Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Nazi Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin Trust

Nazis and zombies are like the peanut butter and chocolate of horrordom: two great tastes that commit brain eating global atrocities together.
Up until underachieving artist and all around douchebag Adolf threw his little shitfit that sent most of the Western hemisphere into several years of internecine warfare and staggering humanitarian atrocities, the go-to no-goodnik for your low budget horror fromage fest was the castle dwelling mad scientist. But crazy Herr Doktor von Fartknocker up in the local chalet with the lightning fetish and interesting collection of sketchily sourced used body parts seemed a lot less ominous after a bunch of jackbooted, Hugo Boss-suited real life supervillains damn near took over a sizeable chunk of the globe for their own private Latveria.
And so a horror cliché was born.
In its honor, I humbly present you with a cross-media six pack of Nazi zombie goodness (for lesser values of “good”).

Dir. Ken Wiederhorn
Genetically engineered aquatic Nazi zombie monstrosities—Der Toten Korps—have been lounging off the coast of some unidentified Caribbean island, having apparently missed the telegram announcing that whole Third Reich thing has been put on temporary hiatus after Der Fuhrer exited stage left. The zombies, “neither dead or alive, but somewhere in between,” so we’re told, can apparently be killed upon contact with sunlight by removing their goggles in the worst. villain. weakness. evAR. But soggy stormtroopers take a back seat in the horror department to the thoroughly swizzled acting of John Carradine as an incompetent boat captain who can’t die soon enough and a slumming Peter Cushing as a stranded SS officer gone feral, sleepwalking through a film he’s got to know is beneath him, even by his own pre-Star Wars career revival standards.

Oasis of the Zombies
Dir. Jesus Franco
Notorious softcore purveyor and all around shlockmeister Jesus Franco uncharacteristically turned down the boobs in this 1981 tale of incompetent treasure hunters on the trail of a pile of Nazi bullion in the African desert that is still being watched over by zombified Afrikacorps troops. Mangled by multiple cuts, the plot seems to have gone the way of the porn as hunters with no discernable motives double cross one another pointlessly (and with an alarming shortage of brain-chomping action) until only a pack of hormonal teens is left to set off alone through the desert in search of fortune only to find rotting corpses and interminable swaths of stock footage barring their path.

Zombie Lake
Dir. Jean Rollin
1981 was apparently a boom year in the Nazi Zombie business as French director Jean Rollin spins this tale of Kermit-green Nazi zombies who return from the lake where they were drowned 10(?), 20(?) year ago –the timeline is absolute indecipherable – by French partisans, who now live a peaceful life despite knowing goddamn well a pack of rather peeved Nazi zombies call their lake home and are burbling on the bottom plotting vengeance. Not too many directors would have the nerve to spin the story as something of an undead love story that dares to cast the lead Nazi in a sympathetic light. Bonus points: if you were disturbed by the lack of boobage in Oasis of the Zombies, the scum covered pond is apparently irresistible to women, who feel a compulsion to go skinny dipping – including an entire women’s basketball team – in its murky, Nazi-infested waters. Double bonus: keep a sharp eye on the scene were the town mayor is interviewed by the intrepid lady reporter to watch for the director, cameraman and assorted crewmembers reflected in the giant mirror over the mayor’s shoulder for the entire scene. Quality film making, there.

Dead Snow
Dir. Tommy Wirkola
Following a rather fallow quarter century, Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, whose previous credit was a highly panned Kill Bill spoof, drops a splatter comedy bomb about a pack of Eurodouches (it’s so comforting that horror film cannon fodder is equally annoying worldwide) on a spring break trip to a remote ski lodge (horror film mistake #1) where they blow off local creepy guy’s warnings (horror film mistake #2) about a pack of undead Einsatzgruppen who have apparently been camping out for the last six decades or so, just chillin’ and waiting for a chance to go sick ass on an appropriately irritating overprivileged collection of character clichés from central casting. Limbs get severed, guts get chomped and jokes get sprung with greater and lesser degrees of success. Though it clearly aspires to a Shaun of the Dead-style gore/humor balance, Dead Snow falls a tad short. Despite that, it still stands as the best Nazi zombie film to date.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy
Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea
Better known as a collection of groan-worthy puns, Nixon-era paranoia, cosmic fuck scenes, libertarian diatribes that get a pass for being less didactic than Ayn Rand and drugged out conspiracies, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s hippie culture touchstone is less recognized for its contribution to the Nazi zombie cannon. *SPOILERS* After much dubious debating of possibly specious history, the plot hinges on German rockstars the American Medical Association’s plan to “immanentize the eschaton” with an act of mass human sacrifice at a Bavarian concert on the shores of Lake Totenkopft where dead Nazi footsoldiers slumber in zombie oblivion until they can be reanimated to bring on the Fourth Reich on behalf of the all-powerful Illuminati. Counter culture in-joke, drugged out digression or occulted history of the United States, you decide. Ewige blumenkraft!

