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Monday, October 31, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 26: Zombeavers (2014)

HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.

Screenplay by Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin and Jon Kaplan
Directed by Jordan Rubin

Rachel Melvin:  Mary
Cortney Palm:  Zoe
Lexi Atkins:  Jenn
Hutch Dano:  Sam
Jake Weary:  Tommy
Peter Gilroy:  Buck

Sometimes the title is enough to see why a producer cut the filmmakers a check. This one's just barely out of the gold standard of exploitation movie titles like Blacula or Shriek of the Mutilated, but if video stores were still a thing this would get rented twice a month for decades just because it was called Zombeavers. You know exactly what you're getting with a title like that. You're getting beavers, and they will be zombies (probably from toxic waste exposure, the "just add water" of monster explanations). The cast will be made up of five stereotyped jerks who go into the woods and get gnawed down to the Final Girl, who will combat the zombeavers and will triumph, but with one of those "it's not really over" endings that have been in use for about half a century in monster flicks.

I'm saying the plot probably isn't going to be all that original, but sometimes you just want to watch a movie that does what you expect and want it to do. Bonus points if there's some originality and wit, or at least some cool makeup effects from the monster attacks and a quotable line of dialogue or two.

And since this is movie 26 of HubrisWeen, I could use the B movie equivalent of comfort food right now.

Some honky-tonk piano music plays on the soundtrack as the black screen fades up to show the side of an open-backed transport truck. It's a medical waste disposal business that promises discretion, environmental safety and effectiveness. And, yeah, it pretty much looks like I called the Monster Creation Cause correctly. There's two guys in the cab (a quiet one and a chatty one, and when the chatty one says he dated a dude briefly, the quiet one resigns himself to his fate with a fake-jovial "Can I hear all about it?". Some more vaguely stoned-sounding conversation later, the driver smacks into a deer standing in the literal middle of the road and a canister of chemical whatnot gets launched from the truck bed, down a hill and into a river. The first gory sight gag of the film ensues when the quiet one goes out to check the grill for damage and pieces of the deer fall down onto the pavement for the entire duration of the shot.

Roll credits! There's an animation that shows beavers in the river along with the barrel of nasty mutagenic chemicals, falling trees, people running away from the beavers, and a hunter using a telescopic scope (as well as an axe, a pickup truck, and some "Scooby-Doo" style shots of the people continuing to run from red-eyed beavers). So far there's some actual cleverness on display, I'm happy to report. The barrel drifts into a beaver dam and then immediately springs a leak so high-pressure bright green Evil Chemicals can spray out. The delightfully unconvincing beaver puppets don't seem too concerned about it at this point.

I have to say, the sheer obviousness of the setup is making me enjoy the movie more. I get the feeling the director and writers are doing exactly what they set out to do. That's a novelty in low budget horror cinema, and at least so far the filmmakers are skilled enough to make things entertaining rather than just cliched.

Now it's time to meet some of the Expendable Meat characters--they're sorority sisters on a getaway. One of them is a college student named Jenn, crying in the bathroom of a gas station when she gets a text from her boyfriend, who appears to have cheated on her ("I'm sorry" is all I've got to go on textually, but I don't think he killed her dog). Interrupted by a loud fat middle-aged trucker who blocks the door when she tries to leave, Jenn goes back to the car driven by her friend Mary, with other friend Zoe holding a little dog named Gosling in the back seat. Mary's rules for the weekend are no texting and no boys--it's a girls' mini vacation up at the requisite cabin in the woods. Jenn's the Wronged One and Zoe's the Slut (she's got a collection of presumably solicited dick picks on her phone); Mary is The Nerdy One (she wears glasses), but is also The One With the Car Keys.

