Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Return of the Living Dead Part II"

“Return of the Living Dead Part II”
1988
U.S.
Stars: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Dana Ashbrook, Marsha Dietlein, Philip Bruns, Michael Kenworthy
Writer: Ken Wiederhorn
Dir: Ken Wiederhorn
89 minutes

The sacred rule of any sequel is, in my book, to continue the story, respect the original, stick to what worked in the former, and, if possible, improve on the original.
Like many ’80s films, the sequel to “Return of the Living Dead” fell victim to a terrible plot device: a kid is smarter than anyone else in the damn film.
For criminy. The base-film had all the elements that actually worked: characters the audience cared about, actual funny moments, plenty of gore, and plenty of zombies, all while keeping it at an R-rated adult level. Yes, I admit some of the characters were supposed to be deadbeat, lazy, punk-rocking teens, but they were still close to being adults.
The sequel, however, decided to up the ante with the comedic elements of the former and it falls flat. While the budget seems to have been slightly elevated, the fun of the first film takes a backseat to ghetto-talking disembodied heads, sight gags, spandex, hair-gel and a little dipshit I wished would have been devoured in the first few moments I laid eyes on him.
Again, the 1980s suffered a plague of movies where children were the heroes and more intelligent than any military member facing the Cold War, understood computers better than fogeys, and always survived any peril facing them. I remember being a child during the time, wishing death on certain child characters and envying others.
I never envied this wad, Jesse Wilson, played by Kenworthy.What begins as a continuation of the first film quickly spirals into typical ’80s film. A kid is being bullied, his older sister wants to get laid, the town loser wants to lay her, there are a couple of comic relief characters (James Karen and Thom Mathews nearly identically reprise their roles from the first film), and the military is inept.
Jesse and his two bullying brats inadvertently burst one of the infamous Trioxin containers — which happens to have fallen out of a military truck — containing reanimating gas and a zombie corpse, unleashing both contents into a cemetery and into the town.
Yeah, there are some moments that are amusing (“Michael Jackson” makes an appearance late in the film), but the clichés bog this movie down and make it tedious and a by-the-numbers bore-fest. A scene in a hospital is the sole reason for the film dodging a PG-13 rating. It would have sailed through the ratings board these days. PG-13 horror is rarely worth your time. Or mine.

Romero Rules Followed: For the most part, they are all followed. However, the reanimation process mostly takes place due to the gas spurted from a drum. So, in this case, about 90%.
Gore factor: Mostly moderate until a pivotal hospital scene. Which was cool. And a strong point.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Waste of time
Additional comments: Andrew and I have been at odds over the quality film “Return of the Living Dead.” I absolutely embrace it, while he just says it is a big bucket of “OK.” I can point to this sequel (which includes cameos by Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and Mitch “Shocker/”X-Files” Pileggi) as an example of when a superior idea gets warped and raped. So much promise, so little to show for it.
And I hope Andrew attacks Part III before I do.

— ROB

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the Jungle, the Quiet Jungle, the Leopard Women Suck Tonight

The Night of the Sorcerers
Dir. Amando de Ossorio

1973

What the fuck was it with Africa and low budget Euro-sh(l)ockers in the 1970s? It’s like setting a film in Africa was fair game to just let every abhorrent, normally repressed racial stereotype about black people run rampant on celluloid. Granted, our Old World relations never really had to deal with the history of slavery and racial integration in quite the same way we did here in the U.S. of A, but even they should have paused at some point when filming a chiseled-chin white dude mowing down a horde of primitive black folks in grass skirts to ponder the racial implications. Films like The Night of the Sorcerers are enough to make The Birth of Nation look like a paragon of progressive racial tolerance.
Amando “Blind Dead” de Ossorio gets straight to the white women being menaced by leering black guys within the opening scenes of this 1973 zombie-voodoo-vampire-sexploitation failure. It seems 11 local magicians like to string up white women, rip their clothes off via bullwhip and decapitate them in order to turn them into vampiric “leopard women” who romp around the jungle in hilarious slow motion decked out in dime store vampire fangs and laughably lame animal print bikinis … for some reason. It’s kinda vague. Luckily a handful of British soldiers in khakis and natty pith helmets put a stop to that … at least for 60 years when a bunch of do-gooder endangered species researchers happen to drift across the forbidden altar.

Zombology: The Limeys may have smoked the local magicians, but thanks to voodoo their zombified bodies keep on trucking, just waiting for a new sacrifice to find its way to their altar to revive their manslaughtering ways. With the help of the blood-drinking leopard women, the magicians, who emerge from their stony cairns each night – and apparently neatly bury themselves again each morning – lure the braless free spirits accompanying the researchers to the altar one at a time to add them to their collection of pasty white servants.

Inverting the classic Scooby-Doo plot, the men immediately dismiss any talk of living dead sorcerers as a hoax to scare them away from their research only to later confront the zombified reality. Though they’re central to the film, the women in The Night of the Sorcerers have no personality development beyond casual nudity and insane jealously of each other. Though there’s decapitations galore, the film falls short on both gore and suspense. De Ossorio has never been a deft hand with pacing, and The Night of the Sorcerers lags even at 80 minutes. Racially insensitive, riding a ridiculous plot conceit and poorly executed, The Night of the Sorcerers sucks 92 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, December 20, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead"

“George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead”
2007
U.S.
Stars: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany
Writer: George Romero
Dir: George Romero
96 minutes
George once again wants to warn us about the dangers technology and progress pose to us. And he hit it well in the very middle of this film… but he dropped the ball at the beginning and end.Uncle George decided to jump into the first-person camera angles with “Diary of the Dead,” and attempted to do it better than others. Since “Cloverfield” had already become a huge hit, as well as the terrible “The Blair Witch Project,” Romero was too many years too late to be inventive. The beginning of the film is tough to make it through. A handful of college students are awkwardly stumbling through a “senior project,” where a group of students are in the woods filming a short horror film. Their director, Jason Creed (Close) refuses to stop filming as his players hear radio and TV reports of an undead uprising — including many of the same 1968 TV and radio reports from the original “Night of the Living Dead.”
That is where the film lost me. Any audience member who has logged time with the Romero zombies is instantly taken out of this film and realizes this film is supposed to take place at the same time as “Night of the Living Dead.” Yet, the protagonists have cameras, the Internet, and more access to and knowledge of technology than Barbara, Ben, and Johnny.
WTF, George? Do not do a reboot of a classic, just continue the story. I mean, you could not have done any worse than “Land of the Dead.” Could you?
George steamrolls ahead with a “documentary” effect, making Debra, (Morgan) the girlfriend of the primary filmmaker, narrate certain parts and tell the audience early on that she “added music for effect” and completed the film because the student director would have wanted it that way, a terrible attempt at foreshadowing. Also, Romero seems to have jumped into stereotypes for his film rather than breaking the barriers: the “brothers” talk ghetto, the college students say “dude” a lot, and the “filmmaker” has to complete each and every shot, no matter the fate of his friends. Again, the attempt at realism smacks the audience awake and out of it.
The pseudo-documentary effect never works. In fact, weak performances distract from the desired effect. There are some great moments, however. A sequence involving a deaf Amish farmer and the dissolving head of an infiltrating zombie are highlights to a rather by-the-numbers and frustrating film.

