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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Empire State of the Dead

April 25, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Empire State of the Dead

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #459: Empire State of the Dead

Anthology April: Week 4

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never wanted to jump through a hoop of any kind, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and fifty-nine, Anthology April concludes with the mega low budget zombie themed anthology flick Empire State of the Dead, which hit home video in the spring of 2017.

Empire State of the Dead


Empire State of the Dead is a mega low budget zombie anthology that features the top seven short films produced for the “Empire State of the Dead” short film contest that was held during the Scare-a-con Film Festival back in 2014. The idea behind the contest was for filmmakers to make a short film that takes place in Central New York about zombies. The only other rule I remember is that the zombies featured in the shorts had to adhere to the “zombie rules” established by George A. Romero (slow moving zombies, can only be killed by damaging the brain, all that stuff). Outside of those two things, the moviemakers had free reign to come up with whatever they wanted to come up with. I seem to remember there being ten official shorts submitted, or at least screened, as part of the festival, although I could be wrong about that. The seven short films used to populate the movie are joined by a wraparound story directed by festival director Ron Bonk to make one gigantic story. It’s an interesting way to make a movie and it’s fun to see just how Bonk pieces the shorts together to create one big story. And while the whole thing peters out at the end, Empire State of the Dead is essential viewing for fans of mega low budget zombie action.

The movie is broken up into “chapters” that both incorporate the shorts and the wraparound story. I’ll review each chapter and try to decipher where the shorts begin and end and the wraparound story appears.


The first chapter is called “Outbreak of the Living Dead” and starts with a mobster named Olen Ray (Wes Reid) dealing with an enemy in a new way; by zombie. Yes, Olen Ray, after a hilarious monologue that touches on weird stuff dogs eat, what dogs can shit out if they’re really committed to it, and Stallone movies, unleashes a zombie on a guy tied to a chair. We see the zombie eat the chair guy’s intestines, and we also find out some of the zombie rules the movie is going to adhere to (again, the rules established by the Romero movies). We then get a pretty damn cool opening titles sequence that leads us into the second chapter.

Chapter two is called “Dawn of the Living Dead” and starts out with the first festival short, a story about a drugged out homeless guy who tries to get a fix in the middle of the start of the zombie apocalypse. This homeless guy is perpetually messed up and looks it (he’s missing his top teeth, he looks like he hasn’t showered in months, his clothes are dirty as hell). As the apocalypse gets going, the homeless guy runs around the city at night, brandishing a gun and a knife and, I guess, looking for his next fix. He acts like he has no idea what the hell is going on, and the actual people he interacts with can’t believe this guy has no idea what’s going on. This short is moody and disturbing and, at times, hard to watch. You want to feel sorry for the homeless guy but, at the same time, you want him to figure out what the hell is going on. You don’t want to see him die. But then when he does die, it isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just something that seems to happen as part of the natural order of things.

After a brief “Emergency Broadcast Center” TV warning about the zombie apocalypse and instructions on what to do if you come into contact with a zombie, we see a second short, one about a man with a flamethrower who has to save a bunch of hipsters at a bar from being devoured by zombies. This short is a major departure in tone from the homeless guy story and shows you that the zombie apocalypse doesn’t have to be a completely morose affair. The addition of a flamethrower is nice, although we don’t really see any full on flamethrower action (we never see, in a wide shot, a zombie getting set on fire). And the guy playing the main hipster is goofy and likely grateful that flamethrower man showed up to save him. I liked the tone of this one and, again, love the addition of the flamethrower. For my money, we just don’t see enough flamethrower action in movies in general.

Chapter three, “Escape of the Living Dead,” is up next and we see the wraparound story. A three person squad of Marines, led by Ritter (Joel Miscione, who I’m pretty sure is the flamethrower guy, and if he isn’t he sure as hell looks like him), are out and about looking for survivors and shooting zombies dead. Along with Sheets (Michael Merchant) and McCrae (Eli DeGeer), the Marines argue over what the hell they should call the zombies since the word “zombie” has apparently been outlawed by their bosses. Once they’re done with their argument, the squad rescues two people from a zombie attack.

