“Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead” pretty much says it all. Leave it to the Aussies to pull zero punches and put out another ballsy, gruesome horror film that makes mainstream studio fare look like Merchant Ivory. Helmed by Australian writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner and co-written by Kiah’s brother Tristan Roache-Turner, Wyrmwood: Road the Dead moves furiously at a head-spinningly frenetic pace from the word go, even if repetition sets in somewhere in the middle. Before that, though, this ozploitation flick is balls-out, cuckoo-bananas, unwholesome fun, a confident feature debut that’s also inventive and creatively resourceful in its carnage and overall filmmaking.
A zombie apocalypse has struck the world, forcing the survivors to band together in armor suits and gas masks. In the middle of the night, ordinary husband and father Barry (Jay Gallagher) wakes up to his daughter telling he and his wife that there’s someone in the kitchen. It’s a zombie, and Barry and his wife take care of it, then grab their daughter and get out of the house. Meanwhile, Barry’s sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) holes herself up in her art garage until help arrives, but instead she’s abducted by SWAT men for some sort of lab experiment at the hands of a crazed scientist in a yellow hazmat suit (whom one cannot wait to see get his just desserts). There, Brooke is injected with a serum that allows her to control the zombies. After Barry’s wife and daughter suddenly turn, he’s forced to dispatch them with a nail gun. From there, he hooks up with survivor Benny (Leon Burchill) and they attempt to go save Brooke. Not only will they have to contend with the ferocious undead but the shifty military as well.
One entertaining, wildly startling set-piece early on gets the viewer right into the tone that is consistently offered throughout Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. In her art-studio shack, grunge artist Brooke is spray-painting one of her models for a photo shoot just before the model turns into a raving monster, but she resourcefully puts up a fight, chains her up, and hides out overhead in the rafters. Standing out on its own, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is infused with just enough imaginative touches—the zombies’ blood is flammable and can be used as fuel, and Brooke has developed the ability to control the undead—and a giddily over-the-top sensibility not far out of the realm of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive.
The film occasionally pauses for characters to reveal their solemn pasts, but never long enough to sketch its characters into fully fleshed-out people. The sole dramatic core lies with Barry’s emotional turmoil after being forced to end the lives of his wife and daughter, who are no longer his wife and daughter. Jay Gallagher makes for a fine hero of the brooding sort, and Bianca Bradey proactively essays a tough-ass chick as Brooke. Also, Leon Burchill is a vulgar hoot, hijacking most of the film’s laughs as pig hunter Benny. Though his screen time is limited, Berynn Schwerdt is frighteningly demented as The Doc, who likes to play KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” in his trailer lab.
If you thought you were suffering from zombie-movie fatigue, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead kicks the genre up a notch, being fueled by bloody, steampunk-ish visual style and hyperkinetic energy. The overly squeamish need not apply.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is now available on Blu-ray via Scream Factory