Because I Hate Myself - Zombie Tidal Wave
Well, haven’t used this headline in a while…but it couldn’t be more appropriate. You see, a ‘friend’ of the site recommended Zombie Tidal Wave to me and, well, I’d like to tell her the following:
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what I did, what horrible thing I said or tragic thing I did, but clearly I did something awful. Like, Nuremburg Trials awful. I must have violated the Geneva Conventions. But, you were gracious. Instead of turning me over to The Hague, you suggested I watch Zombie Tidal Wave.
Next time I commit an act on the level of war crimes? Please send me to Geneva instead.
Now, some of the mistake going into this movie is mine. I went into it sober. Dear reader, please, please, PLEASE don’t do this. At the very least, you need a buzz going into this. If it’s legal in your area, you may even need weed or something stronger.
Last interjection before I actually review this thing: in all fairness, I was warned. The movie advertises that, yes, it’s “from the people that brought you Sharknado”…sooo…yeah, I knew what I was getting into. I can’t watch the Sharknado films for many reasons, yeah, the day job is a factor…and the only way I can watch them is if there’s the Rifftrax playing with it.
And I really needed those guys here too. But let’s get into the synopsis before I really start complaining.
Hunter Shaw is moving on from the small resort community of Emrys Bay. However, his drifter-like exit is interrupted as an earthquake off the shore uncovers a hidden evil: the undead are starting to emerge from the waters. Making matters worse, like any undersea earthquake, it isn’t very long before a tsunami brings a wave of zombies inland, putting the entire town at risk. Hunter teams up with local harbor master Ray McCray and Sherriff Kameo Akoni to protect the people from this bloody siege. But the earthquake did more than raise the dead…it also raised the deep, dark secret that Emrys Bay has been keeping for years.
The first scene, in some ways, tells you all you need to know about how this film is going to go. Okay, I should be more specific, the first kill. A man proposes to a woman while they’re swimming in the ocean. Nevermind where he was keeping the ring…I don’t wanna know. Now, the dude gets pulled under, as you’d expect…she gets spooked, again, tried and true trope…and the body surfaces with some blood but not much in the way of gore. She looks around to see what might have caused this aaaaand…zombie. All well and good. But at this point…the zombie STANDS UP in the water while our helpless luncheon-to-be just continues to tread water…in the massive depths of 2-3 feet.
Yeah…it’s not getting any better from here either.
As we discuss the so-called ‘plot’…well, I’d ordinarily issue a spoiler warning but truth be told, this film is built upon so many tropes you might as well call it a Trope-a-Dope (to riff on the late Muhammed Ali). As we get past the cold open I described above, the next scene sure enough introduces us to Hunter, Ray and his niece Jada. Jada gets bitten. Any fan of the zombie genre knows how this is going to end up…and sure enough, yup, Jada turns once she gets into the hospital creating a whole lot more zombie fodder. Oh, and putting our love interest, a doctor at the local hospital, in danger’s way. That’s another trope that’s driven home right away, if you had any question about Hunter and the doctor hooking up by the end of the picture then clearly your IQ is in the basement. Also within the first 15 minutes we have a confrontation between Hunter and the Sherriff about what happened to Jada. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” “I don’t have time for another one of your wild goose chases,” yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. Of course there’s the douchebag that everyone’s cheering to get killed, which, to the film’s credit, they certainly hit that mark spot on. Then somewhere around halfway through the film, we’re introduced to a cliché from Italian zombie movies, the mad scientist that either trying to study them or has created them. In this instance, a little bit of both. In a bland turn of events, sure, he ends up helping our survivors and even performs a noble sacrifice as opposed to putting the entire group at risk but the whole point of a ‘noble sacrifice’ trope is that you’ve gotten attached to the character dying…and it’s hard to imagine getting attached to anyone here. Look, the current writer’s strike (as of 5/25/2023)…one of the main issues they want tackled is banning or at least controlling A.I. inputs into scripts. After watching this, I can honestly say that A.I. is already writing scripts, because all this seems like is someone put every zombie movie ever made into a blender, set it to frappe and put the resultant flavorless sludge on celluloid…or digital video…more likely the latter.
What makes these tropes unforgivable is that if you’re paying attention, you’ll see easter eggs in the background at least hinting that someone in the production knows at least a little more than the average moviegoer about zombies. For example, take the band that plays near the beginning of the film…The Fulcis. While I’m not going to say that only hardcore horror fans know the contributions Lucio Fulci made to zombie cinema, I will suggest that, especially these days, you’ve got to do a little bit of digging to find his work…or his name for that matter…as most streaming services and the few stores that sell physical media are more wrapped up in what’s new as opposed to fostering a deep selection of catalog titles…but that’s a rant for a different day. Another nod is the blue coloring of the first zombies to emerge from the water…likely a tip of the hat to the far superior Dawn of the Dead (original, not remake) and its similarly hued zombies. So…armed with this knowledge, we’re forced to wonder…how in the hell did they write all the characters to break so many of the ‘zombie rules’ and get away with it? To illustrate what I mean, let’s go back to the scene where Jada gets bitten. There’s an instance where Hunter is holding the zombie back…with his bare, uncovered arms. Any zombie worth their goddamn brrraaaaaaaaaains knows that arm is about to become chow…thus ending our movie after the first 10 minutes. Sigh…that’d be far too merciful. What’s worse is mistakes like that happen throughout the movie. Seriously, this whole island should’ve been killed off or turned. It would appear that the only way these zombies can actually bite you is if they pin you to the ground and go for your throat…making you wonder somehow if vampires were involved. About three-quarters into the film, there’s a single line of dialog about that. Nothing to explain it, unfortunately, just that if the zombies bite you this way you’ll turn quicker. To the not even remotely keen eye though, you can tell this was done to get the most out of what little budget they had. Gone are the time consuming and costly appliances from special effects make up. They’re replaced by a jet of blood spraying up from a bag buried under the sand or ground or otherwise hidden behind the victim’s head. Mind you, some of this might not be the film’s fault. Since this was made-for-TV SyFy fare (and god do I hate how they changed the network name…but that’s a fight that’s long been over), TV Standards and Practices likely had their scissors ready and waiting. While yes, TV S&P today are more lenient than the MPAA in the 80s, it’s not hard to imagine that there was more than enough meddling to completely neuter any potential of gore here.
