Monday, August 30, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Night of the Creeps"

“Night of the Creeps”
Stars: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins
Writer: Fred Dekker
Dir: Fred Dekker
90 minutes

“Thrill me.”
Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? The year was 1986. It was an OK year for horror films, if the “Friday the 13th” franchise hitting its ridiculous stage and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise really hitting its “jokey Freddy” stage tickled your fancy.
But, I peg 1986 as a death-knell for the end of decent zombie flicks (until the recent resurgence).
But not for lack of trying, that is for certain.
The early ’80s saw a few attempts, and some great successes, at continuing the genre (“The Return of the Living Dead” being the superb example), but Romero’s vastly underrated and critically-panned box office attempt with “Day of the Dead” in ’85 may have sent the zombie nation into hibernation. If the master had failed, was it all over?
Hell no; we had yet to be thrilled.
Despite his involvement with the horrid “Halloween 3,” Tom Atkins deserves your admiration. He has been involved with a plethora of horror fare (and other Hollywood landmarks such as “Lethal Weapon”) that will go down as classic. And he is, genuinely, thankful to have even a smidgeon of a fan base. After you read this review, or decide to view this film, say thank you to Tom. He is the real star and he earned it.
“Night of the Creeps” made me a “fanAtkins.”
Go ahead. Giggle. Point and stare. When your tears of laughter have subsided, rent — better yet, buy — “Night of the Creeps.”
This is not your standard zombie fare.
It is so much better.
The story begins in 1959 on the campus of Corman University (horror fans, stay tuned. This is the first of many references to genre greats). The “big dance” is coming up and the “hottest girl on campus” has found a new beau to take her to “lover’s lane” for some heavy petting. Unlucky for them, an axe-wielding maniac has just escaped from the insane asylum some 4 miles away. Young beat cop Ray CAMERON (later to become Det. Ray Cameron and embodied in Atkins) discovers the young lovers (the “hottest girl” was his at one time) parked at lover’s lane and warns them to go home.
Well, it wouldn’t be a horror film without the new dumb boyfriend of hot girl wanting to investigate the strange meteor that crashed nearby would it? (Did I forget to mention the stout aliens that open the film? Or that one rogue alien sent a strange silver cylinder to Earth? Oops).
Well, new hunky boyfriend investigates the meteor and swallows more than he can chew: you see, the beings from above are long and slug/leech-like in size and have incredible speed. They jump into each host via the biggest orifice: the mouth. From there, we learn they move in and take their baggage to the front desk — the brain.
And, right before the image of alien slugs forcing their ways into the most unpleasant of money shots leaves our thoughts, little miss “hottest girl on campus” meets with an axe to the head, thanks to the escaped killer aforementioned on the radio.
That is one hell of a start for a movie. What was described above happened in less than 10 minutes of the film’s opening. Space creatures? Axe murderers? College campus? Teen lust? Where the hell are the zombies?
Oh, my friends, they show up in good time.
Flash forward to 1986. Pledge row. Chris Romero (Lively) and J.C. “James Carpenter” Hooper are looking to become popular at Corman University by joining a fraternity. Cue the obvious outcast-nerd theme so popular with the ’80s “insert name here” films. The difference here is that Fred Dekker knows he has grasped one of the greatest and overbearing of ’80s clichés and exploits the hell out of it, with care and a wink …. And gigantic nards (anyone my age knows, or should know Dekker, from his more successful venture “The Monster Squad”).
Chris sees his personal vision of beauty across the way, Cindy Cronenberg (Whitlow), and focuses all of his energy on winning her heart. But, to introduce another recycled ’80s cliché, she is dating the “most awesome pretty boy jock on campus,” the “Bradster” as demonstrated by his vanity license plate. Bradster also happens to be the president of the coolest frat on campus. Naturally, Chris sees joining the frat as his only way to enter Cindy’s creaky mausoleum (sorry, had to). Bradster prompts Chris and his crippled sarcastic sidekick J.C. to prop up a corpse on a sorority’s lawn to scare the jeebus out of them. Chris and J.C. find a cryogenically frozen corpse in a (convenient) campus laboratory, awaken the corpse of the aforementioned “new dumb boyfriend” from the 1950s, and all hell, and the leech-like creeps, begins to break loose. Heads burst. Zombie boyfriends spew creeps with little notice. And heads roll.
What follows is an epic alien/zombie/splatter/slapstick-fest unlike anything I have seen since “Versus” mixed kung-fu theater with zombies and comedy. This beat “Shaun of the Dead” to the “ZomCom” by a full 12 years. And, in the same way that “Shaun” paid homage to the zombie genre, “Creeps” does it to nearly every single subgenre of horror. And Atkins is the incredibly flawed and loved policeman. Any man who answers a phone with “Thrill me!” has my vote for bad ass. Atkins exudes bad ass. If you do not feel his epicness, stop following this blog now, or ask Andrew why I am a moron.
I reviewed Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” (Dead-Alive) early on for this blog. And while I love that zombie film, I know “Creeps” influenced it a great deal, up to, and including, the lawnmower vs. zombie scene. And the flamethrower. And the entire assault on the sorority house, and Mr. Atkins taking on the Creeps head-to-head (giggle) in the sorority basement (please, check this film out and see if you laughed like I did when a vapid sorority girl asked for basement storage space).
They just do not make films like this anymore. While I can praise “Shaun of the Dead” with no regrets, I know this film made “Shaun” possible and plausible.
If you watch this film and hate it, please, tell me I am wrong.
And, should you decide to take that avenue, then you better fucking “Thrill me.”

