Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Movie is All Wet

Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead
Dir. Koji Kowano
It tells you a lot when the longest sustained sequence in your 78 minute film is a 10 minute teen lesbian make out session with heavy handed hints of incest. Kinda makes the Luke and Leia kiss seem tame, doesn’t it? Hell, this makes Luke and Laura look like the fucking Seavers.
While I have no objection to an honest sexploitation film, 2007’s direct to video Japanese farce Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead (aka Undead Pool) can’t decide whether it cares more about the zombies than it does perpetuating the pinku eiga fetish of the Japanese school girl. Ultimately, the indecisiveness means it fails on both accounts.

Zombology: Boy, sure are a lot of people with the sniffles wandering the unnamed girls’ school. Better go to the office to get your shot from the creepy, masked doctor. What’s that? You feel even worse now? Ultimately, the shots render the teens brainless skull munchers while teachers, who got their own shot, become psychopathic, weapon wielding death machines. Luckily the chlorine in the swim teams’ pool has rendered a handful of girls immune. And one of the girls just happens to be a runaway teenage super agent trying to live a normal life.

When it bothers to pay attention to the zombies, Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead does quite a few things right despite its obvious budget constraints. A juggling zombie teacher decapitates students with rulers while the sexy seductress teacher plies a chainsaw to make an entrail boa to complete her ensemble. Limbs go flying amid geysers of plasma. It’s all done with that uniquely Japanese sense of exuberance and humor.
Then it all comes screeching to a halt about 30 minutes in as we delve into the murky past of new student Aki, a runaway secret agent with a mysterious birthmark over her left boob. Hey, so does her make out partner, Sayaka, who regales us with a post-coital tale of how she has a long lost twin somewhere in the world. The zombies almost completely disappear for half an hour as we get endless flashbacks to Aki’s past, including her abduction by a crazy doctor (hey, waitaminnute…) who trained her to be a killer as well as a sex toy who responds to flute music (don’t ask). I’m sure it’s all meant to be an updated take on the grindhouse style of exploitation films, but the digressions suck any momentum out of the film. Overall, it starts strong but the latter two thirds feel half assed, tacked on and thoroughly pointless.
For stitching together the barely twitching halves of two totally unrelated movies, Koji Kowano’s Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead earns a 50 percent on the Hell of the Living Dead shit scale.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "28 Days Later"

“28 Days Later”
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, and Brendan Gleeson
Writer: Alex Garland
Dir: Danny Boyle
113 minutes