But enough of that setup and characterization, it's time for a Threat-Establishing Casualty as a local man loses his fishing pole to whatever yanked it out of his hands in the lake before a POV shot jumps him and the screen cuts to black. Back to Mary's car as they approach the cabin, Zoe also shows that she'll be The Dumb One for this movie, in that she thinks the raft on the lake is a big piece of scrap lumber that someone dumped there. The trio gets out of the car, showing that the wardrobe department for the movie wanted to see who would wear the shortest shorts. I think Jenn takes it, but not by much. Zoe's dog runs off to go pee on as much of the new environment as he can, and a middle-aged neighbor teleports in to say hello to everyone. Zoe takes some delight in being rude to the new arrival, so she's not just The Slut and The Dumb One but The Sarcastic One as well. Mrs. Gregerson goes back to her own house or possibly cabin next door after dissing the hell out of Zoe in return (I think she meant to do it on purpose, but I'm not totally sure) and then it's time for a half-submerged POV camera to look over at the three young women for a little while.

Inside the cabin, Jenn discovers that she can't get a cell phone signal out in the sticks. Mary gives her friend a pep talk about not getting back together with her asshole boyfriend when Zoe discovers that her phone can't contact a cell tower either; the "no social media or texting" part of the weekend turns out to be physically impossible to defy. Then, because it's about fifteen minutes into the film, the trio put on swimsuits and it's time to lie on the raft and tan. Zoe removes her top because it's that kind of movie and she's the designated slutty one, but the expected "something swam past me in the lake" sequence doesn't happen here. We do get to see the fisherman's #1 DAD cap float by in the background but none of the characters notice it.

When Jenn sees the local beaver dam she wants to go see if any of 'em are at home (Zoe says they're just big rats that can swim, and wants nothing to do with this, but eventually joins the expedition). There's a nice bit of physical staging where the toxic green crud and the medical waste barrel aren't immediately visible to the protagonists but they see the chemical goop soon enough. They theorize that it's beaver urine, used to mark the animals' territory--which is not that bad a guess, but it utterly wrong. An encounter with a rogue bear ends with a redneck hunter firing a shot into the air to spook the animal into leaving, then the hunter ogling the girls and correcting their mistaken assumptions about wild bear behavior. The hunter's name is Smyth, and he's enjoying himself just a little too much as he derides the women for wearing swimsuits and having tattoos. Because it's just simple country folk who live out wherever it is in Indiana that this movie takes place, and none of them like to have fit and attractive college kids show up in bikinis (or topless). Another POV shot tracks the three women as they go back to the cabin.

That night it's beer, popcorn and a gave of "Would You Rather" where the questions quickly turn Cards Against Humanity wrong, but outside there's a low-slung POV shot coming towards the cabin. It's probably not a zombeaver, though, unless they're carrying flashlights. Someone starts thumping on the cabin walls and Zoe goes off with a flashlight to see what's what. SPOILER:  It is the three women's boyfriends, who thought they were being clever by scaring the shit out of their special lady friends. Zoe's boyfriend Buck turns out to be just as much of an asshole as one would expect for this kind of film. Mary's guy is named Tommy and appears to be a frat-joke type (he's got a letterman jacket). Mary says the guys have to leave out of respect for Jenn's feelings, but Jenn herself says it's all right if they stay. She's not interested in her boyfriend Sam touching her, though, and they spend some awkward together time on the couch while the other two couples are noisily breaking in the bedrooms elsewhere in the cabin.

Sam doesn't want to explain why there's a picture of him making out with someone else at a party (we don't see her face, so there's a pretty good chance it'll wind up being Mary); Jenn slaps his face twice and he goes in for a kiss; I thought the movie was going to do the "they really like each other after all" bullshit but instead Jenn knees the son of a bitch in the groin. Good! Do it again!

In the afterglow, Mary's distant and Tommy wonders what's up (other than his inability to bring her to climax). She says she's worried about Jenn, but her boyfriend doesn't quite buy it. Later that night Jenn's going to take a shower but gets startled by a beaver with Evil Dead style solid white eyes; she's in her underwear when she runs screaming for Sam to do something about its presence. Her friends accuse Sam of having done something to her to set her off like that, but then switch it up and start sarcastically talking about keeping the intruder as a pet. Eventually Jenn, who thinks the animal might have been rabid, sends everyone into the bathroom to look (Sam, armed with a baseball bat, takes point until Tommy gets tired of him not going into the room). Of course there's nothing there, and of course Buck starts talking shit about it being a really scary bathroom.