The story then shifts to another short, one where two men walk through the woods looking for shelter. One of the guys spends most of his time talking about how he wants to make his mark in the new world and become rich, while the other guy kills zombies and complains about his friend’s hopes and dreams. The guys eventually find a house in the middle of the woods that they assume is abandoned and go inside. Once inside, they start hearing weird noises upstairs and go to investigate. What they find is one of the most disturbing yet hilarious things you’re likely to see in any zombie movie. What do they find?

A naked guy having full on sex with a zombie. I won’t spoil how this short ends but, man, it’s seriously fucked up. And if you don’t laugh at the last scene of the short this movie is clearly not for you.

Chapter four, “Chaos of the Living Dead,” is up next and starts with Olen Ray giving a pep talk to his assembled forces. Since the beginning of the movie, Olen Ray has moved beyond being simply a mobster and has become the leader of an army. Olen Ray plans on taking as much land and resources as he can so he can start up a new society of sorts. While this pep talk is going on we see a montage of zombie attacks all over the area. The zombies are relentless and will attack and eat anyone (adults can try to cover up their little kids all they want, if the zombies want to eat kids they’re going to eat goddamn kids).

The scene then shifts to another festival short, a movie that takes place in a public bathroom somewhere. Two guys run into the bathroom to hide and quickly realize there are bodies inside, including one they recognize. They don’t know if the person they recognize is dead, though, and spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what to do. They never quite figure it out, though, as the person they recognize turns out to be a zombie and attacks both of them. I like the idea behind this short and the buildup to the big reveal as to who or what is a zombie is generally good, but the way it ends is kind of lame. The two friends probably should have escaped the bathroom and left the zombie inside. That would have been a more fitting ending.

Chapter five, “Prey of the Living Dead,” is next and starts with Ritter’s team meeting with their superior officer, the Colonel (Scare-A-Con promoter Jesse V. Johnson), and receive their new orders. Ritter also finds out about the growing gang problem as public order further erodes (the government rescue centers set up to handle people in need of shelter are being taken over and disbanded by the gangs). The movie then moves to the next short, a weird one that sees a psycho gang leader (Draven, as played by a demonic as fuck Wayne W. Johnson) fucking around with some random people his gang finds in the woods.


Now, this “psycho gang leader in the woods” didn’t play all that well, at least to me, as a lone short. I liked everyone who appears in the short, but I thought it was too mean-spirited for its own good. Appearing in the middle of a larger movie, the short plays better because it establishes Draven as a potential villain for Ritter and his team to deal with. Ritter’s team doesn’t run into Draven, but it establishes the possibility of it happening. And that’s what should have happened. Perhaps it’s being saved for a sequel?


Chapter six, “Descent of the Living Dead,” features my favorite festival short, a very science fiction type story about a scientist who believes he has created a cure for the zombie plague. The scientist is a bit of a nutjob, but there’s a real chance that his cure might work. However, before he can actually test the cure, his lab is attacked by both a horde of zombies and a government hit team. The scientist does manage to inject his cure into a guy named after a character from Aliens, and that guy ends up becoming a kind of super zombie. The short ends with the idea that there are more adventures in store for this super zombie. We don’t get them and, at the moment, it doesn’t appear we’re going to see any further adventures, but the hope is there.

Ritter’s team is also hanging around in this segment, arguing over how many soldiers they’re going to need and putting together a rescue mission of sorts for the scientist with the cure. Obviously, the rescue mission goes nowhere, but the argument over how many soldiers they’ll need is a hoot. If you’re a Star Trek fan you’ll love it.

The scene then shifts to the final festival short, a black and white story about a group of women who don’t know what to do. I didn’t really care for this particular story. In fact, I can’t even tell you what it’s actually about. It does have a great visual aesthetic, though. In fact, it may be the sharpest looking of the festival shorts.

