IT STAINS THE SANDS RED ***** U.S.A. 2016 Dir: Colin Minahan 92 mins
As the Vicious Brothers, director Colin Minahan and screenwriter Stuart Ortiz made GRAVE ENCOUNTERS and EXTRATERRESTRIAL, both of which are worth a look, though this uncommonly poignant, witty spin on zombie movie conventions is something else. Troubled Vegas stripper Brittany Allen – all platform shoes and leopard skin pants – is left to fend for herself in the Nevada desert during the zombie apocalypse, relentlessly stalked through the vast wide open spaces by a lone walking corpse she comes to nickname Smalls (Juan Riedinger). Both are desperate for food – though Allen will risk her life to save her last bottle of Vodka.
Minahan’s execution of the extended “chase” offers wonderful visual echoes of the marvellous slasher farce “The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Incredibly Inefficient Weapon”, though the movie is fresh and inventive, with inspired individual gags, including the finest use of a bloody tampon in genre history. Smalls is relentlessly taunted by the feisty, spry Allen (“Too slow, old balls!”) but he also proves a tangible threat, and the two come to depend on each other. The perfectly judged, oscillating tone isn’t averse to the cynicism of the post-Romero zombie movie – reaching a very dark point with a pair of male “rescuers” – and is smart about its use of gore and the more ambitious allusions to the bigger, apocalyptic picture. At the centre of it all, however, is the surprising, hilarious and ultimately tragic relationship between heroine and zombie: Allen brings heart and soul to an unusually well written role (the significance of the tin can she carries around is as moving as any straight drama this year), while Reidinger offers subtle nuance and humanity in the finest zombie performance since Howard Sherman’s Bub in DAY OF THE DEAD. Although there’s not a false note in the whole movie, it’s the two-hander at its core that you will remember the most.
Review by Steven West