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observation notes: Death Valley - The Revenge of Bloody Bill

This often-amusing blend of zombie lore and Confederate vilification comes to The Asylum courtesy of the Yuan Brothers, who most of us probably know best for their acting roles as twin security guards in the Seth Rogen dark comedy Observe and Report. This is the only film they've written to date, and their only other experience with The Asylum came on the film Scarecrow Slayer, on which John worked craft services and Matt was a boom operator.

The film opens with a coke-using speedster getting chased down a deserted desert highway by an officer of the law (a ginger Kim Little)(any film that opens with a car chase, I'm in; the song that accompanies said car chase? not so in). She loses him when he tosses the brick of yeyo out the window and onto her windshield, where it bursts in a white cloud that blinds her from continuing pursuit. But though our drug-addled bandit gets away , he's far from having escaped, as his car soon enough breaks down, leaving him stranded and on foot in Death Valley, the worst-named place ever.

After hours of braving the heat, thirst and the inevitable come-down, like a mirage suddenly our outlaw finds himself at the outskirts of a small town called Sunset Valley, which, according to the sign and all visible cues to the contrary, has a population of 99. Our fella walks into the town bar, and sure enough there are folks, but they aren't the friendly sort, and not in the usual small-town-ignorant fashion, but more so in the undead-ravenous-for-brains sense. He fights off one or two of them, but there are more than one or two; there are 99, it turns out, and quickly the outlaw is done away with. Now the movie can really begin.

Intro to our real heroes, four spring breakers, members of the debate team, no less: three hotties, two dudes and a teacher. Their holiday festivities are soon cut short, however, when they seemingly strike a pedestrian who turns out not to be a pedestrian at all, but rather a very daring carjacker who uses their confusion and concern to seize the van and the plot. He directs them into the desert, where they locate the drug-runner's broken car. Seems it was our carjacker's product Speedy disappeared with, and the carjacker is looking for money or drugs, anything to make this deal not a total bust. But he finds nothing in the car. Outside of the car, however, he finds a trail of footprints heading deeper into the desert. Once again our crew is on the road, pushing farther and farther from civilization, unknowingly pressing forward into waiting, deadly and decomposing hands.

That's enough as far as plot is concerned, I think. But rest assured, the film unfurls soundly and the legend behind Bloody Bill is pretty chilling, and effective, up until this line:

"The only thing he hated more than Yankees, was black people."

Okay, all right, I get it: Confederate zombie, he's gotta be racist, right? However, as a Southerner, born and bred if not current, I took enough offense at this generalization to draw attention to it here. That line's akin to making the drug-dealing carjacker the film's only black guy. Which was done. So, pot, meet kettle; you guys got some stuff in common.*

All this aside, my general consensus here is of a slick, taut, off-beat, inventive, frighteningly believable and beautifully-executed zombie-thriller. The script is strong and well-developed, and for what the characters can't convey, there are spectacular landscapes throughout that really add to the sense of desolation, isolation and foreboding hopelessness. These elements are complimented by inventive, intimate, swooping and frenetic direction by Byron Werner, primarily a cinematographer, as he was for himself here. The effects are pretty graphic and gory, and realistic enough that at the least they don't detract from the film.

As for the cast, it's a workable ensemble, but for me the standout was easily female lead Chelsea Jean (below), who gave an impassioned, empathetic and willful performance as
the one member of the team willing to do more than debate with Bloody Bill. Too bad, however, because according to IMDB, this is the only work she's ever done. If you ever Google yourself, Chelsea Jean, and find yourself reading these words, get back to work! With Rachel Leigh Cook all but a fond memory in our collective consciousness, the world needs a precocious, sassy, disaffected B-queen. Come back to The Asylum, fulfill your promise!

So overall, despite my philosophical issues, I gotta give this one two gnawed thumbs up (sorry.).

*it's worth noting that this line is countered three minutes later when, after the discovery of the first of their pal's bodies, one of the dudes runs off into the desert, abandoning the group, saying: "I ain't waiting around for some fucking lunatic to mistake me for one of you. I'm from Georgia." Nice attempt at amends, but, really, this line should've read "one of y'all."

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