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Monday, October 22, 2018

Garden of the Dead (1972)




The zombie marathon keeps on rolling with another old favorite of mine. Ironically this one was made in the same year as yesterday’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. While nowhere near as fun as that one Garden of the Dead has some goofy things going for it.

The story is set in prison work camp where for some reason the prisoners are doing something with formaldehyde. The movie never explains the details, but that doesn’t matter. The point of its inclusion is to establish that some of the prisoners enjoy huffing the stuff to get high. This also destroys more than a few brain cells. Additionally, we find out in some dialogue right from the start that in keeping with the new kinder penal system the camp is going to be closed and the warden reassigned.

Before that happens, a prisoner named Bradock and his stoned lackeys decide to make a break for it before the camp is shut down. They get to a truck, but because one of them stops off for a last drag of gas they get caught. The warden and guards show no mercy and gun them down, later burying them in shallow unmarked graves. This backfires though when the men rise as zombies bent on getting some revenge. These zombies don’t eat you, but they will kill the hell out of anyone that gets in their way. Other than revenge the only thing they desire is more of the formaldehyde which sends them right back to the camp.

This is a movie that I used to watch a lot on the old late-night shows. It must have been cheap to get because it played all the time. But when I went to put a DVD/VHS collection together I couldn’t find this at all. It took me years to track down. There is a chance that nostalgia and/or the hunt for a copy might influence my love for Garden of the Dead. But I’m going to make a case for why I watch this a couple of times a year and have since I finally found it.

This can't be good for you!
This is a very short movie clocking in at less than an hour, fifty-nine minutes to be exact. This means that the story is focused and wastes no time getting to the good stuff. It is never bogged down in exposition. You get a few lines in the beginning to setup the basic outline and then it jumps right into the action. This makes for a tight and enjoyable experience. The acting isn’t great though I never felt like it was bad either. The cast does what they are asked to do and again don’t bog things down trying to overdo it. There are a couple of melodramatic moments, but it fits with the rest of the movie, so I don’t mind.

The zombies are your basic pasty-faced dark circles under the eye’s variety. None of the kills are particularly memorable, but we do get a nifty melting zombie. Seems in addition to bullets that light will mess these bad boys up. Most of the movie is shot at night and they use a fog machine liberally, which creates some atmosphere. It feels like one of those old poverty row films that filled their sets with fog to make things spooky, only thirty years later and it is in color.

The zombies
I know that a lot of people hate this movie. The short running time, low budget, silly zombies, and other similar complaints are all valid. In that I mean the movie is guilty of each and every one of the things that people have complained about. But those same things are why I like Garden of the Dead and I honestly don’t get the hate. I’ve reviewed a lot of movies between this blog and the various sites and magazines who have accepted my contributions over the last twenty plus years. This is the one movie where I know I’m in the minority. No one else seems to dig this as much as I do. If you haven’t checked it out yet please do and let me know what you think. The good news is that it is much easier to find now. The link at the top of this review isn't for the trailer, but is instead the movie. 


© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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