And of course that's when the beaver pops out of a cabinet, snarling and screeching, so that Tommy has to play the chorus to "Have I the Right" on it with the baseball bat to end the threat. The beaver is tossed in a garbage bag and dropped out on the porch and everyone talks about how much they don't want to get rabies (and rabies shots). There's a split vote on "go home or not", but everyone's too intoxicated to drive at that point anyway. The eventual decision is to sleep on it, possibly go back in the morning, and Jenn says she's sleeping in Mary's room rather than trust any of the guys. Mary's hesitant to go along with that, which means it almost certainly was her and Sam making out in the unclear photo. Oh, and out on the porch? The beaver that was clubbed to a bloody pulp is still snarling and writhing in its Hefty bag coffin.

The next morning, Smyth is setting animal traps out on his patch of hunting grounds and the six students go out for a swim. Jenn notices the torn-open trash bag on the porch with bloody animal tracks leading away from it (which sure do look like something got out of the bag). She's the only one who is sensible enough to not want to be there, though. Out on the lake, Jenn stays on the shore while everyone else (including the dog) is on the raft. While Tommy, Buck and Zoe are swimming in the lake, Mary and Sam have a little talk about that Facebook photo and it turns that yes, they were making out at a party. Mary feels worse about it than Sam, and their conversation plays out as the other three people talk Jenn into taking a swim. As she walks into the lake we do get the "Something swam past my foot!" dialogue and lots of underwater POV camera shots.

Jenn refuses to go any further into the lake, and when Buck plunges underwater Zoe assumes he's playing a joke. Then the blood starts spreading and he resurfaces holding his own gnawed-off foot! Tommy gets pulled down and everyone swims for the raft; while Tommy improvises a tourniquet for Buck's ankle, Jenn runs inside to call for help on the cabin's land line. But, of course, the beavers have already clawed and chewed through the phone lines for no reason. The entire beaver colony starts circling the raft (though we only see two on the screen at any point, which makes me think there were two puppets that the production could afford to build). Jenn gets attacked in the cabin by another zombeaver while the ones in the lake start breaking through the raft boards to get to the people panicking atop it. Sam chucks Gosling in the water as a distraction, and as the poor thing dogpaddles for his life, the beavers turn to follow him. Usually the dog lives in movies like this, so I commend the filmmakers for being nasty enough to have that distraction work.

Back in the cabin, Jenn fights off the beaver that attacked her the previous night (it's essentially in two halves connected by bone and gristle, and still snarling hours after taking a kitchen knife through the skull, pinning it to the table. The stress fractures start to show in the group when Zoe, good and pissed off that Sam killed her dog, drops a big enough hint about the Mystery Photo that Jenn puts two and two together accurately. Zoe points out that Jenn is the last one to know what was up, but Tommy points out that he didn't know either. Yipes! Jenn says that's not the biggest concern facing them at this point, and she's both right and sensible.

Then the beaver nailed to the kitchen table starts slapping its tail on the wood to signal the other ones outside and we get a neat shot of several sets of beavers' eyes gleaming in the night when Sam tosses the severed head of the in-the-cabin beaver out to them. A plan is sketched out:  Tommy will drive Buck and his severed foot (in a bag full of ice) to the hospital, where hopefully he can get it reattached. Zoe says she's going with them, and isn't taking "that's a terrible idea" for an answer. And since Tommy parked farther down the road for "sneaking up and scaring the women" purposes, he needs to borrow Mary's car for the suicide charge.

Buck and Tommy three-legged-race for the car and Zoe piles into the vehicle along with them, which cranks up on cue after the plot-required failure to start ("It's a hybrid! You have to finesse it!"). They drive off; everyone still in the cabin wonders if they should have left (since the plan actually seemed to work). Then an undead beaver takes a leap at a window and leaves a streak of blood on it. Sam figures it's time to start boarding up windows and otherwise prep for the siege. Remember Mrs. Gregerson from the very start of the film? She heard the hammering and yelling from the cabin next door and has an argument with her husband about whether or not they need to go see if something's up over there. Mr. Gregerson stays seated in his easy chair reading a magazine and reaches down to scratch his faithful by unnamed dog; he winds up displaying affection to a rabid undead beaver instead. There's no way that shot works even within the logic of a not-very-serious horror movie, but I like it anyway.