Romero Rules Followed: Nearly all, except flesh-munching.
Gore factor: It goes to 11, even being an ’80s flick.
Zombies or Wannabees? I edge toward zombies. Alien brain-eating beings turning assholes into greater assholes appeal to me.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: If you do not embrace this film, I will hate you. Pure and simple. And your mom works tricks on the docks. She screams like banshees.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pall Dancers

Zombie Strippers

Dir. Jay Lee

I don’t have my copy of the Zombie Field Guide at hand at the moment, but I can’t recall a chapter detailing how zombism leads to extraordinary stripping ability in women. But alas and alack, that’s the plot of Zombie Strippers, an execrable waste of 90 minutes that could have worked if the writers didn’t think camp was an excuse for truly horrible writing.
Hell, I can pretty well imagine how the pitch for this barely polished turd went.
Jay Lee: What do fanboys love? Zombies! And Robert Englund. And b(.)(.)bs. And Jenna Jameson. And Jenna Jameson’s b(.)(.)bs.
Cigar chomping fatcat producer: Have a few mil to make a shitty movie.
*snorts line of blow off George Lucas’ ass before releasing Star Wars in theaters again with additional 15 frames of new footage filmed with James Cameron’s Avatar cameras*
The sad part is all of this could have worked. Instead we get this unwatchable coprolite that actually features worse acting than the films that powered Ms. Jameson’s original rise to prominence.
Zombie Strippers is the tale of a zombie outbreak at a sleazy strip club run by a pervy, germaphobic Freddy Kreuger that conveniently shares a common alleyway with a s00per s33kr1t military base where they’re doing research on a “chemovirus” to provide zombie soldiers for George Bush’s endless series of wars. Things, predictably, get out of hand.
Zombology: While the chemovirus turns men into drooling, flesh eating monsters, it turns women into drooling, fleshing eating monsters who can work a stripper pole the way Eddie van Halen works a fretboard. A woman in a white lab coat said it, so it must be true. The undead dancers become all the rage in town until they start munching down on the clientele post-lap dance. (Dammit people, you’ve been warned about the Champagne Room.) It does raise an interesting philosophical point: just how putrid does a zombie woman have to be before some guy will find her un-hittable?

