Twenty years ago in this maximum security prison, the inmate known as Shadow (Tony Todd) was facing his last night on Earth before his execution, but thanks to extensive use of voodoo had prepared for the event. Everyone, including the guards, was scared of this multiple murderer, and he caused a little of his usual trouble on the way from solitary confinement to the place of execution, but allowed the doctor to inject him with the serum, whereupon all Hell broke loose as a riot erupted and the priest became convinced there were dark arts being practiced as Shadow was supposed to shuffle off his mortal coil. When he exploded, it was clear something not altogether routine was happening...
The low budget horror movie landscape had changed a lot since the glory days of the nineteen-seventies by the point this was made, a decade where it seemed as if everyone with a half-decent digital camera was manufacturing their own zombie epic for the price of catering on a bigger budget film. A lot of them were forgotten about mere nanoseconds after being consumed, real in one eye and out the other material, but every so often something would stick in the memory for the hardy few who actually appreciated the efforts of the more impoverished moviemakers, and with Shadow: Dead Riot that was the case. It may have been dismissed by the more jaded palate, but for others it had a genuine trashy verve.
As with a lot of this kind of affair, it was indebted to the exploitation of the seventies, as it was a combination of styles popular in grindhouses of that era, mixing up women in prison with Satanism with flesh-eating zombies and adding in references to the likes of It's Alive, the demon baby movie, for good measure. If you were not as well versed in these lowlife flicks as screenwriters Michael Gingold and Richard Siegel were then the appeal, and indeed the effect, may have been lost on you, as the desire to pay tribute to what had gone before at times stifled the originality that this may have enjoyed, leaving what novel elements there were restricted to the simple mash-up of those narratives rather than exploring new avenues with them.
But there remained the interest in watching a kung fu jailbird booting open cell doors and booting off zombie heads alike, as there were bags of energy on display when the action began. Everyone played it straight, so there was no winking at the audience that this was all a bit of a giggle, a refreshing turn in a genre that could often be too in love with its past to the extent of paying its respects with groaning references rather than imbuing the plot with a texture of the better influences in its canon. What was satisfying about Shadow: Dead Riot was the gusto that all concerned went about it, merrily throwing in gore and nudity like it was going out of fashion, allowing interesting relationships to develop within the parameters of a goofy shocker, and doing its level best to arrest the eyes and ears with each successive sequence.
Greene, whose career petered out shortly after this, was formidable enough, barely cracking a smile throughout, to be a solid heroine, a fixed centre for the wacky mayhem to circle around. She played Solitaire, an inmate in the present day when the prison had become a women's establishment where the warden (Nina Hodoruk) wants to use progressive methods by way of rehabilitating these tough nuts. There are a few shrinking violets there too, including Erin Brown of Misty Mundae fame in a "serious" role (well, relatively), but mostly we were in for a lot of posturing and attitude that would be put into sharp relief when Shadow started to re-emerge from the depths below the building, assisted by regular soakings of blood from various hapless inmates until he has the required power to make his comeback and showdown with Solitaire. Add in shower scenes, zombies shot in the head, predatory lesbian characters, and you had basic trash, yet this was vivid enough to impress if you were willing to go with what it did with essentially a load of clichés. Oh, and the head guard is called Elsa Thorne - geddit? Music by Vernon Reid.