Monday, February 25

Some quick thoughts on Mangue Negro (Mud Zombies/Black Mangrove) (2008)

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When a fellow villager is attacked by a rotting corpse while catching mud crabs in a vast, decaying mangrove jungle; a timid pauper must fight a legion of muddy undead to save himself and a local girl he's sweet on with the help of an old mystic and a local fisherman.

Rodrigo Aragão's Mangue Negro (Mud Zombies) is quite th--ahh shit, the damned DVD froze...again! More on this severe problem later, but getting back; Rodrigo Aragão's debut shot-on-video feature, Mangue Negro, is quite the entertaining zombie chunkblower hailing from the land of luscious ladies and the great horror pioneer Coffin Joe, Brazil. Taking clear queues from modern staples like Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992) and Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981), Aragão crafts a dirt cheap picture amongst inhospitable terrain that's admittedly low on screen talent yet high on pure zeal, obviously fueled by a passion to match the unbridled creativity the filmmaker looks up to in the work that inspired him.

Once the shambling dead arise from the dense muck; piecemeal puppetering, stop-motion photography, wild Raimi-esqe "point-of-view" angles, and an abundance of turgid brown gore emit such an endearing quality that it's hard to criticize no matter how many times we've all seen this before. To mimic some of the night scenes, Aragão employs a digital desaturation of the picture with dim blue highlights, creating the atmosphere of a flesheating undead film that could have predated Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). A very traditional score that almost sounds comprised of old library tracks only intensifies this sensation. That's not to say that this is a slight to that milestone film, but it's just a nifty, presumably unintentional vibe that fans that know their history will pick up on.

If there was a gripe, it's that Mangue Negro's simplicity both in premise and production strains to last its entire 105 minute runtime. It's difficult not to squirm as the scenes between the gut-encrusted mayhem drag forth. Yet that's not the worst issue. The two-disc Brazilian Fábulas Negras set (pictured) has to be one of the worst authored and replicated DVDs I've come across in some time. We're talking dollar store sweatshop level junk here.

I received the set factory sealed only to discover both discs very scratched and smudged. The discs also suffer from delamination, which basically means the layers of the disc are literally separating and will only continue to do with time until the disc is terminally corrupted. This made the movie disc lock up like crazy across several different DVD players and the supplemental disc simply refused to play at all. All this was so bad I had to rip the movie to an HDD in order to watch the last half hour. Given that both DVDs suffer from this serious problem, I'd wager many other copies do as well, so proceed with caution if you intend on buying this set.

When this disc played, the movie's compression is so bad that it often looks like a low resolution YouTube video. Not only that, the menus are nearly impossible to navigate and advertised Portuguese DTS 6.1 and Dolby 5.1 audio tracks are nowhere to be found. All three sound options are identical Dolby Stereo tracks (wtf?). On the bright side; this set is NTSC, region free, and features nicely legible English subtitles for the feature. Also a high quality slipcover (complete with DTS logo), insert, and eight postcards of promo and production stills are included. Hell, even the frosted white DVD case is quality, just a shame the discs are shit. Mangue Negro deserves better and while definitely recommended for both zombie fans and gorehounds, if I had to do it over I'd wait for another English-friendly disc to pop up...

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