What Robert Englund is doing in this film, I can’t fathom. His turn as a strip club owner makes you long for his more subtle and nuanced performance from the later Nightmare on Elm Street films (aka "funny" Freddy). But what’s most maddening about Zombie Strippers is the wildly inconsistent effects throughout. The zombie makeup and a few the set pieces – including a pair of head ripping scenes – are well done, but then it shovels on truly awful CGI. Like early Sega Genesis seen from the rear view mirror of a PS3 bad. That just compounds all of the other problems: casting, script, direction (or the suspicious absense of all three).
As much as I really wanted to score this piece of shit a 1(.)(.)on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of craptacularity just for giggles, I have to admit that some of the effects shots are smile-inducing and the zombie makeup is fairly decent for the budget. Grading the suck on a curve, Zombie Strippers bumps and grinds its way to an 85 instead.

Monday, August 23, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "The Beyond"

“The Beyond”



Stars: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller

Writer: Story by Dardano Sacchetti; Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, GiorgioMariuzzo, Lucio Fulci

Dir: Lucio Fulci

99 minutes

When I sat down to write this review, I began by listening to a rare CD recording of the film’s haunting musical soundtrack. And I glanced over the Grindhouse Releasing booklet, lobby cards, and the spectacular tin casing that surrounds it (Limited Edition No. 725 out of 20,000).

Before I even viewed this film, I knew it was important. I watched it for the first time nearly 11 years ago, after purchasing the splendid Grindhouse Releasing collector’s orgasm of DVD material (trivia point: Sage Stallone, son of the great Sylvester Stallone, created this production company to collect the best prints, stories, details, interviews, and memorabilia to be associated with a handful of great gorefests and to give them the attention and respect they deserve).

After sitting down to view the film, I was blown away to say the least.

[Full disclosure: My fellow blogger and I have a long-going feud pitting Italian film maestros Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci against each other. As I have grown older, and discovered more of Fulci’s films, I have veered towards Fulci as the master of the Italian horror cinema. But, I dig my heels in at this: Argento rules giallo. I digress…]

“The Beyond” is simply perfect horror filmmaking. The story is set up quickly and deftly. The characters are not entirely cookie-cutter (well, save for Joe the Plumber), and the zombies do not appear until far, far, FAR into the narrative. It is a slow burn and the film is better for it.

“The Beyond” begins in 1927 Louisiana. A sepia-toned group of vigilantes burst into a hotel room, brutally chain-whip, and then crucify a man, Schweick, who has been painting an innocuous visage of oblivion. The vigilantes accuse the artist of witchcraft, while he warns them that the very building they are in — a hotel on the bayou — was built over one of the seven gateways to hell, and that only he can save them.

They kill him anyway.

After a caustic attack via cement, the men bury him behind a wall in the hotel basement.

Fast-forward to present-day 1981, and Liza is looking to get the old hotel, which she inherited from some obscure family member, up to standards to open. Liza (MacColl) is desperate to open the hotel, employing a seemingly dimwitted, but concerned, host and a single maid. After a painter takes an unexpected tumble from a scaffold, Liza begins to realize there are far more troubling things at play in the hotel. An unoccupied room buzzes the front desk for attention. She meets a very blind, and very foreboding, soothsayer, Emily. While Emily appears to be blind, the audience knows she has seen something more horrifying, leaving her in her handicapped state — a prophetic text titled “Eibon” is missing, and without it, all Emily can do is warn of the terrors to come, all the while Dr. John McCabe (Warbeck) aids Liza in figuring out the mystery, and the curse, of the hotel.

Bring in Joe the Plumber…Literally, that is his credited name. Joe lumbers his way into the flooded hotel basement only to meet zombie Schweick, whom, after many years of being crucified behind walls, is eager to spread out his revenge, starting with Joe’s face (and, later, a morgue-full of corpses). The film jumps from place to place, each offering a glimpse into what Fulci envisioned — what would hell look like?

