Attack of the Herbals (2011)

REVIEW BY: Jeffrey Long

Company:  Clear Focus
Runtime: 81 mins

Format: Screener

Plot: After years in exile, Jackson McGregor has returned to his grandparent's home in Lobster Cove, a small Scottish village where the daily routine consists of eating, sleeping, fishing... and drinking tea. After discovering a mysterious crate of herbal tea washed up on shore, Jackson, along with his friend Russell hatch a plan to sell the tea and save the village from a rich businessman. Unfortunately the tea given to the townspeople soon turns into a nightmare, and Jackson finds himself in a village of flesh-eating zombies.

Review: MTI Home Video recently got in touch with me and offered to send some screeners my way for some of their films, and since I'm always on the lookout for more screener opportunities of course I accepted. The first one that came my way for review is for a movie I've actually heard a bit about in the past, but isn't one I really followed progress on or knew a whole lot about. Attack of the Herbals is a horror/comedy in the vein of movies like Shaun of the Dead, Dead and Breakfast, Black Sheep, The Doghouse, and movies of that ilk, and it's about an old Nazi experiment during WWII that involved herbal tea that could turn whoever drank it into zombie-like creatures, and some remains of that experiment end up in present day in some small coastal Scottish town, and it's not long until it starts causing zombie havoc. That was pretty much all I knew about it going into it. This one I believe has already been released in the U.K. and some other European countries a couple years back, but just recently hit DVD over here in Canada and the U.S. thanks to MTI Home Video.

Unfortunately, the end result wasn't quite as much fun as I was hoping/expecting, given the very unique plot of herbal tea-created zombies. To start, the main lead is incredibly unlikable, which right off the bat makes it hard to really get into the movie. He's rude to pretty much everyone around him – his so-called friends, co-workers, grandparents, old bosses - but then expects those same people to bend over backwards for him over just about everything, and blames everything that goes wrong (even if its his fault) on everyone else...and yet all these people love him? Huh? The fact that this is a character we're supposed to connect with and sympathize with makes no sense to me because he's just so unlikable. There are antagonists in other movies that aren’t as much of a whiny asshole as this guy is. And if that's meant to be part of the joke of the movie, it totally went over my head because it did not seem that way at all.

Adding to that, the movie overstays its welcome quite a bit. It's only an hour and 21 minutes, but feels so much longer. I think the main reason for that is because many scenes, especially in the first half of the movie, were only there for awkwardly-delivered exposition and most of that exposition was for things that don't even really matter in the greater scheme of the movie, so it all came across as needless padding. All of those scenes could have been cut and the movie could have been tightened up a bit. It also takes way too long for anything to happen; Other then the opening scene, and one very quick 20-second scene of a dog being eaten (off-screen, at that), it's well over halfway through the movie before anything even relating to zombies or horror-esque stuff even happens. For about 85% of the movie, it's a total ABC Channel family-drama movie through and through. I keep saying that the worst offense a B-Movie can make is to be boring, and this one came very dangerously close to that, especially since the main lead is someone I couldn't get into at all, it made that first chunk of the movie very hard to sit through. Attack of the Herbals probably could have benefited from taking the Full Moon approach and have it only be just barely an hour, but a very tight and well-executed hour.

Luckily most of the supporting cast were much more likable and fun to watch, and I wish one or more of these characters could have been the 'central hero' instead of the guy we got. His best friend is clearly the real highlight of the movie and the kind of fun-loving but down-to-earth best friend that everyone kind of wants to have. In addition to him, the main character's grandparents play off each other quite humorously, as any couple who have been married for 40-odd years probably would, and I was genuinely sad when their fates came later in the movie, and all the random miscellaneous town residents are pretty quirky and have at least one or two good moments each. Hell, even the main antagonist (a rich guy trying to buy out the main guy's family's post office land so that he can make a golf course) was a blast to watch anytime he was on-screen as he was just such a hilarious kind of asshole, especially to his servants – you could always count on his scenes for a good laugh. It also helps that the acting is pretty decent from everyone involved. Sure, it does tend to go up and down depending on the scene, but it was mostly pretty good more often then it wasn't.

As for the reason anyone would even give this movie a second glance on the shelf, the zombies themselves, I said above, it's well over halfway through the movie before any show up. As in like, an hour into this hour and 21 minutes movie. So we don't even get to the zombie action until the last quarter of the movie, which was a huge and major bummer for me as I was expecting something along the lines of the movies I mentioned above, where they kind of just get to the point pretty quickly. However when we do finally get them, the movie is a total blast for that last half an hour. These aren’t zombies in the traditional sense – here the tea just gets them addicted and wanting more and more of this tea, until whatever the Nazis put into it has worked its way into the people's systems and turns everyone into a wacky/looney boiling rage and makes them feel like they have to kill everyone else...and they only get worse from there, having their eyes go all creepy glow in the dark Underworld-style, and they get Evil Dead-esque demon multiple voice syndrome. This twist on the traditional zombie lore may turn some away, but I personally really enjoyed it. This day in age, zombie movies have been done to death, so I always appreciate it whenever one throws in some kind of curveball to make it at least a little fresh. And as to be expected in a movie such as this, there are a ton of really fun (and hilarious) zombie attack/fight scenes filled with lots of gooey gore once this portion of the movie hits, with a couple of really unique moments that I won't spoil here but I will say that one of them involves a drunk wheelchair guy that essentially becomes a hilarious Bruce Campbell wannabe, and that both of these scenes alone almost make the entire movie worth it.

Unfortunately all that excellent zombie stuff was just too late to really save the movie. While the first hour does have some quirky characters, funny moments, and decent acting to get you through it, it's still a very long and tedious hour, following around a very unlikable lead, before the movie finally gets to the goods. Props have to be given for attempting something new in a tired and overdone genre (awesome vicious demon-like zombies created by Nazi-experimented tea sure is a First in my books), but the outcome turned out to be a bit of a fumble that could have been salvaged had it been for better editing and some tightening up of the movie. As it is, I would recommend watching the first 15 minutes or so to get a feel for the characters, and then just skip to a few minutes before the hour-mark and watch the rest from there. Trust me, you really won't be missing much in between, and the movie will feel much stronger to you because of it.

4/10 rooms in the Psych Ward


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