There are two ways to make an independent/low budget zombie feature. The first is to keep the film small, make it about the characters and their situations. You keep the set pieces small and contained. This keeps the scope of the film small, alleviating the need for excess zombies, which are often expensive to craft and more often then not look like shit if they are done on the cheap. You use your head and cast good, not necessarily name, character actors. They are folks who can certainly carry the material, yet their fee won't ingest half your films budget. Sure a name will look great on the DVD cover or RedBox poster, but the horror community will respond much better to a well made film than a name star.
The other way to make an independent/low budget zombie feature is to say "fuck logic." You set your zombie film against the back drop of an erupting volcano. You include plot points like: mass evacuations, rolling lava rivers, historical reenactments, and an exploding fucking volcano! You blow half your budget to bring in Danny Trejo for nothing more than a couple wrap around scenes. Finally, you hire your little brother to design the effects for your heavily effect laden film on his old Amiga. Probably because you blew your budget on Danny Trejo.
Unfortunately for those sitting down to watch The Burning Dead (FKA Volcano Zombies) the film makers chose to follow the second pathway when crafting their independent zombie film. As you may be able to ascertain, The Burning Dead starts with a Danny Trejo framing sequence. he is a Native American Shaman sitting by a fire telling three kids the story of the evil demons that lurk within the mountain that may or may not be behind them. The evil spirits first erupted and killed the cannibals members of the ill fated Donner party back in the 1840's. Funny, I don't remember that part of history class. Fast forward to present day and said mountain is seemingly ready to blow. The seismologists have evacuated. The sheriff is casing the mountain to make sure everyone else has left. There is one family left and despite the fact that there are presumably thousands of people in town that need evacuated, his one mission is to get this family off the mountain.
With the sheriff, his pet family, and the seismologists adequately separated from anything that may add layers and substance to the film it's time for the volcano to erupt. Only this is a special volcano, remember what Indian Danny Trejo said, the mountain is full of evil spirits. These evil spirits take the form of flesh eating zombies shot out of the crown of the volcano like a terrible fireworks display. Once on the ground these zombies proceed to hunt down and attempt to eat the folks "trapped" by flowing lava on the mountain. I use the phrase trapped very loosely because the lava looks like it was filmed footage of a 5th graders science experiment.
So I know what you are thinking, sure the set up is stupid and the execution is terrible, but at least tell me the zombies are cool. Sorry friend. I mean, I could say that but I'd be lying and I don;t want to lie to you. The zombies - and again I use that term loosely look like the same rag tag group of 6 or 7 people. The only differentiation comes in come oddly placed close up shots. But for the most part it's the same few zombies used in various mid and wide shots. There are 25 people credited as zombies in the film. but I'll be damned if I can find more than say, 10. Now credit where credit is due, these zombies do have some cool glowing eyes, and unlike normal zombie lore, they cannot be killed with a head shot. They just kind of burn everything that they touch - except for the ground they walk on or anything they touch. But if you touch them...then...fire time. They can be killed by freezing them with a fire extinguisher (which is admittedly pretty clever).
The Burning Dead is a bad film. It's a bad film just because no one seemingly gave a shit. From the behind the scenes head scratchers (the films scope) to the on screen execution, The Burning Dead is a dud. A quick note to anyone thinking of writing or producing a special effects laden zombie film on an indie budget. Don't. It's like your mother used to say "If you can't do it right. Don't do it at all."
* star out of *****
That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."