Cue a whirlwind of “what the hell is going on here?” moments. Cannibalistic spiders, a face being melted away by acid, Warbeck using a six-shot revolver improperly, a German shepherd Vs. Zombie scene, a zombie child — and lots of exploding heads.

I must stop before I give away the “WHOA!” ending.

Lucio Fulci seriously delivered on a more cerebral with “The Beyond.” Which will make it even harder to give another Fulci classic, “Zombie,” it’s proper due. But I’ll make it work.

Romero Rules Followed: 5 out of 5; There is flesh-eating, brain-blasting, lumbering undead, etc. All the rules are followed here.

Gore factor: It was one of Britain’s famous “Video Nasties.” What do you think?

Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies are plentiful… Near the freakin’ end, sadly

Classic, fine, or waste of time: Absolute classic.

Additional comments: I can find many faults with this film, but the majority is limited to cheap effects and vanilla script-writing. The story as a whole is fairly solid. The characters are likable. The ending makes up for a great deal of the film’s flaws. Fulci had already made a stone-cold classic with “Zombie” (look for it here, soon). He went for a more heady, existential direction with “The Beyond” and met with a great deal of success.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Like a Virgin, Haunted for the Very First Time

A Virgin Among the Living Dead

Dir. Jesus Franco

Title 15, Chapter 2, Subchapter 1, Section 52 of the U.S. Code expressly prohibits businesses from engaging in deceptive or false advertising. Though I think the statute of limitations is probably a little long in the tooth to be throwing the book at Jesus Franco for French stinker A Virgin Among the Living Dead (aka Christine, Princess of Eroticism), which, title aside, features nary a zombie (and just as little eroticism). A few restrained hints of possible lesbian vampirism and one thoroughly useless ghost are the closest you’re going to come to “living dead” in this 75 minute assault on your higher thinking functions.
Hell, given our babbling protagonist’s hobbies include sleeping nude, skinny dipping and parading around in front of strangers in her sheer panties, I’m just gonna go ahead and call bullshit on that “virgin” thing as well. Aspersions aside, Christine, the titular virgin, is a naïf just blown into some rundown French town to hear the reading of the will of a father she never knew. Showing up the family chateau, which every villager assures her has been vacant for generations, Christine stumbles wide-eyed (and usually nude) through encounters with the various, irritating denizens of the house who act less like the Addamses and more like John Waters rejects. Weird Uncle Howard just bangs away at the organ, blind Linda compulsively paints crosses in blood and offers cryptic warnings while the family’s mute manservant just leers around pervertedly. How does Christina react? She just nods and smiles at every violations of mores that any other rational person would take as signs to move into the nearest Motel 6. Things get creepy, dead animals get placed in her bed and the family eventually tries to get all Rosemary’s Baby on Christina. It’s painfully by the numbers and horrifically zombie-free.

Zombology: Not a goddamned thing. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. The zombie is a lie. While Christine wanders aimlessly on a scene of lesbian vampirism (which she seems to just disregard the next time she runs across the participants) and her ghostly, blood dribbling father makes an ineffectual stab and warning her off, there is no “living dead” to be had. Zippo.

Like a lot of Jesus Franco films, A Virgin Among the Living Dead features startlingly amateur cinematography at times – particularly during the halting zooms and pull backs – mixed with tableaux that suggest Franco may have had a glimmer of talent in his otherwise hackish repertoire. But more importantly, NO FUCKING ZOMBIES.
This suckfest proudly earned its perfect score on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of hellacious awfulness.

