Proving the Only Good Cop is a Dead Cop, It’s “Zombie Cop” (1991)

Directed By
J.R. Bookwalter as Lance Randas

Version Reviewed
Tempe Video “Crimewave!” 5-pack DVD ©2007, Region: 0, Standard: NTSC

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 0 minutes, 47 seconds

A laughing man in white face paint (James R. Black Jr., Ozone) combines different types of powder in a bowl at a desk. His eyes dart maniacally. He slices himself with a knife, adding blood to his mixture. He waves his hands like a magician would while performing a trick. He sets a little baggy down inside his bowl, then lights the whole thing on fire. Still laughing, he drinks from it. I’m gonna hazard a guess here and say he’s the bad guy.

Why does this seem so pixelated?
Credit: Tempe Video DVD

Two cops named Gill and Stevens (Michael Kemper and Ken Jarosz, respectively) respond to a domestic disturbance call. On their way there, they reference a drug bust in Easton where they ran into a “Dr. Death” and his brother, killing the latter.

They pull up to an apartment complex. Silhouettes of a man and woman kissing can be seen from the parking lot. As if putting on a display for the officers, the man abruptly points a gun at the woman, prompting four identical stock screams commonly referred to as “female Wilhelm” screams.

Stevens radios for backup, saying he’s now facing a hostage situation. He describes the perp as six feet tall. Wait, how is it possible to determine someone’s height from a partial silhouette?

Gill goes around, up the back way. The powder mixer peeks through his blinds. “Who is dat? Who is dat down dere? It’s me old friend, Mr. police detective Stevens.” he says tauntingly in a Haitian accent. Stevens recognizes the man as Dr. Death — not to be confused with the Retro Puppet Master puppet, Batman villain, or pro wrestler, all of the same name.

It’s mentioned here that Dr. Death murdered seventeen people. His body count is later amended to sixty-seven when fifteen more victims are found. 17 + 15 equals… 67. The numbers don’t lie.

Gill kicks a door in. “Freeze!”

Death whirls around with a mannequin. He’s wearing a flowy, Hawaiian print shirt. The screams are coming from a tape recorder. “My last victim.” he grins.

Death tosses his powder-blood at Gill’s face, burning his eyes, then takes aim with his gun. Stevens fires from below. Death returns fire. Gill uses the momentary distraction to neutralize Death with three rounds to the chest. In a cruel twist of fate, Death lands one in Gill’s temple too.

“Say I’m as good as Zakes Mokae. Say it!”
Credit: Tempe Video DVD

With his dying breath, Death curses Gill. “Your bones will walk dee earth for eternity.”

Gill survives long enough to get the last word in. “Never. Screw your curse.”

Ok, so my question is, who called the police? Was it Death, as part of an elaborate scheme to get revenge for his brother? If so, how did he know Gill and Stevens would be the ones to respond? This whole set-up makes no sense at all.

Audio of Gill’s memorial service plays over footage of a “Morningside Cemetery” (no doubt a reference to the Tall Man’s base of operations in Phantasm). In his car, Stevens stares at a Polaroid of himself and his fallen partner. Wiping tears from his eyes, he returns to the scene of the crime, which is still being processed for evidence. Bogdan Pecic (the guy with the hat that reads “once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken!” from The Dead Next Door and Robot Ninja) informs him that body parts were just pulled from the freezer. Yuk.

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
That night, an eerie fog settles over the cemetery. Gill’s hand erupts from the dirt. He pulls himself out of his grave. Death, who’s also been resurrected, blocks his path. Gill instinctively reaches for his service pistol.

“No gun, Mr. police detective, mon. Dey don’t bury you wit no gun.”

“I can’t be dead. I killed you!” Gill argues. “I won! I beat you, Death!”

The Voodoo priest laughs annoyingly. “I am not of dis earth. No man can kill me. I raised your corpse from dee earth so dat you would never sleep. Dere will be no peace for you. Your bones will walk dee earth for many years, rotting into a monster. Everyone will fear you. Everyone will call you a monster.”

What’s the point of all this? I mean, really? Bringing back the one person who killed him seems counterproductive. Why risk it?

Before Death can realize how fucking stupid his plan is, a pickup truck scares him off. Gill books it too. The driver of the truck, who looks younger than both of them, mind you, gets out and screams “Hey you damn kids, quit playing around in this cemetery!!!”

