Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse was written by Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki and Christopher Landon and directed by Christopher Landon.

Evans and Mochizuki's only previous writing credit was College Road Trip, which, despite what the title suggests, was actually a 2008, G-rated Disney movie (!). Christopher Landon is the son of beloved TV star Michael Landon, and previously wrote the screenplays for Disturbia, Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4 and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (which he also directed).

The movie is similar in tone to zombie comedies like Return Of The Living Dead, Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. It's also gloriously bloody and gory, and features healthy doses of nudity and crude humor. If you're a fan of fart & boob jokes, you'll likely have a good time. If not, well, you're in for a long haul.

In these days of watered-down horror movies, I'm honestly surprised this one is rated R. There's no point in making a PG-13 zombie movie (I'm lookin' at you, World War Z), so I'm glad they went for it and poured on the gore.

I was also surprised by the nudity. It's so rare in films these days that when it does happen, the sight of a pair of boobs becomes shocking.

So far the film's been underperforming at the box office, grossing under $10 million against its $15 million budget. Maybe the lack of any recognizable stars hurt it? Or are audiences just tired of zombies? Either way I foresee this one having a second life on home video as a cult film.


The Plot:
Lifelong friends Ben, Carter and Augie are high school sophomores, and still members of the Boy Scouts. Ben's the sensible one, Carter's the wild and crazy horn dog, and Augie's the sincere and earnest one who lives for the Scouts. 

Scout Leader Rogers, the head of their local chapter, announces that Augie will be awarded the prestigious Condor Badge during their campout that night. Ben and Carter decide they've outgrown the Scouts and want to quit, but don't know how to break it to Augie. Carter wrangles an invitation to a secret senior party for himself and Ben only. Ben's reluctant to ditch Augie's ceremony, until he finds out that his crush Kendall (Carter's sister) will be at the party. They eventually decide to go to the camp out and then sneak away to the party after Augie and Scout Master Rogers are asleep.

That afternoon, Scout Leader Rogers is attacked and killed by a zombie on his way to the campout. Meanwhile, Ben and Carter stop at a liquor store to buy beer for the party. Since they're underage, they seek the help of Denise, who's a waitress at a nearby strip club, to buy beer for them. They then meet up in the woods with Augie, who's set up a meticulous campground. They think it's odd that Scout Leader Rogers isn't there, but Augie theorizes it's a test. Augie tells the others how much he likes being a Scout with them, which makes Ben feel guilty about wanting to quit.

Hours later, Ben and Carter sneak out of the camp. As they drive away they see Augie standing in the middle of the road. He knows about the "secret" party and realizes his friends have betrayed him. He tells them to go to their precious party and storms off. Ben feels badly, but Carter drags him out of the woods.

On the way to the party, Ben and Carter notice there's no bouncer in front of the strip club. Carter talks Ben into sneaking in. Once inside the club, they're attacked by a zombiefied pole dancer and bouncer. They're saved by Denise, who kills the zombies with a shotgun.

They flee the club, and as they drive through town they see it's deserted. They go to the sheriff's office and learn the entire town's been evacuated. A zombie horde then attacks, and the three are forced to barricade themselves in a jail cell. Meanwhile Augie goes to Scout Master Rogers' home, looking for him. He finds the now zombified Rogers there and ties him to a chair.

Augie then rescues Ben, Carter and Denise by blasting music from a car radio, which lures the zombies away. The group overhears the army on a radio, making plans to bomb the town within two hours. Denise rides off on a motorcycle to get help. Ben talks the others into finding the senior party in order to rescue Kendall.

But first the three friends break into a hardware store and load up on supplies and build a host of improvised weapons, as only Scouts can do. They find the party, burst inside and start wiping out the zombies. They manage to rescue the party goers, but in the process become surrounded by zombies themselves. Augie reveals a bomb he built, and the three Scouts decide to go out quickly instead of being eaten alive. Just as Augie's about to detonate the bomb, Denise bursts through the wall and shows them a way out. Augie lights the bomb's fuse as he leaps to safety. The building explodes, killing the zombies inside.

Outside, the group is rescued by the military. Zombie Scout Leader Rogers shows up yet again, and is blown to bits by an army grenade. In the morning, the survivors are safely inside an army camp. Denise encourages Ben to plant a kiss on Kendall and tell her how he feels, which he does. Aw, love conquers all!

• The movie was originally titled Scouts vs. Zombies.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but here goes— shouldn't there be an apostrophe in the title? Seems like it ought to be Scouts' Guide. One would think a big shot movie studio would know that. Proper apostrophe use is not that hard, people!

• Let's take another look at that illustrated poster, shall we? It's a thing of beauty, especially in these days of Photoshopped collage monstrosities. It looks very much like the work of famed poster artist Drew Struzan, or someone doing a damn good impression of his style.

• I'm honestly surprised that the Boy Scouts Of America allowed this film to happen. An R-rated zombie movie featuring nudity and gore doesn't seem like something they'd want to endorse. Augie, and to a lesser extent Ben, are portrayed as positive Scouting role models, but Carter's a lying, manipulative, perpetually horny teen.

