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Canuxploitation!

Enter... Zombie King!

(AKA Zombie Beach Party) 2003, Starring Jules Delorme, Jennifer Thom, Raymond Carle, Rob Etcheverria, Sean K. Robb, Nicholas Sinn. Directed by Stacey Case (El Zorrero Films).





What is Canada's  fascination with Mexican wrestlers? Surely, outside of Mexico itself, the Great White North ranks as one of the most prolific purveyors of lucha libre cinema, with masked wrestlers making numerous appearances in CanCult films ranging from Blood and Guts and Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang to modern B-movie pastiches like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter and Meat Market.

Enter... Zombie King! is yet another entry in this strange, cross-cultural cage match, but it's still a fairly unique one. It does notably depart from the more recent tradition, which tended to simply toss a Mexican wrestler into the mix as a secondary hero, just another winking reference for cult buffs. Instead, this film enlists a troupe of masked wrestlers and their arch-nemeses as the central characters, and in doing so, becomes the real Northern-hatched successor to authentic Mexican wrestling classics of the 1960s, such as Rock 'N Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy or Santo vs. the Zombies. Of course, the pop camp angle of the masks is still played up for maximum effect, but it's a film that seems intent on creating its own  rasslin' reality rather than borrowing bits and pieces from others.

In the film, people's champion Ulysses (Jules Delorme) discovers that his old tag team partner Tiki (Rob Etcheverria) is touring the circuit with a new act, taking on flesh-eating zombies in the squared circle. He heads down to a rock club to check it our with his pals Blue Saint (Raymond Carle) and Mercedes (Jennifer Thom), but disaster strikes when one of the spectators is found dead in the parking lot, having become a tasty zombie snack. Called in to investigate, part-time government agent Mr. X (Sean K. Robb) determines that it wasn't one of Tiki's dometicated living dead, but a pack of wild zombies roaming the countryside. Deciding it's time to take action, Ulysses gathers his friends to hunt down the killer creatures, only to discover they are under the power of the evil Zombie King (Nicholas Sinn) and his partners, French Vixen (Jennifer Deschamps) and The Murderlizer (Jason Winn Bareford), who are planning to dominate the world from their abandoned amusement park headquarters by turning the earth's population into shuffling undead slaves.

A fixture on Toronto's DIY scene in everything from publishing and screen- printing through to music and film, Enter... Zombie King! director Stacey Case began his celluloid love affair with masked grapplers via a series of Super-8 shorts in the late 1990s starring Arriba! The Parkdale Wrestler. Despite a relative lack of experience behind the camera, Case does a fine job here for his debut low-budget feature,  delivering a pulpy, energetic action-horror film that never takes itself too seriously.

Much of this is due to the good-natured, comic book approach to the material. From the very beginning, each of the film's masked characters is introduced by a hand-drawn splash panel, backgrounds are lit in distinct, primary colours, and the revenge subplot-littered story bounces around fast enough that logic no longer matters. Throw in some campy gore effects, as masked wrestlers rip the heads off their zombie prey, rippling surf guitar riffs and a healthy splash of nudity, and you've got a 76 minute trash treat that revels in its lowbrow origins without becoming slavishly self-referential, a common pitfall for other consciously campy cult flicks.

What's most interesting about the film is how it manages to really make the expected wrestling matches a seamless part of the story. This was a notorious stumbling block for vintage Mexican stars Santo and Blue Demon, who often jarringly halted the action in order to  deliver  a few pile-drivers to a killer werewolf or invading alien. Aside from the expected stiff acting, the only real disappointment with these scenes is the grappling itself, which is never particularly convincing or spectacular. Perhaps it's simply the amateur talent involved, but for a wrestling movie, the athleticism on display is clearly lacking in comparison to its 1960s forefathers, even in the finale, as the three main protagonists square off against their evil counterparts for what should have been a memorable conclusion.

Though the film is clearly set in the U.S., Case does make good use of some offbeat local locations, many of which haven't been seen before in a Canadian film, such as Toronto's small Center Island theme park and the Squared Circle Pro Wrestling Gym, where most of the wrestlers in the film originally trained.  But what's most Canadian about the film is the way it staunchly identifies with the outsider Mexican wrestlers, who represent an almost anonymous heroism that seems so at odds with their flag-waving American counterparts. Like the great El Santo, Ulysses is a virtuous leader who crusades for justice not for glory or recognition, but because he genuinely want to make the world a better place--even if that means putting a sleeper hold on a mass zombie outbreak.


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