Gill heads to Stevens’ apartment. Stevens assumes the frightening looking man at his doorstep is a grave-robbing prankster wearing his dead partner’s skin. Gill assures him he’s real, and asks for help catching Death in hopes of undoing the curse. Stevens tells him the only person who might know Death’s whereabouts is his dumbshit drug runner Buddy, adding that Buddy is most likely out committing armed robbery. He furnishes Gill with an old uniform and a gun, and wishes him luck.

The next scene is the best part of the movie. It’s what made me want to buy, watch, and review Zombie Cop. You can follow along if you’d like, it’s on YouTube.

Two skinny geeks in ripped jeans and mullets are bumming around “Bookwalter’s Village Carry-out”, J.R.’s father’s convenience store. The taller of the two with the leather jacket and quavery teenager voice is Buddy (Bill Morrison). Buddy begins and/or ends most of his sentences with the word “man” — by my count, he says it thirty times. Sidekick Sculley (James L. Edwards, reprising his role from Robot Ninja, even though he died in that one) drops a bag of chips and nearly trips over himself trying to pick it back up. A cashier who’s clearly just a white guy (Matthew Jason Walsh) dressed to look Middle Eastern eyes them suspiciously. He’s wearing a literal towel on his head. His full name is given as Wade Jabul Kareem Ali-Baba Hafez Lamer Jabba Mohammed Jabba Lapsa De Quaylar, but his friends call him Steve.

In the audio commentary, Bookwalter claims the politically incorrect character was his answer to Apu from The Simpsons, which was only two or three seasons old at the time. Bookwalter can even be seen watching Robot Ninja wearing a Maggie Simpson shirt later on.

An obscure 60s rockabilly song titled “Have Your Fun While You’re Young” underscores Steve’s surveillance of Buddy, adding an extra layer of delicious gooey cheese to the scene. The same song appears in Kingdom of the Vampire and Skinned Alive.

Shake it down heeere, girl
Shake it over here
Shake it down heeere, girl
Shake it everywhere

“Ok, what do we got here?” Buddy asks, placing his stuff on the counter. “One tasty bottle of pop, one six-pack, one bag of chips,” then pulling a shotgun out of his jacket, “and all the money in the register. You’d better be hittin’ ‘no sale’ on that register, haji, or I’ll paint that slushy machine with the contents of your head. Now move it!”

Sculley is quick to point out that there is no slushy machine. Buddy yells at him to be quiet. Sculley’s feelings get hurt. They address each other by their real names several times each, which isn’t the smartest thing to do while committing a felony.

“Come on, towelhead,” Buddy commands, “you did this a lot faster last week.” implying he’s already robbed Steve at least once before. If that’s the case, why didn’t Steve push his panic button the moment he saw Buddy walk through his door?

Buddy goes off on his sidekick some more. “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like it if I got angry.” Who does he think he is, the Incredible Hulk?

The front door swings open. Gill steps in dramatically. His whole head is wrapped up in bandages. Looking more like a mummy than a zombie, he mutters, almost inaudibly, “I’m very disappointed in you boys.”

“Cut! That’s a wrap!”
Credit: Tempe Video DVD

In a mocking tone, Buddy asks Gill if he’s supposed to be “the invisible cop”, then without hesitation, blows him away. Neither he or his lackey show the slightest bit of remorse before turning back to the counter and cracking jokes. I get the feeling they’ve done this before… How many bodies are out there?

Gill sits up in the background like Michael Myers.

Buddy blasts him again ⁠— no effect.

Eagerly seeking both homicide charges and Buddy’s approval, Sculley grabs the end of his gun. “Let me try, Buddy! Let me try!”

Buddy blasts him as well. It’s hard to tell if he does so on purpose. A split-second later, Gill manages to get a hold of the weapon and points it at Buddy, who seems genuinely surprised that he’d do such a thing, even though he just tried to murder him… twice.

Gill puts the screws to the halfwit, demanding to know the location of Dr. Death’s hideout.

Reluctantly, Buddy blurts, “It’s on the outskirts of town, the old Dave McCabe warehouse!”

This is an in-joke. Zombie Cop was produced by David DeCoteau (dir. Dreamaniac, Creepozoids, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Puppet Master 3, 6, 7, 9). His name appeared on the VHS but has since been removed from the DVD credits. “Dave McCabe” is an alias that he used to make hardcore gay porn.

“You can’t kill me, you’re a cop!” Buddy pleads. This line has aged terribly. The only thing cops do now is kill people. It seems like their first reaction to any form of perceived threat or resistance is lethal force.

