Wednesday, April 25, 2018

BATH SALT ZOMBIES (2012) Directed by Dustin Wayde Mills

I miss the days of topical exploitation and horror cinema, when filmmakers would rip their storylines right from the headlines to offer up slightly (or more than slightly) fictionalized tales of the day’s news events. Whether they were showing us the horrors of marijuana (REEFER MADNESS), teen pregnancy (TEENAGE MOTHER), cults (GUAYAN: CULT OF THE DAMNED) or savage dictators (THE RISE AND FALL OF IDI AMIN), trash filmmakers could often be counted upon to scare up some sort of cinematic boogieman that would make our own lives seem safe and tame by comparison.

Then again, after watching BATH SALT ZOMBIES maybe it’s just a whole hell of a lot easier to rip-off the SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY flicks.

Inspired by a wave of “bath salt”-related violent crimes and cannibalistic behavior, BATH SALT ZOMBIES feels like it wants to be this generation’s answer to the aforementioned REEFER MADNESS. It even starts with a faux bath salts health class propaganda video, though I don’t recall any of the 16mm flicks I saw in high school being peppered with profanity, face-eating and an appearance by Satan himself.

Once that’s out of the way (and it’s not half as funny as you’d hope a profane parody complete with Satanic cameo would be) the plot jumps to present day NYC where it appears that about twenty people live. Ritchie (Brandon Salkil) and his bitchy, busty girlfriend Angel (Erin Ryan) are strung-out junkies in search of their next high until Ritchie scores some new smokeable bath salts from Bubbles (Ethan Holey), a biz-savvy dealer willing to give away that first pack for free.

Little does Ritchie know that he’ll not only be instantly hooked on the junk, but the military-grade designer drug will also turn him into a twitchy, super-strong monster with a proclivity for killing gals with big, natural boobs.

From there BSZ ping-pongs from Ritchie and his killing sprees to the DEA agent on his tail, to Bubbles and drug designer Sal (affably played by director Dustin Wayde Mills) complete with headache-inducing shaky-cam, comically grotesque makeup that gets more outrageous as the flick progresses and a couple flashes of not-quite-brilliance that made me wonder what could have been.

Made for less than a day’s catering on TWILIGHT, the micro-budget strains the production at the seams, highlighting both its pluses (a couple good performances, some inspired stylized mayhem) and minuses (a handful of bad performances, video-gamey CGI, flat script). Salkil makes a fine, twitchy junkie-monster and seems to be having a good time, especially during two over-the-top slaughter rampages that highlight the flick. Unfortunately, much of the flick’s 70-minute running time is monopolized by Josh Eal’s shouting DEA agent, who lays waste to drug cookers and doughnuts with equal aplomb.

With its mix of punk rock music (and filmmaking), face-ripping gore, “real” actors, junkie atmosphere and zero budget, BATH SALT ZOMBIES comes off like some bastard lovechild of the Cinema of Transgression and HG Lewis. Luckily, I enjoyed BATH SALT ZOMBIES just enough to give Mills' SKINLESS (2013) a whirl and was amply rewarded for my optimism. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and The Hungover Gourmet. This review originally appeared in ER #52, available from Amazon and direct from the publisher.

BATH SALT ZOMBIES is available from Amazon.

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