Night of the Dead: Leben Tod is a US horror film that was written and directed by Eric Forsberg.
The opening scene of Night of the Dead: Leben Tod sees Louis Graham’s Dr Gabriel Schreklich bringing a frog, pinned to a dissecting table, back to life. The doctor’s understandable delight at this momentous discovery is short-lived however as the frog is not exactly alive, it is undead and with a craving for human flesh, forcing the doctor to bash it into a splattered pulp with his shoe. Any film that starts with a zombie frog is probably worth a look and the tone of that first scene is a pretty accurate indicator to much of what is to come. But by no means all…
Only moments later the doctor’s beautiful wife and young daughter are killed in a car accident. We later learn that the doctor has not taken this event lying down and has attempted to bring his loved ones back from the dead. Unfortunately they suffer from the same problem as the frog, they are now zombies with a craving for human flesh whom the doctor has kept locked in a basement room for the last year, feeding them the remnants of his less successful patients whilst searching for a cure. But these are not typical zombies, they can talk, they know who they were, what happened to them and what they are, but are still driven by an insatiable hunger. It’s all rather sad.
The rather unusual title for this film uses the German words ‘Leben’, which means ‘life, and ‘Tod’, which means ‘death’. The ‘Leben Tod’ is therefore used as the name for the type of zombie in this movie…which is slightly different to your usual flesh craving undead in the sense that these zombies retain memories of their past life.
The basic tragedy at the centre of the story, the fact that the doctor is driven by his love for his wife and child, informs everything that follows in way that’s more common in werewolf films. The zombies are driven to kill, but all they want is to live again. No matter how bad the acting gets (and it is pretty bad), no matter how over the top and gory events become (and they get very gory), the story has a genuine emotional heart that makes you forgive stuff that you might not forgive in other films.
The gore is bound to divide people. On the one hand, it’s not that realistic and so not that upsetting. On the other hand there is so much of it and it’s handled in such a graphic way; a daughter scooping out her mother’s brains, a zombie having his head slowly beaten to bloodied stump of neck, a living man having his head ripped off. It’s a bold movie that mixes gore on this level into an empathetically tragic plotline.
There is also sub-plot involving the doctor’s assistant, whose pregnant wife is a virtual prisoner in the facility, though she does not know why. This doesn’t work quite as well, it’s less engaging and harder to believe in. Actually in the final third the whole film loses its way a bit as events descend into blood-spattered chaos. As the doctor’s wife and daughter rebel against him they take the film’s all important emotional core with them, leaving us with nothing but gore. There’s also some ‘redemptive power of love’ stuff that left me cold and an ending that I just found to be utterly baffling, certainly not the clever twist that I imagine the filmmakers were aiming for.
Despite slipping in its latter stages, this is still a really interesting and original idea, drawing considerably on the B Movies of the 1930s and 40s (I don’t how many times Bela Lugosi played a mad scientist sacrificing others to save his wife!), but viewed through a haze of blood and guts. Although the most interesting plotline doesn’t quite succeed, it’s still a genuine and laudable attempt to do something new with an overstuffed genre. Besides, how many zombie films are there (particularly in this budget bracket) which can legitimately be described as moving and ultimately tragic.
Genre fans will spot strong parallels with Re-Animator (1985) throughout the film – the crazed scientist, the resurrection serum, the gore and splatter, and the blackest of gallows humour……but there is enough going on here to lift it above being simply a Re-Animator clone.
And, if you have a tendency to buy your entry ticket for the blood and guts and don’t really care about characters and plotlines, then Night of the Dead: Leben Tod is your sort of movie – you’ll be amazed and delighted with the amount of visceral gore and mess that is flung around during this movie.
Watch ‘Night of the Dead: Leben Tod’:
|Get the film at Amazon.com|
|Get the film at Amazon.co.uk|
Written by: Robin Bailes