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Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I.
Tonight's Webseries Presentation


Starring: Ben Cunis, Clint Herring, Ryan Sellers, Kelsey Grouge, Laura Keena, Lucy Savage, Nick Vienna

Written By: Ben Cunis, Peter Cunis, Ken Gagnon Directed By: Clint Herring

See It Here: http://www.hamiltoncarver.com

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Not to be confused with Punny Jack.  If your cheese starts making puns at you, you should probably just get up and run.

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Blended genres, blended Scotch.  Neither perfect, but both tasty all the same.

“I am like Hell.  And there’ll be plenty of time for a debriefing later… preferably once I’ve set up shop at the bottom of a bottle.”

“God damn it.”

“He already did, Jack.  He already did.”

How far would you go to fulfill a promise for your significant other?  Even after she’s dead?

If you’re Private Eye Hamilton Carver, you figure out who might have killed her, gather all of the suspects for a “potluck dinner,” and hold a séance so your dead girlfriend’s ghost can finger the killer.  Then, when things go south and you get killed yourself, you make a deal with the Devil to come back to Earth and try to solve the murder again, and if you can do it in seven days or less, both you and your dead girlfriend receive a “Get out of Hell Free” card.  Of course, if you fail, then you and the girlfriend are both damned for all eternity, but that’s a small risk to take for trying to fulfill a promise, isn’t it?

Welcome to the wacky world of Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I.  Developed as a follow up to the short flick The Choices of Ghosts (which you might as well watch beforehand, though it isn’t strictly required), Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I. is a comic noir film presented as a twelve part webseries. 

The “noir” label is more of a guiding framework than an absolute classification.  It’s filmed in glorious black and white, its headlining Private Eye fills in the story with hardboiled narration, and roughly half the characters affect noir-style dress and mannerisms.  But then you throw in the ninjas and the guy who looks like he’d be more at home working for John Gotti and more than a few other modern anachronisms, and things get a bit fuzzy.  And really, that’s okay, because this is, after all, “comic” noir, and the overcoat of comedy does wonders for many a mismatched outfit.

The comedy of Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I. is all over the map.  Along with laying down the hardboiled dialogue with a trowel, the script is also full of callbacks to some of the oldest jokes out there… but they’re old because people keep telling them, and people keep telling them because they’re still funny.  There are also cheap laughs, puns, sight gags, and a few bouts of seriously academic humor.  If you can’t find at least something to laugh at during most episodes of this webseries, check your arm, because your humerus might be broken.  (Rim shot.)

Just as and sometimes even more impressive, though, is the stuff that doesn’t chase for laughs.  In between the jokes, there’s plenty of thoughtful and even sometimes beautiful dialogue happening here, and for all of its convolutions and a definite drop in the flow of things at the early middle, the story is very well written overall.  Is it perfect?  No, and there are some inconsequential continuity mistakes you might pick up on along the way, but when it’s all said and done and the final chapter draws to a close, all of the knots are tied, and everything makes sense.  That’s something one can never count on as a given, and a definite plus for this production.

Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I. also benefits from very good direction at the hands of Clint Herring, and one suspects that any shortcomings with regard to the visuals here are simply a matter of budget, location availability, and medium.  As with many modern productions, this one has a very “clean” look to it that becomes especially apparent during brightly lit scenes and which doesn’t necessarily fit the noir atmosphere, even in black and white.  When there’s shadow to be played with, though, many of Herring’s shots are absolutely gorgeous.  There’s a tango shot in particular that belongs in a gallery, and whenever The Lips appears, the attention paid to concealing her features with the shadow of her hat is all that’s needed to sell her as a ghost.  As far as the rest of the production goes, there are a few occasions when the ADR becomes apparent, but they really don’t take away from the action.

With regard to the cast, there’s good stuff going on all around.  Co-writer Ben Cunis has got the hardboiled detective thing down pat.  Kelsey Grouge and Laura Keena make for very effective femmes fatale, with Grouge going the “good bad girl” route and Keena playing the “bad bad girl.”  Stealing the show, however, is director Clint Herring, who takes his turn in front of the camera as Lucifer.  That’s a performance you really do need to see to believe, and I mean that in a good way.

I have only two real hang-ups with regard to Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I.  The first starts with the trailer, which plays up the zombie aspect of Carver’s character with scenes involving things like a coffin and his hand dropping off, etc. that just aren’t there in the real webseries.  Indeed, the fact that Carver is a zombie is just kind of a “gimme” in the show that’s reinforced entirely by dialogue.  He doesn’t display any generic zombie-like characteristics – like those suggested in the trailer – so if that’s what you were hoping for, you’re not going to get it.  For me, Carver plays better without the generic zombie stuff going on, so that’s fine; I just think that while yes, the trailer is fun, a trailer should present a reasonably accurate representation of the show/movie/whatever it’s advertising. 

The second problem is a holdover from The Choices of Ghosts in the form of Harry Callahan.  I know they were stuck with the name this time, but really; the constant mental picture of Eastwood and a Magnum that comes up whenever the name is mentioned is almost distracting.  That, and he’s got a semi-James Dean look going on that looks way more at home in “West Side Story” or as part of John Gotti’s gang than it does in a noir picture; even one with ninjas in it.  Realistically, this is a minor quibble – and bears absolutely no reflection on the performance of actor Ryan Sellers, who does a great job – but it stood out strongly enough for me that I had to mention it.

Overall, though, if you’re looking for something funny to watch, you could do a whole lot worse than Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I.  Just remember that the emphasis is on the noir comedy, and that anything to do with undeath in the show plays far more on the “deal with the Devil” thing than it does on the “zombie” thing.  In any case, it sure beats all of the police procedural clones playing on regular television.

