This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S Import) DVD of “Zombie Pirates”, Written and Directed by Steve Sessions (Dead Clowns and Shriek Of The Sasquatch!). Zombie Pirates is a micro-budget horror film about Linda (played by the lovely Sarah French), a dangerous young woman whose got herself in hot water over a crime. Soon after, a mysterious older gentleman named Grant (J.C Pennylegion) arrives at her doorstep to inform her he has proof of her wrong doing. The two strike a deal regarding ancient fortunes of a once infamous local buccaneer, Captain Lassard (Eric Spudic). Linda must deliver five human sacrifices to a neighboring ghost ship in order to gain the coveted treasure or face the wrath of the zombie pirates. The film also stars Denman Powers, Dawn DuVurger and Lucien Eisenach. Zombie Pirates isn’t my first foray into the works of DIY (do it yourself) micro-budget film maker, Steve Sessions. I remember seeing his film “Sinister” four or five years ago and I’ll be honest, it was a downright mess. It didn’t help that I had little interest in its witchcraft themes, but even still, from a film making point of view it was a tough watch. A few years have gone by since then, so let’s see how far Sessions has come in that time.
Let’s throw it out there straight away save any confusion, Zombie Pirates is certainly a micro-budget film (if you didn’t already know that). In fact, I don’t think funding has increased at all over the years for “This Is Not A Dream Productions” (Steve’s company), as is often the case in the world of independent film making. Still, you’re either one of those types that makes it happen with what you’ve got or you forego it altogether with fears of delivering an inferior product. I don’t know who was responsible for the artwork on Zombie Pirates but it looks great, the hand drawn design of lead actress Sarah French is representational. One of the strongest aspects here is Steve’s script, and probably because it deviates from the familiar trend of a cliché zombie outbreak. This particular setup injects a welcomed element of crime, something that’s never really been explored in any of the zombie content that’s out there. Most of the technical positions don’t have crew members credited on the official IMDB page, so I’ll assume Sessions did most of it himself. The camera work is okay considering the equipment probably wasn’t of the highest quality, but the framing needed a bit of work. There’s plenty of decent establishing shots that help sell the seaside locale and some solid POV shots (point of view) that lead into a death sequence. The audio levels were surprisingly good and that’s a tricky thing to get right on such a low-budget. Sessions scores all his own films and did a nice job of this one. The opening theme utilizes sounds of a whaling synth, and later there’s a unique piece of flute music which brings to mind a similar tune in 1997’s, “Anaconda”. Extra bass is applied in the mix when the ghost ship appears, that was a nice touch.
Steve’s script definitely isn’t lacking exposition regarding the origins of Captain Lassard. Early in the film Grant gives Linda what can only be described as a sermon, going into all sorts of specifics about how and why the ancient treasure exists etc. I think with a title such as this one, more people than not aren’t going to place much importance on how and why the films scenario came to be. I’m usually a stickler for details and looking to see if things are explained properly, but even I found it difficult to care much about the semantics and was much more about the conflict. The performances are about what you’d expect in a micro-budget film, some passable, and some not as much. J.C’s historian like approach fits his mysterious character, not to mention he looks the part as well. Powers as the Detective, gets his fair share of dialogue but his interactions with French often feel rigid. French is left to carry the film and although she’s serviceable, I’ve seen her do better work. On the effects front, there’s a few cuts to shots of a practical pirate ship and I’m stumped as to how they were done. One would have to assume it was with miniatures, either way it’s a real highlight. Say what you want about cheap costumes, but in the case of Zombie Pirates they actually look alright with a careful course of lighting. On a down note, it’s almost a 35 minute wait before we get to see them. I have to commend Sessions for getting a limb or two made for the film, as well as a practically fashioned head. He even threw a few maggots in with the blood, it’s not much in the way of gore but it counts for something (or should).
