I cant really answer that question but the gap between the two was considerably smaller on this film than in "Forever Dead."
I would have no problem in recommending this film to other zombie freaks like myself. I guess the more telling question is would I recommend the film to people who are considerably less into zombies then me (i.e. most normal people)? The answer is probably yes. If I was trying to impress a non-zombie fan this may not be the first film I would reach for but its definitely something I would put on the table. its independent production being part of what makes it so positive rather than the excuse why it isnt actually better.
As a P.S. I would say that the one thing I did miss from the first film was the zombie bunny. Tonally there was no space for that in this film but I think the production company is missing a trick not having the bunny in its production somewhere, either like the MGM lion in the start of its movies or just in the logo somewhere. Just a thought.