A meteor fell in an old swamp next to a small town in Florida and the people near it were killed and came back as zombies. Their first move was to kill and eat all the gators in the area, much to the chagrin of the gator hunters. Their next move was to kill and eat the gator hunters, which made the hunters even sadder, until they were killed and partially devoured and then rose to join the living dead army that was silently amassing inside the swamp. And now, with food scarce, the zombies begin to spread out, attacking and killing campers and visitors and those just using the swamp as a shortcut to get to where they’re going. A local scientist is curious about the disappearing people and starts to investigate, much to the chagrin of local Sheriff Kowalski (Buster Crabbe—that’s right, Flash Gordon, in his final role). Butting heads, the two men disagree on what to do next, while all the time, the living dead are building their numbers and inching closer towards assaulting the small town…
Directed by notorious schlockmeister Fred Olen Ray, this is a tiny-budget regional shocker that is poorly-edited, barely acted, and fairly dull. It does have its charms, though, if you settle down and give up on actually getting a good movie out of your viewing time. You have to marvel at a film that constantly lets the actors look at the camera as if to say, “Am I really in a movie?” and then stop and start as they take obvious direction from off-screen. These kinds of things can be fixed with a few snips of the editing scissors, but Ray apparently takes his cue from Ed Wood and just leaves it all in. Which, like I said, can be fun, but not in the ways you usually come for when you’re watching a film. The make-up is great if this was 1970 and not 1980, and while there’s a whole Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things vibe, this one never-ever reaches the level of magic that Bob Clark’s movie does. This isn’t an inept film, but it sure does a lot of heavy-petting with incompetence. There’s nothing quite like watching a zombie emerge from the swamp waters, a moment bordering on being actually creepy, and then that same zombie takes a second to brush the wet hair out of her eyes so she can see. Wow. Anyway, the movie is chockful of bluegrass music and people that had to be locals getting their chance at stardom. Some of them aren’t half-bad, but most look totally lost. And then there’s Buster Crabbe, former screen star, slumming it for a paycheck. He doesn’t do much other than grouse around and sound like he’s just smoked a pack of cigarettes in five minutes, but hey, he’s there, and it is kind of cool that he is.
This one I can’t recommend, unless you like “bad movies.” I don’t like to bag on films like this because hell, they had an idea, they went out and shot it, and they gave it a good try, so that’s commendable all on its own. And like I said, there’s plenty to enjoy here, if you discard this as a movie-going experience and instead embrace it as just a fun time. So yeah, that’s The Alien Dead; watch if you dare!