Color, 1998, 79 mins.

Directed by Andrew Parkinson

Starring Giles Aspen, Ellen Softley, Dean Sipling, Claire Griffin / Music by Andrew Parkinson

Format: DVD - MTI (MSRP $24.95)

Described by its director, British newcomer Andrew Parkinson, as a "thirtysomething coming of age story," I, Zombie stands dramatically apart from the usual half-baked British stabs at horror in recent years. Though wildly imperfect, its dead serious tone (often downright grim for the most part) and refusal to resort to nudging comedy guarantee a worthwhile look for adventurous horror fans looking for a nasty little treat. However, though this film was picked up and distributed on video by Fangoria, the bloodthirsty Full Moon crowd for whom this is clearly aimed will most likely be disappointed by the overwhelming sense of malaise and artistic flourishes which counterpoint all the graphic bloodshed.

Basically a male remake of Jean Rollin's La Morte Vivante, the film follows the sad path of Mark (Giles Aspen), a young man who finds his time consumed by the demands of his doctoral studies and daytime job to the point that his relations with Sarah (Ellen Softley) have become strained. While out collecting moss samples for a botany study, Mark comes across an seemingly abandoned house which contains a rotting corpse on a mattress and a young woman huddled in the corner. When he attempts to carry the woman out of the house to safety, she bites a chunk out of his neck and flees into the woods. Mark awakens much later and finds himself overcome by a compulsive hunger for flesh. Naturally, after consuming a hapless passerby, he decides to rent an apartment and deal with his illness. However, the absence from Sarah proves to be too much, so he knocks her out with chloroform and takes her back to his place. Unfortunately, he realizes that their relationship was not meant to be, and he returns his beloved to her home. As Mark sinks deeper into depression and his hunger becomes all-consuming, he decides to seek another way out of his hellish condition.

Like most '90s horror films, I, Zombie can be easily read as a metaphor for AIDS and drug use, with Mark's bodily deterioration and his DT-inspired fits recalling some of the grimmer late night news features. The film contains more than its share of disturbing passages, particularly a gruesome (though cleverly filmed) bit in which Mark tries to set his broken rotting leg by screwing a metal plate into the bone. The perpetual shifts between reality and Mark's fantasies generally work well, with a nicely poignant payoff at the end, and Aspen does an efficient job of eliciting sympathy as he turns into a rotting eyesore. The odd narrative device of inserting on-camera interviews with Sarah and other related acquaintances talking about Mark doesn't make a whole lot of sense but does function within the irrational context of the film. Parkinson really shines during the fleeting hallucinations, particularly the striking Rollin-inspired image of Mark, his bodily rifts sealed with chunks of metal, affixed in silhouette with other afflicted souls on a stark, deserted junkheap littered with jagged steel poles. On the downside, even at such a brief running time, this often feels like a short film dragged kicking and screaming out to feature length, and Mark's long, silent passages of walking around and moping (underscored a little too heavily by Parkinson himself with guitar, piano, and synth) tend to overstay their welcome. The droning music and weird air of alienation and despair, coupled with over the top gore, often recall the tone of Nekromantik, a similar example of downbeat, self-destructive modern Euro-horror.

MTI's DVD generally does an adequate job of preserving this film as well as possible, considering it was shot over a period of four years for next to nothing on 16mm. Film grain tends to erupt in many of the darker shots, along with a few traces of faulty compression, but the transfer is generally good and miles ahead of VHS. The DVD contains a feature commentary by Parkinson and Aspen (though we're never sufficiently told why this film is subtitled The Chronicles of Pain), who reminisce about their long, life-altering experience making the film. Other extras include an intriguing ten minute behind the scenes featurette, three bland deleted scenes, a TV spot on Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, and a trailer for Lady of the Lake. All in all, not a bad package, and at the very least well worth an evening's rental.

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