Hot-to-trot college girls Mary (Rachel Melvin), Jenn (Lexi Atkins) and Zoe (Cortney Palm) spend the summer at a cabin by the lake. Despite an initial 'no-boys' policy the girls are eventually joined by their boyfriends, Tommy (Jake Weary) and Buck (Peter Gilroy), for a weekend of sex and debauchery. However, Jen has not forgiven Sam (Hutch Dano) who was caught on camera kissing another girl whose identity she demands to know. Their weekend only grows more awkward when a stray cannister of toxic waste transforms the local beaver population into furry flesh-eaters or Zombeavers if you will. Before long the college kids are trapped in the cabin battling buck-toothed monsters whose bite spreads a deadly zombie virus.
For a long time horror fans derided the Eighties as an era of stupid slasher clones and inane splatter comedies. These were jokey, vapid, mainstream, play-it-safe horror films lacking the transgressive edge and serious social satire of their Seventies counterparts and therefore devoid of any real artistic merit. Or so we were told by more jaded genre scribes. Yet nostalgia is a powerful thing. One fan's dead zone is another's golden age. These days retro-Eighties horror is a significant presence both on the big screen and direct-to-video market. Just take a look at the recent proliferation of homages to John Carpenter much to the bemusement of some older critics. Which brings us to Zombeavers conceived by comedian turned filmmaker Jordan Rubin as a gleeful tribute to the early gory larks of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and god help us, Troma Films.
It is a self-conscious send-up with comical characters and broad humour (yes, the film makes all the obvious 'beaver' gags) that wallows merrily in gratuitous nudity and sophomoric splatter effects. Clearly never intended as realistic, the goofy Zombeaver puppets nevertheless prove more welcome than any shoddy CGI. Indeed several practical effects sequences here including the show-stopping scene where one character transforms into a Zombeaver are very well executed. On a technical level Zombeavers is leagues ahead of your average indie DTV horror spoof. The acting is of a very high quality and Rubin handles the action and goofy thrills more than capably, counterbalancing the pervading juvenile tone with the odd solid shock or suspenseful moment. For example Zoe's leap through a third floor window. It is briskly paced and, wisely for a horror comedy, does not outstay its welcome.
Where the film falters by comparison with the truly great horror comedies of say, John Landis, Joe Dante and John Sayles, is it is unwilling to engage the viewer on an emotional level. Horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) or Jackson's Braindead (1992) delivered all the sick laughs and outrageous gore effects fans wanted but still set out craft sympathetic characters in stories with palpable subtext. By comparison Zombeavers seethes with contempt for its scantily-clad sorority babes and haplessly horny jocks, inviting viewers to revel in each grisly demise. There is however a strange inconsistency to its satire. When things go crazy all three girls, even sarcastic Zoey, turn out to be smarter, more capable and caring than we initially suspect. Yet the film fritters away a carefully established subplot about Mary and Jen's close bond for the sake of a misanthropic message about the tenuousness of friendship and persists in taking borderline misogynistic delight in their ongoing humiliation. Opening with two dumb toxic waste disposal guys (one played by comedian Bill Burr) discussing the time one dated a man for a week ("Easiest week of my life, except for the sex. That was brutal") and including an odd running gag with the heroines repeatedly chastised for remaining bikini-clad throughout, the jokey misogynistic undertones undercut some of the fun. Unlike the superior Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) the humour in Zombeavers ends up reaffirming conservative attitudes (inadvertently, one assumes) that leave this a one-joke movie. On the other hand the end credit out-takes are amusing and the Tony Bennett style swinging theme song is pretty funny.