There’s a scene in Evil In The Time Of Heroes that consists solely of multiple images of Billy Zane’s hood-cloaked head spiraling across the screen, accompanied by the words “Thou knoweth” being chanted in Greek. As a screensaver, if screensavers were still a thing, it is a work of genius. Imagine a hibernating office computer monitor that featured a never-ending loop of grainy, free-floating Billy Zanes, all dressed like Ewan McGregor’s Phantom Menace understudy. “What is that?” the Billy Zane Screensaver Guy’s co-workers would ask every time they passed his desk while he was at lunch or stuck in a staff meeting. “Wait … is that Billy Zane?”
In a way, that freaky, interstitial vignette is the signature moment of Evil In The Time Of Heroes. While watching this narratively muddled, goopy, and gory zombie flick set in Athens, Greece, many viewers will spend a lot of time asking, “What is this?” Also: “Is that Billy Zane?”
To answer that second question first, in part because it’s really hard to answer the first one: Yes, Billy Zane—the actor who, among other things, turned his handsome visage into a symbol of smug villainy in Titanic—is actually in this movie, though not nearly as much as its promotional material implies. In the role of Prophitis, he randomly appears at various intervals, sitting under trees, spouting philosophical dialogue, and, occasionally, decapitating zombies. In theory, Prophitis is supposed to be a guiding force helping the remaining survivors of an Athens zombiepocalypse figure out how to reverse the undead-ification curse that has brought down the cradle of Western civilization. But mostly, he’s just an inexplicable cipher with a nicely trimmed beard, as well as an opportunity to add a recognizable name to a cast filled with unknown Greek actors.
As to what Evil In The Time Of Heroes is … well, for starters, it’s technically a sequel to the previous Greek zombie thriller Evil, also from writer-director Yorgos Noussias, which focused on a zombie outbreak in contemporary Athens. That outbreak is still actively in progress in the follow-up, but before the film goes there, it opens with a shot that tunnels up from the underground and lands on a group of toga-wearing men around a campfire. The togas signal that this part of the story is unfolding in the days of ancient Greece, where, within minutes, a vicious zombie attack ensues and the plot fast-forwards to “several millennia later,” where modern-day Greece is even more rife with walkers.
As that tunnel shot and flashback suggest, the potential for a zombie outbreak has been embedded for centuries beneath the soil of sacred Greek land, where apparently it can be unleashed at any time. That’s a somewhat compelling twist on the usual zombie virus plot, but one that Noussias never fully explains or explores. As a filmmaker, he’s far more interested in shoving pipes through zombie heads, stomping on zombie faces, blasting bullets through zombie brains, and engaging in any other violent activity that will result in a camera lens coated in corn-syrupy blood. All of the stabbing and exploding of craniums is supposed to be gross in a giddy, early Sam Raimi kind of way. But in Evil In The Time Of Heroes, it just feels juvenile and redundant, especially when the rest of the movie does such a disjointed job of establishing consistent tone or even a well-rooted sense of time. (The toggling between B.C. centuries and the present gets confusing and headache-inducing.)
The closest thing to a protagonist in the movie’s large ensemble may be Argyris (Argyris Thanasoulas), a soccer jersey-clad man-child who seemingly can’t be killed or zombiefied. “What can I say?” he deadpans early in the film, via voiceover narration that plays over a scene featuring his recently impaled body. “That everything went to hell? It did. That I’m impaled on a pipe? I am.” Even though the scene is blatantly derivative of films like Shaun Of The Dead, for a couple of seconds, Evil In The Time Of Heroes is at least derivative in a way that’s funny and offers a distinct point of view. But before the audience can settle into that sensibility or connect to Argyris, the tone changes and the action goes all grisly again. Things wind back to Argyris eventually, but by the time they do, it’s unclear whether he’s the hero or just an unimportant, chauvinistic supporting player in whom the audience doesn’t need to invest.
That’s the downfall of Evil In The Time Of Heroes. It tries to make up for what it lacks in coherence and character development by splattering guts—and, occasionally, the head-spiraling prophecies of Billy Zane—all over the place. In a culture that’s been drowning in zombie movies for quite some time, the last thing anyone needs is more senseless splatter.