It must be adaptation week. Yesterday I reviewed Jiu Jitsu, adapted from a graphic novel co-written by the film’s writer and director. Today it’s Zombacter: Center City Contagion, adapted by writer/director Sean Bingham from his 2011 novel of the same name. I wasn’t exactly a fan of Bingham’s previous film, It Lives Inside, so I was somewhat surprised when he offered me the screener for Zombacter. But I’ve seen plenty of second films that were much better than the director’s first effort so I gave it a look.
Jake Northrop (Eric Starkey, Children of the Corn: Runaway) is doing research on artificial intelligence. In particular, using genetically engineered bacteria to create a living computer. And he seems to be on the right track, at least until one of the lab animals bites his assistant Ruben (Peter Anthony Seay, Lady Usher). His boss, Dr. Langley (Mike Waugh, Gremlin, Enter Darkness) is not amused, it could have been his daughter (Kate Moore) that was bitten. He orders the project shut down and the test animals destroyed. Of course, it’s already too late.
Soon a mysterious flu-like disease is spreading across the city. It seems to have a connection to a rash of incidents involving people biting each other. Before long its victims are rising from the dead and doing more than just biting their victims. It’s up to Dr. Northrop, his daughter Jennifer (Cassie Self, Door in the Woods, Resurrection County) and homeless veteran Bill Santini (Doug Van Liew, The Pale Door, Camp Cold Brook) to get themselves and a few survivors to safety.
To answer the obvious question, Zombacter: Center City Contagion is indeed a big improvement over It Lives Inside. For a film shot over two weeks, it looks quite good. This time around there was a budget that allows for a fairly large cast and some decent production values. IMDB estimates the budget at $75,000, but I suspect it was a fair amount less.
There’s a growing film industry and pool of talent in Oklahoma. Many of the films I listed among the actor’s credits as well as The Jurassic Games, Climate of the Hunter, Let Me Make You a Martyr, and Hellraiser: Judgment among others were shot there. The much lower costs of filming there would have let them stretch their resources much further.
The zombie makeup isn’t particularly elaborate, but it beats the hell out of the makeup free zombies so many low budget films resort to. There’s even a couple of nice gore scenes, including an impromptu autopsy. Mostly though, the effects are limited to CGI blood.
There certainly is plenty of bloodshed as the group makes its way to the university so they can get Northrop’s notes which may hold a cure. The trip there is composed of fairly familiar events, run-ins with other, hostile, survivors, squabbling among the group, a man with an infected wife, etc. But once they reach their destination the script comes up with a few surprises including some mad scientist vibes.
The ending leaves plenty of questions unanswered. The fate of several characters is left unknown as is just exactly what is going on with one of them. There was a second novel, Zombie King of Everything and I’m assuming these questions are meant to set up an adaptation of it if Zombacter: Center City Contagion is successful.
If you go into it with the proper expectations, it should be an enjoyable watch for zombie fans. I’d certainly have no objections to seeing the second book filmed and those questions answered. Zombacter: Center City Contagion will be available on Vimeo On Demand November 20th. Other platforms will follow, you can check the film’s website for updates.