Toxic Zombies (1980) Toxic Zombies / Bloodeaters (1980) **

     When I was about fourteen years old, I fell head over heels in love with zombie movies. Like most people newly enamored, I was nearly incapable of looking on the object of my affections with a critical eye, and I was totally undiscriminating in my desire to spend as much time with them as possible. Fourteen-year-old El Santo was as happy to watch Night of the Zombies as he was to watch Dawn of the Dead, as fond of City of the Walking Dead as he was of The Gates of Hell. But even back then, I could tell that Toxic Zombies wasnít very good. I didnít dislike it, and I suppose I still donít, but thatís mainly because Toxic Zombies does nothing to provoke even so feeble an emotional response as dislike. It attempts so little that itís hard to imagine how it could possibly fail.

     One thing this movie undeniably has going for it is a nifty setup. In a remote section of a national park somewhere, a gang of degenerate post-hippies maintain a secret pot plantation. It isnít just for their personal use, either; the ringleader (Dennis Graber) estimates the value of this yearís crop at $2-3 million, which is way more than even the most dedicated dozen stoners could smoke. Alas, the feds are on to them, and two agents from the DEA (James Hart and John Kuhl) are currently combing the forest for evidence of the gangís activities. First contact between the two sides goes badly for all concerned. The agents kill the first person they see (Debbie Link) when she refuses to be taken peacefully into custody, and the gangís revenge is swift and terrible. Murdering the DEA guys hardly counts as a victory, though, because someone will surely miss them soon enough. When that happens, the gang will have to contend with the full strength of the Drug Enforcement Agency, obviously a losing proposition. But if they all skedaddle now, itíll mean sacrificing their marijuana crop. After somewhat contentious discussion, the pot dealers settle on harvesting as much as they can on a crash basis during the next 48 hours. Unbeknownst to them, however, the slain agentsí superiors, Phillips (John Amplas, from Martin and Day of the Dead) and Briggs (Paul Haskin), have a fair idea of where in the park their men in the field were working when they disappeared. Sensibly figuring that the drug dealers will scramble to harvest their weed, Phillips and Briggs hire a drunken crop-duster (Bob Larson) to spray the suspect area with an experimental, fast-acting, marijuana-specific herbicide. You guessed itó not only is the untried chemical as lethal to humans as it is to Cannabis sativa, but it also causes anyone it kills to rise again as a blood-hungry zombie.

     Those undead post-hippies make short work of practically everyone they come upon in the woods, including an old hermit (Dennis Helfend, of Silent Madness) and half of a family of camping suburbanites (Pat Kellis and Roger Miles). The pilot also gets a fatal dose of the herbicide, and slaughters his shrewish wife (Hariet Miller) after the side effects kick in. Only two people escape the zombiesí initial rampage: Amy, the daughter of the dead campers (Judith Brown), and Jimmy, her retarded brother (Kevin Hanlon). (Note that while Jimmyís handicap is such that he can plausibly be played by someone of almost any age, Brown is just much too old to be credible as Amy. The actress is obviously well into her 30ís, but the character as written makes little sense if sheís a day over fifteen.) When they meet up with park ranger Tom Cole (writer-director-producer-editor Charles McCrann, hiding behind the pseudonym ďCharles AustenĒ), his wife Polly (Beverly Shapiro), and his fishing buddy Jay (Phillip Garfunkel), itís an open question who is going to be rescuing whom. Obviously a couple of armed and experienced woodsmen with a functioning car are just what the kids need if theyíre going to survive, but without Amy and Jimmy to alert them to the zombie danger, Jay and the Coles would be sitting ducks themselves.

     If youíve seen pretty much any post-Romero zombie movie, you can safely skip this one unless youíre truly obsessed with the subgenre. The unusual method of the monstersí creation is absolutely the only interesting thing about Toxic Zombies, and Iím sure itís been used elsewhere by now, probably in something much more memorable overall. In all other respects, this film is just sort of drably competent: okay pacing, okay dialogue, okay gore effects and monster makeup, okay cinematography, okay if amateurish acting, an okay-looking girl taking her top off in the opening scene. Even the odious comic relief is okay, insofar as the heated bickering between the crop-duster and his wife is neither actually funny nor obnoxious enough to linger long in the memory. It goes without saying that something better would have been preferable to Toxic Zombies, but this is one of those cases where something conspicuously worse would be preferable as well.



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