2015 - 85 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Jordan Rubin

Written by: Jordan Rubin, Al Kaplan, Jon Kaplan

Starring: Bill Burr, Hutch Dano, Rachel Melvin, Courtney Palm, Rex Linn, Jake Weary, Brent Briscoe, Robert R. Shafer, Peter Gilroy, Lexi Atkins, Phyllis Katz

All that can be expected from Zombeavers comes from the inspiration of its title. You see, the last syllable of “zombie” is the same as the first syllable of “beavers.” If you mash the words together around the common syllable you get “zombeavers.” And Zombeavers gives us beavers that are zombies. If the title and that premise intrigue you, you’re probably the target audience and may have fun with the tongue-in-cheek approach to the horror-comedy that exists here. While the movie is amusing and mercifully short at 80 minutes, the horror is never really scary or brutal, and the comedy, complete with several beaver-as-anatomical-slang puns, doesn’t transcend the title.

Careless truckers (Bill Burr from Breaking Bad and singer John Mayer from being John Mayer) lose a barrel of toxic waste that ruptures and washes downstream to a beaver dam. The beaver habitat is close to a lake house where friends Mary (Rachel Melvin), tough chick Zoe (Cortney Palm), and the recently cheated-on Jenn (Lexi Atkins) hope to have a relaxing weekend. The tranquility is disrupted by the trio’s boyfriends, who show up uninvited. Sam (Hutch Dano) wants to smooth things over with Jenn, and the other two guys just need to get laid. Shortly after the sex and drinking start, the newly zombified beavers emerge from their lair and attack.

Despite the compact runtime, Zombeavers takes quite a bit of time to get to the zombie beavers, establishing characters, their various hang-ups, and the lay of the land around the lake house. None of the college kids are much fun to be around, even the virginally-named and seemingly final-girl heroine Mary. There’s an attempt at subverting expectations with her that tweaks formula, but really adds nothing to the wackiness. The married couple across the lake and a gruff outdoorsman are introduced only to appear in a gonzo final act when more victims are needed. It certainly seems like the neighbors are within earshot when the first big beaver attack happens, but the kids decide to board themselves up in the cabin (with wood, which beavers can chew right through).

There’s a certain inherent charm with the animatronic beaver tormenters that’s reminiscent of the groundhog from Caddyshack, except for the glowing green eyes, huge teeth, and aggression complete with (intentionally) hilarious roars when they attack. How the creatures are used to match the tone of the movie, however, are hit and miss. Power and phone lines cut with bloody claw marks, and trees chewed through and felled to block the only road of escape are wonderfully goofy. When multiple holes are created in the cabin floor and a game of whack-a-beaver ensues, it’s a little too much. I could almost hear the Bennie Hill theme in my head.

The final third finally starts to ramp up the inspired lunacy, with grotesque makeup and a series of unlikable characters getting their comeuppance, though it all feels strangely unadventurous given the nature of the beasts. Director and co-writer Jordan Rubin clearly understands B-movie formula and sensibility, and is content to glide on the target audience’s understanding of it. The result is a pleasing enough, though unremarkable, slice of genre kitsch.

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