Aaah! Zombies!!, originally released in 2007 as Wasting Away and subsequently retitled for DVD (in the best B-movie tradition), is an independent film written and directed by Sean and Matthew Kohnen. As one might be able to surmise from the title, it’s a comedic twist on the classic zombie movie. The basic setup is similar to Return of the Living Dead, with a toxic experimental chemical being unleashed on an unsuspecting public, but after that things take a bit of a twist. In this film, the audience is treated to an under-represented perspective in zombie cinema: that of the zombies themselves.
It’s a unique film, I’ll give it that much.
When a military truck carrying a failed experimental super-soldier serum (covertly relabeled as “infant formula”) crashes on the outskirts of a small town, one of the barrels rolls off the truck and winds up standing and leaking next to the milk and beer delivery for a local bowling alley. The chemical contaminates the liquids and the inevitable happens, as an employee of the bowling alley and his friends decide to make and sample beer-flavored soft-serve.
Warning: Never consume anything that’s in a different color scheme than the rest of reality.
These friends are the film’s core of characters. Because this is a small-budget independent film, most of the actors are either unknowns, or became known only later, aside from a few standard character actors. Still, all of the characters who have speaking parts seem very true to life… other than the not-actually-staying-alive part. Tim, played by Michael Grant Terry, is the bowling alley employee; honest, shy, and basically decent, he tries to do the right thing but is frequently led astray by his friend Mike, played by Matthew Davis. Davis is perhaps the most experienced actor among the four, and Mike is instantly familiar as the borderline-jerk friend that almost everybody has. Betsy Beutler (who would later gain a regular role on Scrubs) plays Cindy, Tim’s sweet, charming girlfriend. Julianna Robinson completes the quartet as Mike’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa, who is ambitious, strong-willed, and looks out for her shyer friends Cindy and Tim.
After the group eats the ice cream (“Does that look green to you?” “It’s the lighting.”), they begin suffering tremendous pain. After a brief period of writhing and groaning, they stand up, apparently recovered, as the movie suddenly shifts from black-and-white to full color. This Wizard of Oz technique is used throughout the film, to distinguish between normal human viewpoint (monochrome) and zombie viewpoint (color).
Our heroes, seeking help after a traumatic experience.
The zombies are able to understand each other, and don’t realize yet that anything has happened to them. All they know is that everything else suddenly seems fragile, and other people are moving at tremendous speeds, and talking like accelerated chipmunks. To themselves, they appear normal. To everybody else… not so much.
Our heroes, traumatizing people and sending them scurrying for help.
Eventually they meet soldier Nick Steel (Colby French), who fills them in on what’s happening to them: they’ve been exposed to the super soldier serum, just as he was. Of course, he’s under the impression that the serum worked on him and them, because of an interaction with dairy, while everybody else in town is “infected”, thus explaining the frenetic movement and the homicidal rage with which they attack our protagonists. Nick enlists the quartet into helping him stave off the apocalypse through eliminating all of the infected humans, turning the usual zombie movie tropes on their head with a dose of dramatic irony.
Aaah! Zombies isn’t likely to become a genre classic that everybody goes back and refers to, but it’s an enjoyable way to kill an hour and a half. As a comedy horror film, I have to admit that I found the movie funnier on a conceptual level than in actual execution; most of the jokes were worth a mild smile at best. Still, the characters are charming, and the change between black-and-white and color works well for displaying the perspective flip. Zombie movie fans should check this one out; for other people, it’s not a high priority.