In the car, heading for the hospital, there's the inevitable tree across the road to block egress from the killing ground. There's a pickup truck (probably Smyth's) with guns and an axe in the bed. Tommy tells Zoe to drive her boyfriend back to the cabin while he grabs more weaponry and goes for help on foot. Mere seconds after he says that's his plan the poor guy gets squashed like a bug under a falling tree (offscreen, as the stunt was probably too unsafe to try and do in real time). Remember, even undead beavers make pretty talented lumberjacks. Smyth shows up as the cavalry and shoots one of the rodents, then gets Zoe and Buck into his pickup and drives off for help and medical attention. Smyth declares that the beavers are probably suffering from giardia (there was an outbreak forty years ago or so), but it must be a mutant strain because the beavers aren't dying even after sustaining trauma that should drop them like a bad habit.

Back at the cabin, the windows and doors are boarded, blocked and duct-taped, but it turns out beavers can gnaw through the barricades. Sam stabs one in a really odd manner that suggests the actress didn't want to injure the puppeteer. Commendable dedication to safety, but it doesn't really look like she's fighting for her life. The futility of keeping beavers out with wood is discussed and Sam, Jenn and Mary all get to do some of that "try not to damage the prop or hurt the puppeteer" fighting against the zombified beavers. Smyth's truck returns (I thought it was on the other side of the downed tree, but it apparently wasn't). While the inside-the-cabin people pry boards off the door, Buck notices the beaver swarm forming on the cabin's lawn. Zoe and Buck go for the next cabin over while Smyth shoots at the pursuing rodents. They make it to the neighbors' place and discover that there's some disarray but nobody's home. That's probably a good sign. Then Zoe discovers Mr. Gershenson's body and sees that the phone lines inside that house have been chewed through.

Over at the cabin, Sam earns her Smart Girl merit badge by reading up on beavers to see what the trapped protagonists might reasonably expect from the animals outside. When Sam gets to the point where beavers are listed as monogamous Jenn brings up the "my boyfriend cheated on me with you" point and Sam comes across as even more of an oily creep than he had previously. I did like him saying that they can't turn on each other because it's just what the beavers would want, though. The nature guide lists tunnel construction as a skill beavers have and everyone looks down at the floor nervously.

Then it's time to go to the neighbors' place again, where Smyth says that the hospital won't be able to do anything to save Buck's foot because it's been kept directly on ice, which damages tissue too much for microsurgery. Plus the road is blocked, and Buck's too heavy to carry on foot to the hospital even without the issue of homicidal beavers all over the place. Next morning's a safer time to go for medical help but Smyth does say he's willing to burn Buck's stump closed to give him a better chance at survival.

That night, Jenn makes her way into Mary's bedroom and starts what Mary (and the audience) assume is a seduction attempt right before a hitherto unknown side effect of the zombeaver bites makes itself known--Jenn's teeth fall out as the new bucktoothed chompers grow in, her fingernails develop into claws, and she contracts a case of adult onset lycanthropy / undead drooling and biting disease. Of course, Jenn isn't the only one who got bitten, and that means there's anywhere from one to three zombie-bite casualties in the neighbors' house waiting to reveal themselves. Which Buck does, tearing Smyth's throat out with his teeth and chasing Zoe upstairs after she shoots the hunter, accidentally mercy-killing him when she was trying to save him from her erstwhile boyfriend.

