Rise of the Zombies (2012)
Company: The Asylum
Runtime: 90 mins
Plot: A group of survivors hide on Alcatraz Island to escape from the rising zombie hordes. When their refuge is overrun, and upon hearing that a scientist hiding in the middle of the city may have discovered a cure, they leave the island to seek him out.
Review: A couple years ago the SyFy Channel and Asylum got together for a co-produced project for Halloween called 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. I ended up enjoying that one quite a bit, even though I felt it got really repetitive, had no plot to speak of, and the zombie actors were pretty terrible. Well it seems Syfy and Asylum joining together for a zombie flick is becoming an annual Halloween tradition as they did it again last year with the just-as-bland titled Rise of the Zombies.
Luckily, the saying 'Practice Makes Perfect' rings true here. While the movie itself may not be perfect, it's certainly a nice improvement over an already decently-entertaining previous movie. For starters, the zombie actors were a lot better this time, never once taking me out of the movie and making me go 'Wow, that person is trying way too hard to act like a zombie' like what happened multiple times during 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. It also helped quite a bit that the make-up and prosthetics looks much better this time around; A lot more realistic and less like, well, make-up – plus they also threw in some really unique and chilling zombie designs for the occasional one, to keep things fresh. Actually, there is one scene with a zombie that has a very contorted body that was just genuinly creepy to look at. I don't think there's a single zombie movie that has had even one scene that creeped me out in the last decade (with the exception of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake), but the scene in this movie with that contorted zombie managed to do just that.
Actually the effects all around were heavily improved this time, and not just the make-up effects. CGI zombie head shots as well as an awesome car crash near the beginning were both improved over the CGI from the previous year's flick, and this one even had some pretty entertaining, albeit gruesome, practical zombie kills. Hell, within the first two minutes of the movie you see a zombie get its head smashed right in with a giant wrench and beat to a pulpy mess, and all throughout the movie you get super gory shots of zombie hordes ripping people apart and feasting on their intestines and other inside organs – and all of this in a made-for-TV movie! In all honesty, in terms of violence and gore, this movie is right up there with AMC's The Walking Dead, including an extremely disturbing and uncomfortable hard-to-sit through baby delivery and what follows directly after. This is weird to say about a TV movie, but there were points in the movie where it almost felt like they were taking things a bit too far in order to make things as disturbing and depressing as possible, and I actually could have done with a tad less of some of that. The baby scene I just mentioned is actually a prime example of that, as I felt it was done in a bit of bad taste and seemed to only be included purely for shock value and to see how far they can go with some things.
In terms of plot, parts of this movie isn't far off from The Walking Dead either. Much like with the current season of that show that was airing during the time of this movie's release, Rise of the Zombies has our main band of survivors holed up in an abandoned prison for a portion of the movie, though they do end up having to leave and head out into the nearby city in order to locate a specific scientist’s lab where they know he had been working on a vaccine, so they can get his notes and research from before he had died. It certainly doesn't have any great in-depth thinking man's kind of plot or subtext to it like what you would get in an early Romero zombie movie, but if you're just looking for a nice SyFy Channel B-Movie to watch some weekend night with a couple beer, and you're in the mood for some gory zombie mayhem, this one comes highly recommended by me. Plus this kind of plot paved the way for a variety of fun settings for some of the zombie action to take place in, settings like both inside and outside of the prison, through abandoned city streets and small neighborhoods, inside rather large and luxurious-looking homes, a secret underground government facility, and (just like the previous movie) a shipyard and dock. Actually, if I had any major complaints with the plot it would be that it kind of devolves into just following the steps of the previous movie a bit too much during the ending, with the survivors having to reach the docks of the city in order to wait for a boat that will arrive to bring them to a zombie-free paradise, and of course the docks are not as 'clear of zombies' as they are supposed to be. Sadly this movie didn't have anything as interesting or unique as zombie tigers for their version of that scene, so not only was it just a repeat scene with different actors, but it also (for the first time this movie) wasn't done as well either.
Something else that, while better then the previous movie, also wasn't very good, was the acting - but that usually comes part and parcel with these kinds of movies, so that should always be expected here anyway. I was actually surprised however by how many recognizable faces were actually in this. Going in, I already knew about long-time actress Mariel Hemingway, Levar Burton from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Danny Trejo in his second SyFy Channel movie of 2012 (the first being Haunted High, aka Ghostquake, back in August 2012), but I had no idea beforehand that Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl, countless Kevin Smith movies), French Stewart (Stargate, 3rd Rock From The Sun), and Chad Lindberg (The Fast and the Furious, Ash from Supernatural) were all in this as well, in addition to some regular Asylum faces like Heather Hemmens (3 Musketeers, Hellcats) Madonna Magee (11/11/11), and Andy Clemence (3 Musketeers, 11/11/11, Air Collision). With so many great names, it's actually a pretty big disappointment that the acting on display wasn't better then it was, but I suppose everyone is allowed an off day every now and then.
All in all though, this was a highly enjoyable low budget zombie flick from the folks at SyFy and the folks at Asylum. Not perfect, because the acting was below what you would expect from this roster of actors, plus I probably could have done without quite so much of the totally unforgiving disturbing stuff that seemed only added in so they could see how far they could push the envelope and get away with it, but at the end of the day this turned out to be one of Asylum's better efforts and I was impressed more often then I was let down.
While I haven't done so yet, I imagine that Rise of the Zombies would make a great double-feature some rainy weekend night with 2012: Zombie Apocalypse, although watching both back-to-back may give you the feeling of deju vu in some parts toward the end. Still, I think it'd be a fun experiment to see how well they mesh together, although you would almost have to put this one second just because it's the far superior film and I always like to end things off on a high note.