One would think that Fangoria editor Michael Gingold has seen enough crappy horror movies to know when he was contributing to the problem, but Shadow: Dead Riot stands as testament to the opposite. It's a good thing that a healthy fraction of the horror fan population seems to relish any movie with bare breasts, gore, and heavy metal tunes, because those are the only people who will give this picture's investors a return on their money.
Tony "Candyman" Todd appears in the title role of Shadow, an imprisoned serial killer with filed teeth and a yen for the blood of pregnant women. Shadow's execution sparks a riot among the prison's other inmates, who are summarily slain and buried in a mass grave along with Shadow's remains. We are apparently supposed to believe that, in the '80s, prisoners (and guards) killed in a riot could be buried that same night without hint of an investigation. Without the mass grave, however, a later obligatory scene in which Shadow rises from the dead with an army of zombies would be impossible, and so: questionable logic be damned. So to speak.
Upon hearing someone call her
"the next Pam Grier."
Fluttering quick-cut opening credits move us to the present day, when the jail has been converted into a women's prison and "research facility," though what exactly the warden is researching is unclear. Enter yet another of the film's cliches: the stoic young woman named Solitaire (Carla Greene), imprisoned because the world couldn't tame her, or some crap like that. In a whirlwind of hackneyed women's prison tropes, Solitaire wards off the advances of the resident butch, Mondo (Tatiana Butler), gains the admiration of the cell block's mousy submissive (Misty Mundae, under the name Erin Brown), and earns the trust of her pregnant cellmate, Preggers (Cat Miller). (Oh, the imagination poured into these names!) The prison is otherwise populated by a similarly original cast of characters, including the ambitious scientist warden, the lusty prison doctor, and the predatory lesbian guard.
"I used to be Misty Mundae,
but I use my own name for
legitimate acting jobs."
Solitaire soon learns that there's more to the prison than most of its inhabitants suspect as her time in solitary confinement brings visions of Shadow and the sudden arrival of Preggers' child (in a ridiculously coincidental location) brings a platoon of zombies upon the jail. Fortunately, the doctor has been injecting Solitaire with doses of Shadow's blood, which gives her superhuman strength and the ability to do battle with the zombies as no mere human could do. (No points will be awarded for guessing why Solitaire is the only person yet known to survive these treatments.)
Unless you count Tony Todd in dreadlocks, there's literally nothing in this movie that hasn't been done before elsewhere, and better. (And we'd have to troll through Todd's extensive career to make sure about the dreadlocks.) Gingold and his co-writers have constructed a story from an Erector set of ideas lifted from previous horror films and populated that story with third-rate actors, though that's hardly a surprise. With a script that calls for disembowelment and nudity (often in the same scene) every ten minutes, one doesn't expect the Royal Shakespeare Company to be involved. Todd, for his part, cleverly conceals his talent from the camera beneath layers of latex and odious dialogue. We will say that the gravelly voice he affects here would be great for an animated version of Batman.
"Does this look infected to you?"
Director Derek Wan has an extensive career in cinematography and there's no denying that the filming location looks great, especially for having been shot on video. All the beautiful lighting in the world, however, can't help the fact that the effects crew went completely overboard. These makeup artists gone bad spilled gallons of fake blood on the picture and created zombies that don't even vaguely stand up to the scrutiny afforded by lingering close-ups. In a fit of stylistic diarrhea, the crew of Shadow: Dead Riot has forgotten that many things in a horror picture are better left to the audience's imagination. Especially when those things include a cannibalistic demon baby.
We've spent so much time complaining about the conceptual plagiarism committed by this film that we now feel obliged to mention other pictures on which your time might better be spent.
Aren't you glad you use Dial?
Zombie flicks: there's a host of better zombie pictures out there, obviously, with movies like Dawn of the Dead (both versions) and 28 Days Later leading the pack. Re-Animator features a similar mad-scientist injection plot. If you're already a huge zombie film fan and looking for anything new to (ahem) munch on, try Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead series of comics. This collection of books could easily be an an ongoing zombie television series if a TV series were ever allowed to be so gross.
Tony Todd: If you've never seen Candyman, you're missing out on one of the few really, really creepy movies made in the wake of the slasher excesses of the '80s. A decade before the new wave of Japanese horror remakes moved in on Hollywood, Candyman was taking urban apartments to sinister new places. Beyond that, we'd say Todd's best work is probably on television, in episodes of shows like "The X-Files" and "Smallville," or in the character parts of big-budget movies like The Rock. Someday Tony Todd may get recognition as one of the great African-American actors of his time, but until that breakout part arrives we expect he'll keep cashing checks for movies like Shadow: Dead Riot.