Movie Review: ‘The Burning Dead’

The Burning Dead was originally titled Volcano Zombies. It was re-titled, I imagine, in hopes of slicing off a piece, however thin, of The Walking Dead’s cash pie. But the original title is perfect because it tells you everything you could possibly want to know about this movie in just two words, i.e., it’s got a volcano and it’s got zombies. Well, maybe you’d want to know just a bit more—like the fact that the zombies erupt out of the volcano in flaming streaks of green. And they’re engorged with lava (more in theory than in actuality, sadly). Oh, that’s not quite enough? You need just a little more information to consider yourself adequately informed about what lies ahead in a film called Volcano Zombies? Well, perhaps you should know that it features Danny Trejo in Native American drag narrating vague prophecies to a group of confused campers.

But more than anything, you should know that Volcano Zombies—I now refuse to call it anything else—is very much of the SyFy Channel school of shlock filmmaking, complete with absurd high-concept premise, bargain-bin CGI, terrible acting, and a host of profoundly, epically bland characters. Like every SyFy Channel movie ever, the plot is totally irrelevant and certainly not worth recounting here. If Volcano Zombies were a package, its plot would be the packing peanuts. The only content that matters is encapsulated in the title, though it is worth pointing out that the plotting, characterizations, and acting are all bad enough to be funny, which is important in this sort of movie. Everything has that weird z-movie logic, where everybody seem kind of like an alien in a human’s body, with the exception of Trejo who just chews the scenery in a glorified cameo.

Though Volcano Zombies’ particular portmanteau title/premise lacks the minimalist stupid-brilliance of a Sharknado or Piranhaconda, it is overall a slightly more endearing affair. Those SyFy Channel shlockfests tend to be knowingly bad, whereas Volcano Zombies is mostly just bad-bad, which immediately makes it more entertaining. Also, the special effects, cheesy as they are, are actually slightly better than your average SyFy Channel timewaster. The movie unfortunately lacks a left-field C-lister like John Heard or Tara Reid—Trejo doesn’t really count since he only appears in a shoddy framing device—but it makes up for it with some hysterically gratuitous nudity, something you can’t show on cable.

Obviously, the real question with this sort of thing is, does it deliver on its premise? I’d say it does, at least by the very low standard set by SyFy Channel movies. There is flowing magma. There are zombies. The movie unfortunately doesn’t really execute the idea that these zombies are filled with lava, and the finale is a disappointment, promising a big blowout and giving us pretty much the exact opposite. But then you have those shots where green streaks zip out of the volcano, crashing into the ground, and zombies immediately pop up? That’s just good dumb fun.

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