I’ll start with the biggest issue and it’s the 91 minute running time. An hour and a half is your average film length, which is fine, but your average film is made with some actual funding behind it. Unfortunately when you make a low-budget film, that’s rarely the case and it’s where you can get yourself into trouble. The counter can often be the enemy, and in the case of Zombie Pirates this is true. There’s so much excessive fat that could’ve been trimmed off or tightened up to make this a far better film than it is. Several dialogue free scenes are simply repeated for the sake of it, with a few new shots thrown in but nothing to drive the plot forward. The ideal running time for a film of this nature should be 60 to 65 minutes, no more. Like any micro budget film, there’s plenty of issues with this one. The worst attribute is probably the harsh lighting in a number of the internal shots at Linda’s house. Sessions needed to pull back the brightness levels, there’s glaring white light in both shots of Linda in the bathroom and lounge, even the scene in Grant’s motel room looks rather rough. Several transitions aren’t that smooth and some shots are just unnecessary. For some reason blurry water and the ocean are continually shown, so to is a repetitive sequence of Linda driving the boat out to the ghost ship. The sound clips on occasion and the foley isn’t the best, most notably during Karen’s (DuVurger) second phone conversation with Linda. It sounds like she’s talking through a two-way radio (haha). Other sounds of impact hits and body thuds don’t match, and in one scene sounds cuts off prematurely with three or four seconds of footage still remaining. During the last act there’s a constant droning sound in the background, one that I’m guessing represents a ship coming into port, either way it’s grating. Steve’s score is almost continuous from start to finish and it does get a little tedious, but on the other hand, the rare times the score is absent, it’s all too bland. I enjoyed the brief practical effects shown but the handful of CG blood spurts look amateur.
So many of the continuity related issues in Zombie Pirates were avoidable with a little more time and attention to detail spent in the edit. Most of the time it’s as simple as a tweak here or there, the aftermath of the first death is confirmation of that. One of Linda’s unlucky male victims is supposed to have been beaten to death, only problem is that we see a close up of him and there’s no visible marks to help sell that to the audience. It’ll be hard enough for the viewer to buy that he was killed from just a few hits, so at least get some makeup out and bruise the face up a little, throw in some blood and just make an effort. Don’t have your characters reference things with physical means if you can’t or don’t intend on showing them. I understand that budgetary constraints can come into play, but there’s a scene where the Detective shows Linda photos proving he knows more about her case than first thought. That writing choice doesn’t hold any weight because the image is only fleetingly shown and it’s so fuzzy you can’t make out what it is anyway. In another scene there’s a death via knife. Now it’s clearly a plastic knife, no real qualms with that. I figure there was no money for molds and prosthetics and such, but give the fans more blood, blood is cheap and it raises the overall production value. Toward the end of the film there’s a piece of dialogue that makes next to no sense, but made me laugh all the same. The Detective says to Linda “There might be a back way out”. I’d say that considering the house is Linda’s she would know that. I’d be lying if I said that Powers performance didn’t bug me, it was more that there was just no sense of urgency about the situation. Even when he becomes aware of the true motive behind Linda’s killings, see’s it up close and personal (yes the pirates), he still doesn’t have that human reaction, that moment of bemusement.
I think I’ve had Zombie Pirates sitting in my collection since 2014, so it was nice to finally get around to watching it. Sessions hadn’t set the bar real high for me but I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw, though the result could’ve easily been a lot better. It feels like a cross between “Zombie Lake” and “The Blind Dead”, only made on even less of a budget than those B movies. I dug the artwork, along with Steve’s script that welcomes a new setup I haven’t seen in the zombie sub-genre thus far. Some of the camera work is alright, the audio surprisingly clean and the score much better than you’d think. There’s plenty of dialogue laying out the origin of the pirates (if that floats your boat) and Sarah French does a decent job of carrying the film. The best aspects are those gorgeous shots of the ghost ship and the zombie pirates themselves. There’s a couple of prosthetics and a bit of the red stuff, but don’t expect much considering this was probably only made for $2,000- $3,000 (at a guess). The biggest hindrance to the re-watch ability factor of Zombie Pirates is the overly long running time. This thing needed to be cut by 25 to 30 minutes in order to tidy the dispensable up. There’s sub-par lighting, editing and foley at different points throughout the film and sometimes they all converge in the one spot. A few things were required to make this more professional. A once over the script to fix some of the dialogue, attention to detail in giving the most in regard to makeup, and just more blood in general. My advice here would be for Steve to do a re-cut, trim the fat and add some more Zombie action and you’d have a very watchable product. As it stands, Zombie Pirates is probably one for the hardcore fans but most others are going to struggle to see it through.
My rating of “Zombie Pirates” is 3.5/10