Romero Rules Followed: Many references are made to Romero zombies, including an early-on joke about how the dead “shamble” rather than run. All of Romero’s rules are followed here.
Gore factor: Fairly high, and, on two occasions, inventive.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: Some highlights feature Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro in radio reports; with King as an overzealous preacher screaming for penance and Del Toro commenting on immigration woes. I see what George was going for: If there was an apocalyptic outbreak, more people would sit on their asses and watch from their TVs or online, rather than react. However, the edict that mankind is more detached than ever has already been driven home. We get it. George Carlin told us that the more we are connected, the more we communicate less. I understand that Romero wanted to demonize bloggers, the media and the Internet in general as a land of misinformation and escapism. He might have slammed it home without the documentary-style gimmick and better actors.
He also should have not attempted to reboot his franchise in the modern era. Stupid, stupid move.
— ROB

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fine Young Cannibal

Cannibal Holocaust
Dir. Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony M. Dawson)

1980

Cannibals are the like honor students of the zombie world. They’ve cleverly figured out you can dispense with that whole tedious bit about dying and matriculate straight on to the flesh eating stage. It’s like skipping a grade.
After pulling war buddies Tommy Thompson and Charlie Bukowksi (That’s right, Charles Bukowski in a cannibal movie) out of a Vietcong prison where they were chowing down on BBQed human flesh, Captain Norman Hopper (a pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street John Saxon) is just trying to piece his life together, repressing the wartime flash backs with a cocktail of pills while his psychiatrist openly schemes to swipe his wife and neighborhood vamp Mary tries to ply her wiles on an aged target.
But once Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice of City of the Living Dead) gets his “first leave out of the booby hatch” and goes mano a handgun with with the police, it triggers the old cannibalistic cravings. Soon Norman and his cannibalistic sidekicks are tooling around town in a stolen van with a flesh hungry nurse riding shotgun like a cannibal A-Team as they try to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Zombology: I’m cheating a bit here as no living dead are involved. However, Vietnam vets Norman, Charlie and Tommy picked up a funny bug while serving overseas. Suddenly a long neck or a bared thigh gets the munchies brewing. While Norman has been able to repress his urges somehow, the impulses become overwhelming when Charles drifts back into his life. Now when teen tramp Mary comes slinking over from next door to flirt with the neighbor man, Norman’s got an urge to eat her…just not the way she wants. Like any good zombie-grade viral outbreak, the cannibal compulsion can be spread through a bite, and Charles seems to be sinking his bicuspids into bystanders left and right as he tussles with orderlies at the mental hospital or while getting arrested following a murderous shoot out with the cops.

There’s no reason this movie should work as well as it does, but it’s got its own sleazy charm as it squashes together First Blood and Dawn of the Dead. A sensitive portrayal of the stresses of Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD this ain’t, but neither was Rambo and that’s taken on a patina of respectability in the last 30 years. Saxon is all masculine posturing of the sort you could only get away with in the early ’80s and Radice, paired with blaxploitation vet Tony King as Tommy, projects a fevered verve for heavy caliber mayhem and femur carpaccio. The gore is well done and Margheriti has a deft hand at pacing the action set pieces and a sly eye for humor (Bukowski starts his rampage while watching George Peppard in From Hell to Victory). All told, Cannibal Apocalypse, a late entrant into the cannibal craze of the late ’70s, is only 27 percent as awful as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

ZomBlog Review: “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead”

“George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead”
2005
U.S.
Stars: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy and John Leguizamo
Writer: George Romero
Dir: George Romero
97 minutes

“Zombies, man. They creep me out.”
Let’s set the stage, shall we? It had been 20 years since Uncle George decided to revisit his creation — the living dead. 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” for most people, was the closing chapter of Romero’s trilogy of flesh-eating undead. In those 20 years, countless rip-offs, spoofs, and other varying incarnations of zombies have either graced the silver screen or squandered space on video rental store shelves (or tricked you into adding them into the Netflix queue, nowadays).
It was a glorious day when I went stumbling around the numerous geek-run movie websites back in 2004 and learned Romero was going to take on zombies once again — and this time on a larger scale, both monetarily and talent-wise. He would have big studio backing, a larger budget than he had ever been given, and could hire a handful of well-known (and even cult-status) actors.
“Finally,” 2004-Rob thought, “we will get a real apocalyptic zombie film.”
Well, sort of.
2005’s “Land of the Dead” was the result of several ideas and germs that never fully developed from “Day of the Dead.” Romero wanted to have an army of zombies, trained to take out other zombies in “Day.” He develops an army of zombies in “Land.” And, as with the original script for “Day,” the zombies in “Land” are much smarter than the headshot-fodder we’ve come to know. Led by a gas station owner/attendant, zombies in “Land” learn as they go. They’re tired of being slaughtered by the well-organized scavengers who come by now and again looting supplies to take back to Fiddler’s Green — a city surrounded by water where the poor and blue collar live on the streets while the privileged live in a swank mall/apartment complex, complete with all luxuries of the “old world.”
The organized scavengers, led by Riley (Baker) and Cholo (Leguizamo), travel around on motor bikes and a rolling fortress: Dead Reckoning, a massive $2 million armored mobile transport, fully equipped with .50 caliber machine guns, short-range missiles — and fireworks to, you know, put on a show for the zombies (seriously — zombies seem to like fireworks in this movie). After a raid on a nearby town for supplies, the zombies, led by a leader dubbed in the credits as “Big Daddy,” decide to follow the looters back to Fiddler’s Green and launch a primitive assault on the island city.
Much to the zombies’ advantage, Cholo and Riley have both called quits to their scavenger days, calling the last supply raid, the one where the zombies get the gumption to follow them, their final one. Riley has decided to take a gassed up car he purchased and head north into Canada, where there is nothing (he said it, not me — but it’s true). Cholo has decided he would take his earnings for taking care of Kaufman’s (Hopper) “garbage” (i.e. people he does not want in his little paradise). When Kaufman decides Cholo isn’t worthy to live among the wealthy, he casts him out, but not before Cholo takes Dead Reckoning and threatens to destroy Fiddler’s Green with a couple missiles. Riley is bribed by Kaufman to recover Dead Reckoning and stop Cholo.
Yup, pretty simple plot there. This would have been a Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris movie 20 years ago, sans zombies. But the zombies, and the threat that they are “evolving,” adds to what little drama there is to be had here. The real show-stopper with the zombies happens about halfway through with a horde of them realizing water is not a boundary. Those brief moments are pretty awesome to look at. And, of course, there are the numerous feasting scenes. Where Romero once used to hold back until the climax, he decided to inject some spurts prematurely all over this one, giving the special effects team free reign to come up with zombies eating and ripping people apart that had not been seen by audiences before.
While “aw, man, did you see that?” is sometimes fine by me, I wanted more with this outing. I wanted characters I cared about. While Asia Argento is very easy on the eyes, her constant battle with her Italian accent in delivering American dialogue was distracting. Riley’s friend Charlie (Joy) was amusing at times, but by 2005 I was tired of what I call the Giovanni Ribisi School of Acting: act mentally handicapped, garner audience sympathy. Yes, Riley seemed to be a great guy, but his desire just to head north and get away from it all never made me want to care if he lived or died, no matter how many minor plot elements were thrown in to make him appear as a “good guy.” Leguizamo just seemed to be around for a paycheck. So did Hopper.
So, Uncle George gets a big budget, some B-list talent, and free-reign … and he punted it. Now I know why Romero prefers to direct independently — he can’t contain himself.
Much like another George I’ve come to malign.

Romero Rules Followed: He created a couple new ones here, mainly the zombie learning curve. In this film, zombies evolved faster than apes in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But, I’ve referenced zombies using tools before in a Romero film, so, for the sake of argument, these suckers are still in the Romero realm.
Gore factor: Goriest of the Romero flicks thus far, although I was not a fan at all of some of the CGI effects. Stay practical with my zombies.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: This is the first Romero film to call the undead “zombies,” while the preferred term in the film is “stenches.” While the “thinking zombie” aspect is a bit intriguing, it was much too much for this outing. It should have been slowly introduced over the next couple of films (yeah, Romero has been cranking them out as of late), which would have probably made this one slightly better and made the two that followed a bit more bearable. Instead, Uncle George is just all over the place. And he lost the one thing that made me care — well-developed characters.
I like caring about zombie films. I wish George did this time around.

