If you’re into mod­ern hor­ror fare, zom­bie films and found-footage films are inescapable parts of the ter­rain.  There have even been crossovers of the­se two sub­gen­res: Diary Of The Dead is prob­a­bly the most notable but there were also two Zombie Diaries films. Reel Zombies takes this crossover to its log­i­cal end by adding com­e­dy to the mix. Thankfully for hor­ror fans, Reel Zombies favors satire over slap­stick and uses its found footage/zombies ele­ment to cre­ate a pret­ty savvy and point­ed satire of low-bud­get hor­ror film­mak­ing.

A look at the plot of Reel Zombies will reveal the film­mak­ers have thrown meta-sto­ry­telling into the mix, too: direc­tors Mike Masters and David J. Francis are real-life low bud­get film­mak­ers who star as fic­tion­al­ized ver­sions of them­selves. The sto­ry is mock-doc set in a world where the liv­ing dead have become a dai­ly real­i­ty. Masters ReelZom-dvddoesn’t want to give up his shoe­string film-pro­duc­ing career so he pitch­es Francis on doing a zom­bie movie… with real zom­bies.

Despite the ever-present zom­bie nui­sance, Masters and Francis man­age to gath­er up a gag­gle of vet­er­an schlock pro­duc­tion peo­ple and actors new and old to make a film enti­tled “Zombie Night 3.” At first, the usu­al low-bud­get film has­sles —  a rushed sched­ule, lack of resources, dis­grun­tled work­ers, argu­ing actors — are more of an obsta­cle than the zom­bies them­selves. However, their mix­ture of over-ambi­tious­ness and under-prepa­ra­tion catch­es up with them, lead­ing to a dark­ly fun­ny third act.

Reel Zombies is a lot of fun because it man­ages to sat­i­rize its milieu with a mix­ture of barbed obser­va­tions and gen­uine affec­tion for low-bud­get hor­ror. Masters and Francis make the found-footage ele­ment tol­er­a­ble because it used to humor­ous ends rather than as a cheap sub­sti­tute for real film­mak­ing.  They go for more of a dead­pan humor rather than over-the-top mug­ging and slap­stick and the pre­sen­ta­tion of what a low-bud­get hor­ror set is like rings true because they’re draw­ing from gen­uine expe­ri­ence. The real­ism of their approach inten­si­fies the humor and their han­dling of the third act pulls a nice switcheroo that shows they know their zom­bie hor­ror tropes well.

The act­ing is also sur­pris­ing­ly good for a micro-bud­get flick. Masters does a nice slow-burn as a film­mak­er who knows he’s churn­ing out hack­work while Francis cre­ates a con­vinc­ing por­trait of a trash auteur whose enthu­si­asm is stronger than his tal­ent or his com­mon sense. The back­ing cast also includes wit­ty turns from Sam Hall as an intense­ly bit­ter assis­tant pro­duc­er and Paul Fler as a cyn­i­cal would-be film­mak­er who is shunt­ed into the role of “trans­porta­tion cap­tain,” only to find the indig­ni­ty inten­si­fied when he has to dri­ve around a zom­bie. There’s even a brief but hilar­i­ous cameo from Troma hon­cho Lloyd Kaufman, who glee­ful­ly skew­ers his own per­sona.

All in all, Reel Zombies is a true rar­i­ty — a hor­ror com­e­dy that is gen­uine­ly fun­ny.  Before you screen anoth­er found-footage hor­ror or cut-rate zom­bie epic, watch this instead.