Jordan Rubin, the director and co-writer of Zombeavers, had previously been a writer on The Man Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and that muppet prank phone-call show from the mid-2000s, Crank Yankers. If you enjoyed those shows AND like horror comedies, you may enjoy the infrequently clever Zombeavers.
Zombeavers opens with two truck drivers (Bill Burr and John Mayer) ranting about sex in a masculinist way that isn’t homophobic. It even manages to subvert expectations about gay panic humor, a stance that is depressingly progressive for 2015. Mid-conversation, the truckers end up hitting a deer, and releasing a barrel of toxic waste into the stream and hitting a beaver dam where it sprays all over. One of the more entertaining drinking games of Zombeavers is “Spot the reference”, a game where you drink every time you spot a joke or scene “borrowed” from another movie. Here’s a freebie: this one is Return of the Living Dead Pt 2.
Plot change to: three nubile co-eds are on vacation at a cousin’s cabin in the middle of the woods. There’s the blond one who’s just been cheated on (the Virgin), the one with glasses whose cousin owns the cabin and is also the organizer of the trip (the Brains), and the other dark-haired one who’s really crass and takes her top off at the beach for a full extended sequence of boobies (the Bitch). Their original vacation plans of bringing their boyfriends along for a good old fashioned sex weekend in the woods was disrupted when The Virgin saw a Facebook picture of her boyfriend making out with another girl. So, the sex weekend turned into a girl’s therapy weekend.
Except, the three guys (who are all friends) make a renegade trip up to the cabin in the hopes of some sexing and some making up. In the guys corner, there’s the tall and large Joker who is dating The Bitch, the blond Jock who is dating The Brains, and the Cheater formerly dating The Virgin. They’re all trying to make sense of how to get The Cheater and The Virgin back together when Zombie Beavers finally attack.
Rubin then proceeds through many of the usual tropes of Cabin in the Woods movies, thinking it is undermining the formula by having The Brains also be kind of a bitch, having The Bitch be kind of moral, and having a dude (The Cheater) be seen as being the sleazy one. It’s not that original. It’s nice, but it comes way too soon after the formula-busting Cabin in the Woods.
That said, when Zombeavers is on, it’s hilarious. There are some amazing changes that happen when the people turn, as is required by the Rule of Zombies. Some of the scene inversions are kind of awesome (including a knee to the balls scene), and some of the death scenes are pretty hilarious. Unfortunately, these moments of fleeting genius are few and far between.
About 85% of the movie feels like the type of cheap and easy television humor that was Rubin’s bread and butter, now in the form of a SyFy Original Movie. Similar to Crank Yankers, the humor feels kind of like an over-extended joke that that one uncle keeps forwarding you. Similar to your uncle, Rubin’s camera spends a lot of time gazing at the women in various states of undress, but not much preening over the men. In fact, there’s one horror scene where it made cinematic sense for the guy to have been naked. Instead, Rubin shies away from the male nudity, gives the guy his underwear, and undermines the scene that had led up the horror.
When Zombeavers isn’t either being clever or making stale jokes your Uncle would be proud of, Rubin crams it full of masked and not-so-masked references to other films you wish you were watching instead. Zombeavers is dependent on a formula, but unlike the great horror comedies, Rubin isn’t subverting the formula or using it in a particularly clever way. He’s just using it as a bare bones structure to hang a bunch of jokes on. He does it well enough, but the whole production is rather easy and facile. The audience I was with seemed to find it hilarious, but I just found myself wondering “is that the joke?” Then, I looked around and saw I was surrounded by Zombros.