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Plot: vloggers travel to mysterious island and uncover terrible secret.

Now that the zombie wave following in the wake of The Walking Dead (2010-2022) is finally cresting some interesting outliers have been revealed. Whereas South Korea’s #Alive (2020) went for the introspective approach iZla channels the spirits of old grandmasters Cirio H. Santiago, Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero, and Bobby A. Suarez. At 85 minutes it thankfully is mercifully to-the-point and surprisingly clever when it wants to be (which doesn’t happen all that much, sadly). iZla lives (and dies) by its adherence to the exploitation maxim of the three capital Bs: babes, boobs, and blood. And it delivers just what it promises. iZla makes no qualms about what it is. A puerile and low effort romp that’s the closest to Raw Force (1982) as we’re likely going to get in this day and age. Barry Gonzalez must be aware of his country’s rich history in exploitation. Savaged by critics and detested by audiences alike iZla is unadulterated Filipino pulp horror at its best.

iZla opened domestically on 22 October 2021 and premiered internationally on Netflix about a month later. The cleverest thing about it is probably its title. Director Barry Gonzalez seems to specialize in swooning romances and comedies (or some permutation thereof) on both the big and the small screen. iZla appears to be his first foray into horror although here he retains the comedy that’s his comfort zone. Perhaps he had better focused on the romance because the humour here is painfully unfunny. Granted, iZla does work as a horror when (and if) it stops mucking about. Which doesn’t happen near as much as it probably should. Whether you find iZla funny is contingent upon your tolerance for crass and easy boob - and fart jokes. iZla never gets its head out of the female cast’s cleavage long enough to ridicule the inherent absurdities of cheap zombie horror plot contrivances and the tired conventions that come with it. iZla has plenty of story to fumble but not nearly enough to sustain what amounts to an +80-minute skit.

The year is 1942, World War II. The Japanese occupation of the Commonwealth of the Philippines has claimed several of its islands. One of these unnamed and unspecified islands armed forces mysteriously disappear into the blackness of the night by unseen assailants. Guarding the island are Japanese ninjas specialized in guerrilla warfare that the government simply dubs Ninja On Call or Ninja-Call. In the bowels below scientists have developed a serum rendering them impervious to injury and death. The locals soon believe the island to be cursed and the story of Forbidden Island becomes an integral part of native folklore. Decades pass and the legend of Forbidden Island lives on. Badong (Paolo Contis) and Entoy (Archie Alemania) are two orphaned slacker resort workers getting by on tips from odd jobs here and there. Not even the crippling debt they inherited from their absentee parents looming dangerously above them is enough to spring the unambitious and non-upwardly mobile duo into action. The two desperately need something to get out of the rut and the financial hole they’re in.

In Manila Veronica (Isabelle Daza), Valerie (Beauty Gonzalez, as Beauty Gonzales) and Venus (Elisse Joson), or the popular vloggers collectively known as the V-Sisters, are brainstorming ideas for their latest YouTube prank hit video. The sisters and their team - mascot Abi (Aiko Climaco), producer Gina (Sunshine Garcia) and researcher Lani (Analyn Barro) – are about to give up when they run into Badong and Entoy in the city of Kalimliman. Mayor Anding (Niño Muhlach, as Nino Muhlach) (who just so happens to be the V-Sisters’ uncle) has ordered a travel ban to Forbidden Island (whether it’s in the environs of Savage Beach, Warrior Island, or Taboo Island is, sadly, never disclosed) stirring the girls interest in the destination. Badong and Entoy figure that they might as well make a buck from the ditzy girls and brokers a deal with Veronica. The two agree to charter a boat and double as their guides/security detail. Things take a turn for the dark when the group discovers that uncle Anding has a marijuana plantation and his own para-military force. It’s then that the zombie ninjas break loose and left and right people fall prey to the maws and jaws of the undead. Will be Badong, Entoy, Lani, and Veronica be able to ward off the hungry undead long enough to figure out an escape plan?

It took writer Ays De Guzman (as Ice De Gusman) and 5 (!!) others to come up with a halfway coherent “story concept” that’s essentially the first half of Angel Warriors (2013) combined with the second half of Raw Force (1982). Really? That’s not even counting various scenes and plot elements lifted wholesale from Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Cross Mission (1988), Zombi 3 (1988), and After Death (1989). You halfway expect Yvette Yzon to do a cameo but iZla is never smart nor self-aware enough to capitalize on its collective legacy and multiple decades of domestic cinematic traditions. Writer Ays De Guzman and Barry Gonzalez commit to some Claudio Fragasso / Bruno Mattei level hackdom here. It’s perfectly okay if you mistook this for a spoof because iZla seems to operate on that mindset. More charitable and forgiving minds might call this a semi-comedic deconstruction but that’s giving this one far more credit than it deserves. Shaun Of the Dead (2008) this most certainly is not. Nor is it Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) for that matter. The cringe-inducing dialogue is both terribly written and helps nothing with exposition. What passes for humour alternates between fart and boob jokes almost exclusively and some situational slapstick would’ve worked wonders here. Since none of that will be forthcoming we’re stuck with characters either too dimwitted or self-absorbed and ditzy to be of any interest. No amount of boobage and gratuitous fanservice can camouflage writing this half-assed and bad.