Monday, August 16, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "The Last Man on Earth"

“The Last Man on Earth”
Stars: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli
Writers: Logan Swanson and William F. Leicester, based on the novel “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
Dir: Sidney Salkow
87 minutes

I love me some Vincent Price. Yes, indeed I do.
As many others in my age bracket, we first heard his velvet voice ending the final moments of Michael Jackson’s “Thiller.” And, to many, that was one of the creepiest things we had heard by the time we were 6 years old.
I can remember spending Saturday afternoons trolling the TV’s six stations after my Saturday morning cartoons had ended, searching for any glimpse of a horror film on either the then-syndication dump known now as Fox or the recently revamped WB Network (DC-20, to my age-equivalent compadres).
There I stumbled upon many a film featuring either Vincent Price or the legendary Christopher Lee. And, yes, I stayed glued to the TV right through commercials.
It was about four years after I had been introduced to “Night of the Living Dead” (which I saw half of during a special televised week of horror films coinciding with Halloween) that I first heard the story, “I Am Legend.” During a sixth-grade camp retreat with my teachers from Earle B. Wood Middle School in Montgomery County, my then science teacher, Mr. Wydro, decided to entertain after lights-out my cabin of 16 young boys with the tale of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” only he told the audio-book version of “The Last Man on Earth.”
Despite that week being an awful, terrible time in my memory, that then-chilling story always stuck with me. So, when I was older and saw a bargain-bin copy of the Vincent Price-starring classic, I have to admit I got weak-kneed and excited.
By now, you all know the story. For clearly unknown reasons, a scientist is holed-up in his home, avoiding a plague of nighttime visitors, searching during the day for any signs of survivors to a tragedy that has left him entirely alone on Earth.
While Romero cites this story/film as his greatest inspiration for “Night of the Living Dead” (whoa, he made “NOTLD” four years after “Last Man” … I heard the “Last Man” story four years after I first saw “NOTLD”…my…mind…is…blown), there are clearly some differences. The “undead” are vampiric in nature, sleeping during the day, warded off by garlic, and terrified of their reflections. Oh, and they talk, taunting Robert Morgan (Price) at night, ordering him out of his fortified home. Some of the dead — having been friends or coworkers of Morgan three years prior to the “plague” occurring — batter the home with planks of wood or rocks, making the sunset unpleasant for the tortured hero in this tale.
He spends his days torching the dead, sending out broadcasts to a deaf ear, and replenishing his stock of wooden stakes or garlic. The audience realizes early on Morgan has his routine set in stone and it is mundane, tortured, boring, and verging on insanity. Yet, he treks on, looking for any semblance of life as he once knew it. And when he eventually finds it, the true horror unfolds.
George Romero has famously touted this film, and its book-form, as his inspiration for “Night of the Living Dead.” Anyone who views this will see the obvious parallels. This is why this film is so hard for your humble reviewer to quantify and sandwich into a precise judgmental system. It has many merits for a zombie film. It has many merits to be called a post-apocalyptic masterpiece. It has many merits to be called a study in the psychology of the loneliness of mankind and the desire to have contact of any form, voice or touch preferred. The last 20 minutes of the film still are the best representation of Matheson’s original message: mankind is the real monster. The Will Smith-starring “I Am Legend” had a grand opportunity to better tell the tale Matheson envisioned, but studio pressure and a spineless director allowed a shitty ending to be tacked onto the film where the original ending would have wrapped it up perfectly. Check it out on DVD or Blu-Ray with the original ending. If you are a right-thinking human, you will agree.

Romero Rules Followed: Romero based several of his rules on this film. This is tough, but 3/5.
Gore factor: Non-existent, but sometimes what is not seen is better.
Zombies or Wannabees? Damn close, but wannabees.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic, for the simple fact it inspired the heralded Romero zombie classic.
Additional comments: If I viewed this as simply a vampire film, it would still be far more enjoyable than anything Stephanie Meyer envisioned while garbed in her magic underwear. As a post-apocalyptic film, it is even more enjoyable. As a loose influence to “Night of the Living Dead,” I can soak in the subtle references the former gave to the latter.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Forget it, Jake. It’s Zombie Town

Zombie Town
Dir. Damon Lemay


Shaun Jake LaFond is just a poor British New England slacker working a soul sucking job at an electronics store a gas station when a convenient zom-pocalypse finally gives him the chance to sort life out and maybe get back with the girlfriend who had the good sense to (briefly) flee their dead end Vermont town. As you may have guessed, Zombie Town, director Damon Lemay’s sole, direct to video behind-the-camera credit is another entry in the growing micro-genre of slacker zom-coms. Not as good as Shaun of the Dead and certainly not as bad as the worst, Zombie Town is a passable 90 minutes of flesh munching with the occasional attempt at funny.

