Eric’s PHFF Review: Witness Infection (2020)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Vince DonVito, Jill-Michele Melean, Monique Coleman, and Robert Belushi in Witness Infection.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

When worlds collide! Witness Infection is a goofy and fun mashup of mob movie and zombie movie tropes. Family, duty, and mob justice become secondary for nice-guy Carlo when tainted Italian sausages ignite a zombie pandemic. Ooooo, maybe you shouldn’t have had seconds!

Directed by Andy Palmer

Take a movie genre, in this case, the Italian mob movie. Add zombies. Add comedy. Shake-up and see what happens! Voila! Witness Infection happens. This little independent horror comedy-works, largely because of the efforts of the charismatic cast, and the clear love of craft that they invested in this film.

Life is difficult for poor Carlo (Robert Belushi) who is happy in his life as a dog groomer and he is smitten with his childhood sweetheart Gina (Jill-Michele Melean). But fate has other plans for him, as his life is being turned upside down by his mob boss dad (Carlos Alazraqui) forcing him into an arranged marriage with his dopey brother Dominic’s (Bret Ernst) girlfriend, the leggy and lovely Patricia (Erinn Hayes).

Carlo’s family and Patricia’s family are from two mob families living under witness protection in suburban Temecula, California. In order to keep the peace between the families, there needs to be a marriage and that marriage needs to be sealed with a child. Unfortunately, Dominic is shooting blanks (steroids!) and now Carlo has been dragged back into the family, Michael Corleone style. Carlo tries to put his foot down at the big banquet and refuses to the arrangement, but his dad tells him that in order to save the family from getting murdered, he needs to do this. Some bad sausages threaten to disrupt not just the family plans, but that of the whole town when the tainted meat infects everyone who eats them and turns them into some very gassy zombies. Be ready for lots of fart humor, folks.

As Carlo heads out to Mr. Serelli, to apologize and commit to the marriage, he is joined by Gina and his best buddy Vince (Vince Donvito) show up as backup, just in case something goes wrong. And guess what? It goes very, very wrong. They get hints of that on their way to the great apology, but they are bound and determined to do right by family… zombies be damned.

Carlo proves to be a terrible negotiator, and the three friends get captured by the Serellis, awaiting some grisly punishment. But then… zombies! Madcap antics ensue, with mob justice and zombie mobs pushing our protagonists from scene to scene. Can our lovebirds make it to the end of the movie? Or will it be a classic horror ending? For that, you’ll have to watch. I dare not spoil.

Comparable films: Cooties , Grabbers, Return of the Living Dead, Deathgasm, The Dead Don’t Die, and Nekrotronic.

Of these films Witness Infection most closely resembles Cooties, but it delivers more laughs, and has a better through-line plot thread. The tone and pace of the two films are quite similar. Both films boast veteran TV comedy actors with great comic timing. Both films have a script that hits all the broad familiar notes of both of the genres that get put together. And both feature a food origin for the pandemic. Nothing particularly new here, it’s all about the execution. And Witness Infection hits all its marks.

This film was the writing brainchild of Reno 911 alums Alazraqui and Melean, and it was produced with help from IndieGogo. This is certainly a labor of love project that managed to put together a big cast with experience ranging from cartoon voice-over (Alazraqui, Tara Strong, Maurice Lamarche) to TV Sitcoms (Belushi, Hayes, Melean) to High School Musical (Monique Coleman who give a fantastic monologue… watch the trailer.) It feels like this was a case where a bunch of acting friends came together to make something for the pure joy of it. This is a film that they describe as fighting above its weight class, and it certainly feels like a studio production even though it was on a shoestring budget.

Note to Jim Jarmusch, this is how you do a zombie movie with your friends. (This is so much better than The Dead Don’t Die.)

Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it scary? No. Is it heady satire? Not really. But… Is it a fun evening? Yes, yes it is. I also appreciate that this is a romantic comedy horror that has mature adults as the mains, as opposed to teenagers, who ordinarily get this type of opportunity. As a result, this feels like a pro gig. The acting craft of all that experience is clearly having a great time.

Witness Infection is not yet rated, but if/when they decide to get an MPAA rating it will likely be R for gore and language. It just showed up at the Portland Horror Film Festival, and it will be on tour through a number of other film festivals. You can check out where they will be next at the Witness Infection Website.

Review by Eric Li

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