And with a cast consisting of Filipino television staples Beauty Gonzalez, Isabelle Daza, Elisse Joson, Sunshine Garcia, and Analyn Barro there’s plenty to be had. These Pinay equivalents of Stephanie Herala or Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang (潘霜霜), Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡夢媛), and Pan Chun-Chun (潘春春) might not be the next Cristine Reyes, Fernanda Urrejola, or Anne Curtis but they acquit themselves good enough. For a movie centered almost exclusively around their shapes and forms they take it all in stride. The emperor might have no clothes but these babes staunchly remain in theirs. For something that tries very hard to be a throwback to the Golden Age of Filipino exploitation there’s an interesting duality to the way director of photography A.B. Garcia films the women. Garcia takes a near-porn level of interest in their curves but with this being a broad comedy and general audience release it shies away from any and all female nudity. Well, there’s plenty of female nudity but most of it is either implied or obscured by strategic props and such. For all the bounce and jiggle there’s precious little bang.

iZla only gains a faint pulse when it towards the end suddenly starts talking body temperature, asymptomatic carriers (of the zombie virus) and 14-day quarantines. Up to that point iZla had concerned itself superficially with mad science worthy of Blood Island (1959-1970), ninjas, and zombies and it’s absolutely the last thing for it to suddenly turn current and political. Yeah, iZla not only steals the Nazi zombie subplot from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted (2007) (completely with celluloid footage in a derelict lab with blood-splattered walls) and the ending from Hell of the Living Dead (1980) it actually has the gall to present itself as a parable or allegory of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. Il faut le faire. It’s handled with all the grace, finesse, and intelligence of someone who considers a bowel movement the apex of humour. Horror movies, especially the sillier ones, often carry big themes or important messages. If there’s anything to compliment iZla on it’s the special effects work. This one is full of old school prosthetics and practical effects with an absolute minimum of digital post-production. Faint praise though that might be, there’s at least something it gets right. It might not be much but you got to take what you can with these sort of things. Here’s hoping Barry Gonzalez makes a full-blown female-centric action movie (preferably with Beauty Gonzalez, Analyn Barro or Elisse Joson) in the old Filipino tradition next.

Plot: workaholic ad executive dies for the job… and comes to regret it.

Argentine vampire horror has come a long way. In the Golden Age of exploitation Latin – and South American gothics took primarily after Universal Horror and Hammer Films, respectively. Reflective of our more enlightened times Dead Man Tells His Own Tale (released domestically as El Muerto Cuenta su Historia) is a horror comedy that at points is a zombie, ghost, vampire, Satanic cult, and post-apocalyptic flick. It bounces into several different directions at once yet manages to stay surprisingly coherent – even if it comes at the price of never truly developing anything that it presents to any substantial degree. More importantly, Dead Man Tells His Own Tale pushes an outspoken feminist agenda that couldn’t feel more relevant considering women’s rights still regularly get trampled on in Argentina. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale may not have the subtlety of The Love Witch (2016) or be as on-point as Shaun Of the Dead (2004), Fabián Forte is onto something – even if he’s not the Argentine Álex de la Iglesia.

This is what you get when you combine The Day Of the Beast (1995), a hetero-normative take on Vampyros Lesbos (1971), a zombie subplot out of Idle Hands (1999), spice it up with a dash of Liar Liar (1997), a bit of What Women Want (2000) and sprinkle it with the feminist theory and women’s lib angle from The Love Witch (2016). Suffice to say Dead Man Tells His Own Tale fuses together influences and inspirations that have no sensible reason to go together but somehow do anyway. It’s leagues better in terms of writing and direction than Bolivian sex comedy My Cousin the Sexologist (2016) while having that same made-for-TV look. For no apparent reason other than to look cool Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts in medias res, is told out of chronological order, and switches viewpoint characters around during the third act. It has no reason to work but somehow it does anyway. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is chuckle-inducing at points and some of the gore scenes are surprisingly well-realized. As the complete antithesis to Emilio Vieyra's legendary Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán and Gloria Prat) these vampires are of the mind rather than of the sanguine persuasion.

Ángel Barrios (Diego Gentile) is a workaholic ad executive in Buenos Aires. He’s shallow, self-centered, and chauvenist and sexist to a fault. He has a loving wife in Lucila (Mariana Anghileri, as Moro Anghileri) but he ignores her whenever convenient and at this point his relationship with her is purely transactional. On top of that, he’s estranged from his precocious daughter Antonella (Fiorela Duranda). Lucila and him have been going to relation therapy with doctor Ana (Viviana Saccone) but Ángel’s not interested in improving himself and blames Lucila for their problems instead. Ángel’s best friend is his work associate Eduardo (Damián Dreizik) who still lives with his elderly mother Cristina (Pipi Onetto). One day Ángel and Eduardo are ordered to helm a commercial for a perfume brand. During the shoot Ángel scolds the hired model (Victoria Saravia) for no apparent reason. From that point forward Ángel finds it difficult to tell what is real and what’s not. He loses all track of time until one night he finds himself in a bar getting seduced by Bea (Emilia Attías), Eri (Julieta Vallina), and a woman looking just like doctor Ana. The seductresses slash his throat, and exsanguinated he ends up on the medical slab of Dr. Piedras (Chucho Fernández).