Zombology: Unlike their legion of brethren, Zombie Town’s reanimated corpses are not the byproduct of military experiments, voodoo gone awry, chemical spills or alien flu viruses. Rather, these shambling cannibals have been infected with parasitic hookworms that latch on to their hosts’ spine, infecting them with a variant of the rabies virus that causes them to lust for human flesh (all conveniently explained in a lengthy block of exposition after Jake’s biologist ex-girlfriend dissects a single specimen). And as Rob reminded me, yes, that’s pretty much lifted whole from Night of the Creeps.

Shot on a hand-held camera, Zombie Town has a shaky, jittery vibe I’m not entirely certain is intentional because it doesn’t quite add a sense of verite to the proceedings.
The special effects, particularly on the spinal parasites, are rather impressive for such a no-budget outing. In one jail sequence, the (stop motion?) slugs squish their way across the room with an appropriately Jan Svankmajer squickiness. The non-zombie scenes tend to drag as the local sheriff acts way too blasé about a triple homicide, cannibal murder suspect and a tractor trailer accident that conveniently blocks the only road out of town and knocks out all the phones. Things eventually pick up once the zombies get all bitey on the local bingo parlor (“It’s like a goddamn grandma massacre in here,” local snow plow operator/bully/That 70s Show reject Randy offers). From that point there’s not a moment that isn’t painfully obvious to anyone who’s even fleetingly familiar with horror film convention, but at least it’s an entertaining orgy of chainsaw amputations, gaping rifle wounds and free-flowing buckets of tinted Karo syrup.

Zombie Town only sucks 35 percent as bad Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Romero Zombies (But Never Cared to Ask)

Part 1 of an ongoing list of Romero rules

The gold-standard of the zombie film undoubtedly begins and ends with George A. Romero. I will argue (and win) with anyone who claims to believe the contrary. Romero set the stage with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968. And, while there will always be the unending debate over “fast” or “slow” zombies, some rules have been carved into stone tablets, smashed against a mountain, and encased in a golden vessel, all thanks to George. Here are a few:

1) Zombies are the recently dead and buried
In NOTLD, it was made clear through various television and radio broadcasts that an unknown phenomenon caused the recently deceased to claw their ways out of their graves. Most of the zombies in that film seem slightly rotted or simply dazed and slow. In later films, the dead are in advanced stages of rot. One could argue these were the zombies who evaded headshots, fire, or other forms of zombie destruction.

2) Get bit, get turned
Johnny was the first bitten, but the last to show the audience what happened should a hungry undead flesheater get his hands on a living member of society. The bite acts as a virus, demonstrated by Harry’s daughter’s slow turn into a zombie, as if she caught the flu and slowly developed symptoms. A long sleep, murmurs of consciousness, and, ultimately, full-on zombie, wherein she eats dad and mom…but she eats mom with the aid of an instrument, which brings us to this next rule…

3) They can use tools
The famous “cemetery zombie” (played by Bill Hinzman, whom I will never forgive for participating in a George Lucas-esque “special edition” of NOTLD 30 years later, which I am ashamed to own, let alone have viewed) used a rock to break a car window to get at his prey, Barbara. Later, zombies surrounding the farmhouse, use various instruments to knock out headlights, and to attempt entry into said farmhouse. Zombies, in Romero’s stories, degenerate into cavemen-like mentality. Simple tools, but they serve the basic purpose. As an ape learned to shatter bones with bones in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a zombie can figure out how to survive…or at least follow its animal instinct: get the food.

