“Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street”, the first feature from writer director Jim Mickle, picked up a number of plaudits and prizes on its initial release back in 2006 with a successful tour of genre festivals. Now with a new and not entirely necessary expanded moniker (the original title was the simpler “Mulberry Street”, which still appears in the actual credits), the film finally makes a welcome appearance on region 2 DVD via Momentum, coming with a number of extras including making of documentaries, deleted scenes and makeup features.
The film is set on the titular street in Manhattan, New York, in the middle of a particularly hot summer. As a strange virus carried by rats spreads throughout the city, victims begin to degenerate into rodent like creatures with a hunger for human flesh. Led by retired boxer Clutch (television actor Nick Damici), the inhabitants of an old tenement building marked for redevelopment try to seal themselves in and keep the ghouls at bay. At the same time Clutch’s daughter Casey (Kim Blair), a scarred soldier returning from Iraq arrives in the city and has to fight her way through the chaotic streets on her way home.
It very quickly comes apparent that “Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street” is a cut above the usual independent zombie film, being professionally shot and with director Mickle making excellent use of his budget. Comparisons with “28 Days Later” are inevitable, given the shaky camera work and sprinting flesh eaters, though the film has enough of an evocative sense of place and contemporary US subtext to stand apart. It certainly helps that the acting is solid, and that the script features a genuinely interesting and offbeat set of characters, whose relationships are often implied rather than being spelled out or thrown in for convenience. This makes for a sense of community essential to the film’s themes and makes the violence far more effective once it explodes mid-way through the proceedings. Even though the basic plot is standard, “Night of the Living Dead” influenced stuff, Mickle manages to transcend any feelings of familiarity and to give the film a fresh and engaging feel.
Mickle allows things to build slowly through ominous signs and weird occurrences, subtly generating an ever-lurking sense of threat as he fleshes out the characters and the location. As a result, the film is grounded and chillingly believable, with the virus outbreak initially escalating in the background via newspapers and television reports. When the rat people finally appear, the blood really starts to fly, with plenty of gruesome scenes of flesh chomping and throat ripping. Although there are a handful of scares scattered throughout, the emphasis is firmly on action and running battles, and again like “28 Days Later” or “REC”, the film is probably best described as an intense urban thriller rather than horror in the strictest sense. The makeup work and effects are excellent both in terms of the blood and the rat people, who could quite easily have looked ridiculous, but who instead, mainly thanks to some clever camera work, are genuinely creepy and grotesque. This also helps to make the film convincing, and helps to pull the viewer into the story and the characters’ fates.
“Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street” is certainly one of the best zombie/infected running shrieking ghoul films of recent years, and more than survives any comparisons with similarly themed bigger budgets efforts. Tautly directed and gripping, it manages the uncommon feat of being both terrifying and believable, and is an excellent example of modern urban horror that should be enjoyed by even the most jaded genre fans.
Jim Mickle (director) / Nick Damici, Jim Mickle (screenplay)
CAST: Nick Damici … Clutch
Antone Pagan … Peter Pace
Tim House … Ross
Larry Fleischman … Charlie
Bo Corre … Kay
Ron Brice … Coco
John Hoyt … Big Vic