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Legion of the Dead
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Olaf Ittenbach (writer/director)
Genre:   Horror/Comedy
Released:   November 5, 2002
Review Date:   November 21, 2002
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)
Legion of the Dead starts out promisingly enough, with some twitchy, eerie opening credits, and then a Bible allusion. A long-haired guy comes upon a possessed man in the wilderness, and asks the demon "What is your name?" The reply, which Legion of the Dead implies but does not show, is, "My name is Legion. For we are many." (Stephen King referenced the same thing in Storm of the Century). Cut to the present day, and a really catchy song, where we meet our heros, constantly bickering William and Luke, and then another pair, two brothers who are evidently recruiting an army of the dead for some unnamed master. Both duos engage in willfully inane chatter. (The two legion of the dead brothers fight about what color suits they should wear when they are out killing people, like Steve Buscemi in Resevoir Dogs complaining about being assigned the code-name "Mr. Pink.")

The influences might be obvious even to someone who hadn't noticed the word "Tarantino-esque" on the DVD case. Still, in its hit and miss way, the film amuses for the first 45 minutes or so. William and his dim-bulb sidekick Luke get themselves kidnapped by Psycho Mike, who has foaming-at-the-mouth fits and a taste for cheeseburgers. One of the legion guys seems to be a walking vortex of clumsiness and bad luck, which doesn't stop him from making fun of his brother's catch-phrase, "I prefer knives." William and Luke, each with their hands cuffed behind their backs, manage to convince their captor to let them enter, still cuffed, into the bathroom, but wind up going in their pants because Luke refuses to help William unzip and unleash.

Olaf Ittenbach, the director and writer, puts an awful lot of effort into these strange details and wacky meandering conversations, and pulls it off a fair amount of the time. But he's not so good with the exposition. We meet one of the main characters this way:

Bartender: "You know, Geena, you've got a nice way with people."

Geena: "Yeah? I really like the people around here. And I really like my job. I just feel so comfortable."

Bartender: "That's something we can rely on. I think you fit in really well here in our nice little family."

Geena: "Yeah?"

Not only to we have the painful repetition of generic words like "nice", "people", "here" and "really", the scene all but screams, "Let's get the exposition out of the way so we can get back to some hip talking-a-lot-about-nothing dialogue." In a similar plot-points-as-an-afterthought fashion, we learn that (SPOILERS) some evil guy named Togaio has been running around for a few thousand years killing off the members of an immortal demon race with a knife doped with a "genetic death virus" (umÖ yeahÖ okaaaayÖ).

Because of its comedy/horror/action genre, there are also parts so ridiculous that you're left wondering, "Was this ridiculous on purpose?" At one point, some legion guys grab Geena, and William goes out to save her. There are at least three baddies in an alley, all with guns, at least one with a machine gun. William fires several times, not (as far as I can tell) actually hitting anyone, Geena gets loose, and William and Geena retreat into a building, AND IN ALL THAT TIME, THE BAD GUYS DIDN'T GET OFF A SINGLE SOLITARY SHOT.

Still, fun dialogue is fun dialogue, and there was enough to keep me from wanting to turn off the movie. Most of the supporting actors, from Psycho Mike, to the dumb-as-rocks Luke, to the little old lady who pretty much tells the legion brothers to piss off, play their parts with just the right mix of screw-the-world selfishness and casual bad humor. Sadly, though, the big three characters (the girl, the guy, and the villain) are played by no-talents. Michael Carr, who plays Luke, is the best of the bunch. He's kind of a schlubby cross between C. Thomas Howell and Treat Williams in his "I'm making three sequels to The Substitute to put my kids through college" days, which means I may have to add Carr to my pantheon of actors so bad that I develop a sort of grudging fondness for them.

Then there's Geena. The bit of dialogue I referred to a few paragraphs up is bad on its own, but then add a bartender so poor at acting that it boggles the mind, and an actress who should be thankful for the presence of the bartender, because viewers are less likely to notice her sub-soap opera delivery in their mad rush to be the first to declare the bartender the Worst Supporting Actor EVER in a Bit Part. But never fear Geena. Also around to distract the audience is the villain, who is not imposing, not scary, not cool looking, and would not be able to utter a juicy "evil guy" one-liner with any sort of authority, even if he wasn't saddled with a long blonde 'do that, if it's not fake hair, is by far the most convincing impersonation of fake hair perpetrated by real hair in cinema history.

And, in spite of all this, Legion of the Dead, for the first hour, still has the makings of a fun low-budget horror pic (partially because we don't see fake-blonde-hair guy very much). But then comes what should be the pay-off of the film: an all out blood'n'guns supernatural bar fight. And it almost works, with the bad guy intoning "Let us pray" before the carnage begins, and a random bar patron breaking out the shot-gun-wielding-martial-arts action, and the coolest and funniest bullet-to-the-brain sequence I've ever seen, all set to a sweet hard-guitars-and-techno theme. You can almost forgive the sloppy editing.

But as the third act progresses, Legion of the Dead turns into such a spectacular train-wreck of flaming feces that I found myself rewinding some parts twice. Once so I could figure out what had just happened, and the second time so I could fully appreciate its crap-errific magnitude. The bad acting gets worse, as the villain attempts to be scary, and Geena attempts to emote. The leaps of logic grow to mammoth proportions, as Geena declares her love for someone who she'd met maybe three hours earlier, and the villain informs her that love was her fatal mistake, because "love makes you weak" (particularly the "I love you for no apparent reason except that the cameras went into slow motion when I first saw you" kind of love).

Bad logic joins forces with whatever lobotomized monkey was in the editing room. Characters are introduced and killed off left and right. Some seem to disappear or reappear without any explanation. The villain gives the people trapped in the bar two hours to give into his wishes, and the only way that we know that time is passing is that, every once in a while, somebody checks their watch and informs those in the viewing audience how much time is left. We know that the legion are up to something, not because we see that they are up to something, but because William looks outside and says, "I'm not sure what it is, but it looks like our new friends are up to something.". Key scenes, including the death of a major character and the death of a minor character, play as if someone made a VCR tape of the movie for you, and just started pushing the pause button at random intervals. And then, after all that (SPOILERS), we find out, in yet another clipped and disconnected scene, that that last half hour of the movie was just a dream, which might explain why that whole sequence made no sense, except thatÖ waitÖ the dream explanation makes no sense either.

I read somewhere that the producers of Legion of the Dead took final cut of the movie away from writer/director Ittenbach, and then butchered it. And though I haven't been able to confirm that, it makes sense, especially given the extra content on the DVD. If so, that's too bad. The visuals in the film are overall pretty neat. Maybe left to his own devices, Ittenbach might have turned out a good movie. Well, okay, maybe not a good movie, but at least a fun bad movie.

DVD of the Dead

There are nine (count 'em, nine) pretty extensive deleted scenes. The alternate death scene of one of the minor characters helps explain at least one of the shoddily edited sequences. Basically, edited down, the scene doesn't quite make sense, but the full scene contains some particularly puke-tacular acting by Geena and the aforementioned minor character.

In addition to the nine scenes, the "Making of" feature contains bits and pieces of yet more left-on-the-cutting-room-floor material. Put it all together, and the film makes slightly more sense ("Oh, that's why the legion brothers were limping for no apparent reason in that one scene").

DVD Extras Rating: 4

One day, RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers will meet one of the actors who he's insulted, and that actor will beat the ever-loving snot out of him.

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