“Bloody Bill” is a zombie film with probably one-millionth the budget of the recent “Dawn of the Dead” remake’s catering budget — if that. Directed by long-time cinematographer Byron Werner and written by John and Matt Yuan, the film follows a group of college students on their way to a debate, when they stumble across Earl (Gregory Bastien), a gun-toting criminal in search of a missing compatriot named Darrel. Following Darrel’s trail, the group ends up in the abandoned Western town of Sunset Valley, which seems to be stuck in a permanent state of sunset. Luckily for Earl, he locates Darrel rather easily. Unfortunately for Earl, Darrel has been bitten by zombies and he quickly turns on Earl. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
The town, it seems, is cursed by a zombie named Bloody Bill (Jeremy Bouvet), a saber-toting Union Army reject (and, in a funny bit of trivia, a big time racist) who joined the Confederacy during the Civil War, became infamous, and then got himself strung up by the good townspeople of Sunset Valley. Now back from beyond the grave, ol Bill’s got the rest of the townspeople as his zombie slave. (Apparently you only need to “curse” people in order to turn them into zombies. Go figure. And here I thought black magic was more complicated than that.). Unable to escape the town, and with zombies closing in on them, it’s up to the college kids, their “coach”, and an actress in her ’30s posing as a college student, to team up with violent criminal Earl to battle the undead horde or end up as dinner. Yum.
What’s a debate team and an inner-city thug to do? Fortunately for our heroes, one of the students happens to know every single detail of Bloody Bill’s legend, including how to kill him. Well, isn’t that convenient? Almost as convenient as the zombies, who despite already been dead and thus undead, can still get shot and fall down, apparently “dying” again. Or some such. In truth, “Bloody Bill” has so little use for internal movie logic that it’s a futile battle to make them care about their own made-up rules. I suppose the thing to do is to just “go with it” — or don’t.
Being that it’s a low-budget film, “Bloody Bill” suffers from the same problems as most films in its category, which is mainly a general lack of resources. The actors aren’t always convincing, the script is mostly stilted, and Werner can barely get a handle on maintaining continuity. The film’s timeline is all over the place, and it gets much worst when the characters split up, since they seem to be blissfully unaware of the other group’s encounters with various zombies despite the fact that this is a very small “town”. Also, Werner keeps showing the zombies running about town like speed freaks (ala “28 Days Later” and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake), but for whatever reason these zombies never seem to get anywhere with any regularity. Despite, once again, this being a very small town.
The lead in “Bloody Bill” is one Gwen, played by a very determined Chelsea Jean. The character seesaws back and forth between serviceable and extremely abnormal, meaning that Gwen has exactly one reaction to every situation — complete and total calm. A guy with a gun just hijacked our van! Gwen barely bats an eye. Zombies are trying to eat our brains! Gwen grabs a bat and gets ready for battle. Gwen stumbles across the 200-year old corpse of a woman who looks remarkably like her. She steals the woman’s clothes. You get the idea. While it’s nice to see a heroine keep her composure in a zombie movie, making her Supergirl, Ellen Ripley, and those female “ER” doctors all roll into one is more than a little ridiculous. When you can out-calm the harden criminal, you are way beyond cucumber cool.
Being that “Bloody Bill” is a zombie film, it’s no use to nitpick its many inconsistencies. Sometimes you can shoot the zombies and they’ll fall down. Sometimes they won’t. And as mentioned, the zombies always seem to be darting and racing to and fro, but never seem to get anywhere with any decent speed. At one point a character tries to kill Bloody Bill with a grenade, and despite the fact that the grenade went off on the first floor, all we see is a small plume of black smoke coming out of exactly one window on the second floor. It must be a trick grenade or something. Either that, or Werner and company was warned if they dented their little faux western town they wouldn’t get their security deposit back.
As a zombie film, “Bloody Bill” runs down the middle of the road for creativity. At just 75 minutes of actual movie, it’s much too short, and characters drop dead (or, in this case, get zombified) at an impressive rate. There’s a lot of humor, as when Earl discovers Bloody Bill’s racist side; and some unintentional humor, as in the case of Gwen’s magical gun — one second it’s in her hand, the next it’s missing. Look, it’s back! You get the idea. The acting ranges from good to decent and back again. Gregory Bastien, as anti-hero Earl, has his moments, but for the most part he’s stuck with some silly dialogue. The same for the rest of the cast, especially Chelsea Jean as the insanely unflappable Gwen. The way Gwen calmly and smoothly adjusts to every horrific situation, you wonder if she runs a survival school on the side or something.
Perhaps the one thing that sets “Bloody Bill” apart from its brethren is its visuals. Ex-cinematographer Byron Werner certainly knows his way around a film camera, and “Bloody Bill” benefits tremendously from his years of shooting other people’s movies. The film opens with some strong visuals, and Werner continues to make the movie look a lot more expensive than its budget. The excellent “permanent sunset” look of the film was achieved in post, obviously, and Werner even indulges in some “Saving Private Ryan”-esque manipulation of the camera’s shutter speed. Although it’s interesting to note that this visceral filming technique comes and goes for whatever reason.
For what it is, “Bloody Bill” is certainly better than it should have been. The limited budget, the questionable cast, the presence of an unreasonably stout heroine, all adds up to a film that falls on the plus side of average. But as a low-budget film, and a zombie movie at that, it’s pretty damn good. And although the film only runs 75 minutes, one does get the feeling that a short running time was the way to go, especially since the movie seems to lose a lot of steam at the hour mark. Of course, killing off your most entertaining character at this point didn’t help matters any.
Byron Werner (director) / John Yuan, Matt Yuan (screenplay)
CAST: Chelsea Jean …. Gwen
Jeremy Bouvet …. Bloody Bill
Gregory Bastien …. Earl
Denise Boutte …. Mandy
Matt Marraccini …. Jerry
Steven Glinn …. Buck