Saturday, March 18, 2017

Zombie Cats from Mars (Mwb3 Problems, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The two films shown last night at the monthly Mars Movie Screening in Golden Hill ( were pretty much dregs from the bottom of the barrel, as you could tell from their titles: Zombie Cats from Mars and Cave Women of Mars, both of them 21st century pastiches of all the lousy science-fiction and horror movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s with similar titles and agendas. Zombie Cats from Mars was dated 2015, the direction was credited to someone or something called “Montetré” (I had assumed this was either one of the actors, one of the crew members or nobody in particular, but according to “Montetré” is a pseudonym for Monty Wayne Benson III and he has several other credits, including MoonPi, Holed-Up and Marty in Transit). It’s set in and around Portland, Oregon (though Portland is “played” by Vancouver — not the one in British Columbia, Canada but the one across the border from it in Washington, U.S.A.) and deals, as the title suggests, with miniature flying saucers from Mars that come bearing cats with eyes that glow red when they’re about to attack. Supposedly the cats live off eating human brains à la the zombies in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the myriad sequelae, remakes, reboots and ripoffs of that surprisingly successful film (Night of the Living Dead is no great shakes as cinema, but Zombie Cats from Mars makes it look like a masterpiece by comparison — hell, Zombie Cats from Mars makes Oversexed Rugsucker from Mars look like a masterpiece by comparison!).

Written by Ryan Cloutier — or at least compiled by him from old science-fiction clichés, many of them quite likely dredged up from his subconscious, perhaps under the influence of mind-altering substances (one attendee of the screening wondered how much pot was being smoked during the conception of this script, though I suspect it must have been laced with PCP or some other equally unpleasant adulterant) — Zombie Cats from Mars posited that at some point in the past a super-cat named Sassafras relocated to Mars and founded a cult which became known as the CATholic Church. Its ultimate aim was to conquer the universe for zombie cat-dom and eliminate all competing species, and as the first step towards this aim it sent a spaceship to Portland in 1915 and let out some zombie cats who killed four people before flying away again. Sassafras’s cult decided to try it again 100 years later — it’s established that at some point in their history the zombie cats figured out how to make themselves immortal — and they knock off nine people. The hero of our story is Billy Robers (Bransen Sands Koehler, who’s cute enough that he has a potential movie career ahead of him if only he learns to act), who lives in Portland with his mom Holly (Stephanie Leet) and her 10-year-old son Tommy (Benni Harper). It’s established that Billy and Tommy have different fathers — throughout the movie, whenever anyone refers to Tommy as Billy’s brother, Billy corrects them and says, “Half-brother.” It’s also established that both men in Holly’s life simply walked out on her, though it appears that she knows the whereabouts of Billy’s dad, at least. Anyway, Billy and Tommy do a paper route together (a pretty recherché plot gimmick for the 21st century) and continually get bullied by someone named Cody (Edward Zopf, who looks like he’s got potential to grow into a quite attractive “bear” type).

When he’s not on his paper route Billy spends a lot of time in his room watching ancient science-fiction movies — the page on this one claims the film we see on his TV is Manos: The Hands of Fate, a particularly notorious Mystery Science Theatre 3000 “target” and one of the few movies on earth even worse than Zombie Cats from Mars — and for some reason the page about this film describes Billy as “effeminate.” I presume that’s because there’s one scene in which Billy and his best friend Cameron (Estevan Muñoz) are shown in bed together, but they’re not touching each other or doing much of anything except staring straight ahead, presumably at the TV showing one of those old tacky movies Billy loves. One night Billy and Cameron see one of the Martian flying saucers land, and then people start dying: first a jogger in the hills, then a heavy-set middle-aged local woman named Percis (Janae’ Werner) who has a house full of cats (which helps spread the death toll as other people in the neighborhood take in her cats, not realizing that some of them are the lethal zombie cats), then an ice cream truck driver (Greg Fish) and two would-be customers, then Billy’s mom and (half-)brother, then the couple Lester (Joon Rhee) and Carolyn (Cheyanne Shaw) who work at the local church, and then the Black police detective (Bobby Bridges) who’s investigating the killings and who was unsurprisingly dismissive when Billy tried to explain to him, based on a book he’d found among his dad’s effects at home, that the killings were being carried out by (dare I say it!) zombie cats from Mars. Finally the town’s mayor (Josh Edward) is killed, bringing the death toll to nine, and according to the book Billy read the cats can only be killed if they’re sprayed with holy water. Accordingly Billy gets a big squirt gun and practices in his backyard with ordinary water and cardboard cut-outs of cats, then decides he’s ready for prime time and goes to the local church to steal some holy water — only he’s caught by the priest (Ernest Adams) and soon learns that this is a CATholic Church, meaning they’re on the other side. The parishioners surround Billy with murderous intent in Montetré’s most direct visual quote from Night of the Living Dead, and just when they’re about to add him to the death toll, the film cuts to Billy’s bedroom and … it was all a dream. Or was it? There’s another shot of a cat with glowing red eyes, the signal for an upcoming zombie-cat attack, and then Billy wakes up again.

Done with the right campy tone, Zombie Cats from Mars could have worked — there are some marvelous scenes, notably the opening credits that parody the FBI anti-pirating logo and the disclaimers on DVD’s that the commentaries and interviews don’t reflect the opinions of the producing studio or anyone associated with them, and the scenes with two newscasters, a man and a woman, gossiping about the other people working for their TV station (including who’s having sex with whom and whose lawfully wedded spouse better not find out about it) and, when they’re actually on camera, cutting back and forth between news of the murders and the most light-hearted fluff pieces writer Cloutier could think of. But most of the film is shot with a dreary dullness that works neither as legitimate entertainment nor as camp, and about all we’re given to watch are some remarkably pretty young men (notably the therapist who’s interviewing Billy in the opening scene, who may or may not have turned up later as one of the victims) doing not particularly interesting things. Zombie Cats from Mars is that particular sort of horrible movie that was intended to be horrible but turned out even worse than intended! One reviewer said that Zombie Cats from Mars started out as a YouTube serial — which would explain why it’s a series of disconnected incidents with little more than a central premise connecting them — and it reaches its silliest moments when one of the zombie cats saws through a gas pipe to fill up the home of the church couple with gas and thus asphyxiate them. (I’m not making this up, you know; it couldn’t help but remind me of how my late roommate/home-care client John P. turned against the original Jurassic Park movie when it asked us to believe that the velociraptors could have figured out how to manipulate a doorknob and open a door.)