— ROB

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Pod People

Don Siegel’s 1956 B-movie masterpiece Invasion of the Body Snatchers is almost the perfect Rorschach blot of a film. You can make equally compelling cases that the film is either a parable of the feared Communist infiltration of the United States that strangled the country at the time or the mindless conformity being demanded of Red Baiters like Joe McCarthy and his assistant Robert Kennedy who saw political hay to be made from the national unease.
But I propose you could also read the film’s central conceit, that aliens are wiping out emotion and individuality, as a proto-zombie text. Sleep next to a pod and you wake up a pod person. But are you a zombie?

The case for: Twenty years before Romero sent zombies mindlessly shambling through the mall to send up consumerism, Siegel’s pod people were featureless imitations of humanity simply going through the motions of living without all the emotional messiness actually being a person entails. Like zombies, the pod person invasion spreads almost virally. One person will be converted and feel compelled to infect their friends and neighbors as the infection spreads exponentially through a small California town. Dr. Miles Bennell’s patients, who complained to him just days earlier that family members were impostors, suddenly laugh off their prior fears as they join the ranks of the pod people. As Miles, love thang Becky Driscoll, and their neighbors slowly piece together what is happening to their town, the zombie elements of the film come to the fore. The survivors get trapped in a web of paranoia, fearing any friend or family member could turn on them at any time, much like they would if they were the walking dead. Becky and Miles even spend a night holed up in his medical office waiting out the invasion, much like the cast of Night of the Living Dead boarding themselves in the farm house. Beating Shaun of the Dead by half a century, Miles and Becky even feign being emotionless pod people at one point to escape a dragnet of infected townsfolk.

The case against: Making the case for viewing Invasion of the Body Snatchers is hampered by the fact that the film is never clear on what exactly is happening with the pod people. Our plucky band of heroes find gigantic pea pods containing featureless, anthropomorphic slugs hidden in their basements and greenhouses, which slowly taking the characteristics of their psychic hosts as they sleep. At first, the film implies the pod people, having absorbed the human’s memories, will replace their doppelgangers. Which would seem to imply there would be a whole rack of murdered bodies stinking up the town. (Miles does suggest perhaps the humans’ bodies simply dissolve once they’ve been drained). However, violating its own rules, Becky later becomes a pod person without an actual pod in the vicinity, making it hard to determine whether she’s been zombified or murdered and replaced. More importantly, can you really make the case the pod people qualify as the living dead?

The verdict: While a pretty compelling case can be made that Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ cinematic DNA eventually trickled down through the zombie canon, all of the elements just aren’t there yet. The fact remains the pod people are not the reanimated dead in the conventional sense whether they’re mind stealing doppelgangers or murdering impostors. However, this is another transitional fossil, much like Frankenstein's monster, in the proud lineage we’ve come to love.

Monday, December 6, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Creepshow"

“Creepshow”
1982
U.S.
Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Gaylen Ross, Stephen King, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Tom Atkins and Viveca Lindfors
Writer: Stephen King
Dir: George Romero
120 minutes

I wanted to take on George A. Romero’s second zombie trilogy, starting with “Land of the Dead,” but the death of Leslie Nielsen made my brain turn into another direction — toward comedy and a fun zombie debate.
Without argument, the collaboration of Romero and Stephen King is a moment where horror fans should take pause and celebrate. “Creepshow” is a great homage to both horror and comedy, and marks King’s funniest moments on screen (ignore his attempt at film directing; his appearance here is hilarious).
Anyone my age has seen or heard about “Creepshow” at some point. The film is a set of five stories with a horrific and slightly tongue-in-cheek-theme, all written by King, with a true EC Comics (think “Tales From the Crypt”) vibe.
The two stories I wish to focus on are “Father’s Day” and “Something to Tide You Over.”
The film kicks off with Tom Atkins screaming at his kid over reading a “crappy” comic book (“Creepshow,” drawn very much like the great EC Comics that drew a Congressional investigation), the film starts with Ed Harris attending an aristocratic affair, a bunch of uptight, rich assholes sharing their tale of how Aunt Bedelia killed her father as revenge for daddy killing her beau. Daddy simply wants his cake and returns from the grave looking for it. And, well, some people die in order for undead daddy to get it.
After a hilarious outing by King, you have Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, and Gaylen Ross, the heroine of “Dawn of the Dead,” stuck in a love triangle, with Nielsen playing a jealous rich husband, Danson the hunky boyfriend, and the ocean as the equalizer: by gunpoint, Nielsen forces Danson and Ross into the sand to await high-tide and ultimately their death. But, in this story, death is not an end, and jealous revenge is met with revenge from a watery grave.

Romero Rules Followed: Romero tossed out almost all rules for this foray into fun. He obviously was going more for camp than for zombie fare, and he allowed King to bend the rules.
Gore factor: The most gore takes place during a later story, “The Crate,” but the film has been famously censored and, if you know where to look, a nice workprint is available, complete with some extra Tom Savini make-up effects.
Zombies or Wannabees? In both stories mentioned, they are wannabees. However, the Father’s Day “cake” ratchets it up to closer to zombie-lore.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: While not a zombie great, it is a classic. Just not for this blog.
Additional comments: I’ve so loved this film for years. And I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it and not instantly mention King’s hilarious role as Jordy Verrell. Romero probably found his most well-directed film post-NOTLD with “Dawn,” but this is the one film casual horror fans can grasp without the zombies we love. I really, really wish these two titans would collaborate on a real zombie film. I have said it before here; the results could only be … interesting.

— ROB

Thursday, December 2, 2010

That’s Not a Knife Gun. This is a Knife Gun.

Undead
Dir. Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

2003

When a meteorite shower unleashes the zompocalypse on your ass, what are you gonna be packing? Some puny handgun? Maybe a shotgun or sub-automatic replica of an assault rifle you bought from that unhygienic man at the gun show? Get the fuck outta here with that weak ass shit, zombie food.
Australian fisherman and arms dealer Marion comes correct in the flick Undead, sporting a trio of heavy gauge shotguns wired together for maximum effect (later upgraded to a foursome for even more zombie ass kicking potential). It's just a shame that a weapon so bad ass doesn't get top billing in this surprisingly appealing flick.
And a quick word of advice: always listen to the guy hefting such a zombie-slaying contraption. Dude has already survived an attack by zombie trout. Yeah. Zombie. Fucking. Trout.
And that pretty much sums up this Down Under zomcom’s approach to undead fare. Less slapstick than something like Dead Alive or Evil Dead, Undead plays up the absurdity of being caught in a zombie outbreak as a pregnant girl and her boyfriend, a pair of dopey, incompetent cops, the local beauty queen (Miss Catch of the Day) and heavily armed fisherman Marion hole up to wait out the undead.
Their failure to just sit still and stay quiet, largely the fault of the aforementioned bumbling cops, drives their increasingly absurd efforts to escape.

Zombology: A meteorite shower rains down on the small Australian town of Berkeley, tainting the local water supply and the rain. Anyone who gets enough of an exposure gets all white eyed and hungry for brains. These muscular zombies also have the brawn to decapitate their prey with swipe or punch their way through skulls. So get the quadruple shotgun rig actually sounds like a solid investment, doesn't it? They’re also more verbal than your average zombie, moaning “brains” and “join us” in voices like a Gears of War boomer. And hey, you wouldn’t think these zombies have anything to do with the aliens that just erected a spiked wall all around the town do you?

