Zombie Nightmare (1987)

The mother of a baseball player who is killed by a group of teenagers resorts to voodoo to resurrect him to seek revenge.

VHS release pictured: 1987 New World Video.

Starring: Adam West, John Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere | Director: Jack Bravman

Zombie Nightmare: VHS Review

by Sam Rakestraw

Zombie Nightmare can best be described as a PG-13 version of The Toxic Avenger. That's a really good thing if you're into the formula of the good dying young or a terrible fate befalling and coming back as an unstoppable force to get revenge on those responsible in a world that's even uglier. It's the story of an anti-hero rather than a bloodthirsty monster. Sometimes viewers can even root for such characters. Zombie Nightmare delivers on pretty much being just that.

Tony (Jon Mikl Thor) is just a good guy. He has great hair, is in good shape, and is just the kind of person that would go out of his way to help a total stranger. He's a superhero that didn't have an origin story and if everyone was like him then the world would be a much better place. He even thwarts a robbery at the local convenience store. We're robbed of him when he is hit and killed by the neighborhood troublemakers. You got Amy (Tia Carrere), Bob (Alan Fisler), Jim (Shawn Levy), Peter (Hamish McEwan), and Susie (Manon Turbide). Peter and Susie are jocks, Jim is a psychopath in the making, and Amy and Bob are total pushovers. If there's something that binds them together, it's the fact that they simply don't care as so many teens in the 80s did.

Maggie (Linda Singer) is distraught over her son's death as her husband died the same way. The crime rate among juveniles is disturbingly high in this area and the police don't seem to do anything about it. He had died saving a girl and that girl, Molly (Manuska Rigaud) grew up to be a witch in Hattian voodoo arts. If you ever seen Child's Play, then you know just how serious that can be. A deal is made, a ritual is performed, and Tony is reborn. Molly did mention that his last memory will be of his death, so he will know exactly who is responsible. This zombie isn't going in barehanded, he's the baseball bat he used to hit it out of the park with.

When the police do start to get involved when the bodies start getting counted, they are pretty unhelpful. But not because they're bumbling comedic relief in a horror movie, they're purposeful in doing a subpar job. Officer Frank Sorrell (Frank Dietz) and Captain Tom Churchman (Adam West) aren't the heroes we want them to be, especially when West was one of the greatest heroes that ever lived. That's being a character actor for you. But whether it's a cop searching for answers or a teen looking for a place to hide from the killer, everyone has secrets. I guess that could be the theme of Zombie Nightmare if it has any other than revenge.

Zombie Nightmare is one clean zombie film when it comes to the monster costume design and kill scenes which are why anyone would really be interested in it past Adam West's acting credits. There really isn't a whole lot of blood being spilled on camera and not once does zombie Tony so much as put a piece of flesh in his mouth. We don't get to see that bat smash into anyone's faces as well. Still, Mikl Thor is imposing in grey skin, and lumbering around long and winding hallways is a scary visual. There are some unique elements in stalking and killing scenes like the occasional slow-motion blur and original heavy metal soundtrack. Bands that contributed to it were Motorhead, Girlschool, and Thor which Jon Mikl has been performing with since the early 80s.

It's also especially interesting to watch Zombie Nightmare because of some of the talent involved in the production. Adam West was already established at this point, showing up to set for only two days and reading the script as he shot without a care in the world. Shawn Levy made his acting debut as the even more monstrous Jim before directing and producing movies and shows like Night at The Museum, The Pink Panther, Real Steel, and Stranger Things. Tia Carrere would go on to be a General Hospital regular and Disney legend in Lilo & Stitch. Director Jack Bravman didn't have any idea who he had on his set after he left the world of adult filmmaking. In fact, no one seemed to have any idea who he was on set as he was commonly taken for an assistant director. The writer, Jon Fasano, was normally thought to be in charge.

While production stories aren't the greatest, they did succeed in creating a memorable creature. They just needed to do much more with him gore-wise to compliment just how good of an idea it was. We have a zombie that doesn't eat flesh and uses a signature weapon to kill like a slasher of the day and age when the film was released. Given Tony's heroic disposition when he was alive, it almost is like a superhero story. His purpose is to punish the guilty as Molly said after all. Maybe more like The Crow or Spawn specifically. Molly has some fun, over-the-top moments as a voodoo spell caster. Funny enough, Rigaud was a professional Tina Turner impersonator. Very subtly does it seep into her vocal performance when she does her chants.

There has to be a sub-horror genre name for teens getting killed by evil teens and coming back as a monster to take bloody revenge on them. Like slashers, this formula has been tried and true since the late 70s and early 80s. It all ties into the old stories of vengeful spirits. I don't know what was happening with kids those days. All these movies have to tell the same stories of teens that are indifferent to human life for a reason. How scary that can compete with the fictitious scariness of the monster or killer on screen. Tony joins the list of characters like Toxie that you enjoy seeing act as a spirit of vengeance because they lived such a kind life compared to those that took it from them. While it does pace slowly, Zombie Nightmare runs a little bit more with this formula at the end of the second act as it concludes.

As lesser-known as It may be, Zombie Nightmare was by no means a financial failure as it managed to rake in a little over $1.1 million in video sales at the time of its release on a budget of $180,000. To this day, Adam West continues to be its biggest selling point despite the other plethora of talent that arose from it. I think that zombie Tony has the chance to be iconic. He's got a look, he's got a weapon, he just needs a little more blood and guts.