Everyone responds to trauma differently. For some, joking about terrible events is the only way to cope, even if those jokes are morbid. For others, it’s about creating something new, using difficult circumstances as the springboard for artistic expression. The most generous possible reading of Corona Zombies, a new “movie” from schlock titan Charles Band and his Full Moon Features studio, is that Band and his collaborators are engaged in a bit of cathartic gallows humor, adding their trademark lowbrow jokes and rudimentary gore effects to the horrifying events that are still unfolding around the world.
But that’s giving Band far too much credit, really, and Corona Zombies (premiering exclusively on Full Moon’s own streaming service) is more like the cinematic equivalent of clickbait, reverse-engineered from a title and a poster, with details to be filled in later. When the movie was announced last month, there was speculation about how, exactly, Full Moon could produce a feature film in a matter of weeks, given the lockdown orders in most areas of the country. The answer, not surprisingly, is that they didn’t: There’s maybe 10 or 15 minutes of actual new content in Corona Zombies, and the entire movie is only an hour long.
Cody Renee Cameron is alone onscreen in the bulk of the new scenes, playing a ditzy trailer park resident named Barbie who returns home from a harrowing shopping trip without any toilet paper. She’s blissfully unaware of the coronavirus until she’s clued in by a phone call from her friend Kendra (voiced by Full Moon regular Robin Sydney), who tells her to turn on the TV. The news reports quickly shift from real-life images of Donald Trump and clueless spring breakers in Florida to a warning that people suffering from COVID-19 have started turning into flesh-eating zombies.
The bulk of the film consists of repurposed, re-edited and redubbed footage from the 1980 Italian zombie movie Hell of the Living Dead, which has been fashioned by screenwriters Kent Roudebush and Silvia St. Croix (both Full Moon veterans) into the adventures of the Corona Squad, an elite unit of government commandos tasked with combating the coronavirus somehow. First they track down a terrorist who’s hijacked a shipment of toilet paper, and then they team up with a journalist to infiltrate the factory where the virus originated from a batch of, yes, bat soup.
Occasionally Band cuts away to repurposed footage from a different movie, the 2012 Full Moon production Zombies vs. Strippers, presented as scenes of corona zombies overrunning a New Jersey strip club (there’s no overdubbing needed there, because the only dialogue present is grunting and screaming). Meanwhile, Barbie wanders around her home in a skimpy outfit, takes a shower (still wearing that outfit), and talks on the phone to Kendra. There are jokes about “Wuhan” sounding like “Wu-Tang” and Corona being the name of a beer.
Hell of the Living Dead was already a low-budget movie incorporating plenty of stock footage, and Band doesn’t make it any less tedious by dubbing in references to social distancing, hand-washing and quarantines. He’s aiming for something like Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, but ends up closer to early episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It’s impossible to construct a coherent plot from this mishmash of material, and Band doesn’t even try, putting less effort into constructing a sensical narrative than into incorporating as many topless scenes as possible.
Full Moon, home of the Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man and Puppet Master franchises, has never been a paragon of good taste, and Corona Zombies is an exploitation movie in the truest sense, taking advantage of current events to garner attention and turn a quick profit. But the best exploitation movies use bold creativity to make up for their budgetary and thematic constraints. There’s nothing bold or creative about Corona Zombies, which comes off as perfunctory and sad. Instead of helping people cope with the horrors of the real world, it just adds to them.
“Corona Zombies” is now streaming on Full Moon Direct.