He awakens, hobbles home, and is greeted by little Antonella who immediately notices that there’s something different about him. Lucila is understandably annoyed but shrugs it off as another of Ángel’s all-night binges. When he meets Eduardo the following day Ángel is startled by his new condition. Eduardo explains that they were killed by three Celtic goddesses for their sexist - and toxic behaviour and that they now exist in a state of unlife (or undeath). To deal with their predicament he has started a therapy group with fellow victims Norberto (Lautaro Delgado), Sergio (Berta Muñiz), Coco (Pablo Pinto), and Gustavo (Germán Romero) – all of whom, just like himself, merely exist as golems. Ángel feverishly continues to work while being something of a ghost in his own household. He learns that the three goddesses are preparing for the resurrection of the Morrígan Macha (Marina Cohen) by killing all sexist males. To make matters worse Cristina indoctrinates and inducts Lucila into the cult of the Morrígan. As the cult conducts a nocturnal ceremony the dead rise, the earth splits open, and Macha is indeed resurrected. Unable to stop the looming apocalypse Lucila and Ángel are witness to how society and power structures change overnight. In the aftermath they reunite with Antonella and with more understanding of their own sensitivities they roam the wastelands in their jeep fighting to restore the world they once knew.

Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it? Let’s break down what we have here. First, the general plot concerns a chauvenist pig getting a royal come-uppance much in the way of the French comedy As the Moon (1977) or What Women Want (2000). Ángel falling under the spell of Bea is lifted wholesale from Vampyros Lesbos (1971). The Morrígan cult scene will look familiar to anybody who has seen Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), or Satan's Slave (1976). The dead rising to do their witch mistress’ bidding sounds an awful lot like Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973). Ángel not being able to tell what is real and what is not reeks of The Game (1997) and him becoming a ghost in his own house reeks of The Sixth Sense (1999). Three misfits trying to stop the impending the impending apocalypse was, of course, the whole of The Day Of the Beast (1995). Finally, it concludes with the ending of The Terminator (1984) copied almost verbatim. There’s absolutely no reason why any of these should go together, but somehow they do. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts out as a conventional drama but soon transforms into a ghost horror, a zombie romp, a gothic horror, a Satanic cult flick and towards the end it briefly becomes a post-nuke yarn. Under no circumstance do any of these subgenres usually go together but here the transitions are seamless. That Dead Man Tells His Own Tale never devolves into incoherence attests to Forte’s vision.

Argentinian horror has come a long way since the halcyon days of Armando Bó ushering his bra-busting paramour Isabel Sarli through near-constant controversy and into superstardom, where “la diosa blanca de la sensualidad” Libertad Leblanc hopped across genres and neighbouring countries turning heads and dropping jaws along the way, where Emilio Vieyra’s kink-horror exploits with his trusty mujer sin ropas Gloria Prat and Susana Beltrán upset censors continue to speak to the fertile imagination of cult movie fanatics everywhere more than five decades later. It was here that Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures struck a partnership with Aries Cinematográfica Argentina to produce some of the most gratuitous barbarian/sword-and-sorcery features with locals Alejandro Sessa and Héctor Olivera and a host of buxom American starlets willing to take their tops off for the right paycheck. Expect no such excesses here. While chaste by exploitation standards Dead Man Tells His Own Tale boasts former model and television personality Emilia Attías and Mariana Anghileri among its principal cast. Attías and Anghileri combine the best of Cristine Reyes, Anne Curtis, and Fernanda Urrejola. Thankfully they act better than Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala. As important as a few pretty faces and hardbodies may be to the marketability of a production, the script of Nicolás Britos and director Forte matters even more. As a bonus, the special effects are a pretty even mix between practical and digital.

It’s a question for the ages why a pretty little fright flick like this ended up with the somewhat misleading Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2017) derived title that it did. As these things go, its closest cousin is Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching (2013). Director Fabián Forte was nominated for a Golden Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF) in 2017 and while he did not win, he might be one of Argentina’s directors to look out for. In the years since Forte has mainly been assistant directing and doing television work with no features for the immediate future. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale proves that there’s still some life to the old corpse and that Argentinian horror can still be relevant and exciting in this day and age. If titles such as Terrified (2017) are anything to go by Argentina is, just like any other country, swamped by the current trend of The Conjuring (2013) and Paranormal Activity (2007) imitations. As lamentable as that evolution is, it makes you long for simpler times when Latin America could be counted upon to deliver something different from its European and American peers. Is that still the case? That’s difficult to say. At least Dead Man Tells His Own Tale can content itself with its old school sensibilities and retro aesthetic.