Credit: Tempe Video DVD

Gill walks up to the counter, tips his hat at Steve, and slaps something down, maybe cash. In a wannabe badass tone, he says, “Sorry for the mess.” like he’s the one who just killed a guy.

What I mean is, I bled all over your floor and then that guy killed the other guy. So, uh, sorry for the mess 😎 😎 😎

While making his exit, an errant boom mic drops into view, capping off this incredible scene.

Later that night, Gill and Stevens hit up the Dave McCabe warehouse, which is now Akron Auto Glass Inc. The door is locked, so Gill rips it open. Being (un)dead has apparently given him superhuman strength. Inside, they find Death’s Hawaiian print caftan lying suspiciously in the middle of the room. They toss it aside, exposing a severed foot prop from The Dead Next Door. They head upstairs to the attic. Death emerges from behind a pile of boxes! Gill corners him with a shotgun, but lets him go when Death says that if he dies, they both die.

Death flees to Buddy’s garage where he scolds Buddy for giving away his location. Death chokes him while clutching a crudely-sculpted clay figurine filling in for a Voodoo doll. The scene hilariously alternates between shots of Death choking Buddy, and standing a short distance back with his arms at his sides. So much for continuity!

Meanwhile, Gill and Stevens deduce from a PTA calendar found in one of Death’s handwritten tomes that he’s planning on murdering all the children in town to cleanse their souls of sin and/or turn them into zombies. The next day, they stake out a middle school and conveniently bump into Death and Buddy abducting Bookwalter’s thirteen-year-old stepsister Tina.

The funny part is that “every federal agent in the country is out to get [Death’s] head on a platter” but here he is abducting kids from schools in broad daylight with facepaint on — the opposite of keeping a low profile.

Gill pursues Death through a playground, and even some random guy’s living room. They both get picked up by their partners, at which point the foot chase turns into a car chase. This chase sequence takes up a third of the runtime (27% to be exact) and feels like it lasts for nine years. The only highlight is when Death casts a spell on Stevens’ car that makes his horn, siren, lights, wipers, and radio malfunction, because that’s the most oddly specific and useless spell ever.

Gill eventually crawls from one car to the other and shoots Buddy, causing a low-impact crash. Death runs off into the woods. Gill finds him, gets the upper hand and pushes him off a ledge, tumbling down a gentle slope where he lands on a tree stump the size of a small stick and dies. It’s rather anticlimactic seeing as how Death gets shot four times point-blank with a shotgun, and three more times with a pistol before this and lives.

Now for the resolution. 99% of the time, in stories like these, defeating the villain reverses their curse. Well not here. Gill just kind of… stays how he is, forever. So… yay for him 👍



Zombie Cop was shot on video in Mogadore, Ohio and other locations near Akron in 1991. It’s a typical DIY “SOV” effort, meaning it looks and feels like a home movie, is barely an hour long, and has lots of padding and maybe some blood here and there if you’re lucky. It shares its locations, and multiple cast & crew members with Kingdom of the Vampire, another Bookwalter movie that was made around the same time. Production of the two overlapped, at least briefly.

“I recall we had $5,000 to make two movies — Kingdom of the Vampire and Zombie Cop.” Bookwalter says in the audio commentary. “These films [which aren’t technically films] were assignments from a company in California. They gave us the title, and then the rest was up to us. We had a title, and a schedule, and a few bucks.”

That company was David DeCoteau’s VHS label “Cinema Home Video”. lists the label as having released nineteen movies between 1989 and 1994. However, the range in catalog numbers across those releases suggests the total is actually closer to twenty-two. Bookwalter was involved in at least thirteen of them.

It strikes me as odd how he chooses to refer to the company in vague terms and never once mentions DeCoteau by name, considering how frequently they collaborated throughout their careers. I’m not saying they had a falling out or anything, because I don’t think they did, it’s just weird.

Going back to that quote, I’m not surprised to learn Zombie Cop was titled before being written. Maniac Cop was a popular film at the time which had already spawned several take-offs like gremlins from Gizmo. Zombie Cop was another shameless attempt to piggyback on that trend. Its VHS blurb admits as much, stating it’s “in the tradition of” Maniac Cop, whatever that means.

In just five short years, there was: Maniac Cop (1988), Psycho Cop (1989), Demon Cop (1990), Maniac Cop 2 (1990), Vampire Cop (1990), Samurai Cop (1991), Zombie Cop (1991), Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1992), and Psycho Cop Returns (1993).

IMDb’s advanced search function dredges up more: Magic Cop (1990) (Hong Kong), Omega Cop (1990), Karate Cop (1991), Cyborg Cop (1993), and Gladiator Cop (1995).

