Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard is a film that’s marred by ambition, which is a shame, because director Harrison Smith does his best to diverge from generic zombie norms. Smith’s apocalyptic world is already established when we meet Billy Zane’s rag-tag team of undead assassins, and he answers the hard-hitting questions horror lovers have been asking for years – like do zombie bears really exist? Or zombie deer? Or zombie fish? Hell, we’ve already seen zombie beavers (Zombeavers) and zombie roadkill (Zombie Roadkill), so why not turn a whole host of woodland creatures into flesh-eating monsters? Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard isn’t JUST about hilarious zombie animals though (no matter how hard we wish), as Smith chronicles a fight for survival that’s hampered by out-of-touch CGI, rough performances, and a jumpy story that fails to blend religious cultism with sweet zombie-killin’ action.
In Smith’s zombie-infested universe, natural gas fracking is believed to be the root cause for a dangerous infection spreading across the globe. The town of Elwood promises a safe haven from the horrors lurking outside its chain link fences, which are protected by a zombie security squad led by an ex-militant named Seiler (Billy Zane), but there may be more to fear than walkers and fracking. Doc (Brian Anthony Wilson) attempts to govern Elwood with everyone’s wellbeing in mind, but young Ian Sommers (Michael Kean) believes something sinister might be going on behind the backs of innocent townspeople. With a zombie horde headed straight for Elwood, it’s up to Seiler’s team to protect their small community and discover what’s really going on behind closed doors before the walls come crashing down around them.
The town of Elwood evokes simpler times of prairie life, since electricity and other modern luxuries have become extinct, and Smith does his best to create a gun-slinging atmosphere akin to the old West (lots of acoustic music using metal slides). Even though the sturdy walls surrounding Elwood represent safety, Smith and co-writer David Agnew Penn attempt to address a new breed of infection that can turn animals, be transferred through water, and cause natural damage outside of the normal “zombies eat brains” mentality.
A little religious debating squeaks itself into Smith’s story, and some fracking commentary is thrown in for environmentally conscious reasons, but nothing comes together when Doc suddenly flips on his God complex and starts cleansing Elwood. Smith attempts to play around with feelings of false security and maniacal heroism, but between Doc’s unnecessarily bleak decisions and an overly-religious preacher, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard haphazardly stitches together a story better handled by many previous efforts (The Walking Dead COMICS come to mind, most recently).
Remember in the 80s when digital animation wasn’t around, and filmmakers were forced to create practical effects on a shoe-string budget? Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard proves that those days are far, far behind us, as filmmakers like Harrison Smith are opting for CGI effects that favor quantity over quality. I completely understand that this is nothing but a budget decision, aiming for a bigger scale with less money, but there are moments throughout this zombie thriller that put forward cheap-o renders of gore, zombies, and hordes of deer running full-force. Remember the zombie fish I was talking about before? They’re all CGI except for one dead carcass. The zombie deer? Horrendous CGI.
The gore is a mixed bag, as the few zombies wearing makeup look pretty grotesque, but when the entire “wave” of zombies is shown (a few miles wide), we’re left glaring at a blurry mass of copy-and-pasted animations that look as appealing as a 90s computer game. God bless Smith’s ambition to attempt something bigger than just a confined zombie thriller, but glaring challenges with shoddy effects work cheapen Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard around every turn – a rather unpalatable bit of visual unpleasantry.
Unfortunately, the performances don’t display much more life themselves, with Billy Zane’s latest genre run being the only worthwhile acting amidst the bunch. His zombie killers look the part, decked-out in customized paintball uniforms (don’t ask who got them), but a lot of novice talents are on display, and it’s not very hard to tell. Genuine moments of comedy are present while a few gun-happy “soldiers” take pot-shots at shambling zombie targets, and Brian Gallagher provides a solid investigative turn, but Michael Kean seems a bit out of place as the film’s unlikely hero. Something about his boyish demeanor doesn’t gel with the hardened zombie killers, and his romantic tendencies are goofily overplayed at times, thrusting himself upon his lover with the fury of 1,000 suns. Most characters have a hammy nature about themselves, lacking subtlety and grace, but this seems par for the course when actors are forced to blast flying CGI zombie fish out of mid-air.
Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard is a rough, choppy watch that somehow makes intersquad paintball seem more interesting than actual zombie fighting. Credit Harrison Smith with creating a zombie movie that attempts to be something more than just a shoot-em-up video game, but at the same time, this mentality leads to some atrocious examples of how overused CGI can sink an entire production when done wrong. Who knew that a horror movie could drain all the fun out of mutated zombie animals?
CGI zombie deer, CGI zombie fish, and CGI zombie bears - Oh, no!