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Simon Read [Celluloid 09.21.09] zombies movie review horror comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Bryan Ortiz
Writers: Bryan Ortiz & James Hartz & Evan Boston & Peter Egly
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

Bryan Ortiz treats his audience to a bewildering array of false starts, adverts, infomercials and 1950's style premieres before the real meat of his extremely ambitious project is offered, he then sets out to satirise and entertain with a bewildering little comic/horror gem that is far better than it perhaps deserves to be. Doctor S Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie (phew!) is a lovingly crafted and utterly bizarre homage to the wrong end of drive-in cinema and midnight movies. Shot in black and white and with a rocking surf-guitar soundtrack straight out of The Horror of Party Beach, it's a grindhouse influenced gem of a film with comic moments and sly nods, winks and subtle (and not so subtle) references to the films of the era, while also spoofing the 50's cinematic obsession with mutants and radiation, and good old fashioned family values. An extremely difficult film to categorize, given it's many influences and manic direction, I'll try my best to do it justice.

We start off with the aforementioned previews, including an infomercial for Cinis Labs, who use Science to create a better tomorrow. We see John Q. Public fitted with a new pair of electro-slippers which promptly catch fire off-screen, and the voice-over provides a few helpful warnings about The Red Menace of Communism to a curious child. If Ortiz was trying to set a tone for the rest of the film by inviting these themes and ideas, it works well. By the time the actual title arrived I was eager to see what lay ahead, given how pitch perfect the set-up is in establishing the foil and fibreglass 50's sci-fi groove.

Something's wrong at make-out point, as Billy Everybody puffs on a reefer and tries to convince his girl, Mary Jane (cough cough) to toke some. She barely has time to refuse when he's suddenly turned into a Sex Crazed Reefer Zombie by the spliff, and is wildly attacking her. It seems the US Government has laced the latest batch of grass with something sinister, and it's infectious! In comes Dr. S, saving the girl with his trusty shotgun, pipe clenched between pearly white teeth, glasses fixed and tie done-up to eleven. The first thing that strikes one about Dr. S is that he damn well cuts-a-dash; it's such an iconic look with the white lab-coat, slick-backed hair and angry expression; a mixture of fury and confusion seems to perpetually don his face. As he fends off the zombie hoards that gather to menace Mary Jane, he seems to crouch in concentration before, literally, taking-off into the sky as an operatic score fills the air and he zooms out towards the moon. As far as unexpected introductions go, this one is in my top-ten. The feeling of awesomeness that accompanies the first ten minutes of the film only subsides briefly before another scene lifts you out of the chair and back into the film. It's such a rare quality, but one Ortiz masters, keeping little moments of fun and visual gusto popping-up and out when you least expect them.

Through flash-backs we learn of the good doctor's story; as part of a team it was his job to manufacture an army of the dead, to stop the Red Menace. His scientist friends balk as the suggestion of using "RAD-I-A-TION!" to get the job done. "It's like harnessing the power of the sun and you're playing Icarus!" Before his team are fired by the US Army, they create an antidote to marijuana, which Dr. S smokes, making him the opposite of stoned (ie, lucid, focused, prone to sudden bouts of rage, etc), which neatly explains why he's almost superhuman, and why he really hates pot-heads. The zombies themselves are of a pretty standard, hyper-kinetic fair, with flesh hanging from cheeks and warbling, dubbed voices, asking Mary Jane if she'd like to 'touch it'. In true Shivers fashion, they're not just interested in eating their victims, but also in humping them to death.

Dr. S: "Warning... Smoking marijuana will induce hallucination, violent behaviors and my twelve gauge shotgun up your ASS!"

Ortiz gives us three chapters, which help to structure the story and keep-up a flowing narrative in a film that could have easily fallen apart. With the imposed three-act structure in Doctor S, as well as a rather saucy intermission, it's a fun ride to follow the story without worrying too much about missing any important plot-points. I'd go as far as to say that Doctor S is a film that doesn't really require in-depth analysis, it's simply an excellent example of itself as a spoof/homage and any attempt to see it as anything other than a bit of fun, anyone trying to seriously look at it as a morality tale or cautionary warning on drugs, communism or teenage sex is going to be left scratching their head by the end. It's presented as a wacky horror comedy, that's clear from the poster and tag-line, but the talent on display is at times quite staggering. Ortiz uses the fact that the budget was low to his advantage, basing the film on a style of 50's sci-fi that was cheap and, by today's standards, laughably cheesy. He manages, however, to create enough moments where the viewers expectations are confounded; special effects actually look special, fight scenes are amazingly graphic and well co-ordinated, jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, references to old horror films and b-movies are noticeable and witty, etc, etc, to transcend it's limitations and to seriously impress. Honestly, there were moments during the two viewings I've seen of Doctor S. where the word genius wasn't far from mind...

Dr. S: "Hey dirt bags... you're the disease and I'm prescribing fifty cc's of kick ass."

In my mental pros and cons list, there are one or two niggles, the biggest by far being the grindhouse style of film treatment. I enjoyed Planet Terror and, although Death Proof was basically another sign that 'QT' (so precious!) has lost his mind, I appreciated what the directors were trying to accomplish. It would seem that Ortiz felt the need to go down a similar route in adding scratched and missing frames, deliberate touches that I thought took something away from the overall quality of the finished product. After a few minutes the mind filters it out, but really, it felt tacked-on in this digital age and removing it might have helped show-off some of the cinematography and other visual flares. For a film of 80 minutes I did notice that there were probably only a half-dozen straight-up scenes of normal dialogue between characters, as most of the film was either chase scenes, fight scenes, shoot outs, flashbacks, quirky little comic vignettes or more fake advertising. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just something I noticed on second viewing.

As far as mental pros go, l could go on all night. But a few scenes that stick out include Doctor S discovering a mint condition Ford Model A car; the look on his face is priceless and seeing him gunning the engine with Mary Jane in tow was a highlight and established Dr. S as a kick-ass hero, driving at speed in his freakily appropriate wheels. Seriously, I want an action figure that comes with a car and MJ side-kick. Please, Santa? One thing I loved was the balls out satire on the advertising industry and the hypocrisy of the anti-drug propaganda. While adverts during the beginning and intermission happily push cigarettes and fatty food on willing families, the film warns of the demonic evils of smoking marijuana, and engaging in heavy-petting. The sound editing and music warrant mention as both are excellent, beyond all expectation. Ortiz uses split screen in the last act, while Tchaikowsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy plays amid scenes of urban destruction (and furious driving in the Ford A) which creates a very funny and memorable montage of zombie chaos. There's also repeated use of the song 'Hoots Mon, There A Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose', which you don't have to be Scottish to appreciate.

One thing I would like to see is a follow-up film. Dr. S is such a fun character to hang-out with, it would be a shame if we never got the chance to do so again. So, a personal plee goes out Mr. Ortiz, make good on the open-ending provided and I'll be a life-time fan! I'd say even a franchise of Doctor S films would be a treat, provided any sequels were as imaginative with the writing and confident in direction. I can't end the review without a little nod to actor Rick Carrillo, who plays the titular doctor, and does a great job.

After the credits role there's a little message from the director: "I hope you enjoyed the film, please go away now."

Well played Bryan, can't wait to see what you get up to in the future. Sequel? Please?

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agentorange (13 years ago) Reply

I've seen so many terrible films that tried to be 50s B-movie parodies that I couldn't believe how good Dr. S actually was. This movie was great fun and so well done it hurts.

More please.


Anonymous (6 years ago) Reply


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