Call of Duty: World at War
Sweet Shiva of a solar powered scooter, did the world really need another first person shooter set in World War II? Developers Activision are answering in the affirmative. So take that for what you will. Greeted with generally glowing reviews upon its release in 2008, that particular incarnation of the ongoing series plunked the player down in the mudcaked boots of both an American Marine private and a Red Army soldier as they slogged their way through a succession of historically significant battles of the war. But what caused gamers and the zombie-loving public to flip their shit was a minigame that pitted up to four players in a cooperative death match against unrelenting waves of zombified Nazi monstrosities in the old zombie standby as a band of spunky survivors in a boarded up bunker. The minigame has developed such a following there are entire websites devoted to it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Zomblog Review: "Dead Alive"

“Dead Alive”
New Zealand
Stars: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin
Writer: Stephen Sinclair, Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson
Dir: Peter Jackson
97 minutes

Peter Jackson has a firm grasp on those things that attract horror film fans. He also has a solid grip on filmmaking. And he has a chokehold on slapstick comedy.
Each one of those masterful ideals collided in 1992, when he unleashed “Dead-Alive” (aka “Braindead”) unto the world.
Peter and I go quite a ways back. I was a freshman in high school when a fellow film nerd recommended I head over to the local video store near the school (not the one named Blockbuster) and check out a film called “Bad Taste.” If this were a blog devoted to alien invasion and absurdity, I would spew praise like a nun first meeting the Pope over that film (and, much to the dismay of my blog counterpart, I have … and he doesn’t quite get why I love that film so much, but, here’s to hoping he will one day go back and look at it with the same eyes that made him love “Shaun of the Dead.” Yes, I am pairing the two. Deal with it.)
Coming back to the subject at hand, when I learned from Fangoria magazine Peter Jackson was making a zombie opus, I was doing backflips (figuratively). I knew he would put his signature wacky imprint onto the genre, and would do so with capable hands.
And, two years later, when it finally hit video stores stateside, I was not at all disappointed, even though the way-over-the-top ending was bizarre even for me.
But, everything leading up to it was incredibly original.
“Dead-Alive” follows a Sumatran Monkey, captured by zoologists, from Skull Island (subtle hint, Peter, you wanted to take on “King Kong” at a later date?) to New Zealand. During the capture of the monkey, a zoologist is bitten (several times) by the hideous creature and, from the reaction of his hired men, has contracted “the bite.” He is hacked to death by said hired hands, but the monkey arrives at the zoo.
Then, we meet Paquita (Penalver) and Lionel (Balme, whom must have given Simon Pegg some inspiration to act during “Shaun”). Paquita is happy to help running her grandparents’ grocery store, while Lionel is miserable taking care of his extremely overbearing and widowed mother (a memorable character quips later that Lionel was set upon with an abundance of “mother-love” in his father’s absence.).
It’s a simple enough of a set-up, and, I would argue, the first zom-rom-com (zombie romantic comedy). Paquita pines for Lionel, the affable and awkward hero, and, while he returns Paquita’s advances the best (and as awkwardly as he can), he cannot help but be devoted to mother.
Mother meets with an unfortunate accident with the aforementioned monkey at the zoo (complete with grotesque Harryhausen-esque stop-motion effects), and mother begins to change into one of the undead — she gets “the bite.”
Lionel, being consumed with “mother-love,” tries to keep mother a functioning member of society as she begins to rot, die, and change into a zombie. In his efforts to protect “mum,” he buys animal tranquilizers from a suspect veterinarian (whom may or may not be a Nazi defector — who am I to judge a hefty German accent and possible exposed Swastika?)
Along his way to protecting mum, Lionel inadvertently causes “the bite” to be spread to a nurse, a priest, and a gang member. He collects the newly turned and holes them up in his mother’s basement, in a mansion on a hill his jealous uncle wants to inherit, despite Lionel’s mother — when Lionel can no longer hide she is dead, and a hilarious funeral follows — leaving all of her fortune to her doting son. Lionel, unable to hide his secret any longer, gives in to his greedy, sick, perverted uncle’s wishes.
And, in a plot lifted from just about any 1970s porno or bad joke, the priest and nurse decide to do “what comes natural.” Yes, zombie sex. And, as nature allows (in this film, at least) a prodigy is produced — an extremely hyper, ugly, and mischievous zombaby is born. And, with this character introduced, the film hits some of its best slapstick strides.
Needless to say, the uncle taking charge of his nephew’s home, and his insistence of having a party, leads to the revelation of Lionel’s secret — and full-on, incredible, bloody carnage ensues as each party attendee is attacked, bitten, or devoured.
This film is an absolute delight from start to finish. Jackson uses a lot of film-school clichés (close, quick zooms, the Raimi-following cam, and sped-up film) to elicit laughs from the audience and to hammer-home the absurdity of the film. And he does deftly. Anyone who tries to take the film serious will be disappointed. If you shut your sensibilities down and go with it, a reward is to be had. The film is what Moe, Larry, and Curly may have attempted had they lived as long to see zombies become a mainstay. Jackson has moved on to grander films and I salute him. He started by making a gross-out and genuinely funny alien-invasion film with “Bad Taste.” He made me wonder what really happened behind the curtain with “The Muppets” when he made “Meet the Feebles.” And, he made it OK to make a zombie film over the top, gory, and funny all at the same time. Edgar Wright had to have been inspired.
And horror fans are grateful.