More rules to follow. Stay warm-blooded, kiddies.

— Rob

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: The Blind Dead

Now what did the poor titular Templars of Amando de Ossorio’s horror quartet ever do to deserve their murder at the hands of local peasants? Oh sure they were bowing down before the goat headed god of evil and the occasional “Beast of the Sea” and sacrificing a virgin or 12 in their pathological quest for immortality, but does that really deserve being murdered and having their eyes pecked out by birds or gored out by vengeful villagers (depending on the film)?
While the locals may not have shown the slooooooooooooooooooooowly creeping Blind Dead any love, the four film series has been a staple of low budget horror fiends and early-’80s VHS freaks since their inception. But the question remains: do the skeletal and hooded menace deserve a spot in the zombie cannon? Do the Blind Dead tick off enough zombie touchstones to enter into that unhallowed hall of undead immortality?

The case against: Beginning with their very appearance, the Blind Dead’s skeletal visage would certainly suggest they’ve decayed beyond what’s generally considered kosher for your USDA Grade A zombie and lurking about in coffins between attacks, as is their wont, certainly cribs from the playbook of a whole different creature feature.
Our plucky Templar revenants also demonstrate more, ahem, brains that one would expect from your run of the mill creepy corpse. The Blind Dead, while trapped in gratuitous slow motion through much of the series, are far more animated than their traditional zombie kin. Though they lack vision, we see the Templars heaving swords, using tools and clopping about on zombie steeds.
The most egregious violation of acceptable zombie mores, however, may be in their flouting of one of the genre’s most sacred tenets. In the third film, The Ghost Galleon (aka Ship of Zombies), we also see the Blind Dead violate one of the most basic rules of zombiedom: stalking their hapless quarry, one of the reanimated Templars takes a gunshot square to the face at near-point blank range and keeps on trucking. If there’s one constant to your modern zombie, it’s that a headshot always stops the menace. If we sacrifice that, what do we have left?

The case for: It says it right there in the alternate title of the third film: Ship of Zombies. Case closed? No? Ok, let’s continue.
In the second film, Return of the Blind Dead (aka Return of the Evil Dead), we see our erstwhile survivors hole up in the local church as they vainly try to stave off an assault by the walking dead. Trapped in close quarters the speedily dwindling cast begins to turn on each other – a zombie trope that’s as dated as those granny glasses Romero insists on sporting.
While they seem to have no interest in nibbling on the sweet, sweet brain meat, the Blind Dead are big into fresh blood. Even as run of the mill men in dresses we see them slurping down a cup of steaming corpuscles tapped from a fresh virgin sacrifice as part of that whole Satanic quest for immortality thing. Things get progressively zombie-er, however. In The Ghost Galleon we do finally see the Templars set to snacking on the dismembered corpse of a truly annoying model.
Even if the crabs of Night of the Seagulls spend more time chowing down on choice corpse bits, femur tartare is bound to weigh in their favor.

Verdict: Not zombies by reason of intelligence. Ultimately, the Blind Dead are just too canny, too coordinated and too good with tools to qualify as canonical zombies, but by all means invite them as long lost out of town relatives at your next undead BBQ.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dr. Zombielove (Or How I Learned At An Early Age To Stop Fearing and Love The Zombie)