So, here we are, at the one film, THE one film that really pinnacled the running/slow zombie debate. The film that made fanboys around the globe either jump up and down or crap themselves with the argument of “zombies don’t run!” or “running zombies rule!”
But, the one thing that all horror/zombie fans can agree on: this film kicks major ass on nearly every level.
And, knowing I am opening up myself to major criticism, the sequel also delivers on many, many levels and, in a handful of ways, surpasses the former.
So, let’s sink our teeth into this surprise.
“28 Days Later” is a film that should need no introduction; it’s director, also, should not demand an introduction, but, on the off chance you have never seen “Trainspotting” or “Slumdog Millionaire,” just know for sure that Danny Boyle received the greatest attention via this flick prior to his Oscar© win with “Slumdog.”
It’s a simple set-up and one that has been done several times before: A man wakes up in a hospital bed, completely alone, and tried to figure out where everyone went. What he later discovers is that the United Kingdom has been decimated by a plague, a rage virus that nearly instantly turns each infected person into a violent, fast-as-hell maniac with the only desire to rip apart or spread the virus by vomiting blood onto or biting a subject.
What I like about this film is that the “rage virus” begins the spread in the movie typical way: The virus is contained in a facility; a few hippies break in and try to free the experimental animals, having no clue what they are doing. And I have never, nor will I ever be, a fan of radical animal activists. So, I apologize in advance for smiling like a donkey when an infected monkey rips into one of the dumb ass activists and immediately makes the “activists” realize they just screwed up big-time.
Political statement aside, “28 Days Later” is a firm study in how mankind simply wants to survive and how, no matter the odds, mankind will find a way to do so.
Case in point: Our “coma” patient Jim awakens to find himself alone and immediately begins to search for humans.
And when he finds companions, Selena and Mark are not exactly what he was hoping to find. Selena and Mark have been surviving and battling the “infected” for nearly a month, and have figured out how the infection and the infected operate. And, while they may seem cutthroat to the audience, the audience quickly realizes survival is the only motivation they have.
Another case in point: Jim wants to visit his parents, and the three travel to his parents’ home, only to find they have committed suicide. With nightfall approaching, the trio agree to stay in the home. And the rage victims find them, moving at lightning speed, with frenetic camera-work and quick edits adding to the tension (according to, Boyle used a specific camera and filming technique to make the rage victims not only appear faster than human, but also to heighten the chaos; unfortunately, a lot of other lesser-talented filmmakers have warped the technique and ruined the frantic effect Boyle perfected and used for dramatic effect. Sad.). Anyways, the brutal attack takes place in Jim’s home, wherein he is hardly effective. And, in a moment which will forever live in my mind, Selena sees Mark has been injured. Before he can even explain the injury, Selena marches over and hacks him into pieces. No choice, no humanity; Brutality at its core.
Selena and the thankful Jim continue to travel Britain’s barren landscape and discover a father and daughter whom have somehow survived the infestation and join up with them, hoping to meet the source of a radio message that promises not only a cure but protection: an Army, fully-loaded and ready for whatever danger they face.
Parts of the message may or may not be true. If you are one of the few to have not seen this gem, I do not want to ruin the outcome. But, I will say this: the instinctual nature of mankind to figure out how to survive despite all odds is the key factor in this film. It makes it flow. It drives it. That is the story, zombies or rage victims be damned.
And here, this is the hardest part for me…

Romero Rules Followed: The “rage victims” fall to an unruly virus, die, and are reborn…They have the instinctive need to infect their prey; while they are not looking for food, they are searching for recruits, an instinctive need for any zombie.
Gore factor: Over the top, including a rather gore-less eye-gouging that will forever haunt my brain.
Zombies or Wannabees?: F*ck it. Boyle argued convincingly that each generation has it’s own version of a zombie, and this hyper, over-the-top running crazed-out version was the modern version. Reading all of his arguments, I have to give in: They are zombies.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Absolute modern classic
Additional comments: I hope, really, really hope I take a lot of heat for this one. I have railed for a long time that if it ran, it wasn’t dead. A revisit to some of my favorites, including “The Return of the Living Dead,” helped change my tune. This film is a great introduction to the mythos, but I encourage those who loved this one to go back and review the classics. *Hint, some are here on this very blog…And if they are not, they will be. Andrew and I work moderately hard to put up new recommendations each week. You are more than welcome to ask us why, where, and when our true favorites will appear.
We have real plans for all of them.
“Do you think they saw us this time?”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Grave Mistake

Graveyard of Horror
Dir. Michael Skaife

To call Gaveyard of Horror (aka The Butcher of Binbrook) a traditional zombie flick would be a stretch beyond Gumby’s famed elasticity. While there’s certainly a genetically mutated, vaguely undeady … thing… at the center of Michael Skaife’s 1971 exercise in failure, Graveyard of Horror is actually structured more like Italy’s giallo films of the 1970s with the mystery of the monsterized thing at its center.
Which basically means any discussion of its zombie qualities is going to be inherently spoilerish (but they put the goddamned monster on the cover), so forewarned is forearmed and all that. Not that I’d ever recommend you inflict this maundering hash of a film on yourself, anyway.
Michael Sherrington is just your average harmonica playing douche who was so wrapped up in his business that he happened to be out of town when his wife and baby died during childbirth. Hell, the family had enough time to bury the poor lady (the kid never seems to get mentioned) and for the grave to smooth over before Mike comes gallivanting back into town to dispute the official version of his wife’s death. Not that the film ever really gives us a satisfactory reason for his doubt other than the necessity of the plot – or why he digs her *gasp* empty grave up while wearing Jim Morrison’s leather pants.
So the film zig-zags through time with several flashbacks as Michael goes about town grilling the assorted bizarre locals with grating, horrible harp flourishes drowning out every supposedly shocking revelation he learns. Oh yeah, his brother, Robert, the local lord, has also gone missing. Michael doesn’t seem all that worried – and neither does his family – since it doesn’t even come up until halfway through the film. Turns out Robert is some local science muckety-muck who’s been performing experiments on himself, which leads us to…