Surprisingly, Undead was more diverting than I thought it would be despite occasionally recycling gags more than is healthy. The actors are engaging enough, the zombies appropriately grotesque and the humor is mercifully understated and unwinking. My wife, no zombie fan at all, picked it and giggled her head off the entire time. For that impressive feat, Undead only sucks 33 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, November 29, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Chopper Chicks In Zombietown"

“Chopper Chicks In Zombietown”
1989
U.S.
Stars: Jamie Rose, Catherine Carlen, Lycia Naff, Vicki Frederick, Kristinia Loggia, Martha Quinn, Don Calfa and Billy Bob Thornton Writer: Dan Hokins
Dir: Dan Hoskins
86 minutes

A gang of varyingly attractive girls on motorcycles ride into Zariah, a desert town. They look to get drunk, fight, and, more importantly, laid. Still waiting for the punchline?
Yeah, so was I.
For some reason, I own this low-budget flick. I think it was because Don Calfa, “Ernie” from “The Return of the Living Dead,” played a key role in the film as a mad mortician/entrepreneur, interested in exploiting the nearby mines by implanting “batteries” into the brains of the recently-dead in order to mine “goods” — which never are fully explained.
Then those pesky chicks on motorcycles rolled into town, thwarting all of that with their desire to screw, drink, and fight their way through nearly an hour and a half of excruciatingly bad dialogue, plot devices (a busload of smart-aleck blind orphans?) and … ugh, the most relatable and, arguably, the most attractive member of the bunch, Dede (Rose) seems to be married to (a pre-“Sling Blade” and therefore pre-fame) Billy Bob Thornton.
Yeah, even some of the ugliest leading men need to start somewhere, even if it is a Troma Team release.
While the film starts out with some promise of a fun, goofy, zombie flick (with the zombies showing up about five minutes in — way earlier than most other dreadful films), it falls apart about halfway through, with ham-fisted attempts at character development, too many lesbian/bull-dyke jokes, and Calfa being underused as slapstick relief at the wrong times. And then there are the zombies, which disappear for most of the film only to show up later for the “final battle scenes,” after having an early, amusing introduction (and having their own, annoying marching-theme song).
I really do not want to kick this one in the gaping ass, but sometimes you see an opportunity. This little, low-budgeted mess could have been a contender. It could have worked. It could have impressed even the most fickle of critics. Yet, it fails where it should have capitalized.

Romero Rules Followed: Minor cannibalistic scenes, headshots, the recently dead rise; but the rules followed here are on a very basic level: 2/5.
Gore factor: It has its moments, but moderate.
Zombies or Wannabees? Batteries do not a zombie make.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Waste of time, unless you enjoy camp over quality.
Additional comments: This little-engine-that-could fails to deliver. To see such talent at decent make-up and special effects wasted pains me. This movie, at times, looked bigger than it should have, seeing it was shot on film with amateurish but passable direction.

— ROB

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Because Cannibal Holocaust Was Already Taken

Zombie Holocaust
Dir. Marino Girolami
1980
Zombie Holocaust is one awesome zombie-taking-an-outboard-motor-to-the-grill scene bookended by 80 minutes of plot holes, non sequiturs and recycled story lines.
Produced by Fabrizio De Angelis, who gave us Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, as a quickie cash in sequel, this spaghetti shocker(aka Zombie 3 [but not this Zombie 3 (which sucked so hard Fulci quit halfway through, letting Bruno Mattei wear the funk of shame for the final product) [by the way, how long to do you think I can keep this embedded parenthesis thing going?]] and Dr. Butcher M.D.) reverse engineers that Fulcis plot (dragging Ian McCulloch along for another spin as a researcher). It starts in New York and works its way back to a zombie and cannibal infested island somewhere in the Pacific. Make that cannibal infested island where the odd zombie staggers around some 50 minutes into the film.
You see, expat Asians across America have suddenly gone all cannibal on their neighbors, including a hospital janitor who slinks around his workplace giallo style hacking off limbs and ripping out organs of patients to get his fix. The intrepid Dr. Peter Chandler (McCulloch) and part time anthropologist Lori Ridgeway(as well as a pair of fairly obvious zombie baits) trace the Asian offenders back to a cult living on the remote island of Keto, famed for its love of Manwiches made from real men. As luck would have it, Lori spent her childhood near the island though she shows no familiarity with its customs, culture, language and generally staggers around looking useless and baffled once they get there. Even after the tribe’s sacrificial knife, which Lori kept as a keepsake, was stolen from her apartment.
These idiots can’t get to the island to be devoured by cannibals soon enough, and De Angelis is a man smart enough to quickly deliver what his audience craves.

Zombology: When they finally fucking show up, again, nearly an hour into a movie called Zombie fucking Holocaust, these zombies are the byproduct of a mad scientist’s extracurricular experiments on the local island. Skulls get cracked open and brains are transplanted into dead bodies in order to…something. The movie’s not really clear on motivation here. These zombies are not carnivorous, either. That honor is reserved for the local cannibals. In fact, the shambling undead are smart enough to follow simple orders and use some basic tools.

This is the kind of film the Hell of the Living Dead scale was pretty much invented for. Both films just wallow in bigoted cultural fetishism and exploitation. With Hell, it was abused stock footage from Papua New Guinea while Zombie Holocaust forces a bunch of underpaid Asian extras to run around in leather thongs and pretend to eat people while the smug Europeans degrade them as backwards and primitive within earshot, not exactly endearing themselves to the locals. For its crimes against anthropology, train-sized plot holes (seriously, how did the stolen sacrificial knife make it back to the island and why does nobody seem to care when it shows up again?), absolutely incomprehensible climax and dearth of titular zombies actually holocausting anything, it sucks 53 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are You Getting It? Yeah Zombiegeddon It.

Zombiegeddon
Chris Watson

2003

Handy rule of thumb for any flick: if Uwe Boll pops up in the beginning to warn you – even facetiously – that the movie you’re watching is piece of shit, take his word for it. That guy knows a horrible film when it drops a fresh Cleveland steamer on his face.
Troma’s Zombiegeddon is wretched even when grading on Troma’s depressed curve. I’m not expecting Lloyd Kaufman’s schlock factory to start toting around Oscars for cinematography, but there are large chunks of dialogue in Chris Watson’s film that are drowned out by cicadas. Shots inexplicably shift from night to day between takes. And in one scene, the entire crew is clearly reflected in the screen of a television. I’m just saying, at least pretend for our sakes that you’re trying to make something resembling an actual movie. And the boxed story narrative of local talk radio host Laura Reynolds relating the take of the zombie assault on Tromaville adds very little other than padding it out to the bare minimum for a feature film.
The least Watson could have done was fulfill the title’s promise because there’s definite dearth of ’geddon and almost as little zombie in this movie.

Zombology: According to Zombiegeddon’s obtuse mythology, Satan created zombies to wipe out the human race. The zombies look like ordinary people (probably more for budgetary reasons than narrative) and walk among us until the time comes for them to strike. Only those of God’s chosen bloodline have the wherewithal to end the uprising. Hopefully he shows up in time. I know. I found that needlessly complicated too. And zombies can do kung fu. And heave when winded. And can be choked out with a sleeper hold.

