Garden of the Dead (1972)

Director John Hayes (SHELL SHOCK) needed a B feature to follow up his William Smith (PIRANHA PIRANHA, EYE OF THE TIGER) shlocker GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE.  The solution was to put this slight zombie film together with a few genre regulars scattered throughout to prop it up.  John Dennis (SOLYENT GREEN), Duncan McLeod (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS & THE VAN), Lee Frost (MONDO FREUDO & MONDO BIZARRO) and Marland Procter (CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN) all appear and acquit themselves well with John Dennis doing most of the work as Lt. Jablonski.  

Camp Hoover is a prison work camp that puts the convicts to work making…formaldehyde.  It seems it takes a whole camps worth of prisoners to run the single decrepit still.  Once the pipes rust out the state is planning to transfer everyone and shut the camp down to spare the cost of replacing the…um…pipes.  A group of the cons, eight of them to be precise, enjoy huffing the formaldehyde recreationally.  They all gather around the still and suck it straight from the hose.  They can’t get enough of the stuff.  Paul (Proctor) receives frequent visits from his girlfriend Carol (Susan Charney) so the eight goons try to use her as leverage to recruit him to join them in their escape attempt.  He declines and they stick him with a shiv.  On their way to boost the formaldehyde truck they kill Officer McGee (Frost) and accidentally alert the guards to their scheme.  Dr. Saunders (McLeod) takes Paul back to the camp office to tend his wounds while the warden (Phil Kenneally) and Lt. Jablonski lead the guards in pursuit. 

The truck careens into the graveyard dumping its smelly cargo and the formaldehyde too as the guards blast the cons to death.  They are left in shallow and unmarked graves in the cemetery–because there’s no need for paperwork or anything after a minor incident such as a breakout and shootout occur.  Well the formaldehyde sinks into the soil and the corpses rise up as fast moving, slow talking, weapon wielding zombies!  That’s a few years before you’d expect it huh?  The descend on the local tornado magnet–trailer parks never catch breaks, do they?–and kill a couple of folks before attacking Carol sending her racing back to Camp Hoover seeking the safety of the fence.  The warden doesn’t buy her tale until a guard is mangled just outside of the perimeter setting off the usual, if small scale, zombie siege.  Guards and zombies and prisoners face off in a knock down drag out fight which only ends when the last of the hard to kill zombies is brought down.  That’s also where the film ends.  There is no catharsis there’s only questions.

There are a lot of questions left to ponder after formaldehyde sniffing zombies are shown to be killed by massive shotgun damage and spot lights.  You’ve read the word “zombie” a few times now so I should clarify.  Think more Herk Harvey than George Romero and you’ll be spot on.  A short flick, GARDEN OF THE DEAD is a fun way to burn an hour.  Check it out.

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