A frightful, funny, and ferocious fusion of blood, gore and girls, Shadow: Dead Riot is as original in execution as it is outrageous in mood. This entertaining if slightly uneven film dares all and fears nothing in its malicious m´┐Żnage of sex, sleaze, and sadism. A fleshy fantasy serving violence and action amidst a story wittily depraved, this film refuses to take itself seriously. While this lessens dramatic impact, disturbing the careful atmosphere necessary for pathos, Shadow never pretends to be anything but a fun, energetic monster-movie. Its surface action, dialogue, and chaotic atmosphere loudly declares its high-camp shlock-shock intentions. An homage to various exploitation sub-genres, competent direction and acting conspire to create a minor tongue-in-cheek (and teeth-in-skin) contradiction of expectations. Recently released by Shriek Show/Media Blasters, this two-disc anniversary edition is most notable for the generous amount of extras that it manages to cram throughout two discs.

The second feature from Media Blasters' Fever Dreams productions, Shadow: Dead Riot is a carnal catalogue of exploitative staples, including vengeful spirits, sordid sexuality, brutal prison guards, and flesh-munching mambos. Shadow (Tony Todd), a serial killer convicted of 22 murders, carves bloody symbols in his flesh before his execution. Taking a cue from the resurrected serial killer opuses of the late 1980's, the execution ends with the deaths of several prisoners and prison guards. Emphasizing the context of political corruption and cultural neglect that informs the bloody action, the guard hides this dark miracle, ordering that the bloodied corpses be buried in a shallow pit. Twenty years following, the deteriorating prison, captured in gothic urban hues that hint of the text's inward corruption, is now an experimental rehabilitation center for women, wherein resides tough and sexy Solitaire (Carla Greene), an African-American woman, who resists the friendship, advances and frantic spirituality of the female warden (Nina Hodoruk). When obligatory bad-girl Mondo (Tayianna Butler) abuses fem-licious Crystal (Mundae) in the shower, Solitaire indulges fans of martial arts cinema in a kung-fu shuffle equal parts parody and poetry. Placed in solitary by Elsa Thorn (Andrea Langi), Solitaire discovers a runic symbol that leads to a breasts and blood showdown with Shadow and an appropriately messy mob of zombies.

While not particularly revealing in characterization, the screenplay does manage to evoke the atmospheric edginess of earlier exploitation W-I-P fare without the moroseness. Concerned more with stylistic shenanigans than with logic, there is little of revelation to be had in this morbid mix of meaty mayhem. While the very same nods to the glory-gory days of exploitation sometimes overburden the senses, the feature maintains its own identity. Among such standards as the pregnant junkie, the sultry sluts, decrepit guards, lewd lesbianism, and the misunderstood heroine is a surprisingly poignant layering of social commentary. While the political condemnation of a corrupt system as cannibalistic as its flesh-eating zombies may be unconscious, its presence adds insight into what is otherwise a torrid, tasty treat of flesh-fondling, meat mangling monster-fest. Visual inventiveness, enthusiasm, and wild humor instil the shockingly graphic violence and carnality with a paradoxical enjoyable yet sleazy sensibility. True, the plot is riddled with holes as big as some of the inmates lovingly exposed breasts, but this is the sort of anti-story which fails or succeeds on the dubious merits of its visual movement and depth of excess, both of which are plentiful.

Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1) with two audio options (Dolby 5.1 & 2.0 stereo), the transfer is wonderful, robust and detailed with sharp colorizations and impressively photographed interior shots. While extras were light for the single disk of this picture, Media Blasters packs this with hours of extra footage. These range from intimate conversations to fact-based analysis of the production and movie-making process. First, on Disc One, we have Cast and Crew "Audio Commentary," with Michael Gingold, interesting without being forced, inviting us to know these folks as people as well as artists. Little of the production is let out of this talk, including inspirations for the story and how the thespians prepared. Next is the film's original "Theatrical Trailer," an "Isolated Music Score," and "Trailers" for various other Media Blasters and Fango International Films.

Disc Two is where the fun really starts, bursting with supplements that provide enjoyable context, analyzing the talent, cast, and crew. First is a delightful '"Shadow: Dead Riot"' Grindhouse Trailer, that re-visit's the gory glory days of exploitation cinema by focusing on skin and violence, including a scratched visual surface for authenticity. The "Shadow Music Video" was less intriguing, but provided fine eye candy. "Deleted Scenes" offered varying takes on different scenes, many of which were wisely left out but are instructive to watch. The "Photo Gallery" focuses on both promotional and behind-the-scenes material, all that is expected of these staples of the medium, while the "Auditions" wore on the nerves, generous yet not as enjoyable or instructive as other goodies. Easter eggs and an "Art Gallery" provide further glimpses into the visual dimensions of the film, the former offering raw footage of the beginning credits sequence while the artwork mirrors the strange vitality of Shadow. "A Tale of Two Zombies" features interviews with Brian Spears and Pete Gerner, Bill Hinzman, Haggerty the Zombie, and others as fondly recall the differing take on the walking dead in the movies of Romero and Fulci. The most substantial extra feature of this package is without a doubt Standing in the Shadows of 'Shadow", a full-bodied documentary that combines interviews, scenes from the movie, and looks behind the camera to examine ever part of the movie making business imaginable. Featuring talks with such folks as Tony Todd, Richard Siegel, Michael Gingold, Alan Cooke, Carla Greene, and just about ever other crew or cast member working on Shadow, this featurette looks at "The Cast," "Special Effects," "Stunts," "Editing," "Music," and "Location." Exploring the inspiration behind the story, the process of turning the script into film, pre-production, and shooting, this documentary leave little to the imagination, and is a perfect accompaniment to a film that honors the zombie, women-in-prison, and slasher films of decades past.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Shriek Show/Media Blasters
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review