Like just about any Troma film, the best(?) part of Zombiegeddon is playing a game of spot the cameo. Tom Savini, playing a man who claims to be Jesus, has the brains to know better than to appear in such dreck. Joe Estevez, playing Satan’s favorite zombie sidekick and possibly gay lover, lacks the dignity to know any better. Christ, can Martin Sheen use some pull to help a brother out?
Because it scrimps on the zombie chills, we’re forced to endure Zombiegeddon’s futile attempts at sub-Killer Tomatoes levels of humor. Pretty much every joke boils down to: “Lulz ur ghey.” With the witty riposte: “Nuh uh, ur ghey-er.” The relentless homophobia largely comes from Cage and Jeff, two dirty cops who spend the bulk of the movie driving around Tromaville gunning down innocent bystanders rather than actually fighting crime or addressing the zombie outbreak that seems to center around the local junior college. But honestly, who really cares about the plot of a Troma film?
I can conceive of theoretical physicists who may have a perverse incentive to study Zombiegeddon’s inexplicable ability to make 75 minutes feel like two hours. But for everyone else, avoid like a zombie outbreak. This film is 96 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "World War Z"

“World War Z”
By Max Brooks
2006
U.S.
Three Rivers Press
342 pages

This is the first book review for this blog (yes, we can read as well as watch). And, from my standpoint, this is a great introduction into zombie literature.
“World War Z” reads like a dossier, a documentary, and a well-written fan-fiction novel. Author Brooks captures all of the elements that zombie lovers have come to know and love: the apocalypse has happened, the undead are kicking and eating our asses, humankind seems powerless to stop it — and this is how the entire world responds.

Brooks takes the backseat as an author, assuming the role of a man seeking to interview the major players involved and report to all world governments the beginning, middle, and end of a worldwide zombie outbreak.

I spent the majority of my summer and fall months picking this book up, getting sucked in at some chapters, intrigued by others, and completely enthralled with others. The book jumps back and forth with the timeline of a war that took place over several years, over several continents and countries. Everyone from military strategists, to government advisors, to laymen, to religious figures are interviewed by the “author,” comprising a compelling read that I will not soon forget.

Among the standout moments of Brooks’ novel include a gripping tale of a Chinese submarine commander realizing that the best way of survival — and potential destruction at the hands of his own government — is becoming a deserter; a teenager in Japan who watched the apocalypse unfold over the Internet and suddenly realizing he not only was ill-equipped with intelligence to handle the war when it came to his door, but also that he had spent too many months staring at a computer screen that his lethargic form seemed to fight against him as he tried to survive; several accounts as to how modern military responses to the threat fell short (i.e. soldiers being trained to shoot for mass rather than the head, having to relearn on the fly how to destroy a force that upped its forces with every un-destroyed brain).

The novel, while completely based on the slow-moving zombies this blog has come to embrace as the triple-OG zombies, takes a few liberties with Uncle George’s rules, but very few.

It is a stretch to think about a real-life zombie apocalypse, but Brooks handles the subject matter and the story with respect, sound-research, and cultural understanding.

Romero Rules Followed: Practically all, but I will not ruin plot points with nitpicking

Gore factor: Well, deft description makes the mind an amusement park

Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies

Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic

Additional comments: I was expecting a terrible Tom Clancy-wannabe, but was pleasantly surprised. This is a sincere recommendation if you have had enough with terrible fiction writing as of late. Also, there have been rumors that a big studio was willing to make a film, casting Brad Pitt in a role...While that may be a scary prospect, read the book and then picture who Mr. Pitt would play...As the narrator, he is perfect casting.

— ROB

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Jack Goodman

At first blush, An American Werewolf in London would seem to make for paltry zombie fare. You only have to read three words in before any literate soul would realize you’ve wandered into a whole ’nother supernatural critter’s turf. But I’m less interested in rehashing David Kessler’s lyncanthropic adventures abroad than I am in the fate of first victim and wisecracking spook Jack Goodman.
Grumbling Jack isn’t much enjoying his backpacking trip in Old Blighty as much as his phlegmatic companion. Jack’s cold, his bag’s covered in sheep shit and the locals are looking at him funny. His problems only get compounded 15 minutes into the 1981 flick when he’s eviscerated by a passing werewolf about whom the natives never saw fit to warn him.
And that’s when Jack’s troubles really begin because the curse of the werewolf means he’s doomed to wander limbo until the werewolf bloodline is extinguished. Meaning, he’d kindly appreciate it if David would off himself so he can shuffle off what’s left of his mortal coil.

The case against: Jack’s status is never quite made clear though he repeatedly refers to himself as undead. He may actually be more of a ghost than a zombie. No one else in the film sees Jack or the other victims who join him in haunting David. He’s also sassier than your average recently reanimated corpse. Pretty sure Romero wouldn’t abide a zombie that mouthed off more than it chomps flesh.

The case for: Unlike your average ghost, Jack continues to degrade as the picture moves along, which speaks in his favor as member in good standing of your local zombie union. As the climax closes in, he’s hardly more than a skeleton with bits of flesh clinging to his rotten noggin. Though nobody else seems to see Jack, he's shown interacting with the environment, which argues for him being something more substantial than your run of the mill spook or specter. And while he’s not a hands on kinda guy, Jack does want David dead. So that’s got to count for something, right?

The verdict: Forgive me for being a traditionalist, but I don’t want my zombies nagging me to death when they could be chewing limbs instead. Suitably putrid he may be, but Jack just doesn’t stack up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Day of the Dead" (1985)

“Day of the Dead”
1985
U.S.
Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty
Writer: George Romero
Dir: George Romero
101 minutes

The “Return of the Jedi” of George A. Romero’s first zombie trilogy, “Day of the Dead” was savaged upon initial release. Having been 8 years old at the time, I did not obviously see the film right away, but I sure as hell remember the teaser trailers on TV, with a ton of seemingly disembodied hands plunging through a cinderblock wall to grab a rather attractive woman.
That happens in the first moment of “Day.” It was a cheap attempt to scare the audience, but, at this point, we all know Uncle George was done trying to scare us. He wanted us to think and used a seemingly unstoppable foil to jumpstart our numb minds.
“Day” finds the human race nearly wiped out, with a handful of humans struggling to survive and stop the apocalypse above while hiding in an underground bunker. A sect of scientists — protected at the time by an increasingly paranoid and power-hungry military platoon — are losing time to figure out what causes the dead’s desire to look at the living as dinner, cure the plague, and return society to normal while continuing a search for survivors.
Many years have passed since Romero’s “Dawn.” While many critics were turned off by the numerous scenes of yelling and screaming protagonists, as a young viewer, I understood Romero’s vision: Humanity had reached its last thread of sanity. Desperation and animal instincts were ruling the survivors. Captain Rhoades (Pilato), serving as totalitarian dictator in his little kingdom, knows he has the opportunity and firepower to make every command a reality. He is the worst bully anyone could meet and Pilato, an inexperienced actor, does a fine job of making the audience hate him instantly. The audience can feel empathy for the non-military survivors: scientist Sarah (Cardille), helicopter pilot John (Alexander), and radio operator McDermott (Jarlath Conroy).
However, the most interesting and likable character is portrayed by Richard Liberty. As Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, Liberty (who has sadly passed on) immediately engages the audience as not only a sympathetic doctor hell-bent on stopping the zombie virus, but also reversing it in a very unconventional way — creating zombie pets. His star pupil, “Bub,” phenomenally portrayed by Howard Sherman, expands Romero’s rules and humanizes the cannibalistic enemy, a risky turn for the director — a risk, which, in this instance, paid out in spades.
“Day,” again, leans heavily on its characters to further the story. One moment in the film, where John and Sarah wax philosophically about religion and Darwinism, stands out as a powerful, thought-provoking moment that would have seemed silly in other hands and films. Romero and the cast take that moment, and the moment in which it took place — Cold War America — and put a stamp on humanity that reads: “You are destroying us; maybe that isn't such a bad thing.”
While “Day” easily contains incredibly realistic zombie carnage, it also, in my book, contains the most realistic display of desperation since Romero’s “NOTLD” in its human characters. The audience certainly cares about some and absolutely wants to see others destroyed in the fastest and most painful way possible. And Uncle George delivers, again, this time ten-fold.
I may get my zombie expert card taken away for writing this, but I truly believe, along with “Night of the Living Dead,” “Day” really encapsulates a realistic reaction to a menace, and tops “Dawn” handily. Come on, take out the zombies and replace it with nuclear fallout, where a handful of survivors are trapped in an underground shelter, with some looking for other survivors and others simply looking to survive.
Now, tell me, which side would you fall on after three months?