Zombology: The mysterious throbbing patch of dirt in the local cemetery that be-masked locals have been feeding with IV bottles. As I’m sure you’ve figured out just reading this, Robert had been performing experiments on himself as part of his research into the transmutation of human cells. Seems Robert thought it would be a bright idea to turn himself into a zombified-crocodile-Frankenstein-monster thing that has to be kept buried and fed via tube or he breaks out and goes on a flesh eating rampage because his new existence involves “transitory moments of savage behavior requiring human flesh.” And that’s what passes for an explanation in this painful exercise in shock-free tedium.

It says a lot about a film when the best thing you can say about it is it sets up a protagonist and then pulls a To Live and Die in L.A. and seemingly bumps him off halfway through, shifting perspective to the locals as they begin to slowly mill about asking questions about the supposed body count (all off screen). But even that sort of cinematic legerdemain cannot rescue this zombie farce. And for that it earns a 77 percent on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of shitty filmmaking.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ZomBlog Interview: Chad Dukes, D.C. radio personality, zombie fan

This is a very, very special entry for me.
Like the subject of this interview, I spent many of my formative years listening to his inspirations: The Greaseman, Don and Mike, Howard Stern, and, more recently, Opie and Anthony.
And he is living his dream. He has (and now does again) hosted his own rather successful radio show, Big O and Dukes, and I currently spend my weekday afternoons listening to him and former Redskin LaVar Arrington on the LaVar Arrington Show with Chad Dukes.
Chad Dukes is more to me than just simple radio host. Anyone who knows me knows I have had a virtual man-crush on Chad for a variety of reasons. He is open, honest, and, on the couple occasions I have met him, a humble and appreciative guy, happy to have the job he does and loving of his fans.
One night, listening to one of his many radio shows (Red Ring of Death radio, which has triumphantly returned), I heard him talk about zombies in video games and popular culture. I called in and flubbed my answer, on-air, as to why zombies are suddenly popular in our current culture (I have that podcast, and, if enough people want to hear me fuck up a chance to explain why zombies are popular, I will post it).
Anyhow, Chad recently readily agreed to do an interview for this skimpy blog. I did not have to beg, plead, stalk, or harass him. In fact, when I first talked to him, he said, “Absolutely, that is one of my favorite subjects.”
And, hell, it should be. He actually fought the undead hand-to-hand himself: The Main Event Mafia Vs. The Undead World Order

Anyways, enough ass-kissing. I present to you an interview I conducted with Chad a few months back. Feel free to leave your responses below and, always, please check out Chad on 106.7 The Fan,, and, in the reincarnation of the funniest/most entertaining show on the interwebs, I promise you, there is no way in hell you will be disappointed.

I have written about my own ideas as to why zombies are so appealing to the mass audience, men and women both, but I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. Why do you think, after more than 40 years since the modern zombie concept was conceived with “Night of the Living Dead,” are the undead flesheaters more popular than ever?

“I think it's because most people don't think they could kill a vampire or a werewolf or an alien. Most anyone could cave a zombie’s head in. Also, zombies are us. They are people. They can be your friends & family members. There is something very human about that.”

Where and how did you first realize you had become a fan of zombies?

