You would be forgiven for having lost all faith in the very niche genre that is no-budget zombie movie making. There hasn’t been anything good to emerge from the genre in recent memory, which is somewhat embarrassing considering the low expectations. And then along comes directors chuck Hartsell and Chance Shirley, whose low-budget zombie opus “Hide and Creep” hails from Alabama, and will surely rekindle your love affair with zombie moviemaking on a budget. Even with its wandering script, semi-pro actors, and sometimes amateurish production values, “Hide and Creep” is nevertheless some of the most entertaining stuff to come out of the low-budget rabbit hole in a long while.
Clocking in at a brisk 85 minutes, I would have liked “Hide and Creep” to be a little bit longer, simply because I believe a longer length might have smoothed over some of the film’s narrative shortcomings. In any case, the film introduces us to a disparate group of characters in the small rural town of Thorsby, which has only two cops on the force — the police chief, who is on permanent vacation, and a deputy, who is lost somewhere in Florida. When the dead begins to rise, it’s up to bored video store clerk Chuck (co-director Chuck Hartsell), bitchy police dispatcher Barbara (Melissa Bush), and Barbara’s ex-beau, Chris (Chris Hartsell), to save the day. Or at least keep from killing each other long enough to watch a football game.
Help shows up in the form of the mysterious Agent F (John Walker), who is parachuted onto the roof of the police station and promptly carjacks Barbara’s car. There’s also a guy name Michael (Michael Shelton), who woke up in a tree and spends half of the movie providing gratuitous (and extremely unsightly) nudity. Then there’s the town Reverend (Barry Austin), who gets bitten by a zombie and spends the rest of the movie looking for forgiveness. Failing that, he decides to get drunk, and then later chastises his congregation for their lack of attendance. Capping off the large cast is Keith (Kyle Holman), who runs a gun club and spends his time in the woods watching porn until the zombies crash the party, forcing Keith and his fellow gun-wielding rednecks to go on a zombie safari.
Filled with foolishness and camp humor, “Hide and Creep” is extremely funny and completely devoid of common sense. Then again, one doesn’t expect very much in the vein of logic from this particular genre. (We later learn that the zombies actually have an unexpected Achilles Heels — they’re afraid of the dark!) As such, just about anything “Hide and Creep” attempts, it could get away with simply by winking at the audience. To its credit, the film gets away with lots, including a sequence at a supermarket that might just be the funniest damn thing I’ve seen in a decade or two.
Which isn’t to say “Hide and Creep” hits on all cylinders. Its biggest problem is too many characters and too little running time. Eighty-five minutes is simply not enough time to accommodate over half a dozen main characters and their parallel stories. At one point, Chuck ends up left behind at the police station; while Chuck’s reaction to the TV pre-empting his football game for breaking news on the zombie epidemic is funny, it still leaves you wondering what the point was of coming back to him every 5 minutes or so. What it all comes down to is that you wish the film had found a central hero, put some supporting characters around him, and stuck to their plight instead of running off to see what everyone else in town was doing.
Another surprisingly aspect of “Hide and Creep” is that it actually looks quite good, especially the outdoor scenes in the woods. Hartsell and Shirley puts the filmstock to good use, but does run into the same trouble that most low-budget filmmakers run into when shooting indoor scenes. Specifically the fallback on dull frame compositions and inability to escape drab surroundings that results from poor lighting on real locations. Another noticeable, albeit minor, quibble is with the sound effects. The biggest disappointment is the foley work for the gunshots, which sounds like someone stepping on a wet paper bag. Those tiny “pop-pop” things my nephew throws around during July 4th celebrations sounded fiercer than the gunshots in “Creep”.
True to its declaration as a zombie comedy, much of “Hide and Creep” is played for laughs. In one hilarious scene, zombie killer Keith hesitates to shoot two zombie strippers when he realizes they’re engaging in zombie girl on zombie girl action, a momentary lapse of judgment that almost gets him eaten. Other gags don’t work quite as well, including a long scene where Keith has a conversation with his daughter about the rules concerning the shooting of intruders. Also, the UFO and Chinese spy plane subplots only succeeds in cramming the film with too many ideas and not enough room to explore them all. When a character literally falls out of the sky, naked, and lands in a swimming pool, it plays onscreen as odd, but completely superfluous. And in a film that’s already too unfocused, is one more subplot about UFOs really necessary?
Nevertheless, “Hide and Creep” is one of the better zombie movies, regardless of budget, out there right now. The fact that it doesn’t have 1% the catering budget of recent Hollywood zombie films like the “Dawn of the Dead” remake only makes what Hartsell and Shirley have managed to accomplish all the more impressive. To be sure, the film has a few nagging problems (the loosely structured script being chief among them), but with the resources they had to work with, there’s little doubt these Alabama boys succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
Chuck Hartsell, Chance Shirley (director) / Chance Shirley (screenplay)
CAST: Barry Austin …. Rev. Smith
Melissa Bush …. Barbara
Chris Hartsell …. Chris
Chuck Hartsell …. Chuck
Kyle Holman …. Keith
Michael Shelton …. Michael
John Walker …. Agent F