Romero Rules Followed: New ones are created here with “thinking” zombies. But, George can make them up as he goes along as far as the OT* is concerned.
Gore factor: Over the top
Zombies or Wannabees? They are still slow, dead, and fleasheating. Zombies.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Positively a classic
Additional comments: I have taken a beating over the years defending this one, but I stand firm. Even such revered critics as Roger Ebert had to go back and review “Night of the Living Dead,” which he initially beat with a log. Many critics came back to “Day” and then “got it.” Ebert wrote, upon appreciating “Day,” that he hoped George would “stop while he was ahead.”
Sadly, as you will see, George, like another George, didn’t listen. If you hated this one, give it another glance with wide-open eyes and mind. I enjoy it even more each time I watch it.
*Original Trilogy
— ROB

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Dawn of the Dead" (1979)

“Dawn of the Dead”
1979
U.S.
Stars: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Writer: George A. Romero
Dir: George A. Romero
127 minutes (Director’s Theatrical Version); 139 minutes (Extended Version) 118 minutes (European Version)

Look above. Three different versions of the same film, which was released nearly two years after your humble bloggers were born. This movie must have been important to deserve such treatment.
Yes, Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the loosely-connected sequel to his masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead” is, and always will be, a profound middle-finger to horror films of the day and even to modern day films of its nature.
“Dawn” was a landmark for a variety of reasons. It erupted at the right time and caused a decent amount of controversy, having been released without a rating (for the unschooled, if you released any film depicting scenes objectionable to “viewers,” the MPAA [the Motion Picture Association of America] would slap that film with an “X” rating back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Now, if you do not know what an “X” rating would infer to any film, you are too young to read this blog, let alone know what “X” rating means). Romero, still full of piss and vinegar as a young filmmaker, and having had some early battles with the ratings board on other films (see “Martin”), went back into “this is what I want to see so f*ck you” mode and released “Dawn” without a rating, knowing it would lead to distribution and theatrical release issues.
And he kicked the MPAA in the teeth.
“Dawn” still remains Romero’s biggest worldwide accomplishment, both critically and financially (don’t throw “Land of the Dead stats at me; adjust for inflation, first).
And it really deserves to be a major feat.
Romero predicted, deftly, the coming consumer-culture of the 1980s, where “more was better” and “those without could suck it.” Note: He began working on “Dawn” four years prior to that vision even becoming a glimpse of being fully-apparent.
The story of the film is very simple. Yes, my friends, this IS “the one in the mall.” Four diverse survivors — two of whom are members of a broadcast news station team, the other two members of a SWAT team — take refuge in a shopping mall (Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, Pa., for the unaware). They feel they have found the ultimate fortress, full of all the wares of the day, all the supplies they will ever need. But, what they realize is, even with the security they have gained — and the hundreds upon hundreds of zombies waiting outside — they are really trapped, unable to fully enjoy what some would consider the ultimate “creature comforts.”
While Romero’s message in this film may not have been nearly as subtle as “Night of the Living Dead,” he struck a nerve. Even though Romero intended this zombie outing to be a comedy, he made it a dark one; Romero, even during early production of the film, stated that “Dawn” was a comic-book telling of a zombie apocalypse. Keeping that in mind, modern audiences can appreciate that. From the first time I viewed the film, I said to myself, “Why does the f***ing blood look so fake?” “Why is this music so terrible?”
The Italian musical group Goblin, famous for scaring the diarrhea out of so many others by scoring films by maestro director Dario Argento (a little more on him a bit later), took Romero’s comedic take on the story, America’s indifference, and universal satire, and turned out what some would view, on the surface, as a soundtrack worthy of cat-vomit — and tweaked up the absurdity of “Dawn,” Romero’s prophetic vision, and muzak. The only time the soundtrack takes a serious turn is when the film takes a (somewhat) serious turn.
As aforementioned, the film has three, definitive and acknowledged versions. Romero claims the theatrically-released and unedited version from 1979 as his definitive “director’s cut.” I prefer the “extended cut,” which further delves into the characters, their motives, and their struggles at remaining sane while completely cut off from any and all human contact… until... well, watch it.
Now, the “European Version” was a version of the film supervised in editing by Dario Argento; and, I have to say, without reserve: “Argento, don’t ever fucking edit a film ever, ever again.”
For some reason, Argento decided that the most interesting elements of the film — the f***ing characters — needed to take a backseat to a few additional (slight) scenes of gore. The European Version, while slightly more gory, lacks the “oomph,” both politically and satirically that either of the other versions of “Dawn” encapsulated. Go back to “giallos,” Argento, and never, ever, try to edit an American classic again (In all fairness, Argento edited the film prior to its worldwide release — he simply should not have done it, even if he helped finance the film’s production).

Romero Rules Followed: It’s a Romero classic…all are followed and further defined.
Gore factor: This one goes to 11, again.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies all the way
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Definitive classic
Additional comments: This is the one film that scared the dogsh*t out of my mother, and further peaked my interest in horror films, not just zombie films. If you are a fan of zombies or zombie films, you owe it to yourself to see this one, not Zach Snyder’s abomination of a remake (Andrew, I am calling on you to tell everyone the reasons they need to watch THIS instead of THAT). And if you are a turbo-fan, buy Anchor Bay’s four-disc set that includes all three “recognized versions” of the film along with some eye-opening and incredible behind-the-scenes documentaries and commentaries with Romero, make-up man Tom Savini and many others. I cannot recommend this gem enough. Ignore the fallacies; embrace the genius.

— ROB

Thursday, November 4, 2010

They’re an American Band Zombie

American Zombie
Dir. Grace Lee
2007
American Zombie admirably tries to break out of the zombie film rut with its mockumentary look at the zombies living among us, glossing over the outbreak/apocalypse cliché to delve into how humans and zombies might be able to accommodate each other once the plague has plateaued and life develops some sense of normalcy. Using gay pride, civil rights and the homeless as metaphors for the perils of zombie acceptance, American Zombie trails a skater zombie with a dead end convenience store job and a zombie ’zine hobby, an undead florist with a penchant for string art and funeral bouquets, a zombie community organizer, and a vegan foodbank worker who doesn’t like to admit she’s the recently reanimated. It’s a clever set up, but the film’s tone gets horribly lost somewhere between wry, dead pan humor and the expected corpse rending carnage we expect, ultimately never really delivering on either.

Zombology: Once again our good friend the viral outbreak rears its infectious head. In American Zombie, you never know whether you’ve contracted the virus, which attacks the central nervous system, because it lays dormant until its host dies a violent death. Only then will the revenants, as officials call them, come back to life. There are three strains of zombisms at work. The ferals, who are the mindless monstrosities we’ve all come to love, hardly figure into the story. Low functioning zombies can hold down menial labor jobs and support themselves. The high functioning zombies, who look suspiciously like normal people in white pancake makeup and heavy eye shadow, take up most of the film, recounting their daily lives, hopes and dreams. And attend a mysterious, no humans allowed rave/art fest/hippy freakout in the desert called “Live Dead.” Hey, I wonder what’s happening there.