“I honestly don't remember the first one. The one that left the most impact on me was '28 Weeks Later.' I hate people that quibble over fast/slow zombies. If it it’s trying to eat me and it can’t talk, it’s a zombie. “Weeks” was so much more intense than 'Days' and I LOVED '28 Days.' [I] think it’s an underrated sequel.”

What is the first zombie film you sat down and watched are were enthralled with?

“I have always enjoyed zombies and discussing how to survive them. My interest in them was rekindled when the Nazi zombie mode of 'Call of Duty' emerged. It was around the same time I saw 'Dead Snow.' The concept of an undead army of Nazis is very appealing to me.”

What do you attribute to the popularity of the “Nazi Zombie” phenomenon? Why Nazi zombies?

“Ha. Funny. I already addressed this without seeing this question. Nazis are comically, over-the-top evil. It is difficult to imagine they actually existed. They were this vast, swarming menace that nearly ruined the world. Sounds similar to a zombie outbreak. You have the greatest villain in reality coupled with the greatest in fiction. [It’s a] match made in heaven.”

As an avid gamer, you have played many a first-person shooter and several zombie-themed games, ranging from Resident Evil to Plants Vs. Zombies. What do you prefer and why?

“I love ‘Plants Vs. Zombies.’ Zombies really seem to lend themselves to a tower defense. I just wish people would stop fucking with the creatures themselves. Zombies are already pretty flawless as an antagonist. We don't need giant zombie dogs and shit like in “Resident Evil.” I would love to see the people at Treyarch tackle a Nazi Zombie full scale FPS [First-Person Shooter]. They seem to really get the concept.”

You have interviewed a handful of authors that have jumped into the zombie genre, authors whom have found a certain level of success. Recently, it has been announced that “World War Z” will be made into a film, possibly starring Brad Pitt, along with the announcement that the comics “The Walking Dead” are currently being shot to become a show on cable. With this great news for zombie fans, what bothers you about Hollywood? Also, having talked to the authors, why do you think the zombie-themed books have become so elevated in a genre that was once a small niche?

“Most of the books are shit. The reason for this is zombie fans will buy most anything that is characterized as a zombie novel. I started the Zombie Book Club and have learned the hard way. I really enjoy J.L. Bourne's books because he looks at the genre as a soldier, not as a fanboy. It makes for a very believable read.”

Have you gone back to check out movies before your time that feature zombies? If so, what would you recommend and what would you tell zombie-fans to stay the hell away from?

“I have not done my due diligence here. Dated gore really turns me off. I have a hard time suspending my disbelief when the blood looks unrealistic. It's why I have so much respect for the movie 'The Thing.' It’s 30 years old and manages to look better than most of the shitty CGI saturated crap that pollutes our theaters.”

This is the first interview for the blog, and, I am sure, if I Facebooked the hell out of Chad, he would agree to further explore the phenomena further. Please do check out his endeavors, linked above. And, if you are a Redskins fan in the D.C. area, as I am, enjoy your drive home with the radio set to 106.7.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I am an Astro Creep

The Astro-Zombies
Ted V. Mikels
Is there anything a less-swizzled-than-usual John Carradine’s Dr. DeMarco can’t do with the field of “astro-science?” Who is surprised to learn a field that combines organs grown in fish tanks, synthetic hearts and brainwave communication somehow leads to murderous zombies?
Low-budget, low-brow, low-entertainment brain drill The Astro-Zombies is short on both zombies and astro. However, it is larded with endless shots of people fiddling with beeping and booping electronic equipment, grim-faced Cold War discussions of loyalty, a pointless digression to a burlesque show and an absolutely incomprehensible plot full of Mexican gangsters, Soviet spies and a federal investigator who I’m convinced is a long lost Kennedy brother. All of whom are after DeMarco and his zombie-making ability for reasons never really explained. And what about those zombies?

