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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.23.13] United Kingdom zombies horror action war

That there had been even one sequel to the 2007 Nazi-Zombie (Zombie-Nazi?) film Outpost - itself not a particularly good film - came as news to me, so I was a little surprised to discover this third outing in a franchise that surely nobody asked for among the titles at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year. Even more of a shock is the fact that it's actually pretty good.

Following a group of Russian soldiers captured after a botched ambush in war-torn Eastern Europe some time during WWII, it boasts some impressive fight-scenes, lots of gory deaths and more than a few visual gags and laugh-out-loud moments which, along with better-than-average zombie make-up and effects and a swift pace which barrels along very agreeably, make it pretty hard to resist.

I suppose it helps that my expectations for Rise of the Spetsnaz were set quite low, but from the opening scenes of carnage during which the Ruskies attempt to dispatch a German convoy and find more than they bargained for as the secret of the Nazi zombie project 'Lazarus' gives them unexpected complications, I was pretty much on-board. The action is well staged by director Kieran Parker (writer and producer of the original Outpost) and there is a satisfying amount realism to proceedings in these early scenes (as much as there can be with zombies involved) which just about covers for the low budget and digital camera work. Watching a film like this in the cinema as opposed to at home on the small screen tends to give it a grander sense of scale and leave a greater impact, but I was genuinely impressed with some of the work done to establish the conflict and set a suitably grizzly tone.

The remaining Russian squadron are a pretty motley crew of bearded badass reds, and after tangling with the reanimated dead above ground they find themselves captured and imprisoned in the underground bunker of the sadistic Colonel Strasser of the SS, where gruesome experiments to create a zombie army are under way. The story from here on writes itself with predictable results, but the film doesn't suffer for it, rather it feels as if it's giving us exactly what we want, and there are just enough moments of fun along the way that that feels just fine. Yes, there's a break-out and the Russians start to fight back, yes some zombies are released into the confusion and the whole thing goes nuts. What's important is that this scenario is kept equally brutal and playful, brisk and entertaining, and all without taking itself too seriously.

On the down-side though, it almost goes without saying that the characters are all pretty two-dimensional and the script is chock full of cliches. The best characters in the film - including the hard-bitten (no pun intended) Russian commander Arkadi (Velibor Topic) and the zappy American spy Captain Rogers (Ben Lambert) - all seem to get dispatched early on and we're left with the rather dour Dolokhov (Bryan Larkin) as our lead man, and apart from his skills at fighting zombies and grunting he's just not that interesting. Relief is found in the performance of Michael McKell as Strasser, who seems to enjoy his work almost as much as the 'Jew Hunter' from Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds', and certainly owes a significant debt to Christoph Waltz' performance in that film as he chews scenery and gurns his way through dialogue which even Quentin would balk at. One wonders how his men can stand him when everything he says seems like a grand statement delivered to a rapt audience, but some of the lines are just too much fun. "Let the games begin!" - "Welcome to the war!" - "Let there be light!" - "Hell is a cold place after all!" (that last one sounded like it was stolen from Batman & Robin). This all sounds rather camp, but McKell just manages to walk the right line between genteel and totally barking mad.

The zombies warrant a quick mention since they all look pretty great, and without any noticeable use of distracting computer effects. The undead here don't seem to obey the standard 'Romero' rules (who out there would keep a zombie on a leash and expect to survive longer than a few seconds?) and fall into three distinct categories based on their hosts. They are either your standard undead, giant ogre-types, or most intriguingly they become sort of gaunt, haunted looking Michael Berryman types who just stare listlessly at everyone around them. I liked this touch although not much is done with it.

I doubt that Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz will win many awards (perhaps something for its impressive sound design and editing) but it passes the time in a generally satisfying way and felt like a good start to a film festival which tends to overlook fun, trashy horror in favour of delicate arthouse dramas. If you were left disappointed by 'Outpost II' (a film which was by all accounts a total turkey) and would like to revisit the Naz-Zom genre which has of course provided us with such "classics" as 'Oasis of the Zombies' and 'Zombie Lake', then give yourself a treat and check this out.

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Digger (4 years ago) Reply

I'm somewhat surprised you didn't like the original Outpost. Was there something out there that had been done better? I'm curious because I enjoyed Outpost very much, so I'd like to see other films like it


projectcyclops (4 years ago) Reply

I didn't dislike the original Outpost. It certainly didn't leave any great impression on me though, and I figured it had been largely forgotten. I'm sure other films have handled similar material in a less sophisticated way than Outpost (like the ones mentioned at the end of the review) but to me it just lacked impact and I was surprised to see not one, but two sequels to it. I may revisit the first one though as I haven't seen it since it first came out on DVD.

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