'State of Emergency' Is Unlikely to Unseat George Romero from the Pinnacle of the Zombie Canon

Night of the Living Dead it ain't, but neither is it a "so bad it's good" kind of movie. It's actually pretty good, period.

State of Emergency

Director: Turner Clay
Cast: Jay Hayden, Scott Lilly, Tori White, Kathryn Todd Normn
Distributor: Image
Rated: not rated
Release date: 2013-04-16

It's been said that every playwright—at least, every playwright writing in English—labors under the long shadow cast by Shakespeare. To that I would add that every zombie movie labors under the long shadow of Night of the Living Dead. I would argue that George Romero's 1968 epic, shot on a miniscule budget outside of Pittsburgh, is pretty much the only zombie movie you'll ever need to see. Hope springs eternal, though—much like zombies themselves—so I keep trying out new zombie movies, waiting for the day when my pet theory will be proven wrong.

Alas, that day has not yet come. State of Emergency is unlikely to unseat Romero in the minds of too many horror fans. This isn't to say that it's a horrible movie. It's not, but it's far from being a definitive masterpiece.

Generic nice guy Jim finds himself caught in a war zone when an explosion at a chemical factory turns the local populace into something resembling red-eyed, sprinting flesh-eaters a la 28 Days Later. The opening scenes of the movie are creepy and effective, as the ever-reliable tropes of "isolated guy walking through a spookily empty landscape" and "sinister silent figures hovering on the horizon" are in full effect. Jim holes up for a time in a farm before shifting to a nearby warehouse, one already occupied by a trio of survivors.

As Jim and his new friends Scott, Julie and Ix hunker down and play the survival game with the surrounding nasties, they are also privy to glimpses of TV news reports that cleverly convey the scope of the disaster and the military response, highlighted by the endless army helicopters passing overhead. This suggestion of government action is a clever way to impart information, and adds an extra layer of tension to the proceedings, as both characters and audience remain aware of their own ignorance of events beyond the immediate surroundings.

This ignorance is addressed in the final minutes of the film, in which the conventions of the zombie story are dispensed with and the action changes to a kind of sci-fi medical thriller. In so doing, the movie usurps some of the audience’s expectations and, briefly, takes them into unfamiliar territory. Nothing much comes of it, ultimately, but for a few minutes this element of surprise is at play, and makes the movie worth a look for dedicated zombie fans.

On a technical level, writer/director Turner Clay has done an impressive job. The overall look of the film is effective, shot as it is in sickly tones of yellow and green, with deep shadows providing the always-crucial doses of spookiness and menace. Sound effects manage to be effective without being overone. The film is also paced well, with plenty going on from moment to moment but enough downtime to let the audience relax a little between set pieces.

More problematic are the performances, which range from serviceable to weak. Jay Hayden as Jim has an appropriately wide-eyed, freaked-out look most of the time, and he delivers his lines with gusto. He is also a skillful physical actor who gets through the various acrobatics involved in zombie escaping with ease. At the other end of the spectrum is Scott Lilly as Scott, who is doubtless a nice fellow in real life but whose line readings tend to clunk louder than a zombie's footsteps stomping up a staircase. (See what I did there?)

Bonus features on the DVD are considerable for such a low-budget movie. Besides an engaging behind-the-scenes featurette, which shows some of the challenges of shoestring-budget filmmaking, there are a number of deleted scenes and a visual-effects feature. The movie itself is watchable enough, and these features reinforce the idea that this project was the result of a lot of hard work by a large group of likeable individuals. It may also fill you with the desire to make your own movie, but maybe that's just me.

At the end of the day, what most viewers want from a film like this is a little atmosphere, a few chills, and maybe an unexpected twist or two. There aren't many twists in State of Emergency, but everything else is present and accounted for. Night of the Living Dead it ain't, but neither is it a "so bad it's good" kind of movie. It's actually pretty good, period. If zombies are your thing, or low-budget filmmaking in general, you could find many worse ways to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.