Finally, we hit chapter seven (I missed the title of this chapter) and it’s all about Ritter and his now much larger team descending on an abandoned building that’s filled with zombies. Ritter’s team is low on both ammo and options. They have no choice but to fight their way out, but how many of them are going to survive?

This ending is completely unsatisfying because the movie just stops. There’s no final confrontation between Ritter and his team and Olen Ray and his army, and none of the characters who live through the festival shorts appear again to wrap up the movie. There’s a post credit sequence that, I guess, sets up a sequel, but is there a chance for a sequel? And if there is a sequel, what the hell is it going to be about? Is it going to be another assemblage of short films with a wraparound story, or will it be a direct continuation of Ritter and his team dealing with the zombie apocalypse? I’d love to know. The way the movie ends seems to suggest, or really demand, that a sequel get made. Because what happens next?

Of course, it would be cool, too, if a sequel was just four shorts showing what happens to Ritter and his team, Draven, the super zombie, and the guy that likes to have sex with zombies. They don’t even need to be connected by anything. What happens to those people, though?

I like the ambition of the overall story of Empire State of the Dead. It doesn’t really achieve the greatness it wants to achieve because of the way the movie ends, but you have to hand it to director Bonk and company for what they do manage to pull off. I know I didn’t see how the various stories could have been connected when I first saw the shorts.

I do wonder, though, why Ritter and his team, while decked out in military fatigues and whatnot, don’t have helmets or hats. You’d think, with what they’re dealing with in terms of the zombie apocalypse, that at least one of them would be wearing a helmet or a snow hat (the wraparound story takes place in the winter). No one mentions it, though. Weird.
Empire State of the Dead isn’t perfect. It has issues and has an unsatisfying ending. It is worth checking out, though. It has plenty of ambition and it’s cool to see how multiple short films by various directors can be put together to create one whole. It sort of works. But the world needs a sequel. Empire State of the Dead 2: Central New York Slaughter? I’d watch that.

See Empire State of the Dead. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Lots.

Undead bodies: They’re goddamn everywhere.

Explosions: We see the aftermath of them.

Nudity?: Yes.

Doobage: A mob beating, a story about killing a dog that you love, talk about drug use, serious intestine eating, off screen face eating, fellatio, blade jammed into the neck, a homeless guy going through shit, drug use, attempted mugging, blood dripping, pot smoking, a guy watching zombie movies on his computer, off screen flamethrower hooey, body burning, machete to the top of the head, neck biting, zombies attacking a shed in someone’s back yard, urinating in the woods, head stabbing, talk of zombies smelling awful, cigarette smoking, jars of blood and body parts, serious sex with a zombie, bullet to the head, the threat of butt sex, dead body eating, Kim Richards city, a zombie attack inside a public bathroom, bullshit about gum, a gang of psycho weirdoes in the woods, a guy pulling a spy glass out of his pants, crowbar to the back, ruthless zombie attacks, neck snap, rampant homophobia, more zombie attacks, even more neck biting, an injection that may be a cure, punching a hole through a guy, eye crushing, head smashing, multiple zombie head shots, a weird beard black-and-white story, another bullet to the head, a trail of blood, more head shots, soldier eating, even more intestine eating, a city on fire, and an ending that suggests there’s going to be a sequel.

Kim Richards?: Off screen, but yes.

Gratuitous: Chapters, a story about a dog shitting out underwear, multiple Stallone movie references, zombies, Central New York, drug use, pot smoking, flamethrower hooey, talk about what the zombies should be called, attack on Central New York weather, zombie tied to a big tree stump, a frog that blends in with the log that it’s sitting on, serious zombie sex, a terrifying condom, a zombie attack inside a public bathroom, Jesse V. Johnson, Wayne W. Johnson wearing skull makeup, a person ripping up the Bible, multiple Aliens references, rampant homophobia, a glowing green liquid, zombie children that rip a guy apart, gun cocking, shooting zombie kids in the head, an air raid siren, and an ending that suggests there’s going to be a sequel.

