Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #318
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 11 May 2012 (United Kingdom)
Sub-Genre: Zombie Thriller
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Steve Barker
Producers: Arabella Croft, Kieran Parker, Nigel Thomas
Screenplay: Steve Barker, Rae Brunton
Special Effects: Mike Kelt
Visual Effects: Piers Hampton
Cinematography: Darran Tiernan
Score: Theo Green
Editing: Bill Gill, Chris Gill
Studio: Black Camel Pictures
Stars: Catherine Steadman, Richard Coyle, Clive Russell, Julian Wadham, Michael Byrne, Nick Nevern, David Gant, Daniel Caltagirone, Paul Birchard, Harriet Collings, Vivien Taylor, Gary McDonald, Gareth Morrison, Philip Rosch, John Kazek
Suggested Audio Candy
Theo Green “Battle For The Bunker”
When is a zombie not a nondescript shuffling deadbeat with little in its armory other than grabbing fingers and gnashing gums? When it’s a Nazi stormtrooper with super-human strength and all the meanness of spirit of the villainous masterminds that supplied its voltage. If you ask Keeper, I say leave the regular zombies to Romero, and explore this embittered breed some more. Steve Barker and Rae Brunton evidently agreed when Outpost stepped out of the trenches in 2007.
It was a testosterone-fueled, bleak and faintly claustrophobic affair which pitted a group of ill-fated modern-day mercenaries against undead war dogs and did so with quiet confidence and tension to spare. The horrors of war don’t translate into our beloved genre with any real frequency, Michael Mann’s superior The Keep and Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch withstanding. Outpost was workmanlike in the extreme and far better than most of the direct to DVD silage marching the turf at the time. It also left things open for a sequel.
Mercifully, Barker and Brunton identified the potential in broadening the scope of their fiction and remained united when plumping on a follow-up which takes the series in an altogether different direction. Whilst not as insular as the original and lacking a little of its foreboding, it makes up for any shortcomings with excellent production values, an ambitious script which holds up well to scrutiny, and assured performances from its lead players. The tone shifts considerably into the realms of pulpy boy’s own fare with more than a passing resemblance to Raiders of the Lost Ark bizarrely enough, and the ominous bunker from its predecessor only makes an appearance in the film’s final third.
Second time round our ill-fated troop are led by a female. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhall, Catherine Steadman’s Lena is a plucky lass whose life’s work is to track down any remaining SS officers responsible in part for her forefathers’ harsh treatment in concentration camps and make them pay princely remuneration for their indiscretions. After a rock-solid opening scene in which she locates one such infidel in the nick of time before a coronary strikes, her path crosses with a physicist she encounters in a local tavern named Wallace (Richard Coyle) and the pair decided to pool their efforts and collective contempt for the Reich responsible for making the worst kind of history. Bully for them, they walk straight into the middle of a covert Special Forces operation and, after the customary bickering and stand-offs, set off further behind enemy lines to dismantle the ungodly machine which grants the undead troops their invulnerability.
If you think Dog Soldiers with regards to the diminutive army they assemble, then you won’t be too far off target. Typical cookie-cutter characters on first appearance, they actually have more of a bearing on the success of the mission than it seems when the first of them feels death’s icy grip. There are numerous spanners thrown in the works and loyalties become compromised, but ultimately it boils down to the usual blast then barricade antics as they unleash a whole new world of pain once inside the bunker.
Like before, the stormtroopers aren’t allowed to linger on-screen for too long and, instead, flood from the shadows to retrieve their quarry before hauling them back there for playtime, the way any good Nazi zombie should. Meanwhile, Lena’s expurgated estrogen isn’t alone as a foul cackling wench that resembles a necromantic fishwife also has a say in the group’s fate. Then there’s the leader of the pack, the SS officer and puppet master only turns up for matters of urgency but, each time he does, something grisly isn’t far behind.
Despite the fact that Black Sun marks a distinct departure from its predecessor, it is still undeniably an Outpost film. Moreover, the efforts of Barker and Brunton must be applauded, as, for the most part, it shares the grandeur of its big-budget counterparts and wouldn’t look out-of-place on the silver screen. Alas, for all their endeavor and elbow grease, it still falls short of the original in my estimations. It’s personal preference, I just like my Nazi Zombies baying for blood in enclosed spaces with bayonet blades at the ready and there’s too much emphasis on what’s transpiring above ground to fully deliver on that front. Yet the fact that my disappointment is so slight proves just how forgivable it is that it breaks formation.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Contrary to expectation, the original wasn’t particularly bloodthirsty per se and more was made of the audio when the Nazi zombies granted their own extraction. It’s much the same here and, where a little more grue wouldn’t have appalled me in the slightest, the true horror is in the audio as countless blades hit bone in unison. There’s not a great deal of gore on exhibit but it still feels anything but neutered.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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