One of the magnitudes of reasons why I love horror is that in no other genre would make a film like Samurai Zombie.
Mixing the reanimated undead with the ancient warrior class of feudal Japan is a genius idea and adding in gore, gangsters and a creepy cursed village makes it all the more marvelous.
A happy husband and wife and their two kids taking a pleasant day trip out to the country are hijacked by a psychotic couple of criminals. They’re on the run and force the family to aide their escape. The Japanese Mickey and Mallory lead the fearful group into what appears to be an abandoned village in the woods, unaware that this is the domain of Yoroi – an undead samurai who lives only to murder anyone unlucky enough to cross his path and his katana.
Joined by a pair of pathetic policemen and the unhinged killer the thieving lovers double crossed, the scene is set as the zombie yojimbo stalks and slashes with seemingly no regard for good or evil. Armed to the teeth and forced to work together, the horror hamlet becomes the only hiding place for all involved. But will anyone survive the unstoppable wrath of the samurai zombie?
Samurai Zombie’s tone and style is summed up in the opening scene where a meaningful monologue on fate is delivered straight to camera by one of the characters, culminating in his gruesome decapitation. With musings on whether we have control over our own fate on one side and flying limbs, bile belching corpses and mad old witch women on the other, the movie spends most of its time trying to find the perfect balance between serious scares and hilarious hammy horror.
Thankfully for the audience although it may not always succeed, while watching you will find yourself laughing one minute and panicking the next. Never really that scary the film is always entertaining and the zombie samurai is a brilliant creation, with his full armor and helmet under which we see his rotting face.
Yoroi looks like something from an 80’s gorefest and his fellow undead accomplices, one wielding a massive barbed club the other an archer, are equally ludicrous but excellent.
If anything the only failing of the film is its focus on the gangsters and its under-use of the undead. However all the characters are well realized by the actors involved and the story is well crafted leading up nicely to an unexpectedly dramatic ending.
Credit must be paid to script writer Ryûhei Kitamura better known for writing and directing Versus and the amazing Godzilla: Final Wars, also, more importantly helming the brilliant brutal adaptation of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train.
Director Tak Sakaguchi – who also stars in the film – does a competent job helming throwing in some interesting shots drenched in gray’s and blue’s with lurid red blood, although he is not helped by the bad transfer and dodgy subtitles that have ended up on the Region 2 DVD.
Veering between crazy ridiculous guts and gore and a more Eastern existential exploration on fate, Samurai Zombie is an odd blend that somehow works.
It’s definitely ‘a cut above’ the schlocky horror that it could easily have been.
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