Most genre fans probably think of Greece simply as the place where some of their more obscure bootleg VHS treasures originated back in the ?80s, rather than as a country that?s produced its own brand of horror films. But the simplicity and low cost of digital filmmaking has allowed budding moviemakers in countries not usually associated with low-budget horror to produce some fairly impressive genre efforts, and now Greece has joined the club originally started by young, talented filmmakers in places like New Zealand, Argentina, Scotland, and, of course, various regions of the U.S. far, far from Hollywood. And with Evil (To kako), Greece has not only produced its (reportedly) first zombie film, but an outstanding little zombie film, at that.
But to be perfectly accurate, Evil isn?t actually a zombie film, at least not in the Romero sense. Its rampaging hordes of flesh- and blood-crazed creatures are spawned almost immediately by a single bite ? there?s no death involved ? and can be dispatched in traditional ways, not just by severing the head or putting a bullet through the brain. They?re also fast-moving, and we all know that real zombies only move slowly, right?
Instead, what Evil starts us off with are three guys who, while exploring a newly-found cave under Athens, are attacked by some unseen force, Evil Dead-style. Later in the evening, all three are transformed into bloodthirsty, humanoid creatures with glowing eyes and an appetite for flesh. One turns at a party, another at home with his family, and the third, in a really inventive scene, while in the crowd of a large soccer?ahem, football match. The creatures multiply exponentially, increasing their numbers with each bite, and they spread across the city in a Demons 2-like plague.
Soon, two small groups of survivors are doing their best to avoid the roving hordes, all the while scavenging supplies in the midst of martial law and trying to figure out what?s going on. Among them are the teenage daughter of one of the original victims, her tough-girl neighbor, a survivalist father figure, a thick-headed soldier separated from his unit, a wisecracking, sex-crazed cab driver, and a cute accountant who had the good sense to dump her boyfriend just before he turned into one of the creatures. The groups soon merge together into one and try to find some refuge in the city, though little hope remains as the creatures are increasing in number much too rapidly.
First-time writer/director Yorgos Nousias certainly knows his genre flicks. Besides the movies mentioned above, there are also echoes of 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Bad Taste and Rabid, to name a few. But Nousias wisely doesn?t mimic any of these classics directly, instead creating a general mood of familiarity that?s occasionally interrupted by a few curve balls he throws at the audience. Evil isn?t a stupendously original film, but its tone is something of a revelation, as it would have been very simple for Nousias, like many other newly-born, but less talented, digital fearmakers to ape Dead Alive and turn out yet another ?splatstick? zombie gorefest/comedy.
Instead, Nousias and his crew surprisingly play the film fairly straight, and manage to balance the gore, chuckles, and serious moments with a deftness that sometimes eludes even veteran filmmakers. Of course, there?s the expected zombie fighting and buckets of gore, but thankfully, humor is kept to a minimum and, except for one misstep near the end involving the death of a main character during a poorly-written sex scene, what laughs there are arise from the situations themselves (like the soccer match) and are relatively subtle. The movie never descends to camp or self-referential joking, even managing to pull off some dramatic and disturbing moments with a good degree of skill. It?s also refreshing to see so many of the movie?s scenes set outdoors, since the temptation for many low-budget filmmakers to shoot only in warehouses or factories is so strong, although the movie could probably have come off just as well without so many long chase scenes.
The effects work ? both digital and prosthetic ? is also well-handled, and even though the creatures themselves are often little more than extras in t-shirts and jeans with blood smeared on their faces, their death scenes are executed with panache and imagination (for example, lots of severed heads, split craniums and weapons through bodies). And judging by the look of the movie (probably shot on mini-DV or a comparable consumer video format), the budget available to accomplish all this was miniscule, making their professional look seem even more remarkable. The final shot of the film, in particular, is a marvel and will linger in many a genre fan?s mind.
TLA Releasing?s ?Danger After Dark? DVD edition presents the movie in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, an unfortunate omission this late in the DVD timeline. But the movie didn?t even look particularly good on the theatre screen at last year?s Philadelphia Film Festival ? a result of its low budget and consumer video format ? and the DVD accurately replicates the grainy, washed-out, indistinct, home video-feel of that presentation. Happily, the movie?s audio fares better, with a lively Dolby Digital 5.1 track lending weight to both the effective electronic score and the frequent rear channel sound effects. The disc is supplement-light, including only a few trailers for other TLA titles, a short trailer for Evil itself, plus a stills gallery of gore shots and a few Greek posters (a commentary by Nousias would have been interesting, I think). While not necessarily something that most fans will feel impelled to add to their permanent collection, Evil is definitely worth a look, since, besides its abundant entertainment value, it features just enough inventiveness and originality to keep even the most experienced genre fan from feeling that he?s seen it all before.