Astoundingly, Zombie Cop bears little resemblance to its namesake. It’s not even horror. You may see it referred to as such, but it’s action. Action I tell you!

What Zombie Cop really rips off is Wes Craven’s unsung masterpiece The Serpent and the Rainbow, basically the whole bit about the evil Haitian creating zombie slaves using powder. In the audio commentary, Bookwalter denies this, claiming The Serpent and the Rainbow is the only Wes Craven movie he hasn’t seen. I call bullshit. Bookwalter is a documented horror fanboy. There are posters for Misery and The Pit and the Pendulum hanging in Dr. Death’s bedroom. There’s no way this connection is just a coincidence. It’s ok to find inspiration in other people’s work, just frickin’ admit to it.

As for the title character’s bandaged look, it’s suspiciously similar to Sam Raimi’s Darkman, released the year prior. The similarity is actually kind of insulting knowing Raimi bankrolled Bookwalter’s first feature film The Dead Next Door anonymously as “The Master Cylinder”.

But just because Zombie Cop borrows X from A and Y from B doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Lots of rip-offs are fun. Italy, I’m looking at you.

Buddy robbing (or should I say attempting to rob?) the carry-out is the funniest goddamn thing I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s the first clip I saw from this movie and the best thing about it by far. The rest is great too, but nothing else reaches those heights of hilarity. The general shakiness of the premise, abundance of continuity problems, and anticlimax all add to the good time as well. Bill Morrison cracks me up. He’s just so goofy and awkward. He seems like someone I would have been friends with in high school.

I also appreciate how the movie is played straight for the most part, except of course for the unnecessarily offensive store clerk. If Zombie Cop were released today, Twitter users would not be happy about him.

It’s hard to say who’s responsible for the character since “writing” is attributed to Matthew Jason Walsh (“Steve” himself), whereas Bookwalter gets credit (maybe “blame” would be a more appropriate term) for the “story”. The 90s were a lawless time to be sure.

If we’re being 100 here, Zombie Cop is a big, big step down from Bookwalter’s previous effort, Robot Ninja, which I consider to be his crowning achievement. I hold it in the same high regard as crusty classics like Basket Case, Street Trash, Slime City, etc.

But shot-on-video flicks are never as “good” as films, are they? And you’ve got to admit, for something Bookwalter turned out fast with inferior equipment for a sixth of the budget and cobbled together from other people’s ideas, Zombie Cop is a lot more entertaining than it has any right to be. Give it a watch.

It’s currently available as part of Tempe Video’s “Bad Movie Police” line. I expected it to have some sort of newly-shot wraparound segment involving the women from the covers because of this, but it doesn’t. I was ready to write the whole thing off as a cheap marketing gimmick until watching the other four entries and realizing that only the first three have segments for some reason. My 5-pack includes: Galaxy of the Dinosaurs, Chick Boxer, Humanoids From Atlantis, Zombie Cop, Maximum Impact, an ad for the line (below), oddly detailed bios on “Lt. Drucilla Dread” & “Sgt. Elke Mantooth”, and a PSA paid for by the Bad Movie Police & Film Actors Guild.

IMDb claims that Bookwalter “disowns” Zombie Cop because he took his name off as director, but that seems like kind of a leap. He’s still featured prominently in the credits, as story thinker-upper, producer, camera operator, and assistant editor. And let’s not forget, he’s the one who released it this time through his own distribution company. He even went to the trouble of recording an audio commentary for it, where he acknowledges making the movie. So, he must not be that ashamed of it.

I bought the DVD because I wanted to hear said commentary. Unfortunately, it’s not very insightful. It features Bookwalter, Jarosz, Morris, co-producer Scott Plummer, and a woman who apparently just did some voiceover telling various half-remembered anecdotes, rarely addressing what happens onscreen. Besides the obligatory trailer, there are no further extras. The movie only costs 99¢ to rent on Amazon Prime, so in my opinion, there’s really no reason to spend money on the DVD.

“Quaylar” is spelled K-O-U-L-Z-L-D-O-Y-S.

Body Count
Let’s see. Gill dies and comes back. Death dies and comes back. Sculley dies. Buddy dies. Death dies again. So, between 3 and 5, depending on how you look at it.

Bod Count

Overall Enjoyability
4 nonexistent slushy machines out of 5.

I Got My Copy From It can also be ordered from

Kingdom of the Vampires (1991)
Maximum Impact (1992)

Further Listening