Zombology: Oh, they’re laughably bad. Just a guy in coveralls, work gloves and a crappy rubber mask probably purchased from your 1960s analogue of Spencer’s Gifts. They’re the byproduct of DeMarco’s (and his obligatory mute hunchback sidekick’s) experiments in artificial organ growth as he spouts the kind of “sciency” sounding bullshit you’d expect from a ’50s saucer film. The astro-zombies are responsible for a six month string of “mutilation murders” that the feds are only now beginning to investigate. While DeMarco insists he’s trying to make “morally pure” zombies, the only brain available at the time was from a murderous psychopath, which leads to predictably homicidal results.

I have a hypothesis this film may have been the threshold moment of the feminist movement because it’s gleefully misogynistic. Our Kennedy brother, when he’s not playing drinking games on the taxpayer dime, is free with his hands around the ladies in the lab. Apparently, the astro-zombies, also, can only attack a woman when she’s in the proper stage of dishabille. During one attack, the zombie takes the time to pointlessly rip open the woman’s top before harvesting her organs. Another woman, used as bait in an unsuccessful trap, is only attacked after she goes home and strips down to her slip. Otherwise incomprehensible, unenjoyable and woefully lacking in zombie action, The Astro-Zombies is a movie just begging for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. And for that reason The Astro-Zombies sucks 83 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Stephen King's "Pet Sematary"

“Pet Sematary”
Stars: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Fred Gwynne
Writer: Stephen King, based upon his novel
Dir: Mary Lambert
102 minutes

For a horror writer who has had no less than 20 stories or novels adapted to the screen, Stephen King has yet to really tackle the zombie phenomenon. And I really wish he would.
George A. Romero and Stephen have collaborated on celluloid on at least two solid entries into the horror canon — “Creepshow” and ’Salem’s Lot” — and, should the two titans ever collaborate on a full zombie project, I will be first in line.
Anyone familiar with King’s book must be scratching their heads and wondering why this film is having a mention here. Quite simply, it is the premise: Bury X dead thing here, it will return by morning.
The story is King’s answer to the eternal questions: If you had the ability to continue life, would you? And, should you?
Of course, in King’s world, nothing is without a price.
The story follows the happily and aptly named family, the Creeds, whom have moved to a New England town in order for Louis Creed to begin a life as a small-town doctor. His two perfect children, Ellie, his toddler, Gage, and his wife Rachel, are brought along in toe — as is the family cat, Church, named after the great British orator Winston Churchill.
It’s the prefect life for the family save for the unforgiving passage of big rig trucks on the two-lane road in front of their idyllic home — and the foreboding path elderly but kind neighbor Jud Crandall (Gwynne), their welcoming friend from across the street, calls a “good story.”
The family takes a hike with Jud and learn where the path leads — to the end of many a pet’s life, a “Sematary” where “the dead speak” via their headstones, a place where broken-hearted children have buried their family pets, hoping for their eternal rest.
After a fatal accident causes Church to land frozen to Jud’s ground, Louis, worried about the heartache his daughter is about to suffer, inquires Jud about another path he noticed leading away from the “Sematary.” Jud, feeling empathy and guilt having also suffered the death of a pet during his childhood, sees Louis’ dilemma: explain death to his very young daughter, or give Church, and Ellie, a second chance at companionship. You see, the path past the Pet Sematary leads to an ancient Indian burial ground with powers no one quite understands fully. But, one detail is fully understood: what is buried there dead returns and they may not be too pleased to be there — or even the same coming out as they went in.
He buries Church in the sour ground, and the cat returns. And Church is not too pleased about it.
“Sometimes dead is better,” Jud muses, passing sage knowledge to Louis later.
From that moment of Church’s return from the grave, and the appearance of the film’s only other sympathetic adult character (other than Jud), a ghost-guardian angel named Pascow, King’s story is a downward spiral into madness. Louis and the family suffer an incredible loss at the sake of the freeway — their precious son, Gage, is rundown by a tanker truck and killed. The loss brings Louis to his crossroads: Does he try to bring back his son and pretend it never happened? Or does he move on, dealing with a distraught wife, a doubly-battered daughter (whom has noticed Church is certainly not the same), and a violently disapproving father-in-law? He makes the obvious decision to return Gage to the living, despite Jud’s insistence that he not even think about it, let alone do it ( through some rather disturbing flashback images from Jud’s youth, wherein someone did indeed return from the sour ground — and he was returned with more problems than simply being mad about resurrection).
To say too much more would be a spoiler. Despite having been made during a time when King-based films had yet to reach the great standard they enjoyed in the mid ’90s with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” this is one of the exceptions of adaptation. The film was not treated as a cash-in. It was made cheaply, but when it lacked in effects and stunts, it leaned heavily on King’s human story, where every, single King story shines. No one in the horror genre writing during the 80s or 90s, and, I argue, even now, can capture the true horror of being human as King does. Even in his lesser works, there is still something a reader can connect with. And, parent or not, the loss of a delicate, defenseless child has to hit home with anyone with a pulse.
So, approaching the bottom-line: Is this a zombie film or a wannabe?
Cons: Hordes of the undead are not present here. There is no plague, infection, radiation or any other factor other than “Indian burial ground” driving the dead out of their graves. And, once the dead return, both human and animal, they retain certain characteristics of their pre-deceased selves.
Pros: The film features the undead, resurrected, and, at one point, one of the undead enjoying the flesh of a warm-blooded human. In fact, one of the resurrected seems to like burying body parts under his father’s home. Do the undead get full and save leftovers? I see a marketing opportunity should the inevitable zombie apocalypse occur: Rob’s Rinds will put Andrew’s Afterthoughts out of business.

