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Ozone (1998)
Director: J.R. Bookwalter

review by Tony Lee

Scream House, a label of Odeon Entertainment, purports to be "the true home of indie horror" and is fast becoming the favoured genre ghetto of no-budget exploitation, bringing fans J.T. Petty's Soft For Digging (2001), Brian Clement's anthology Exhumed, Ray Dennis Steckler's cult Blood Shack (1971), along with a stream of schlock like Machine Head, and the barmy Monsturd (2003). Ozone (aka: Street Zombies) was co-written, produced, shot and edited over a decade ago by J.R. Bookwalter, veteran of production, varied crew and acting jobs on flicks like the infamously cheesy Galaxy Of The Dinosaurs (1992), David DeCoteau's softcore erotica Naked Instinct (1993), and cheapo horror Curse Of The Puppet Master (1998). Thanks to the phenomenal growth of DVD markets, Bookwalter's modestly apocalyptic urban horror is now reaching a wider audience.

It begins with a desperate junkie, pathetically grateful for a fix, shooting up with a dope fiend's "new concoction..." ozone. The drug's effects are instantly lethal. Veins pulse, skin bubbles erupt, and the user's head explodes. Meanwhile, stakeout cops Eddie (portrayed with surprising pathos and screen presence by former sportsman James Black, who later made TV appearances in sci-fi and crime shows) and Mike (Tom Hoover) catch and reluctantly kill a dealer, but not before the bad guy has injected Eddie with a dose of ozone. Mike chases another suspect into a derelict building, gets attacked by zombified squatters, and then promptly disappears for most of the movie. Back at the stationhouse, Eddie stumbles through a clichéd routine with his overweight boss, Captain Getz (Jerry Camp), and finds himself suspended for insubordination. Immediately following this humdrum sequence, Eddie is subjected to the first in a string of ghastly nightmares about transformation into a shrivelled zombie, or a mutant covered in boils. Unfortunately for Eddie, bad dreams are the least of his problems as nearly everyone he meets from now on will be a demonic, possibly extraterrestrial, being or a plainly violent zombie hungry for live human flesh.

This is blaxploitation horror of far better than standard quality. There are a few moments of mad comedy, and the director is not above stooping to painful farce or knockabout slapstick action to give viewers the occasional belly laugh. However, the majority of the film is played straight, with a sense of impending disaster for our hero Eddie, moving apace through apartments, industrial sites (where he suffers a term of false imprisonment), shadow filled back alleys, and secret chambers, discovering new menaces lurking around every corner. The gory effects work is a mix of polished CGI and rough prosthetic makeup, and is actually very good indeed overall, though sometimes it's pointlessly excessive (especially when a cop's head is crushed beneath the wheels of a speeding car). These genuinely affecting scenes of nastiness add weight to the film's scenario of dread and apparent holocaust, so accusations that Ozone is entirely a trashy B-movie, and nothing more, should be discounted.

Yes, there are many instances of the blatant theft of ideas from other genre films: Escape From New York, Night Of The Living Dead, Hellraiser, Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, and Charles Band's Trancers, to name a few (in fact the borrowings occur so frequently that keen eyed viewers might wish to play a game of spotting homages and references), but the progress of Eddie's downward spiral into an increasingly weird world never slackens for a moment, and Bookwalter is sufficiently adept at combining aspects of contemporary thrillers with familiar genre images, that even the weirdest diversion, such as Eddie's involuntary duel in a backroom fight club's gladiatorial arena (the undercurrent of racism here is unnerving), or his encounter with blonde whore Justine (Lori Scarlett), who later gives birth to their mutant child, are convincingly achieved given the drama's contextual flamboyance. Admittedly, Ozone has serious flaws. Its bit-part actors are often so bad (uh, the mortuary attendant springs to mind), that many viewers will find it difficult just waiting for them to die horribly - but, for a $30,000 shocker, shot on video in Ohio, this delivers more than satisfactory entertainment.

The region 2 DVD has Dolby stereo sound, the film is presented in full-screen (4:3) aspect ratio, and its extra features include: The Ozone Story - interview clips, Into The Black - a retro of genre movies, some behind-the-scenes footage, location tour, original opening sequence, and trailers.
Ozone

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