“I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I.” (1982) recreates the 1950s world of G-Men, zombies and aliens

By on October 29, 2019

In 1985, SPIN Magazine asked Bob Dylan “What movies do you wish you’d been in?” One of his answers was I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I, which he’d seen on “Night Flight” earlier that same year (it was originally offered up with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for a cult movie double-feature).

Watch the film — in its original uncut full-length version, just as it aired in 1985 — on Night Flight Plus.

I Was A Zombie For the F.B.I. is low-budget, black & white sci-fi/serial/adventure film, recreating the early 1950s world of G-Men, zombies and aliens along with lots of deadpan humor and ironic tongues-in-cheek.

The plot follows what happens after a couple of hard-boiled F.B.I. agents — played by two cousins, James Raspberry (“Agent Rex Armstrong”) and Larry Raspberry (“Agent Aloyious ‘Ace’ Evans”) — get involved chasing down a pair of prison convicts, the Brazzos brothers — played by John Gillick (“Bart Brazzo”) and Laurence Hall (“Bert Brazzo”) — who’ve survived an airplane crash near the town of Pleasantville, U.S.A.

The agents — one of whom has a relationship with local news reporter “Penny” (Christina Wellford) — eventually discover that the convicts have become embroiled in a nefarious plot by aliens from outer space who plan to conquer Earth by hypnotizing humans into a “zomboid state” and further zombifying them into willing slaves by modifying the formula of a popular beverage called Health Cola, a product of the Uni-Cola corporation.

Something like that.

In at least one interview, Penczner has described the film as being like “‘The Untouchables’ meets ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space.'”

I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. was directed by Marius Penczner, who co-wrote the screenplay with John Gillick.

Interesting bit of music-related trivia: Penczner had been a member of Black Oak Arkansas in the mid-70s, and actor Larry Raspbery had been the lead singer of the Gentrys, who’d had a hit single in 1965 with “Keep On Dancing.”

Penczner pooled together the $4000 prize money he’d won a year earlier for a short film he’d made which had won an Emmy, adding some additional funding (the final budget was around $27,000).

He gave acting and crew parts to students at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis).

In a segment produced for WKNO’s screening of the film on “Professor Ghoul’s Horror School,” some of the individuals involved with the film shared some of their memories:

Read more about I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I below.

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In an interview with Rich Rosell for the Digitally Obsessed blog (“A Different Kind of Zombie: An Interview with Marius Penczner”), director Marius Penczner said he grew up watching movies like The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and The Day The Earth Stood Still, and said that “the group of us that made this film just loved that genre.”

“We were originally going to do the movie as a spoof, and we wanted it to be a straight comedy, more along the lines of Blazing Saddles, but it takes a certain level of acting talent to pull that off without it being really, really goofy. When we went through the casting we started watching these people and we said their demeanor would be perfect for a ’50s, straight Dragnet-y type thing, and we’ll just kind of spoof it that way. To the people that were in the movie, they played it like it was a straight movie, like this world was very, very real. Particularly the G-men, because in their world zombies are no big deal.”

Penczner says that his goal was to get I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. aired on cable TV.

Within just a few years of making this film, Penczer had a busy career directing music videos, one of the first being ZZ Top’s “TV Dinners” (that video featured the same Ray Harryhausen-styled stop-motion Z-Beast Monster created for I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. by Bob Friedstand).

Penczner just happened to be working at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where ZZ Top were recording a lot during the 1980s.

Penczner went on to direct more than sixty music videos for groups and artists like the Allman Brothers Band, the Everly Brothers, the Bar-Kays and country star Travis Tritt.

He later operated a media consulting business, People by Penczner, and directed commercials for Democratic politicians like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Edwards.

In 2005, I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. was released as a special edition DVD by Rykodisc, which included a few newly-added scenes and enhanced visual effects and a remastered soundtrack.

Penczner actually tightened up the film by editing it down and making it thirty-minutes shorter than this version which aired on “Night Flight,” and so we are happy to present to you the unedited long version of the film here just as it first aired in 1985.

About reaching his goal of having his film air on cable TV, Penczner once told an interviewer:

“It worked out nicely and the people on ‘Night Flight’ couldn’t have been better. It kind of became one of their cult favorites.”

Watch I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. on Night Flight Plus.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.