Romero Rules Followed: 2/5. They are dead. They walk. They occasionally eat flesh. But they talk and simply seem deemed on destroying the ones responsible for bringing them back. Loss of points granted for cringe-inducing use of a scalpel.
Gore factor: Moderate for the most part, save for a comeuppance of an unfortunate man.
Zombies or Wannabees? Overall, wannabees
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: For a film based on one of King’s finest works, and having been made 21 years ago, it holds up remarkably well. Also, take in one of King’s stamps of approval for the film — he appears as a priest in a lead up to one of the film’s more memorable scenes.
And Zelda still scares the crap out of me. Damn it.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

It’s a Dead Dead Dead Dead Pit

The Dead Pit
Dir. Brett Leonard

I get the whole willful suspension of disbelief thing because The Dead Pit is a movie about a mad scientist making zombies out of the corpses of mental patients. I do. But there are so many points in this film that hinge on the staff of the State Institution for the Mentally Ill making colossally bad judgment calls it becomes laughable. Like the orderlies who shove a mental patient into a maximum security room without bothering to confiscate that iron bar he’s carrying. Or the fact that male and female patients are kept on the same floor in unlocked rooms and allowed to roam the halls unescorted at night. Or that the hospital director finds a human organ on his breakfast tray and waves it off like it’s an everyday occurrence.
In fact, the bad decisions begin immediately with a 20-years-ago prologue in which the hospital director finds his chief brain surgeon, Colin Ramzi (“I’ve done life; now I’m doing death!”), in an unauthorized basement lab performing questionable experiments on the bodies of patients. Rather than alert the authorities, the hospital director (played by Jeremy Slate, who grumbles like a cut rate Peter Graves) decides to simply shoot the surgeon and wall the lab up himself.
And everything’s hunky dory for a couple decades until a mysterious amnesia patient named Jane Doe, who has a penchant for wandering the halls late at night in bikini underwear and midriff tops, is checked in just as an earthquake unseals Ramzi’s secret lab.

Zombology: Though they take their sweet ass time showing up, the zombies of The Dead Pit, created by Ramzi who’s become a glowing eyed, clawed monstrosity, himself, during his 20 years of undeadishness, are pretty standard genre fare. Gray faced and glistening like slugs, the zombies come eventually come climbing out of the titular pit to overrun the hospital grounds with much cracking of skulls. Though bodies are not consumed, the undead do fetishistically crack open the noggins of their victims and tote around their brains for reasons nobody bothers to explain. The zombies are also unfailingly polite. Though they’re pounding at the hospital director’s door at one point, they genteelly step back to allow him to rattle off 10 minutes of dramatically appropriate exposition uninterrupted.