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Full Series | Twelve Chapters, 5.5 – 14 minutes each

Chapter 1: “Old Friends” – Every first episode is a taste of the world, and this one is no exception.  The not-quite-reverent comic noir style is established, along with hints that noir traditions won’t be strictly adhered to for everything.  The dialogue is funny even when it recycles old jokes, and the lead in to our hero’s confrontation with the bad guys is very well played.  Special applause for the pizza delivery material (which is outstanding) and further applause for Laura Keena’s dressmaker.  If the point of the opening chapter is to hook in viewers for the duration, then the point is very well made indeed.

 Chapter 2: “Exposited” – With the major story established, it’s time to figure out how things got the way they were.  This chapter is all about explaining the relationship between Hamilton Carver and The Lips, and how he died the first time, courtesy of some flashback footage from the originating short film The Choices of Ghosts.  The two things that stand out here are the incredible use of light, shadow, and fog by director Clint Herring during “pose” moments (especially that tango shot, which belongs on a poster), and one of the single best descriptions of Hell I’ve ever heard: “Where we ended up was less appealing than a defrosted green bean casserole at a potluck full of New Jersey grandmas.”

Chapter 3: “The Devil and the Details” – It’s the one you knew was coming and a gag we’ve all seen before: the deal with the Devil.  With that said, even if the details are close to standard, how it looks and how it plays out are refreshingly different.  Director Clint Herring takes a turn in front of the camera as Lucifer (how many film people just screamed “of course the director is the Devil!”?), and gives the character a nice twist with a performance that seems to simultaneously channel William Shatner and Bill Nighy.  Even more compelling, though, is that with all the comic stuff going on, the writing also allows for some genuinely beautiful exposition about what love is.  The laughs are great, but those are the lines that give the whole exercise meaning.

Chapter 4: “To Catch… A Ninja” – This is where the noir really goes out the window in terms of convention… but it works.  The reunion of Hamilton and his old partner, Harry, is important, of course, but come on.  Look at the title.  This one’s all about the ninjas.  Introducing them via a scene that shows them playing cards in a back alley is priceless, but the combat and chase sequence that follows is just laugh-out-loud funny.  I especially like the ninja on crutches; nice touch, that.

Chapter 5: “The Long Arm of the Law” – Our heroes end up in the clutches of the cops, and The Lips comes to the rescue.  The opening sequence with the cops who try to make references to Greek mythology despite having no idea what they’re talking about is hilarious if you paid enough attention in school to catch their mistakes (I did).  The escalating arguments in the police station play off of an old but still effective comic film trick, though that sequence is better if you conveniently don’t notice that some details contradict facts from previous chapters.  The first set of cops is the major highlight here, with the appearance of The Lips on the scene coming in at a close second.

Chapter 6: “Continuing Education” – This one’s weaker than the chapters that have come before, but still brings on a few grins anyway.  Since the only way to catch a ninja is to become a ninja, Hamilton and Harry get to go through a training montage with music that sounds like it’s almost ready to turn into Judas Priest but never quite gets there.  Surreal moment of the episode: Hamilton Carver picking up a teddy bear with chopsticks.  That is way funnier than it has any right to be.

Chapter 7: “Keystone Ninjas” – You’d think that a chapter with a title like this would be a barrel of laughs, but the trend from the previous chapter continues, and this one’s just kind of “there,” even with its big reveal.  The closest thing to a highlight involves Hamilton and Harry having a difficult time bringing themselves to ask a simple question nicely, and for the first time in the series, the joke plays off as being heavily forced.

Chapter 8: “Dating Service” – Okay, it’s interesting again; and not just because Stiletto Jean steps out wearing nothing but a towel and gloves.  In exchange for his help in previous episodes, the ninja boss wanted a date with her, and the price that Jean demands of Hamilton to go along with it may be one of the oldest jokes ever, but it’s still funny… and painful.  With that said, the main good stuff here has to do with the plot; I’ll admit that I didn’t see the end of this one coming.  Nicely done.  Comic highlight: the dishwasher.

Chapter 9: “The Long Pun Goodnight” – Interesting twist: the Devil playing both sides.  Add to that the revelation of how to kill a P.I. who’s already dead, and this one’s more about the plot again.  Whether or not it’s funny depends on whether or not you’re punny: if you puns float your boat, you’ll laugh, and if not, you’re sunk.  Major creative points for the mob villain who’s straight out of a left turn from Batman.

Chapter 10: “Iambic Pentameter” – Wow; this one’s just weird.  Did you enjoy English Lit class?  Specifically, did you enjoy Shakespeare?  If you did, then this episode is funny as Hell… literally.  Hamilton finds himself stuck in a group therapy session in Hell with Othello, Romeo, MacBeth, and Hamlet.  It’s straight out of left field and seems tangential to the story at best, but as someone who enjoyed English Lit, I’ll take the excuse and laugh my ass off, thanks.  Just don’t think that you can get away with skipping it even if you didn’t like English Lit; there’s at least one major detail revealed that isn’t just a tangent.

Chapter 11: “Whodunit” – Finally, we’re back where we started in Chapter 1, and however things may have wandered on the way back here, now, it’s tight, and it’s all business.  This is the noir drama part of the plot coming back into focus, and it is good stuff.  I’m not going to spoil a thing; I’m just going to say that every member of the cast who’s featured in this episode does an outstanding job, and the writing and direction are both spot on.

Chapter 12: “Le Fin” – What, you think I’m going to give you clues about the finale if I wasn’t going to give you clues about the second to last episode?  Not a chance.  I’ll just say that things sew up nicely, and that the extra twists are worth a grin and a tip of the fedora.  It’s worth your time to make it this far, folks.  Hope you enjoyed the story.

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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