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Serum
cast: Derek Phillips, Dennis O'Neill, Lizabeth Cardenas, and David H. Hickey

director: Steve Franke

89 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Brain Damage DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Mark West
SPOILER ALERT!
Whilst searching for a cancer/ pretty-much-everything cure (the serum of the title), Dr Edward Kanopolus (David H. Hickey) inadvertently creates some kind of super-zombie. By that, I mean the person isn't necessary dead, but they look it and have super-strength and can heal themselves. The initial test victim, patient P47, escapes his confines in an abandoned hospital and gets shot for his trouble, but not before biting one of the security guards. This reviewer thought he'd missed something, until Dr K becomes 'Captain Exposition' and explains everything that's just happened - plus the backstory - to another character (including the tit-bit "the nervous system can stay active up to four days after death" - I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but seriously...). Captain Exposition (sorry, Dr K) is then pressured by the pharmaceutical company he works for to speed up his results and the only way that can happen is if he uses a live specimen!

Meanwhile, we meet two college under-graduates (both of whom are clearly in their mid-thirties): Eddie (Derek Phillips), and his old friend Walt (Bill Sebastien), who are planning to go to a party and let their hair down (or they would, if it wasn't thinning with the onset of age). Through machinations too complicated to go into, we meet Eddie's dad Richard (Dennis O'Neill), step-mom Norma (Shawn Kurz), who Eddie treats badly for no apparent reason other than she's an almost-alcoholic (and the actress looks considerably younger than him), and Eddie's ex-girlfriend Sarah (Lizabeth Cardenas). Things happen, people fall out, time goes by, then Eddie goes to a dinner party at his dad's, where it turns out his uncle is Dr K! Small world! Eddie gets rundown (40 minutes into the film!), Dr K and Richard kidnap him from the hospital and Dr K injects him with the serum (but not before trepanning a prostitute to get the brain fluid necessary for the operation - which, rather than being a little drill and minimal skull trauma is actually gained from some kind of monster drill that causes her to die very messily and spray his lab coat with a lot of blood).

Things don't get any better from here and the exposition gets worse (Richard tries to explain the plot-so-far to Sarah who says, "I'm sorry, why are you telling me this?"), as Eddie adjusts to life as a zombie (but not one really, because he looks normal most of the time, until he gets into the mood for killing, when the bone structure on his face changes until he ends up looking like a cut-rate Rondo Hatton). Norma gets killed by Eddie (she's clearly bludgeoned with a sledgehammer but when the cops look at her later, after being warned "it's bad," she just appears to have some red Ready Brek stuck to her temple), and Eddie goes to a party (where everyone looks very awkward) to wreak mild havoc. Eddie gets shot, eventually, putting us all out of our misery but he's a zombie and so he just gets up off his gurney and walks out of the incinerator room (presumably - please don't let this ever happen - to set up a sequel).

This is a dreadful film, it really is. Don't get me wrong, that has nothing to do with the fact that this obviously had virtually no budget, that most of the acting is amateur and that most of the effects are papier-m�ch� and tomato ketchup - I've been involved with films like that, they're fun to do. But as I've said before, if you're charging people for a product - and this is listed on Amazon as costing �2.98 (which is still a rip-off) - then it should be professional. And Serum simply isn't.

The editing is appalling, suffering from that terrible low-budget curse of having lingering shots (to up the running time, perhaps?). This takes that ineptness to another level, where people and objects leave the scene and there's five or so seconds of dead space - in one 'fight' sequence, one actor stops altogether but isn't quite out of shot. Much worse is a sequence where Norma comes downstairs, wearing more bedclothes than she does day clothes and hears a sound (this is just before she gets murdered by hammer and breakfast cereal). She looks toward it and the camera holds for at least 20 seconds (and she's not that good an actress). She walks off-screen but there's no cut and the camera looks at the fridge for five seconds. The music doesn't work, being an homage (I'll be kind) to both Psycho and (more likely) Re-Animator and some of the compositions are quite extraordinarily bad - at one point, for no reason that I could determine, we are treated to various city views that are often interrupted by cars driving through the shot. Scarily, as the credits roll, it becomes apparent that all of this is the work of one man - yes, Mr Clay Liford, director of photography/ camera operator/ editor/ music supervisor and post-production supervisor, let someone else have a turn!

The acting is uniformly dreadful, from Captain Exposition's emotionless monotone, to all of the far-too-old college students, with only Norma showing any signs of talent - and she gets killed off as quickly as possible. The effects are equally as bad - the bladder work would have shamed Dick Smith when he created the process back in the early 1970s and the zombie/ whatever make-up is, I'm sure, papier-m�ch� lumps glued to the actor. For some reason, the director is keen to tell us what day it is or what time, which serve no purpose (other than to pad out the running time). In addition, there are a fair few fade-outs but the gratuitous nudity (a mesmerised Walt watches the widow next door sunbathe topless, even though her implants are marred by tan-lines) would suggest it wasn't designed for TV. The sound design is occasional - sometimes they seem to forget completely, at other times it's as if a Foley crew realised they were on overtime - and all of the phones (as my wife pointed out, struggling to stay awake) have exactly the same ring-tone.

There are some priceless exchanges of dialogue - my two favourites are riffs of each other, as Richard says to Eddie "Your grandfather, my father," and, later, Dr K says to Richard, "Your son, young Eddie" - but the biggest potential joke isn't explored, that Richard and Edward are, effectively, Dick and Ed. As for the plot-holes - well, let's just say there are a few.

I find it impossible to believe that this kind of thing gets made and professionally distributed - most of the crew are listed as 'interns', which I take to be a kind way of saying volunteer. Surely someone must have either read the script or watched the dailies and realised that at no point was any kind of creative vision getting onto the screen. I honestly can't think of anyone that this would appeal to and would say that it ranks alongside The Cellar Door as my worst film of the year so far.

On my screener copy, the only extra was a series of trailers for films which looked - if that's possible - even worse than this mess was. I stuck with them all, though, since I thought that was what a dedicated reviewer should do but can guarantee that unless I really annoy editor Tony Lee and he forces me to review one, they will never trouble my DVD player.
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