Zombie Army (1991)

Directed by Betty Stapleford
Video Outlaw VHS

Zombie Army ends with this onscreen message:

“This production is dedicated to the brave men and women of the United States Army, the Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard. By defending our freedoms, they made this production possible.”

Finally! Evidence that war is good for something!

I’ve never been to an army base, insane asylum, or a nuclear test facility. But it makes perfect sense that in Zombie Army, all three are located on the same grounds. It’s just like the strip mall by my apartment that has a Target, Come And Vape It, and Pizza Hut — everything you need in one place.

A Psychology 101 class is being held at the insane asylum. The professor shares a case regarding a 16-year-old who “raped, murdered, and mutilated his mother, and then raped, murdered, and mutilated his girlfriend before performing lobotomies on both.” I just want to interject that Zombie Army has been playing for two minutes and it’s already in contention for the greatest shot-on-video (SOV) zombie movie of all time. Even though no zombies have shown up.

Surprise! The professor is really an inmate at the asylum! He flips out in the middle of class, so the staff members inject him with tranquilizers. But that doesn’t stop him from having sex in his room with another inmate. A doctor bursts in and says, “You sick mother fuck!” They lock the fake professor and his lover in a fallout shelter at the nuclear test lab. Then another doctor runs up and says, “This place is contaminated! We have to evacuate!”

Months pass. The U.S. Army needs a new training facility, so the government allows them to use the grounds of the nuclear asylum. A couple of racist stoner soldiers unknowingly open the fallout shelter. The fake professor and his lover escape! But surprise again! They’re not zombies. Instead, they murder soldiers, then turn the soldiers into undead death-machines by plugging them into electrical outlets.

From there, Zombie Army accepts its destiny as a champion of sleazy anti-logic with exploding heads, guts-thrown-on-walls, samurai sword attacks, montages of soldiers filling canisters with battery acid, melting faces, tiny tanks being driven through tiny hallways, and two random civilians having awkward sex. All of this is presented with a twist. When the initial batch of soldiers is obliterated by the zombie army, the government calls in an all-women battle squad to T.C.B. and do the job right.

That makes Zombie Army the first — and only — feminist SOV zombie movie.

There’s no indication that director Betty Stapleford ever existed on our planet. It’s more likely that “Betty Stapleford” is a pseudonym in the tradition of “Meredith Lucas” and Blood Orgy Of The Leather Girls. That is, Zombie Army might be credited to a woman in order to provide legitimacy to the movie’s feminist leanings. Or Betty Stapleford might be real, and the manager of a Home Depot in Wilmington, Delaware where this movie was shot. And maybe she wants to forget about her trash-gore movie that features a hard rock soundtrack by The Killtoys with songs like “Stinky Loving” and “You Zlay Me.” Whatever the case, this movie’s underlying message of empowerment is fresh, fascinating, and unheard of in the realm of backyard trash-horror filmmaking circa 1991. It’s one more thing that makes Zombie Army so enjoyable. But it’s not the last thing.

This movie feels like it was shot and edited by two twelve-year-olds and a blind chimpanzee on the cramped sets of Sledgehammer. This is a compliment. From the random jump-cuts to the overlapping songs, from the gaps in continuity to the neon mush-gore, this movie is an explosion of claustrophobic chaos that only slows down during the climax. That’s when we get endless scenes of zombies being doused and melted with battery acid. But I’d rather watch that happen twenty times in a row than sit through Jacker again. The point is that Zombie Army creates a consistent sense of dislocation and excitement that is rare and beautiful.

Another beautiful thing is the PSA after the end credits that offers fans of Zombie Army the chance to win a jeep that was used in the movie.