If George A. Romero only knew how hard it was for zombie prey to run through dry South Texas monte, he might’ve moved some of his classic horror films away from rural Pennsylvania and into the Lone Star State for a little extra bloodshed. You can’t sprint very fast when you’ve got mesquite thorns caught in your boot.
Adding a touch of South Texas flare to the zombie genre is San Antonio filmmaker Daniel Maldonado with The Killing Strain. The film is an adequate albeit unoriginal horror movie that rehashes as many zombie clichés it can during its 105-minute run time, though by the time the last brain is eaten we know Maldonado has potential. Aside from taking place in Texas, one is hard-pressed to find anything that hasn’t been borrowed from the best in undead post-apocalyptic cinema over the past 50 years. (Though even Texas isn’t entirely new territory for zombies — Robert Rodriguez did it in 2007’s Planet Terror.)
In Strain, it’s easy enough to check off what we’ve seen plenty of times before in other movies. Manmade virus infects population. Small group of armed survivors hole up and use zombie heads for target practice. Someone gets bit, but says nothing. A moral dilemma is faced when a mother/brother/husband/mailman becomes a flesh-eater and must be killed. No one actually says “zombie” — that would be too obviously uncool. Instead, “those things” or “dead fucks” are used.
While Maldonado describes Strain as paying “homage” to other zombie movies, these days —with the number of zombie flicks staggering aimlessly out there among amateur filmmakers — the term is just a less blunt way to describe a lack of imagination. Maldonado knows this, although he might not admit it.
“It’s not the greatest zombie movie out there,” he says, before attempting to explain why the zombie genre “is the kind of a genre that sells itself.” Maldonado is correct when he says Strain is not the greatest, but it’s also far from the worst. And, more importantly, it is a decent start for a first feature.
Maldonado knows he hasn’t created a zombie masterpiece. It’s not groundbreaking like Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, ambitious like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, or clever like the British comedy Shaun of the Dead. Yet, it boasts some solid camerawork, a good lead performance by Tom Lagleder (Cartoneo y nopalitos), and some decent B-movie special effects. Still, The Killing Strain is what it is — slightly entertaining and ordinary. •
Dir. Daniel Maldonado; writ. Daniel Maldonado, Allen Green; feat. Tom Lagleder, Venda D’Abato, Willie Bowen, Jessica Robinson, Bryan Potts
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