Witness Infection is a new comedy from director Andy Palmer (The Funhouse Massacre) and writers Carlos Alazraqui and Jill-Michele Melean about two clashing mafia families and how one son tries desperately to stay out of the business...
...And if the threat of a mob war does not put a damper on his day, an invading zombie swarm also complicates matters. When faced with the threats of sleeping with the fishes or getting eaten alive, best friends Carlo (Robert Belushi) and Gina (Jill-Michele Melean) along with aspiring screenwriter Vince (Vince Donvito) spend a night battling organized crime and the undead.
Dramatic suspenseful music leads the viewer to a wooded scene in the opening sequence where two men sit in a tent waiting to shoot a deer. One wants to hunt (Ben Begley) and the other, Pauly (Ryan Bottiglieri) who speaks with a thick Jersey accent, just wants to eat loudly, and release noxious gases from all his orifices. Leaving Pauly to his grossness, the other hunter goes for a brief walk only to return to the now zombified Jersey-boy who proceeds to eat him.
The scene and tone shift abruptly to Carlo and Gina, the heroes of the film, as they tease each other while they groom dogs and casually chat with their friend Vince. To ruin a good moment, Carlo’s brother Dominic (Bret Ernst) and their father Mr. Serrelli (Carlos Alazraqui, Fairly OddParents) show up to swear and insult everyone. Apparently being a dog groomer is not what this mob boss had in mind for his son, and no one in the family stays quiet about the matter. Aside from accusations of bestiality, the real reason for the impromptu get together is that Mr. Serrelli demands that Carlo marries Patricia (Erinn Hayes), the daughter of a rival mob don, Mr. Miola (Maurice LaMarche, Animaniacs). A marriage would stop the families from feuding and make everyone happy. Except for Carlo.
At this point in the movie the tone seems a little inconsistent because of the zombie cold-open and the shift to a mafia movie, but Palmer brings it all together by slowly combining the two storylines. Before settling in at the Serrelli family dinner table, we get an intense eating scene where everyone scarfs down Italian sausages—the same sausages which led to Pauly’s transformation. We see lots of close ups of people shoving food in their face and of the food label, so we are clear of the strong connection between food and turning into a zombie, much like Cooties. Still in mafia mode, the whole family swears and openly discusses crimes which makes the movie reminiscent of The Sopranos, but in a far more comical manner. After the explosive dinner, Carlo reveals to the audience that the Serrelli family and Miola family no longer live in Jersey, but even though no one knows who any of them are, the families still cannot shake their old ways of life. In fact, the well-versed family motto of the Serrelli’s is “Always leave one in the head.”
Not wanting to be stuck with the leggy and irascible Patricia, Carlo, Gina, and Vince head to the Miola’s to break off the arranged marriage. Along the way, Carlo starts to question the concept of true love and, oh yeah, they also see a group of people slamming into a food truck. Typical millennials incapable of handling their sausages and beer. Unfortunately, this unusual behavior cannot be blamed on millennials.
Not only does the film make nods to other zombie and mobster movies, but the characters also openly cite films to support their reasoning or to allow for fun one-liners. In an impassioned speech, Rosa of Vengeance (formally Rose the Bartender) (Monique Coleman) mentions Aliens, Night of the Living Dead, and Jurassic Park. It would be refreshing to live in a zombie outbreak with so many people knowledgeable of horror-film outcomes.
Since the source of the zombification is known from the beginning, there are no secrets of who will turn, so the film avoids a lot of surprising reveals. But Palmer does keep you guessing on when people will become a zombie. Subtlety plays a big part in Witness Infection; the comedy sneaks in with quick gestures and comments and even the exposition appears only briefly here and there. The gore, on the other hand, makes its presence very much known. The zombie make-up and eating scenes provide all kinds of ooey-gooey goodness that will ruin any appetite. James Ojala and the whole make-up crew do a fantastic job of making your tummy queasy like you just ate tainted sausages.
The primary characters of Carlo, Gina, and Vince provide likeable figures, but the smaller roles chew the scenery and not just each other. While you are watching you might find yourself trying to figure out why some of the actors seem so familiar. Many of them have voiced everything from PowerPuff Girls to TMNT to Animaniacs. Definitely a deviation from their normal roles as cartoon characters, but it is quite enjoyable to hear Brain from Pinky and the Brain say ‘fuck.’ However, even the most talented of voice actors apparently cannot do a believable Jersey accent.
With so many zombie films and shows, Palmer took a risk deciding to add to the ever-growing pile of the undead. Overall, he did well with combining mob and zombie movies, even though the explanations of either fall short. Witness Infection spends very little time explaining why the feuding families live in the same forgettable town or even why they are fighting. The same goes for the zombie plotline We eventually find out how the mob story caused the zombies, but you will have to stick around for the mid-credit scene to see it.
Witness Infection comes to VOD and digital from Freestyle Digital Media on March 30th.
By Amylou Ahava
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