There are a lot of cool perspective shots salted through the film, but that can’t excuse some of the ridiculous plot contrivances and some really shoddy model work late in the film that simply haven’t aged well. Also, the plot twists are painfully obvious (you don’t think there could be some sort of relationship between Jane Doe and Dr. Ramzi, do you?)
And for that, The Dead Pit sucks 45 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "I Was a Teenage Zombie"

“I Was a Teenage Zombie”
Stars: Michael Rubin, Ignacio F. Iquino (as Steve McCoy), George Seminara, Cassie Madden
Writer: James Aviles Martin, Steve McCoy, George Seminara
Dir: John Elias Michalakis
91 minutes

“Hewn head-halves and ripped faces make for a rollicking comedy. Not for the faint of heart.”
I remember reading those words printed in the “Video Unlimited” flyer we received from the “mom and pop” type retailer my family frequented in old Rockville, Md. Someone in that store wrote up tiny, encapsulated reviews, and, almost always, they were positive. Ah, my first experiences in a capitalistic society almost always come back to my video store experiences.
It happens, folks. Most of what you will read from your humble reviewer harkens back to those archaic days before Netflix, or even Cockblocker Video (or, as my counterpart, Andrew, calls them Lackluster Video).
So, having read that snippet as a young impressionable boy, I saw, “hewn head-halves” and “not for the faint of heart” and I pushed my chips all in. I had to see this UNRATED flick.
My poor mother did not know what unrated meant. And, as we sat in the family room after having rented this sucker, my father, surprisingly in toe, she regretted not knowing almost immediately. Not for the mature content (which, later, she may have), but for the lack of a polished production that beset us.
I had yet to be old enough to view “The Toxic Avenger” on my own. I had not seen a single low-budgeted film and had nothing with which to compare “Teenage Zombie.” So, my palette was clean.
For better or worse, I gobbled this sucker up, and will, upon consecutive, more age-appropriate viewings, continue to do so.
It may not have the Troma Film stamp of approval, but it should. “I Was a Teenage Zombie” is a love letter to like-named films of the 1950s (“I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein,” etc.). It even takes place mostly in a soda-jerk restaurant, one character is dressed as Steve McQueen on his worst day and the eyeglasses-wearing characters are not going to get the girl anytime soon (well, one almost does…prior to heavy-breathing zombie-rape).
Meet Dan Wake (Rubin), along with his best, and slightly-chubby pal, Gordy, and his pals Chuckie, Rosencrantz, and, (the rather chubby and overall comic relief) Lieberman.
The chums are looking forward to the “big dance” at their high school, and the only thing that is missing is … “marajahoobie.” And, all the time, Dan is trying to court the lovely and (almost) aptly named Cindy Faithful, the token blonde, buxom girl-next-door. And he has some success to some degree, and had just seemed to catch her interest until some zombie staggers onto the scene and ruins it all.
Gordy fatefully learns that Mussolini (“or as my friends call me ‘Moose’”), in debt to a big-time mob boss, is the only guy in a dry town to be carrying any weight. Gordy collects cash from his buddies and buys what turns out to be chemically-sprayed joints that are more worthless than Phillies Blunts sans weed. And when The Bird (a comically overacting, leather jacket-wearing, bouffant-sporting “bad ass” that reminds me more of a teen Christopher Walken rather than Steve McQueen) learns the boys have been ripped-off, he demands they find some way to get their money back. Gordy attempts to ask Moose for the money back, and gets his chubby arse kicked.
Oh, by the way, a nuclear power plant in nearby New Jersey has suffered a meltdown, and former plant worker, “Lloyd Kaufman,” is quoted in radio broadcasts as to the severity of the meltdown before he tragically falls into a vat of nuclear waste (wink, wink, nudge, nudge to Troma fans).
After Gordy shows up bloody and beaten, the teens, led by the tough-talking The Bird, plan to exact revenge and get their money back. They ambush Moose in a park and, in a series of scenes that “The Three Stooges” would have tipped their hats to, the kids corner Moose, and Dan Wake makes a home-run hit with a bat (complete with color commentary and uniform), knocking Moose unconscious, leaving them with a moral dilemma: the fucker might wake up. So, they dump him into the river…and, being Jersey, even without a nuclear meltdown, dumping a body into a river could never be a good idea.
They learn a few weeks later that Moose, having been reanimated as a result of the nuclear waste leaking into the river, is a walking, talking, strong-as-hell zombie who wants to destroy everything and everyone in his path. The teenagers set up a nearly identical ambush on Moose — this time failing, as Moose dodges Dan’s stellar swing, and winds up breaking Dan’s neck.
Dan Wake will later appear at his own wake…Bazinga.
Rosencrantz and Gordy realize Moose is not what he once was, connect the dots, and decide if a reanimated Moose is a bad ass, a reanimated Dan Wake, with all of his athletic abilities, must make for a perfect hero to take out Moose.
Naturally, they decide to raid Dan’s funeral, steal his body, and throw it into the river, reanimating a very confused Dan. Once he is told who he is, what he is, and what he is needed to do, Dan is forced to live in the soda-jerk stand’s basement and hide from everything he loved — or was at least trying to get a piece of (not in the zombie sense…ZING!), including Ms. Faithful.
Cue the sad violin music and the film’s attempt (although obviously an insincere attempt) at a tragic love story, which, thankfully, only gives slight motivation for Dan to do what he was reanimated to do and not to pursue zombie secks…
Which, um, does happen in this film. Moose does take a horny teenage girl, throw her on the hood of a car and proceed to zombie f*** her. And, friends, even though it was done for laughs, the “wishbone” climax is still disturbing to this day.
Overall, “I Was a Teenage Zombie” is more of an homage to the 1950s “teen” subgenre rather than an ode to zombie film lore. So….

