Shadow: Dead Riot
U.S.A. | 2005
Directed by Derek Wan
Tony Todd
Carla Greene
Andrea Langi
| 90 Minutes | R
Format: DVD
| R1 - NTSC
Shriek Show
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
SNEAK PREVIEW | DVD Release Date: March 28, 2006
The second feature film from Fever Dreams, the production arm of Media Blasters, Shadow: Dead Riot blends the Women in Prison genre with strong doses of gory zombie horror and Hong Kong style martial arts action. This mixing of genres is calculated for maximum appeal to exploitation fans, as is some of the casting — Tony Todd's supernatural villain is obviously a much more sanguinary take on his popular Candyman character, while direct-to-video sex starlet Misty Mundae (billed as "Erin Brown") is on hand for the obligatory shower scene. (And later on, some flesh munching.)
    A pre-titles prologue introduces us to a fearsome death row inmate nicknamed Shadow (Todd) just moments before his execution by lethal injection. Convicted of 22 murders, Shadow awaits his fate in solitary confinement, bloodily carving occult runes on his body and filing his teeth into a shark's grin. After he's strapped down on the death chamber gurney and dosed with poison, the priest administering the last rites senses the manifestation of an evil power — and then all hell breaks loose. Before it's over, Shadow will be dead... but so will other occupants of the prison, both inmates and guards. Faced with an unbelievable situation beyond rational explanation, the warden instigates an immediate cover-up. Bodies — and pieces of bodies — are dumped into a hastily dug pit on the prison grounds.
    Flash forward 20 years. In the interim the prison has undergone a significant makeover — not a physical one (since the joint seems in a perpetual state of decay), but rather one of management and 'guests'. Now an experimental rehabilitation center for female offenders, the prison welcomes its newest inmate: Solitaire (Carla Greene), a tough, defiant young African-American woman who doesn't fit the typical criminal profile. Solitaire's desire to be left alone and keep to herself doesn't jibe with the New Age approach of the female warden (Nina Hodoruk), nor does it endear her to the meanest bitch among the convicts, a hulking she-male known as Mondo (Tatianna Butler). When Mondo and her gang terrorize weak, doe-eyed Crystal (Mundae) in the shower, Solitaire gallantly comes to the girl's defense, demonstrating a high degree of martial arts fighting skill as she wipes the floor with her opponents. Playing the Good Samaritan only gets her thrown in solitary by the hot-tempered, Teutonically blonde head guard, Elsa Thorn (Andrea Langi). She's placed in the same isolation cell that once held Shadow. Here Solitaire makes an ominous discovery — a strange, circular rune carved into the cement floor...
    Crafted with a professional slickness belying its small production budget, Shadow: Dead Riot almost — almost — puts paid to the notion that there's no such thing as a good 'zombies in prison' movie. Precursors Zombie Death House (1987) and Beyond Re-animator (2003) tried and failed, and those films didn't have to concern themselves with sexploitation and martial arts elements. That Shadow does a decent job keeping these disparate balls in the air simultaneously is a credit to the talents involved, both behind and in front of the camera. Carla Greene, a model who studied taekwondo in college, makes a favorable impression in a demanding debut role, while her similarly inexperienced co-stars — most of the gals playing the other inmates have no previous acting credits — also acquit themselves surprisingly well. (None of them is such a horrible or awkward thesp as to provoke groans or derisive laughter.) Of course genre veteran Tony Todd is on very familiar ground here, using his voice and imposing physical presence to effortlessly conjure what is likely an attempt to establish another franchise villain. But the Shadow character is just too sketchily thought out; we never learn where or how he developed his formidable demonic powers. (Saved for the sequel, perhaps?) And in some shots, regrettably, when Todd is wearing a dreadlocks wig, he looks like a nightmare vision of Whoopi Goldberg after exposure to gamma rays. Not the intended effect I'm sure.
    In the above paragraph I suggested that Shadow: Dead Riot is almost a good zombies-in-prison movie. It's certainly brimming with action, skin and a plethora of juicy gore... Once Shadow's blood is used to resurrect the dead convicts from the secret burial pit, turning them into rampaging, flesh-eating zombies, the grue flows freely and often. (This is the goriest R-rated film I've seen in ages.) Too bad, then, that the the dialog so clichιd, the plot full of monstrously gaping holes. How likely is it that the infamous mass murderer of 22 people would be executed without a single member of the press in attendance? Or that the slaughter of scores of prisoners, not to mention some of the guards, could be completely hushed up? Very little of the story stands up to the slightest scrutiny, as if writers Richard Siegel and Michael Gingold (a former editor of Fangoria magazine) were more concerned with working in cheeky references to horror films past than developing a solid plot. (Two of the guards are named Franco and Rollin; there's a breast-biting nod to Burial Ground; famous screen zombies Bill Hinzman [1968's Night of the Living Dead] and Captain Haggerty [Fulci's Zombie] appear as — you guessed it — zombies.) Yet the technical proficiency of director Derek Wan (cinematographer for the Jet Li actioner Fist of Legend) and martial arts choreographer Tony Leung Siu-Hung (who apprenticed under Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan), working with a talented makeup effects team and an appealing cast, keep the film from being shivved by the underdeveloped script.

To be released next month under Media Blasters' Shriek Show imprint, Shadow: Dead Riot is presented in anamorphic letterbox format (1.77:1 AR) with two audio options, Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. Visually the transfer is first-rate; of the two audio tracks the 2.0 mix actually sounded fuller and more robust to my ears. Extras are light, but what's provided is satisfactory. Along with the theatrical trailer and an image gallery is a behind-the-scenes featurette, Standing in the Shadows of 'Shadow' (16 minutes). While mainly a promotional piece it does provide an interesting glimpse of the small but professional cast and crew at work on location, detailing the rehearsal of various fight scenes and how many of the makeup/gore effects were achieved.
    The disc also comes with more trailers for various Media Blasters DVDs, including such titles as Anthropophagus, Flesh for the Beast, Hiruko the Goblin and Neighbor No. 13.