Billy Zane and Mischa Barton slum it in this Walking Dead knock-off

The Walking Dead’s massive popularity has spawned countless imitators, one of which is Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard. The name is a bit of a misnomer: Do not expect a zombie elephant to show up. Stop me if this sounds familiar to you- the zombie apocalypse has occurred and society has collapsed. Small pockets of civilization remain intact, maintained by the violent force of a few armed men. Written and directed by Harrison Smith, a rural town builds a militia of young citizens to protect themselves from zombies. Little do they know a bigger zombie menace is coming that threatens to engulf the town and tear apart this rag-tag group of soldiers.

Several years after zombies roam most of the country, the small town of Elwood has managed some semblance of order. The remaining populace has erected a fence around its border and employs a young group of soldiers to defend Elwood from zombies, the titular “Zombie Killers.” The Zombie Killers are mostly a group of young men dressed up in paintball gear as they pick off stray zombies near the town’s fence. Led by a former military man in Seiler (Billy Zane), the group is better at playing soldier than being an effective fighting force. The town is run by Doc (Brian Anthony Wilson), a former doctor that has developed testing protocols to keep infected humans out of Elwood. It is the only thing keeping the town from slipping into oblivion.

… it does serve as a decent diversion for the right type of horror fan.

Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard is definitely patterned after the human drama and conflict found on The Walking Dead. Elwood is slowly pulling itself apart from within as petty jealousies arise between the survivors. The actual zombie threat is almost secondary in the narrative to greater conflicts brewing inside the town. Rory and Toni (Mischa Barton) are about to have a child, which causes much consternation with a religious fanatic. The much older Rory has married the young Toni, pregnant with another man’s baby. Ian (Michael Kean) is a Zombie Killer and has to watch as his mother (Dee Wallace) slowly dies from cancer in front of his eyes. He wants to escape Elwood with his girlfriend.

For a zombie film it avoids using the frightening creatures up close and personal. We do not get the hordes of realistic zombie action seen on bigger, better productions. The action is mostly kept to a distance with long-range shooting. Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard is low-budget film-making with cheap but fairly creative CGI for FX. There is one dodgy scene when zombie deer show up en masse, though the idea is cool enough. Most of the budget appears to have been allotted for the three big names in the cast: Billy Zane, Mischa Barton and Dee Wallace. All three contribute, especially Zane as a larger-than-life military leader. The two actresses have smaller roles. Mischa Barton looks a little too old for her role – the character’s pregnancy would have fit the narrative better with a younger actress.

The movie is ultimately disposable outside of Billy Zane. The world probably did not need another film set in the zombie apocalypse. While Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard doesn’t really bring anything unique to the table, it does serve as a decent diversion for the right type of horror fan. If I had come across it on the Syfy channel one weekend while channel surfing, a place the movie naturally fits, I would have left far more satisfied.

Copying The Walking Dead’s formula of gritty realism and human drama makes for a half-decent film. Where it fails is that television has hours and hours to build its characters with the audience. A movie under two hours has little chance to make us deeply care about its characters.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Gearing up @ 10:24

Zombie Killers arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay/Starz in a perfectly respectable 1080P presentation considering its budget. Filmed with the RED Epic digital camera, the unpolished Hi-Def video looks unremarkable beyond adequate exterior scenes.

The main feature is framed at an overly tight 2.35:1 aspect ratio on a BD-25. Zombie Killers runs 103 minutes, encoded in satisfactory AVC compression averaging 21.73 Mbps. Like many independent films made on the cheap, interiors fall flat with limited shadow detail and reduced clarity.

Picture quality is fairly steady in terms of sharpness and average detail. Its flat palette lacks the vibrancy of better video, leaving slightly pale flesh-tones. Zombie Killers’ final appearance closely resembles the HD one sees on hastily shot local news. The clarity is solid enough that it won’t affect a person’s viewing experience but this is not invigorating 1080P resolution.

Video ★★★☆☆

Zombie Killers has a workman-like 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The surround channels are used on occasion to enhance action scenes. The film relies on more dialogue-driven drama than you might expect. Dialogue is cleanly presented in clear fidelity, mostly anchored to the center channel. This is a conventional surround mix with a smattering of ambient rear support. It does become more energetic in a few notable scenes, pumping the soundstage with deeper bass.

Anchor Bay provides optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Appearing in a white font, the subs remain inside the 2.35:1 widescreen framing at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Zombie Killers is currently a Best Buy exclusive through 5/04/2015. The three short featurettes provide a glimpse at life on set, emphasizing the tight-knit cast and crew. Director Harrison Smith repeats a couple of times the advantages of working with the same people from movie to movie, in the mold of John Carpenter’s successful films.

Bloodbath & Beyond (04:32 in HD) – Three fans are interviewed together about their experiences as they visited the set. Some on-set footage and behind-the-scenes information are included in this featurette.

The Look of Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard (05:24 in HD) – A featurette with a majority of the crew responsible for the movie, including make-up and production design. The director is also briefly featured. There is discussion of the choice to turn the zombies’ eyes black and the cinematographers’ intentions.

Behind The Scenes (04:56 in HD) – This featurette includes short interviews with the principal cast, including Dee Wallace and Billy Zane.

Extras ★★☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.