There I was, in the third grade. Story-sharing time. First and only draft in-hand. Standing in front of a venerable sea of kids who were about to be horrified or enthralled. I was excited. I grinned, waiting to blow their minds.
And, damn it, if I didn’t.
You see, I had spent the majority of my early formative years accompanying my mother on errands and grocery store trips in the hopes of stopping by Video Unlimited in Clinton, Md., just to see if I could catch another glimpse at the VHS boxes. You see, should you be a child of the late 1980s, when us old children born in the late 1970s walked into a video store, we were lucky if there was a single copy of a film sitting on the shelf. We would take that empty box sleeve to the counter, and, in most cases, a number scrawled sloppily across the front of the box in masking tape, would correspond to a giant black box behind the counter. Inside that big black box would be the movie we wanted to see.
After some monetary exchange and seemingly endless questions about phone numbers, addresses and credit card swipes, those black boxes were placed into bags, and the customers left, carrying with them a world of wonder.
I hated those little black boxes. As with Video Unlimited, and the early Erol’s Stores, those black boxes simply had a flimsy piece of receipt tape containing the name of the film. No description. No pictures. I saw plenty of them in varying cheap plastic bags with cheap logos: The Video Store emblazoned on a white bag with the logo busting out in all of its purple glory; and, much later, the familiar Blockbuster Video ticket.
But, back to the hunt.
In the early days, in order to rent a film, one would take the original box to the counter. The box would take place of the Black Box, and, therefore, any idiot who could figure out the number system could look on the shelf and say “It’s out” if someone could not figure out the fact that when the VHS sleeve was missing, so was the film.
But I simply loved going to the video store. At this time, while living in Clinton, I was about 6 years old. The trip to the video store was my trip to Dairy Queen and Chuck E. Cheese in one. But I was not there to look for the latest Disney film on VHS: I stalked the horror section.
I remember being so fascinated by the incredible box art on so many films. “Blood Feast” was one I revisited over and over. The box screamed to me “The Original Gore Film!” and featured a fetching, yet grisly picture of a woman over a blue background, her mouth spitting blood and hands reaching for her. I would flip the box over and see the small pictures, snapshots from “key” moments in the film. I saw, what to my young eyes, appeared to be a man’s hand holding the neck of a woman. No head. No torso. Just the neck. I learned much later, having seen the film, I was looking at a dismembered arm, the elbow joint — but how did my imagination run wild at my young age. While my mother — whom, for full disclosure, was with me on every single one of these visits — was looking for the latest release of Hollywood fare, I was staring at each and every one of these boxes, looking for the next thing that I thought was morose and scary. Then I saw the box for the Americanized “Hell of the Living Dead” (in America, we call that “Night of the Zombies;” Also, see Andrew's damning review). Zombies. Zombies. Zombies. On the box there were four or five melting-looking skeletons reaching out to me, almost smiling. I flipped the box over and saw the only picture I needed to see: a “zombie” popping out of what looked to me like a manhole cover.
Then I saw the cover for “Dawn of the Dead.” And then the Holy Grail of VHS zombie film covers: “Zombie.” “WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU!” the tagline screamed at me. And, if you happen to be unfamiliar with that cover, it features one of the most iconic zombie images ever: a rotting and nearly skinless skull, wilted lips unable to cover broken, but menacing teeth, and worms pouring out of an eye socket.
That was enough for me. I instantly wanted to know all about these “zombie” creatures. I knew about Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man thanks to many a horror marathon on TV during Halloween week (I miss the old FOX TV). And, thank you, mom, she told me all about these creatures that rose from the grave and wanted nothing else than to eat us.
I handled it great for a child.
I wrote my own zombie tales.
And I shared those tales like it was show-and-tell day, treating each chapter as American literature, reading to a classroom of children with minds which may have not been quite so ready for those gruesome moments.
But, whenever I penned each successive chapter in my opus, I got a thrill from sitting on the stool, opening my incredibly wide-ruled pages, and seeing them all adjust to get comfortable and become attentive for those five minutes as I read.
So, I stood over and over, telling my stories of zombie attacks on a small town in rural America. I even knew the “rules”: Get bit, you turn into one. Head blows kill them. And fire is a useful tool if you are without a blunt object or gun.
I still have that tiny compendium of stories. One is even titled “Blood Feast.” And one features a headless zombie with a chest cavity hiding a set of vicious teeth (do you think I might have seen or talked to my mother about “Alien” by then?).
Buckle up, kiddies. Rob has plenty more stories to tell about our undead friends/fiends.
And, no, the teachers never said what I wrote was “unusual” or “violent.” Go figure…

— Rob