Best lines: “You beat your dog?,” “You tried to get your dog to blow you, didn’t you?,” “Was that before or after you blew your load in its mouth?,” “You sure love Stallone movies, don’t you?,” “No, this can’t be happening!,” “Fuck you, Ray! Fuck you and your dumb story!,” “Christ, you got enough shit in that bag?,” “Get away from me! I have my baby!,” “What did you do that for?,” “I killed you! I killed you, you fuck!,” “Whoa! Whoa! I don’t have any money. I’m not here for your money. Then take the weed. Maybe later,” “What the fuck was that? That was a zombie,” “How did we get on the roof? How did you get on the roof? The stairs,” “Let’s kill some fucking zombies!,” “That’s stupid and you can’t use the Z word,” “You’re a fucking idiot, McCrae!,” “What about his ballsac, McCrae? Saving it for you, Sheets,” “Hey, you gonna do something today? Frisk this bitch,” “Man, those cigarettes gonna kill you before the zombies,” “Holy shit!,” “To survive war you have to become war,” “We will give them a war they won’t believe. And, in the end, we will rule this new world,” “It’s Denis! From the group, remember?,” “How is he alive? How is he still alive?,” “Hey, you got some gum?,” “What’s up, Sarge? The Colonel needs a blowjob and I recommended he use your mouth,” “Let’s not turn down any red shirts!,” “Good luck is bad luck?,” “Fucking douchebag,” “Where ya going? Gotta take a power load. You just took one!,” “I will not let you become one of them. I will save you,” “I could go for some Twinkies,” “So what do we do, Sarge, shoot our way out? Shoot our way out!,” “I’m sorry I made that red shirt joke. Fuck you,” and “Best red shirt death ever.”

Rating: 7.5/10.0


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Things to Watch Out For This Week


7 Guardians of the Tomb: This flick, also known as Guardians of the Tomb and The Nest, is not a low budget adventure movie from The Asylum, which is what I thought it was when I first saw the poster for it. It sounded and seemed like something The Asylum would do. Instead, it’s actually some sort of Australian-Chinese co-production that has Kellan Lutz and Kelsey Grammer in it. The movie is apparently about unearthing an ancient Chinese mummy that’s also an emperor and then some bad shit happens. It doesn’t look terrible. In fact, it looks like something that a movie studio, back in the day might release in January or something. I don’t remember seeing a review for this in The New York Times so I have no idea if it actually received a token American release, but it could have. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all?


My Friend Dahmer: I’ve never been a big fan of biographical movies about serial killers (or movies that just make shit up about real serial killers, for that matter), but this one, based on a comic book about Jeffrey Dahmer, looks better than most. Some of the reviews I read for it said it was “boring” and “slow,” but then I’m just guessing that people expected to see Jeffrey Dahmer killing people and eating them as opposed to a movie about how he “maybe” became a serial killer. And that’s what this is, right? Looks very rentable.


Cyborg Collector’s Edition: This Blu-ray comes to us from the fine folks at Shout! Factory/Scream Factory and features tons of special features, including a commentary track by director Albert Pyun. This is a classic piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi action from the late 1980’s starring Jean Claude Van Damme that I know I rented a few times from the old video store (I also watched the hell out of it on cable TV back in the day). This Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is an absolute must have. When the heck has Scream Factory put out a bad product?


Doctor Detroit: The fine folks at Shout! Factory are behind this release, too, as it’s part of the company’s Shout Select series. I love this ridiculous Dan Aykroyd vehicle from 1983, as Aykroyd plays a college professor who is tricked into playing a wacked out pimp. Fran Drescher is in it, as are Donna Dixon, the immortal T.K. Carter, and the equally immortal Howard Hesseman. The big musical number is a hoot, as is the big dance. And check out the villain, Mom. There’s a director’s commentary track on this Blu-ray, so maybe we’ll find out if the proposed sequel The Wrath of Mom was ever a real thing or was just meant to be a joke. I know the movie bombed and all, but I would have been down for a sequel, Hell, I’m down for a sequel now. It’s only been thirty five years. I’m sure Aykroyd wouldn’t mind wearing that metal hand again.