I think maybe they did do whatever they could to distance themselves from the film, as the characters are simply described as "scouts." At no time does anyone in the movie ever call them "Boy Scouts." They also mention Augie receiving the Condor Badge, which I assume is the fictional equivalent of the real-life rank of Eagle Scout.

On the other hand the uniforms look just like those of the Boy Scouts, at least to my eyes. If they were really against the film, seems like they'd have prevented them from using facsimiles of their clothing. So who knows what's going on?

• The film has a very schizophrenic view of the Boy Scouts. It constantly portrays Scouting as dull, boring and for losers. Additionally Scout Master Rogers is constantly ridiculed as a sad, out of touch, clueless little man, and it's heavily implied he may be gay.

But at the end of the film the Scouts' various survival skills end up saving the day and they're seen as heroes. So which is it, movie? Are Scouts losers or are they cool?

• At the beginning of the movie, a janitor waltzes into a lab to mop the floor. I reeeeally doubt they'd let a guy with a slop bucket splash dirty mop water all over the floor of a sterile lab environment like that. Then a few minutes later the janitor stumbles over the mop bucket and it appears to be completely empty!

• Inside the lab, the janitor wanders into an oxygen tent and encounters Patient Zero, the start of the zombie plague. This incredibly dangerous patient is simply lying flat on a hospital bed, with no restraints or anything to hold him down. Naturally this allows him to easily attack the janitor and start up the zombie apocalypse. 

I suppose I could be generous here and say the authorities probably didn't expect a dead body to come back to life, and so didn't restrain it.

• I don't usually point out these types of mistakes, but this one was pretty blatant. As the three Scouts recite their oath, Ben and Augie raise their right hands, while Carter raises his left. We then cut to a wide shot, and instantly Carter's right hand is raised. How'd the editor miss that one?

• As Ben drives through a wooded area he hits a deer with his car. When he and Carter get out of the car to assess the damage, we see the headlight is slightly cracked, and the right front tire is damaged.

In reality the car would have looked like it slammed into a brick wall, and most likely be undrivable.

• A big part of the plot involves Ben & Carter wanting to quit the Scouts. As I understand it, you can only be a Boy Scout between the ages of 11 and 18. The boys are all high school sophomores, meaning they're probably sixteen. They've only got another two years to go anyway. They've done it this long, why not stick it out a couple more years?

• Ben and Carter sneak into a strip club called Lawrence Of Alabia. Get it? Wakka wakka!

• Most of the film's plot points are telegraphed well in advance (that's a nice way of saying "predictable," kids). Like Carter's crazy, scissor-wielding cat lady neighbor, for instance. If you didn't expect to see her come back later as a zombie, then you've never seen a movie before.

• Speaking of the Cat Lady, at one point the characters have to sneak into her house to escape the zombie horde. Augie is then attacked by one of her dozens of zombified cats.

OK, I like that they went with a practical effect for the zombie cat instead of using CGI, but did they have to realize it with 1980s technology? I've seen more convincing sock puppets!

The zombified cats and deer indicate that in this world, animals can become infected with the zombie virus too. That's a subject that few zombie films ever tackle.

• Later the gang drives past a highway sign showing the distance to Haddonfield. That's where the original Halloween movie took place. One would think that since the film's about zombies they'd have picked a more appropriate town, like Pittsburgh or Louisville. Maybe director Christopher Landon is a big Halloween fan.

• I believe this is the first time I've ever seen a zombie penis in a movie. Hopefully it's the last.

• The three Scouts crash the senior party so Ben can rescue his crush Kendall.

Man, that was quite the elaborate party! Several DJs, a professional sound and lighting system, what appeared to be a full bar... it looked more like something you'd see in Studio 54's heyday than something thrown together at the last minute by a bunch of broke teens.

• This film is chock full of homages to other zombie movies, but it seems particularly enamored with Shaun Of The Dead. Nearly everything that happens has an equivalent in that movie. Among the similarities:
Carter is constantly taking selfies with various zombies. Shaun and Ed did the same thing in Shaun Of The Dead. 
Carter and Augie sing to a zombie, and it moans a croaking response. Again, the same thing happened in Shaun Of The Dead.
Augie battles the zombiefied Scout Master Rogers as Dolly Parton's 9 To 5 plays on the stereo. Once again, a very similar scene happened in Shaun Of The Dead, as the group battled zombies to the tune of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. 
Ben wanting to make it to the party to save Kendall echos Shaun braving the zombie horde to rescue Liz at her flat in Shaun Of The Dead. 
At the end of the film, the Scouts load up with weapons to save the teens at the party. Ben takes his kerchief and ties it around his head as a bandanna. Need I point out that Shaun did the same thing when defending the Winchester in Shaun Of The Dead?
There's nothing wrong with the occasional homage, but this is ridiculous. Let's hope Christopher Landon sent a fruit basket to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg for using so much of their script.

Not all of the homages come from Shaun Of The Dead though. Ben's improvised weed wacker weapon is very similar to Lionel's lawnmower in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (aka Braindead).

The army bombing the city to try and contain the situation comes straight from the end of both The Return Of The Living Dead and The Crazies.

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is a derivative, but reasonably entertaining zombie comedy (zom-com?). It's also surprisingly bloody, with a large amount of crude humor. I give it a B-.

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