Garden of the Dead,
directed by John Hayes
(Millennium, 1974)

Garden of the Dead is the epitome of incredibly low budget drive-through horror cinema; this film is truly awful, which means I freaking loved it. If you're going to make a stupid movie, I say go all the way, and that is exactly what these guys did (well, except for the nonexistent gore).

Of course, you can only do so much with a budget that consists of whatever money you could find in your pants pockets and between the cushions of your couch. (There's only one police car to be seen, and the convicts' numbers are handwritten on their shirts.)

Is Garden of the Dead scary? Of course not. Zombies aren't scary to begin with, and who expects to be scared by a 1970s trailer-park trash movie, anyway?

The story takes place at one of America's numerous formaldehyde-producing prison camps, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The warden dresses all in black (even wearing his black gloves to bed) and talks tough, but security is so lax that a bunch of the convicts have plenty of time to sniff tons of formaldehyde vapors and dig an escape tunnel for themselves. Having rotted their brains of whatever smarts they might have had to begin with, the escapees quickly find themselves shot down and planted in shallow graves -- but they don't stay there for long. After all, there's more formaldehyde to be had back at the camp. Along the way back, they scare the bejesus out of one "good" prisoner's reasonably hot girlfriend, but all of the axe-wielding, shotgun-blasting action is back at the prison camp. Is it fierce and exciting? No. Is it fun to watch? Absolutely.

You have to love these formaldehyde junky zombies. The whole lot of them can't figure out how to get inside an RV, yet the first thing they do back at the prison camp is to cut the power and phone lines. And get this! Not only is Garden of the Dead loads of fun to watch, it's also educational. Here's just one lesson I learned from watching this film: if you're the clumsy convict who tripped and fired the shot that alerted the guards to your gang's great escape, don't hand the group's only gun over to your buddies when you finally catch up to them.

I do need to inform you that this film lasts only 58 minutes. In this case, though, a short running time is probably a good thing -- since the print is so dark and dirty, and formaldehyde-junkie zombie action is best taken in measured doses. Here's the bottom line: if you love really stupid, low-budget '70s drive-in horror films, you'll enjoy Garden of the Dead; if you don't, you'll want to shoot yourself in the head about 15 minutes into the action.

review by
Daniel Jolley

26 March 2011

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