Romero Rules Followed: 4/5 (The zombies are created from a rare animal bite, but have all the characteristics of Romero’s incarnations, including a voracious appetite).
Gore factor: Off the charts. Will anyone look at a lawnmower as anything but a weapon after this one?
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: Shut-off your logic sensors. Enjoy it as slapstick for the modern age.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like Stock Footage Scorned

Hell of the Living Dead
Dir. Bruno Mattei

As Jean-Paul Sartre’s reanimated corpse once famously observed, “Hell is other zombies.” And oh, was hell ever unleashed on the world in hack for hire Bruno Mattei’s 1980 zombie suckfest Hell of the Living Dead (aka Night of the Zombies aka Virus).
Not even a Goblin soundtrack could salvage a cinematic morass that sports such imminently quotable exchanges as the following:
--I may not know much about chemistry, but in bed her reactions are … terrific.
--I’m not surprised with that cute little ass.
And… *scene*
Seriously, crazed rats leaping out of green chemical clouds can’t eviscerate the cast of the stinker soon enough. The plot, which likely didn’t fill the back of a 3x5 note card, revolves around the mullet-encrusted men of a supposedly elite commando unit who strike horrid Charlie’s Angels poses are sent to New Guinea to investigate a chemical spill and attendant zombie outbreak. I the A-, B-, C- and D-Teams were not available at that time. At one point, having just narrowly escaped a horde of the hungry undead, one of our intrepid moron sets aside his firearms in an abandoned house to play dress up in a top hat and tutu (no, I’m not joking), wandering several rooms away from his weapons. Mercifully for all involved, he quickly gets eaten.

Zombology: Though it was released in Italy under the name Virus, the zombies of Hell of the Living Dead are actually the victims of a chemical spill at some s00per s33krit toxic factory in New Guinea. Instead of addressing world hunger by conventional methods, the company is developing a cannibalism-inducing chemical to address the overpopulation problem as part of the hilariously named Operation: Sweet Death. Typical. Other than that, it’s your pretty typical zombie fodder. The chemical outbreak spreads and the locals start chowing down on their neighbor’s liver tartare style. Get bit and when it’s dramatically opportune we’ll see your shuffling undead ass pop back up. In one climactic escape sequence, the “heroes” (I use that term with trepidation) are “menaced” (again, trepidation) from the comfort of their Landrover by brain-chompers that lumber along like a pack of Thriller re-enactors with Parkinson’s.