The film’s central conceit—a documentary about the quotidian lives of everyday zombies—actually works against the movie. If, as our faux documentarians intend, you make a movie about the boring lives of everyday zombies, you tend to end up with a boring film about people who work in convenience stores, collect cat figurines and make string art. As a fake documentary, American Zombie nails the pop sociology vibe of dumbed down History Channel specials. As a zombie film, it lacks tension, gore, and most importantly, brain chomping mayhem. Still, it’s only 37 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

They’re Coming to get You, Barbara (and Fuck Everything Up)

If zombies had their equivalent of sacred texts, then George Romero’s low budget masterpiece Night of the Living Dead would be a key passage in that codex. Think of the better offerings of the Romero cannon as the zombie Pentateuch.
I cannot understate how important this movie was to me. There was a time in high school when I had no interest in movies. Hollywood dreck didn’t speak to me, and it wasn’t until a friend loaned me a battered VHS of Night of the Living Dead – which I promptly bootlegged and treasure to this day – that I ever had a clue that something like independent cinema even existed. Night of the Living Dead, along with Repo Man, turned me on to a world of filmmakers too bizarre to get day jobs in Tinsel Town. Those films, in turn, led me to Pi, Eraserhead and Tetsuo the Ironman when I was in college. An addiction was born.
And my appreciation for it has only increased after subjecting myself to the shitty remakes. Everyone who has taken a crack at the story in the last four decades, including gore maestro Tom Savini who directed a script penned and produced by Romero himself, has completely missed what made the original work: the characters.
I can’t remember where I first read it (it may be a Stephen King quote) but some wise person somewhere once said if you’re going to posit something supernatural in your story, everything else must be firmly grounded. And that’s what made the original Night of the Living Dead a masterpiece: while disbelief must be suspended to accept the reality of a zombie uprising, all of the characters act remarkably natural, reacting as you expect real people would to something that incomprehensible.
And that's exactly what the remakes get wrong.

They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara
Starting with everyone’s favorite hysteric, Barbara's complete collapse in the face of the horrific and impossible is perfectly understandable. Was the original Barbara a sexist stereotype in the face of the hyper-masculine survivors? Absolutely, but there’s still enough essential truth to Barbara’s character that she never stopped being sympathetic. Savini and Romero committed the greatest sin against this essential truth in the 1990 remake, taking the nearly cataleptic Barbara and trying to turn her into an Ellen Ripley whose every shot is a bullet between a zombie's eyes. Savini’s Barbara symbolically sheds her feminine dress and pumps in favor of work boots and men’s pants throughout the film, become more masculine, hefting weapons, barking orders and exacting her own bloody revenge on her fellow survivors at the end. Jeff Broadstreet’s abysmal 2006 3D remake played with the same dynamic, turning Barbara from a shrewish bitch henpecking Johnny to a zombie killing Amazon who stabs the undead in the head and betrays no emotion when her resurrected family is gunned down in front of her a few hours later. Lacking that emotional grounding from the original, both of the remakes squander Barbara’s potential because they haven't earned that emotional gravitas.

Ben, the Two of Us Need Look No More
Ben fares just as poorly. Broadstreet, eliding the subtle racial dynamic that added much needed subtext to Romero’s film, turns Ben into a motorcycle riding white kid who sells weed to pay his college tuition. Though Savini drafts Tony “Candyman” Todd into the role, he apparently told him to act out every blaxploitation stereotype as he gnaws his way through more scenery, dropping more pointless F-bombs than shambling revenants. Romero’s Ben was a man struggling to keep it all together. The antithesis of Barbara’s complete meltdown, Ben was mechanical, robotic, too shellshocked to allow himself to feel much of anything for fear of completely collapsing. Watching him reduced to a poor man’s Shaft or a sarcastic teen is a travesty.

Hangin' With Mr. Cooper
If there was a true villain to the original Night of the Living Dead, it wasn’t the zombies but Henry Cooper, the sweaty, chain smoking father hiding in the basement and opposing common sense at every turn. He’s all bluster and bravado, a caricature of a 1960s man who’s trying to maintain the illusion that he’s sure and firm and standing tall as a bastion of consistency and safety for his family. Reviled though he may be, I can’t help but feel sympathy for the guy. He's probably the most complex character in the film. He’s a stranger, lost in town and trying to keep it together for his wife and sick child, Karen. He’s a doomed man who doesn’t know his daughter is already dead but he’s determined to protect his family, fuck everyone else. The man’s a fount of pathos, but Savini slices away any nuance, metastasizing him into a featureless Jersey guido, shouting and belligerent, an obvious object of scorn and ridicule. Savini and Romero can’t even see fit to give the man an honest emotion when his zombie daughter is killed before his eyes.
Mr. Cooper and his family are an even more risible collection of freaks under Broadstreet’s ministrations. Rather than an out of towner futiley trying to do best by his family amid the horror, Mr. Cooper is a bumpkin local pot farmer whose (inexplicably biracial) daughter fulfills the sitcom role of the sarcastic kid and whose wife and farm hands are pot smoking cretins, little removed from the zombies, themselves, as they vegetate in front of the television. This Cooper is a bumbling failure whose brilliant decision to shoot the zombies through his window (at no point during the film does anybody board up a door or turn off a light) allows the zombies inside to attack the occupants. His daughter’s death and his inevitable suicide pact with his wife elicit no emotion because Broadstreet ignored what made the character work.

Monday, October 25, 2010

ZomBlog Tribute: "Night of the Living Dead"

“Night of the Living Dead”
1968
U.S.
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley
Writer: John Russo and George Romero
Dir: George Romero
96 minutes

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
In 1968, George A. Romero changed the horror film game once and for all. He wrote a solid script featuring creatures that were terrifying, assembled a cast of unknowns, and created a biting social commentary. “Night of the Living Dead” will, forever, remain one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Now, 42 years later, the creatures he created then are staples of pop culture. Romero has directed five sequels with varying degrees of critical and box office acclaim, and countless knockoffs have been spawned. Video games feature the cannibalistic undead, books dedicated to the subject are topping the New York Times Bestseller List, people around the world are assembling in massive gatherings to either r dance or shamble about city streets, and music groups are writing songs about them.
Yes, the living dead are more popular than ever, and it all began with one of the most iconic films — not just in the horror canon — ever made.
For those unfamiliar with the film (shame on you), the story begins with a brother and sister visiting their father’s grave in the countryside outside of Pittsburgh. Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbara (O’Dea) bicker back and forth, prompting Johnny to tease his sister as a strange man begins to approach them. After the man grabs and begins to claw at Barbara, Johnny fights with the man, ultimately winding up unconscious. Barbara flees from the attacker and runs into an apparently empty farmhouse. She is soon joined by another stranger, Ben, (Jones). This time, the new stranger fends off multiple more “attackers” and begins boarding up the house. Barbara, slipping into a catatonic state of shock, listens listlessly as Ben tells how the strange attackers are everywhere and no one knows what is really going on.
As time passes, Ben and Barbara learn they are not in the house alone, as two teenagers, Tom and his girlfriend Judy, and a set of parents — Harry and Helen Cooper, and their injured daughter, Karen, appear from the basement where they have hidden themselves from the attackers. Instantly, a power struggle between Ben and Harry ensues, each determined to control the situation and make the next decision for survival. While Harry appears to be driven to defend his family by staying in the basement, Ben makes it clear that he is in charge of the main floor — and the only gun in the house. While Ben measures each decision with logic and forward thinking, Harry’s reaction is to either flee from the house or barricade everyone in basement. The tension between the two men is at the center of the story as the refugees begin to learn what is going on through radio and television reports: the bodies of the recently dead have begun to rise from their graves and attack the living — in some cases, biting and devouring their victims.
As the numbers of the slow, lumbering undead begin to gather around the house, and make a couple attempts to gain entry, Ben and Tom lay out a strategy to take a pickup truck, drive to a gas pump outside of the home, fuel it up, pick up the refugees, and drive to the nearest shelter where the National Guard is sure to protect them.
The plan — fails terribly. Tom and Judy wind up becoming barbecue, and, for the first time on film, the undead decide to have a grand meal. Shot after shocking shot of human remains are seen either being carried around, fought over, or consumed by the undead.
The remaining survivors begin to become desperate and some take advantage of the horror and confusion, leading to the collapse of what little safety they had. A last attempt is made to survive — with middling results.
I have tried to be very spoiler-free with the plot synopsis here, but I almost feel I should talk about every, single, vital plot point in this 42-year-old gem. However, I realize there are still many people out in the world who have yet to experience it (although, if they are reading this blog, I really worry about them).
Also, I have refrained from using the term “zombie,” even though this is obviously what the “creatures” are in “NOTLD.” While the film never utters the Z word, instead calling them “ghouls” or “the recently dead,” the entire modern zombie phenomenon stems from this film. In fact, this blog holds all zombie lore to the standards and rules set forth by Romero in this film and his subsequent sequels.
What I did not mention earlier is something that has been up for much debate over the years. The character of Ben was played by Duane Jones, a black man. The year the film debuted was 1968, the same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. While the film had wrapped prior to King’s death, the fact that the lead in this film was a strong black man absent of racial stereotypes of the day made a huge impact on the film’s initial and cult success. Romero has denied on several occasions that Jones’ casting was a conscious political statement, simply stating that Jones was the best actor for the part. Conscious or not, the fact that Jones portrayed the only competent, strong, resourceful, and brave role in the film made a bold statement in a tumultuous time during the civil rights movement.
While the film was made for pennies, with most of the cast and crew assuming multiple production roles, it has gone on to become a goldmine both critically and financially — even though Romero has nary made a penny back from the film due to being young and naïve, failing to copyright the film upon initial release, and allowing it to slip into public domain. While Romero has remained an independent filmmaker for the majority of his career, his greatest feat doesn’t even belong to him. Ouch.
I have watched “NOTLD” more times than any other film — ever. Romero caught lightning in a bottle with “NOTLD”: a solid concept, a strong story, credible characters, and a frightening enemy — us. While the undead provide the catalyst of the threat, the real threat is humanity, and how, in desperate situations, humanity tends to turn on itself, with the most primal instinct — self-preservation — taking over and destroying what would seem to be the ultimate goal: survival of the species.
The zombies take on a pack mentality, overpowering their prey through strength in numbers. And, while their prey would be stronger if they took on that pack mentality, humans in Romero’s world devolve into individuals.
The zombies will win.