Ash vs. Evil Dead ends this weekend!


Check out my reviews for the third season below!

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Episode 9


B-Movie News


Ash vs. Evil Dead has been cancelled: Unfortunately, it has happened, the one thing we all feared would happen due to declining ratings. Ash vs. Evil Dead has been cancelled by Starz, and the now series finale is set to air this coming Sunday. Hopefully, the show’s fans, the ones who have stuck with the show since the beginning and actually watched the show will stick around for the finale and see how the Ash story ends. Because that’s what this looks like right now, the end of Ash, or at least Bruce Campbell playing Ash.

I’m going to talk more about this whole situation at a later date, in a different forum, so be on the lookout for that when it happens. And, again, with the show set to end this Sunday, it would be cool if we all checked it out. Just how the heck are the Ghostbeaters going to stop the gigantic evil from destroying the world? Are they going to be able to do it?


Fred Ward is apparently going to be in the new Tremors TV show starring Kevin Bacon: Well, maybe. At the moment there’s no official word on Fred Ward joining the show, but according to this story over at Dread Central, Ward is going to be a part of the show. Now, will he be playing Earl Bass again, or will he be playing some other character? Obviously, it makes sense to have Ward come back as Earl since he is goddamn Earl and Bacon’s Valentine McKee needs a friend/partner in his battle against the graboid menace. But then, since this new show was conceived as a vehicle for Bacon, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Ward is going to play some other character, some new character. I mean, the show as far as we know, is set to ignore the events of the direct-to-video sequels, including the one that starred Ward ( Tremors II: Aftershocks), so having Ward play someone else also makes sense, in a way.

It will be interesting to see if this actually happens. Because if Ward comes back, why not have Michael Gross come back as Burt? Sure, he has his own thing going on with the direct-to-video sequels (Cold Day in Hell, part 6, comes out on May 1st) and the first TV show that Sci Fi did, but that shouldn’t prevent Burt from tagging along, should it? Of course not.

And if they could somehow get Reba McEntire back for a cameo that would be cool, too. If you’re going to do this, dammit, do it right. Right? Right? Damn right.


Night Man officially coming to DVD!: Night Man, the syndicated action adventure show based on the Malibu/Marvel Comics book known as The Night Man, is set to hit DVD via Lionsgate this June. According to this article, all 44 episodes of Night Man will appear in a 9-disc set, the first official home video release of the show that managed to last two seasons in the late 1990’s.

I tried to be a fan of this show back when it was on, but due to a spotty airing schedule where I lived at the time, I saw maybe three or four episodes of this show during its original run. The show was never on at the same time week-to-week and it became difficult to find it when it did air. And while the Night Man costume was kind of cheesy looking, the episodes that I did manage to see were pretty good. Glen Larson, one of the producers behind Knight Rider, was involved with Night Man in some capacity, so you know that it’s going to be watchable even if, in the end, it turns out not to be very good.

I definitely want to obtain this set when it comes out and see what the heck the whole run of the show was like. And who knows, maybe I’ll review it in some capacity at some point. Who here wants to see a column totally devoted to old, cult TV shows that didn’t last all that long but, for whatever reason, still endure? Anyone?

Check out that goddamn theme!


Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!


Next Issue: MAYhem begins with Accident Man starring Scott Adkins!



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Jino Kang
Vladimir Kulich
Paul Mormando
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Michael Matteo Rossi
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Paul Kyriazi
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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

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Empire State of the Dead

Joel Miscione– Ritter
Wes Reid– Olen Ray
Michael Merchant– Sheets
Eli DeGeer– McCrae
Wayne W. Johnson– Draven

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Ron Bonk
Screenplay by various

Distributed by SRS Cinema

Runtime– 114 minutes

Buy it here or here