Final Judgement: Given its dearth of story, Hell of the Living Dead fluffs out its 100 minute runtime as a masterwork of stock footage,as real life images of genuinely starving people get repurposed as zombies, random animal shots serve as scene breaks (I wouldn’t be surprised if Mutual of Omaha got a producer’s credit) and in a thoroughly pointless 15 minute digression, plucky blonde reporter strips down to a leaf thong and body paint carefully placed to highlight her jiggling tits so she can blend in with a village full of the locals mourning their zombified loved ones against a constant backdrop of stock footage of native dances that quite obviously bounce between various tribes/rituals/times of day.
One thing that has to be acknowledged, however, is this movie essentially boils down to some rather rednecky Italian guys with uncontrollable mullets gunning down wave after wave of shuffling black folks, foreshadowing the great Resident Evil 5 controversy of 2008. With the benefit of 30 years, it adds an intriguing dimension to the proceedings that Mattei (fortunately) didn’t really address.

Explanatory Notes: There’s a reason I start with this film (City of the Walking Dead a.k.a. Nightmare City may have also served my purposes). I come to bury Hell of the Living Dead (hopefully this stinking zombie fucker will stay buried) and not to praise it. In fact, where it looks like Rob will get all good cop praising quality films based on the Romero scale of goodness, I intend to be the bad cop up in this bitch, excoriating crap based on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of suckitude. Much like the Japanese gameshow on which The Simpsons must compete, I don’t reward knowledge; I punish ignorance.
So from here on out, all films will be compared to Hell of the Living Dead. Ergo, the rating system will actually be inversed. A stone classic like Night of the Living Dead would score a 0 on the Hell of the Living Dead while Nightmare City would easily be a 95.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Zomblog Review: "Cemetery Man"

“Cemetery Man”
Stars: Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi
Writer: Gianni Romoli
Dir: Michele Soavi
99 minutes

It has been more than 10 years since I first viewed “Cemetery Man” (aka “Dellamorte Dellamore”). And, to use a worn cliché, it is like fine wine.
Where should one begin in describing this masterpiece? I guess I should start with tearing down Michele Soavi, who made such fan-favorite genre pieces as “Stage Fright” and “The Church”; both forgettable fare for the uses of this blog, and, the perceptible horror fan. Soavi was a one-trick-pony prior to “Cemetery.” He knew how to get the great gore shots. He knew how to make his actors stand and be pretty, and he had a vague grasp on how to tell a cohesive story. Should anyone go back and view this film and “Stage Fright” side-by-side, the differences are staggering. There is no way I could convince anyone the same person made them aside from showing the DVD case.
Luckily for Soavi, he had much more working for him in “Cemetery Man.”
The story is fairly simple on the surface. Francesco Dellamorte is a grave caretaker — the only problem being is his graveyard seems to be overrun with “returners” as he calls them: after 7 days, the recently buried inexplicably rise from the dead and annoy him. He expels the annoying with point-blank-range shots to the head, and then has his “special” nearly-mute assistant, Gnaghi, replace them in their graves.
Dellamorte identifies himself as, literally, “the St. Francis of death.” For the Biblically unschooled, St. Francis of Assisi was the patron saint of animals, the caregiver of the most helpless (in most cases). Dellamorte is shouldered with the great burden of ensuring the dead remain dead. And, being a gravedigger and cemetery caretaker, this presents plenty of work and sleepless nights, which, eventually, begin to take a toll on the hapless hero. And his work becomes even more difficult and distracted by the ever-distracting Anna Falchi, who plays a widow grieving over a death (of her very old, but very ‘loving and giving’ husband…watch the dead lover’s headstone in key scenes for an extra chuckle).
I simply cannot give any review for this film without the mention of Death himself in this film. When the Grim Reaper shows up near the middle of the film, I cannot help but get chills; Monsieur Death in this film is truly frightening, even when the audience knows he appears to secure plot points (and perhaps to throw the audience one of the many curveballs).
A few points to hammer home: first, this film is loaded with style and spot-on cinematography. It is beautifully shot. The first 15 minutes stand alone as probably the best, atmospheric, and tone-setting of many modern horror films. It establishes more in those few minutes than a Michael Bay montage. We know Dellamorte, we know Gnaghi, we know the widow. And we get to see Falchi’s (the widow) phenomenal assets.
And then there is Rupert Everett, whom American audiences devoured in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” a film that should not even exist, let alone get a mention here. Everett is amazing in “Cemetery.” From confused, to heroic, to romantic, he runs the gamut, giving the film the life it needed. He plays brooding with ease, and the audience understands why. He is alone, save for Gnaghi. And, even there, he is alone. He is a sad and cautious man who suffers greatly whenever his caution gets thrown to wind (or Anna “oh-my-god-did-you-see-her?” Falchi appears).
And when the film turns from dark-comedic to deadpan serious, he carries it with ease. The film as a whole is great slapstick and incredibly funny without even trying. And hold onto your seat for the holy-crap, mind-f*ck, out-of-nowhere-ending of this film. It seamlessly went from fun zombie horror film to “your mind is being raped” in a matter of minutes.

