Pittsburgh horror legend John A. Russo is back in the zombie game with the upcoming horror comedy, My Uncle John is a Zombie! It’s the genre he helped popularize as co-writer of Night of the Living Dead (1968 and 1990), and Return of the Living Dead (1985). And while technology and certain societal viewpoints have changed since then, two things appear constant: People are still cruel and greedy, and the news media can’t be trusted.
The story is set in an alternate Pennsylvania where zombies have essentially been reduced to a nuisance. Still, rumors abound that SOME ghouls have evolved to the point where they can speak, perform some tasks, and even… have “relations.”
If you get what I’m saying, and I think you do.
The mythical Uncle John, played by Russo, is the most famous and horny talking zombie of them all. On-screen siblings Cy-Fi (Cy-Fi: Crucivixen 2013) and Oscar (Gary Lee Vincent, also one of the film’s producers) play Uncle John’s niece and nephew. They spend a majority of the film trying to present their uncle to a skeptical world as a dead-but-nice guy, and keep him away from the legions of weirdos who want to destroy or exploit him.
Maybe Uncle John could actually get laid if he wasn’t constantly dodging a crew of drunken zombie hunters, a fanatical zombie-hating pastor, a conniving television news host, and a well-meaning but misguided homicide detective.
My Uncle John is a Zombie! is the kind of love letter to the genre that could only have been shot in and around Pittsburgh. Directed by Russo and Robert Lucas (One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead 2008), the gory homage was shot in historic Pennsylvanian horror film locations like Evans City.
The cast is stocked with frequent Russo collaborators, including legendary scream queen and Troma regular Debbie Rochon and Russell Streiner (Johnny in Night of the Living Dead 1968). Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman also makes an appearance, complaining bitterly how Uncle John’s popularity is stealing thunder – and cash – from his own hard-earned organization.
Now, when you’ve got zombies, you’ve got head wounds. And sadly, this is where the movie felt the flattest. There’s just too much CG blood for my taste. It never fails to distract me and take me out of the viewing experience.
But it’s these lackluster blood geysers, oddly enough, that made me appreciate the movie’s interview portions even more. Sprinkled throughout the plot are a handful of mock sit-downs with Uncle John. Dressed in Hugh Hefner-style pajamas, he helps explain the events and his mindset when they occurred.
The interviews are interesting and funny, and allow Russo to use publicity stills and videos from his own career as a means to depict Uncle John’s rising popularity with the American public.
One plot element I especially liked involved the late actor George Kosana, who reprised his Sheriff McClelland character from Night of the Living Dead (1968). Turns out he’s still on the hook for shooting Ben (Duane Jones) at that film’s end, and is finally facing a murder indictment.
“There were a LOT of itchy trigger fingers,” McClelland says in his defense. “Everybody was panicky!”
I would have liked more of this, but rash action soon makes the pursuit of justice moot. Too bad.
Oh, did I mention Uncle John is on the prowl? If you miss it the first two or three times, the script makes sure you’ll have it down pat by the movie’s end.
“I get so horny you wouldn’t believe it,” says Uncle John. “But all the chicks run from me. I’m hoping maybe I’ll find a cute little necrophiliac, but so far, no luck.”
There’s a LOT of silliness here, but My Uncle John is a Zombie! is still peppered with bits of truth and meaning. Russo is well-known for his liberal politics, and the movie’s message comes through in Uncle John’s last pajama-clad interview.
“Be kind to everybody, even zombies,” says Uncle John. “You might be one yourself someday.”
Filmmakers are hoping for a 2019 release. Keep reading PopHorror for updates!