At Cabin Number One, Sam and Mary are in a room with the doors boarded up to keep Jenn out when the beavers gnaw their way in through the floorboards, and in Cabin Number Two, Zoe winds up doing a Texas Chainsaw High Dive out of the second-story window when Mrs. Gregerson gets up from her deathbed and tries to attack her. There's a brief weird moment where Sam and Mary play high-stakes whack a mole in the room before escaping for the bathroom and another brief escape. Mary tells Sam to strip down and examines him for bite and scratch wounds; he's clean, but when she strips off it's time for a desperation fueled lovemaking session. While this is going on, one of the zombeavers (played by possibly the most creepily adorable puppet seen so far) bites into a wall near an outlet, sets itself on goddamn fire, and runs directly into the drapes so the whole cabin can burn down too.

As if that wasn't enough of a problem, Sam gets written out of the script when Zombie Lycanthrope Beaver Jenn bursts through the floor and rips his favorite parts of his anatomy off with her teeth. Mary's now inside a burning cabin with the doors nailed shut in her underwear, but thankfully Zoe busts Smyth's pickup through the cabin wall. The escape attempt is very, very brief and culminates in Zombie Castor Canadensis Smyth shooting at the truck and Zoe crashing into a tree in the confusion. Oh, and that bear from earlier has been bitten so there are several human zombeavers to deal with as well. But none of the menaces are as fast as the pickup truck, so Zoe's able to get out of the area after going past all the shambling monsters and over Jenn (who was on top of the truck for a little while). At the downed tree, Mary and Zoe continue on foot and find a zombified Tommy still pinned under it. Poor guy never even got to be a monster in the attack at the end.

Mary turns out to have swiped a pistol from Smyth's truck and holds her friend at gunpoint, fearing that somewhere among her open wounds Zoe's got an infected beaver bite or scratch. But it turns out that when Jenn kissed her earlier that passed the virus along, and she's the one who turns out to be metamorphosing as the sun rises. Thankfully Zoe's got an axe, so she winds up living through that trauma as well. We hear her killing Mary rather than seeing it, which is probably the right choice. After all, we've spent pretty much the entire movie with those characters and losing one near the end shouldn't be a gory awesome set piece.

As Zoe limps off into the uncertain future, she winds up taking a Bummer Ending right to the face as the idiot driver from the pre-credits sequence doesn't see her in the middle of the road, and nobody with any knowledge of what went down at the lake will be able to give a police statement without a Ouija board.

Well, what do you know? I made it to the end of HubrisWeen for the fourth consecutive time! It's really tough to avoid zombies when you're doing the Z movie for this event, but at least this one was more about animal attacks and lycanthropy than the usual shuffling moaners (even if it did hit lots of the same Romero-type plot points). It's easily the best possible movie that could be called Zombeavers, with plenty of quietly weird jokes going on (I'd say other than the inherent absurdity of the premise, the horror-to-comedy mix is about 70-30 here). None of the actors pissed me off, which is also not what I would have expected from a comedy horror movie about undead aquatic rodents. Heck, there's even a song that recaps the plot over the end credits sung in a swingin' hepcat Rat Pack style; whoever came up with that idea knew just what they were doing and what kind of movie they were trying to make. They succeeded utterly.

And there's a post credit stinger that teases the possibility of Zom-bees as a sequel. Because of course it does.

"That's it for this year, everyone. Time to take a haunted carriage ride back to the land of imagination and rest up, because there's only 339 days until the next HubrisWeen!"


  1. 'best possible movie that could be called Zombeavers'

    EXACTLY. It was bad in all the best ways. I even liked that I could tell the actors were trying not to hurt the puppets, which is a weird thing to like.

  2. Watching the actors try not to damage the props while the characters are fighting for their lives is exactly the kind of thing that turns an ordinary person into a B movie fan. :)

  3. I love this movie. For some reason, the beavers being obvious plush dolls works so much better than cgi beavers would have. And I totally want one of them. [I do have a ROUS that could be modified, I suppose.]

    Great review!

  4. Thanks for the kind words! Last year's final film was "Zontar, the Thing from Venus" and it was a real feelings-hurter. I think having a comedy-horror film as your last flick really helps for a pointlessly long marathon like HubrisWeen.

    Also, ROUS's? I don't think they exist. Perhaps the dinosaur serves as a deterrent to their presence.