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Do something of a remake of Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) that's as much a loving homage to Wood as a spoof? That's exactly what director/writer George Ormrod and scripter John Sabotta have done, and it works extremely well despite the lack of technical panache caused partially by their relatively non-existent budget.
Like Plan 9, Space Zombie Bingo begins with the psychic "Crisco" (it's "Criswell" in Plan 9) sitting behind a table, wearing a suit and talking directly at the camera. He gives expositional background material and makes dire predictions for the future of mankind and their planet. The story is basically the same, at least in spirit, as Plan 9--"zombie" aliens are invading the Earth. They're particularly interested in our graveyards, where they can feed on dead corpses (not mannequins). They use evil "death rays" to eliminate humans and our buildings. But this is not the first time they've arrived. In the past we've vanquished the space zombies by detonating nuclear weapons in our cities, and once again, we may have to nuke ourselves to save ourselves.
For at least the first 15 to 20 minutes of Space Zombie Bingo, I considered giving the film a legitimate 9 rather than its final score of 5, which I use for "so bad they're good" films. The production values are horrible, but Ormrod and Sabotta know this and have fun with it. For the first couple "reels", Space Zombie Bingo is quick-witted and fast moving, even when General Herpes Simplex (Hugh Crawford) is giving rambling answers to questions from a clown news reporter. Crawford's acting is surprisingly good. But even the bad actors are good, because they're not pretending to be good, they're just reveling in their badness. Sabotta's humor ranges from clever social satire to corny puns. It's a nice mix that works well for the film.
Unfortunately, by the halfway mark, Space Zombie Bingo loses some of its steam. Whereas the beginning feels like a tightly constructed spoof, by the end the film seems more like an excuse for a series of gags. It's not that the plot loses coherency--Woodian plots like this aren't supposed to have coherency; Sabotta gets that part right. It's more that it feels like Sabotta and Ormrod just didn't put as much work into the second half. They didn't go through as many drafts, and they didn't spend as much time editing. Well, if they did those things in the beginning. Maybe it was just luck. In any event, Space Zombie Bingo remains at least mildly entertaining all the way through.
Just as funny as the script are the production values. The space zombies wear welder's masks and swimming flippers. Major Kent Bendover's (William Darkow) "experimental space shuttle" is the front seat of an old car. Ormrod tapes construction paper over the windshield and pokes out small holes to represent stars. They use the old perspective trick of a "giant"--a mutated space zombie, ala Tromie the mutant squirrel in Class of Nuke 'Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991)--standing close to the camera to seem huge compared to tiny humans, who are really standing far away. There are signs, such as the sign for the experimental space shuttle "Launch Area", that are just black magic marker on a small piece of white poster board, and so on. The difference in Space Zombie Bingo when it comes to these cheesy budget-crippled elements, compared to other low or no-budget films that are horrible, like Back Woods (2001), is that you can tell that Ormrod and crew are passionate about what they're doing. They're putting forth an effort to make an entertaining film, and so more often than not, they transcend their limitations.
As an homage to Plan 9 and similar films (there are references to everything from Night of the Living Dead, 1968, to "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", 1981) Space Zombie Bingo shows a love of the genres and a wealth of knowledge from Ormrod and Sabotta. For me, maybe the funniest nod to Ed Wood's style is the regular usage of stock footage that looks completely different than the main film. Ormrod even cleverly superimposes action of his own over some of the stock footage, and there are a few surprisingly good attempts at matte paintings. The maximally cheesy flying saucers were a nice Plan 9 touch, as was the "fake stone" that a character kicks over in a real cemetery.
If you're reading this review, you probably already know that you're the kind of person who might like a film like Space Zombie Bingo. We should thank Troma for resurrecting this obscure flick on DVD in their recent Toxie's Triple Terror series.
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