Titles are a tough thing. Ask any writer or creative individual and they will agree – naming a thing is far more difficult than making it up in the first place. Such labels have to legitimize your efforts, explain them without fully giving away the entire premise. Sometimes, the shell game works too well. Who would have imagined that There Will Be Blood would wind up telling the story of a wildcatting oil man at the turn of the century? On the other hand, Masked Vigilante vs. a Psycho in Clown Make Up sounds a heck of a lot sillier than the far more brooding The Dark Knight. Sitting somewhere in the middle is the latest from Troma Entertainment, Pot Zombies. Yes, like the classic chainsaw massacre Pieces once stated, this is exactly what you think it is. On the other hand, the up front moniker masks a movie almost rebellious in its flailing exactitude.
A bunch of rednecks come across a marijuana field tainted with radioactive waste. A few blunts later and they are hankering for human flesh. When some of this wicked wacky weed winds up in local smoker’s circles, the cannabis’s cannibalistic tendencies start to spread. As more and more young people light up, a full blown zombie Armageddon occurs. That’s it. No major league hero steps in to save the day. No game government reaction to the entire bleary eyed living dead mess. No last girl limping around waiting for her date with the undead’s incisors. It’s just people getting high and then (as the cover art claims) getting the munchies for people pudding pops. Yum!
Pot Zombies is the senseless shampoo of scary movies. Director Justin Powers simply sets up his roach = reaction conceit, breaks out the green face paint, and repeats. Ad nauseam. As the mind behind the lame HP homage LovecraCked! The Movie, Master P is a titan of limited financial returns. He can make a mockery of no budget cinematics and still find a way to undermine one’s expectations – for good and for bad. Like a broken record, a hyperactive teen, or an accused politician, Powers constantly duplicates his ditzy horror hack brilliance as if we didn’t quite get it the first 253 times. Actors attempting to replicate news reporters do their damnedest to undermine our suspension of disbelief, and it’s not long before we wonder why it took a team of four – that FOUR – screenwriters to come up with what is, in essence, a collection of cinematic sameness.
The answer, of course, is desire. Moxie can make up for a lot in the world of independent art, and with Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman as a lisping pizza “boy” flitting around the fringes (he appears and disappears for no apparent reason), Powers is clearly inspired by his peers. It takes guts the size of Godzilla to offer up third rate lesbians (why do all post-modern girl lovers have to be covered in a collection of proto-punk prison tattoos???), glowing green-eyed hillbillies, and arterial spray that looks like red Kool-Aid laced with cherry Hi-C. Powers doesn’t pretend to have a plot, can’t be bothered with things like characterization, storytelling subtlety, or directorial prowess. Had he made a movie about giant battling robots looking for some goofy garbage known as the All Spark, he’d be Michael Bay. With Pot Zombies, he’s more like Michael Bong.
Taken on its own Make Your Own Damn Movie terms (a call to aesthetic arms fostered by Kaufman and his company), Pot Zombies is still a direct to digital disaster. One imagines apes with amputated frontal lobes could foster a more fulfilling scary movie experience. But if you move beyond such bourgeois mainstream expectations and take this film for what it is, Powers’ peculiar approach will finally have its way with you. Instead of being humiliating, Pot Zombies becomes humorous. Instead of representing the bottom of the barrel in homemade horror comedies, we wind up with something dangerously close to the cream of the crop. Sure, it’s stunted, stupid, and sloppy, but it’s also a pure representation of one man’s desire to mimic the media that inspired him in the first place.
And isn’t that the main purpose behind any real work of art. Da Vinci wasn’t painting some manly she-male named Mona (or Lisa) because he was the Glamour Shots of Ancient Rome. Picasso didn’t fidget with the human form because he hoped someone would name an entire painting movement after him. Everything in expression, from Georgia O’Keefe’s vaginal flowers to Robert Maplethorpe’s S&M sex pics were crafted because of an unfettered need to create. Pot Zombies is the same way. Powers can be called all manner of misguided names – amateurish, unskilled, braindead, retarded – but he’s not. He’s merely bitten by the artisan’s bug, and the bite is clearly infected and running with pus. If he doesn’t pick at it, it will never scab over and heal.
By embracing the common consumer sense of truth in advertising – there are no lovelorn Yetis, dreamboat vampires, cocaine sniffing werewolves, or meth-crazed aliens in this able arthouse triumph – and delivering nothing but said reefer rejects, Justin Powers makes the convolution of cinematic standards into its own unique visionary statement. Sure, LovecraCked! will kill you with its overriding rancidness, and it’s hard to see anything helpful coming out of this undead doobie delight. Still, for all its gaping flaws, for its need to entertain and its middling ability to do so successfully, Pot Zombies should be celebrated. Go in expecting Mozart and you’ll be kicking yourself for days. Drop those designs down a couple hundred notches and you’ll be giggling all the way to the nearest Santeria head shop.