In a rare moment of praise, however, I should mention that there are two REALLY good kills in the movie, both occurring as the zombie tsunami brings its deadly payload to bear on the beach. One is a zombie munching on some poor dude’s skull before finally chomping through and getting a prime selection of brain. The other is where Hunter uses an outboard motor to mow through a couple of Smurf zombies leading to an impressive disembowelment and gruesome decapitation. Granted, both of these are made less interesting by the blue goop they were using for ‘blood’…but hey, at least we know that the effects makeup folks on staff for the pic were indeed capable.
If you go back up to the synopsis, you’ll see that I mention that this takes place in the fictional resort town of Emrys Bay…but where exactly is that? There’s plenty of English signage…soooo…maybe Hawaii? But there are signs with other writing that’s not immediately recognizable (to me anyway). Granted, it’s an American film so of course there’s going to be a lot of English…but as it turns out, we’re in Thailand. Who knew? Honestly, this might seem like dogpiling on the movie at this point…but I dunno…I kinda like to know where I am in a movie, even if it’s a made-up country. My point with bringing this up though is that at the very beginning of the movie, there’s a comment made about the blueish glow coming from under the water. Ray suggests one possible explanation, but Hunter shoots that down with “If we were in the Caribbean, maybe, but not in these waters.” If you’re gonna tell me that, I kinda need to know where we are!
Lastly, let’s talk about the cast. Naturally, we have to talk first and foremost about Ian Ziering in the lead role of Hunter. Stalwart veteran of the Sharknado series…well, that pretty much prepares us for what we can expect here. That being said…I really can’t rag on him here. He plays the role with such an earnestness that you can’t not like him in the role. It’s very akin to William Shatner’s B-movie turns…many as they may be. However, like Shatner, the viewer is left wondering if Ian’s in on the joke as well. I mean, sure, work is work and nothing’s going to return him to his 90210 days…I just hope he knows that we’re laughing at him and not with him and that he’s okay with that. If he is, I can’t lie, this film might be the one I can point to that might be slowly turning me into a fan. Shelton Jolivette does his best dime-store Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Ray McCray…but honestly, that might not be his fault, but instead simply how the part was written. And let’s face it, with the shocking originality of a name like Ray-Mc-Ray…well…’nuff said. I’m kinda wondering what stopped them from naming him Boaty McBoatface honestly. Cheree Cassidy plays standard love interest as ably as any actress, probably again more a function of the poor writing than the actress. Chikashi Linzbichler as Sherriff Akoni ends up being inconsistent…well-played and likeable in moments, wooden and stilted in others. Ordinarily, in a movie chock full of vanilla performances, the likeable moments should set him apart, but unfortunately it’s his awkward moments that end up suggesting he’s the weak link of the cast. Lastly, the mad scientist as played by Randy Charach almost makes you feel like he was hired more for his resemblance to Elon Musk than anything else. And, oddly enough, that look itself fills in a lot of the character gaps that we’d rely on actual good writing and depth that most movies use…so how much does he really need to perform?
Oof. Look, I get the main selling point of these SyFy movies is to angle for the ‘so bad it’s good’ audience. And, as I said in the beginning, with sufficient alcohol in my system…or, at the very least some qualified riffers going to town on these proceedings (paging RiffTrax, you have a call on line one, RiffTrax, line one), I could certainly see my opinion changing on this film. Heck, once RiffTrax go ahold of Sharknado, I was actually able to watch it! But I’m not writing this review from that place. No, sadly, I hold this film in the same level of contempt I hold most of SyFy’s output or anything by The Asylum. This film hurts. For that, in what I think might be a first for the site, I have to issue my first Dead Cat rating. Only inflict this movie on people that you hate. Or if you hate your liver. Alcohol may make this better…but you have to ask yourself, do you REALLY want to risk the alcohol poisoning?
Note: Yes, not calling this movie “Zombie Tsunami” is a COLLOSSAL missed opportunity. They even use the phrase as the undead are washing up on shore. I can only think that some other Z-grade film producer has/had the copyright to that title…The Asylum…I’m looking at you. Missing the obvious would be worthy of docking this film a point…but it’s already in the basement, so…in a rare instance, I’ll be merciful.