— ROB

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Slowest Gun in the West (Part 2)

Undead or Alive
Dir. Glasgow Phillips

2007

Saint George of Romero take my soul, but I never thought Corky fucking Romano would be the savior of the zombie Western. Yet I’m forced to grapple with that truth, which threatens to blast away my sanity like an impossible Lovecraftian horror. But there it is. I watched a Chris Kattan zombie flick. And I kinda liked it.
Hold me. I’m scared.
Undead or Alive is a slight, thoroughly disposable “zombedy” (their term, not mine) that I’ll probably never watch again, but did its job for 93 minutes. The near absence of a plot and some sketchy CGI arterial spray are propped up by the free flowing chemistry between cowboy buffoon Kattan and costars James Denton as an MIA soldier who’d rather study dentistry and Navi Rawat as the New York-raised niece of Geronimo. The often inane, generally anachronistic patter between the three has a comfortable vibe, and while the film will never be considered hilarious, their delivery and awareness of the film’s limitations is actually rather charming. Nerd cult comic Brian Posehn also takes an amusing turn as patient zero of the inevitable zombie outbreak that sends the trio heading for the hills, chased by the corrupt local sheriff and his red-eyed, flesh hungry posse.

Zombology: According to the movie’s lore, Apache warrior Geronimo cursed white men before his death, unleashing a zombie outbreak in the West. From there the movie abides takes a familiar turn. Being bitten results in imminent zombification. However, Undead or Alive does mangle the Romero rules to suit its own purposes. A headshot, the sovereign remedy for a zombie plague, is not up to snuff for our cowpokes. Only full decapitation will end the menace. Also, the zombies retain many of their skills from their previous lives. They walk, talk, ride horses, shoot guns and commit physical comedy with aplomb.

I loathe Chris Kattan so that Undead or Alive’s charms were able to overcome that animus speaks to its comedic gifts, slight though they may be at times. The willingness for the filmmakers to subvert the audience’s expectation of a traditional happy ending for a comedy film was also a bold choice. Appreciating it on its own terms, Undead or Alive is only 42 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Re-Animator"

“Re-Animator”
1985
U.S.
Stars: Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson and Jeffrey Combs
Writer: Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris and Stuart Gordon; Based on the story “Herbert West: Re-animator” by H.P. Lovecraft
Dir: Stuart Gordon
86 minutes

Herbert West is a strange little man. He is manipulative, argumentative, a chronic liar, asexual, and has criminal tendencies.
He’s also brilliant and has figured out a way to bring the dead back to life.
Having a reason to flee Sweden, where he claims he had nothing left to learn, West (Combs) arrives at Miskatonic University in Massachusetts (a staple of the Gordon-made Lovecraft movies and a handful of the writer’s stories), where he meets medical student, the overly passionate Dan Cain (Abbott). Cain, engaged to the dean’s daughter (Crampton) is a sure-fire star of his medical school — until West comes knocking, looking for a room to rent and the basement for laboratory space. Cain, desperate for cash and looking to further impress Dean Halsey, accepts West into his home, despite his girlfriend’s, Megan Halsey’s, protests.
Meanwhile, West attends school and immediately begins a war with the established and well-respected Dr. Hill (Gale, in a brilliant and brave performance), accusing Hill of stealing ideas from more intelligent physicians over the location of “the will in the brain,” where brain death occurs and if, after a matter of minutes, if the salvation of life is even possible. West argues brain death can be reversed, while Hill claims it ends after seven minutes. And, as the audience already knows, West has proven his theory — well, technically.
West has created a “re-agent,” a serum, once injected into a dead body, re-animates the victim. However, his results seem to be the same: the subject does come back to life — but they seem none too pleased about it, act like rage victims, and have gained the strength of five men.
As Hill’s obsession of Megan Halsey grows, as does his obsession over learning what West has discovered, ultimately attempting to steal West’s discovery and claim it as his own. Well, for fear of ruining this great, bloody mind-numbing feast, I will go no further.
“Re-Animator” remains one of my all-time horror film favorites. I first saw it by skipping out of class on an afternoon my freshman year of high school and hitting a video store with a pal (yes, mom, I did occasionally miss a few minutes of school). And, yes, we instantly loved it. And, while I have no idea where that guy is nowadays, I am sure he probably still talks this one up as much as I do. It is another example of where horror, gore, and dark comedy can perfectly overlap and entertain. “Re-Animator” is held up with a solid set of actors (Combs and Gale serving up great performances as outcast likeable jerk, and evil, sadistic, flawed-villain, respectively), a solid musical score (obviously ripping off and riffing on the famous Bernard Herrmann score for Hitchcock’s “Psycho”), and a good mix of furiously fast-paced sequences. And the ending is memorable as well.
Soooooo …

Romero Rules Followed: 2 out of 5
Gore factor: Bucketloads; still one of the more heavily-censored films of the 80s, but available completely uncut on DVD.
Zombies or Wannabees?: Damn it, it’s hard, but the monsters in this flick are the recently undead. Zombies it is, although not by traditional Romero means. This one falls more in line with “Frankenstein.”
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: Probably the only film you will ever see with a disembodied head giving … um … “head”…awkward and bizarre, but the moment it occurs is actually hilarious rather than terrifying. I may be sick in my head, but I still laugh when others cringe. And the question is also answered as to what happens when intestines live. There are two middling sequels to this flick. I recommend both for a variety of reasons, but the first is still a solid entry into the horror — and on a limited measure — into the zombie lexicon.

— ROB