Romero Rules Followed: 3/5 The dead rise, pursue the living, and can be killed with head trauma; However, some of the zombies talk and seem to remember what happened to them prior to dying the first time (if the zombies actually ate someone, it would be a four).
Gore factor: Moderate, but surprisingly, the most gore comes when Dellamorte slaughters a gang of reanimated Boy Scouts. Who doesn’t want to do that?
Zombies or Wannabees? They come out of the grave, with tree roots, dirt, and all. These suckers are zombies.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: Anna Falchi…Jumping Jeebus.


The (Un)appeal of the Undead … or why we Love our Stinking Zombies

“They are us. And … we are them.” — Ken Foree, “Dawn of the Dead”

How many graveyards do you cruise by on your way to work? How many funerals have you attended? How many people have you watched die on a television or movie screen?
The bodies all have to go somewhere, whether it is the crematorium, the morgue, the mausoleum, or the graveyard.
Stop to think for a moment of the billions buried all around the world. Now, take out the scientific facts about decomposition, bio-decay, cremation, burial at sea, etc.
That’s a shitload of bodies scattered across this spinning ball of a planet.
And, for a moment, imagine if each and every one of those dead suddenly decided they had slept enough and wanted to see what the living were up to.
All at once.
I think that would rival the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the flood in devastation. The earth would shake with unrivaled fury, panic would encompass every corner of the globe, and the reaction to it — depending on religious, pragmatic, or logical decision — would devastate the earth.
It would be the end of all life as we know it in a matter of days, if that long.
So, with that little thought of “Holy, jeebus, shit just got real!” spinning around in the forefront of your mind, let me ask you to now consider this: “Why in the hell are zombies so popular in our culture in 2010?”
It is a question many have tried to find a solution to, but have not produced a satisfactory answer. The walking dead have been around since Biblical times, with Lazarus coming out of the tomb, and, later, and more famously, Jesus.
Strangely, Jesus rising from the dead is OK with a lot of people.
But, Johnny from down the street, buried just last week, came home to take a peek, his brother’s brains he seeks, is not anyone’s idea of hilarity or spiritual edification these days.
It is funny how times change.
And, yet, they don’t.
Why, oh, why, are the cannibalistic undead one of the most popular culture clichés nearly 50 years after they became introduced as we now know them? George Romero changed the game with his flesheaters in 1968 with “Night of the Living Dead” and, to this day, every stumbling, glassy-eyed, scabby, leaking, bleeding, dazed fuck that is not addicted to meth and looking to eat a pound or so of flesh is compared to the ghouls he created with that landmark of cinema.
Do we have some kind of lingering kindred sympathy for the dead? Do we hang on to that ideal there is life after death, be it heaven, hell, or purgatory?
Is zombification purgatory?
Is it damnation?
Is it *gasp* literal reincarnation?
I, personally, believe the attraction is the human refusal to accept death. We do not want these 15 minutes of fame of stomping around, going to school, working, raising or not raising a family, dealing with life’s troubles and rewards, garnering wealth or poverty to ultimately go out in a whimper, either with friends and family by our side or alone on the toilet.
Could it be that simple?
We all want that second chance.
Do we empathize with the undead and therefore want to see the zombie dead, jealous of the still living, literally devour what the undead no longer have and want to hold onto? Do we cheer for revenge on the living with these celluloid incarnations?
This is more than likely too much of a loosely philosophical viewpoint to even consider. I am sure someone will compare me to one of the obsessive “Twatlite” fans who obsess over which latent homosexual team they want to join. Fine by me. At least my obsession has a strong track record of not sucking…
Shit. I just realized after typing that Andrew’s job is pointing out the suck on this blog.
There will be no glittering zombies here. That I promise.
I’ll check out the other side myself before that happens.
Please, leave your comments and ideas. This is a meaty topic. Sink your rotting teeth into it. I think I will revisit it a few times in the future.
— Rob