Reviews

Flight of the Living Dead

Available on DVD Tuesday, Oct. 2nd

Cast:

David Chisum as Truman Burrows

Kristen Kerr as Megan

Sarah Laine as Cara/Zombie Cara

Kevin J. O’Connor as Frank

Richard Tyson as Paul Judd

Erick Avari as Leo Bennett

Mieko Hillman as Stacy

Derek Webster as Long Shot

Directed by Scott Thomas

Movie:

Zombie

Function: noun

Etymology: Louisiana Creole or Haitian Creole zonbi, of Bantu origin; akin to Kimbundu nzúmbe ghost

Date: circa 1871

1 usually zombi a: the supernatural power that according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body b: a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated. – Miriam Webster Dictionary

Other than Universal’s classic monsters (“Dracula”, “The Wolfman”, Frankenstein’s monster) it’s hard to think of another creature which has spawned so much terror on celluloid than the zombie. In an article in March of last year, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that while Hollywood’s overall receipts were down, zombie movies “have been enjoying a box office feast matched only by porn and bad superhero films.” It’s true. The flesh chomping undead are good business and seem to appeal to both the hard core and average fright fan alike. And as long as that trend continues, we can look forward to the walking dead gracing our screens for years to come. And one can only hope they are all as good as “Flight of The Living Dead”.

There are essentially three types of zombie films; dark and brooding (Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie”), the walking dead serving as social commentary (George Romero’s “Night”, “Dawn” and “Day of The Dead” films) and the rock and roll action zombie movie (“Resident Evil”) which is the category “Flight of The Living Dead” falls into.

The premise is simple: “Snakes on A Plane” with zombies instead of serpents. And I have to say, the concept works far better here than it did in the 2006 Samuel L. Jackson starrer.

Directed by Scott (“Silent Assassins”) Thomas, from a script by Thomas, Sidney Iwanter and Mark Onspaugh, the story opens on a transcontinental flight en route to Paris from Los Angeles. We quickly learn that in the cargo hold of this luxury airliner is the body of a scientist, held in stasis, infected with a zombie creating malaria virus manufactured by a military contractor for use in the war on terror. Why would a top secret experiment be aboard a luxury airliner, as opposed to a C-130 military cargo plane, you ask? Good question. The principal scientists, it seems, Erick (“The Mummy”) Avari and Dale (“Pet Sematary”) Midkiff, are on the run from U.S. Intelligence, who now sees inherent danger with their work, and are fleeing to Paris where they have arranged to continue their experiments. The plan goes awry, of course, as the airliner runs into the perfect storm, resulting in the infected scientist being released from her stasis chamber, thus spreading the virus and causing all hell to break loose on board.

What’s interesting about “Flight” is that, beyond the initial premise, it takes most of its cues not from “Snakes On A Plane”, but from the disaster film genre. Think the 1970 film “Airport” with Dean Martin battling zombies instead of a terrorist with a bomb and a snow storm. Thomas, Iwanter and Onspaugh attempt to channel Stirling Silliphant (the writer of all those great 1970s disaster pics) with their script in the first twenty minutes or so, and actually do a pretty good job of it; taking the time to establish characters for us to care about before unleashing the zombie hordes upon them. Among the passengers we get to know: the pilot about to retire, Captain Bashore (Raymond J. Barry), golf pro Long Shot Freeman (Derek Webster), the Federal Agent (David Chisum) escorting the likable prisoner (Kevin J. O’ Connor) back to Paris to face Interpol charges, the undercover TSA Agent (Richard Tyson) and our final girl, Stewardess Megan (Kristen Kerr). The performances here are appropriate for the material and even the smaller roles are effectively cast.

The film definitely has a nice look to it and cinematographer Mark Eberle makes the most of the set, using creative angles to compensate for the confined and potentially static environment, but uses enough restraint so as not to become distracting. His work blends rather seamlessly with the CGI effects (and there are a lot of them) which themselves look pretty solid and thankfully lack the “cheap” look that so often sinks small budget movies.

The zombies themselves, created by FX artists J.D. Bowers and Gage Hubbard, are top notch and the men spare no opportunity to paint the fuselage crimson. There’s enough grue here to please even the most die hard gore hound and once the carnage starts it doesn’t let up.

One of the best things about “Flight” is that it doesn’t over reach. It knows what it is, is honest about it, doesn’t try to be anything more and, certainly, nothing less; accomplishing the difficult task of balancing its action and humor and avoiding the pitfall of slipping into farce. Not an easy thing to do given the subject matter.

The DVD itself is pretty solid. The image is crisp, which helps with the quality of the CGI, and the colors are rich, which accentuates the FX work of Bowers and Hubbard. Those with widescreen plasmas should get their money’s worth. The 5.1 sound is fairly deep, but the true value of the audio here is in Nathan Wang’s hard rocking score which will have your subwoofer screaming for mercy.

Extras:

The special features consist of two commentaries and an outtakes reel. The first commentary with Director Scott Thomas and Producer David Shoshan offers some insight to the production but, ultimately, is rather run of the mill and not very interesting. The second commentary, by IGN Film Force writers Steve Horn, Eric Moro and Christopher Monfette, is perhaps the best commentary I’ve heard all year. The trio set out to give the horror fan’s perspective while watching the film and it’s exactly what they accomplish. It’s like watching the movie with one’s own friends and is as entertaining as an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″. I hope to hear more commentaries from the trio.

All in all “Flight of The Living Dead” is one hell of a good time and probably the most fun you’ll have on a plane all year. Unless you happen to be a member of the Mile High Club, that is.