Romero Rules Followed: No biting, no flesh eating (other than a single tongue gorging) and all the “zombies” talk. 2.0 on the scale, admitting they were at least dead once and killing the brain kills them.
Gore factor: Plenty and well done considering the budget, although some gore scenes were obviously done for gags rather than gross-out.
Zombies or Wannabees? Teeter-totter, but wannabe.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: This is simply a fun, goofy, have a few beers or tokes type of film. All involved obviously had a great time doing it, and, give it to them, they created a film in the 1980s that could be confused easily with a 1950s schlock-fest.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Frankenstein’s Monster

Were I to ask you about Frankenstein’s monster, most of you would probably begin rambling about green-skinned, bolt-necked monstrosities in orthopedic shoes played by English character actors in black and white films. As embodied by Boris Karloff – a lumbering, violent collection of spare body parts prone to bouts of grunting rage – Frankenstein’s monster would certainly seem to carry a strand of DNA that would later culminate in the modern zombie asthetic. The story in some form has been a screen staple for 80 years that is the image cemented indelibly in popular consciousness, but as originally conceived, Frankenstein is not the tale of white-coated mad scientists with hunchbacked servants and a conveniently lightning-adjacent castles. It’s far more gothic. And far more emo.
I’m a primary sources kinda motherfucker, so before judging whether the monster deserves a wing in the Zombie Hall of Fame I pored through Mary Shelley’s epistolary novel for the first time in more than a decade. Written in 1818 by a 19 year old Mary Shelley as the result of a gothic horror story-telling contest one drunken, stormy night with her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron, it’s the tale of Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss chemistry prodigy, who at 22 – an age when most modern students are only performing experiments with grain alcohol and the clap – is playing god and usurping the very secrets of life and death, stitching dissected corpse parts back together for his science fair project. No Igor, no lightning, Vic just gets all Lego with body parts in a spare room of the apartment he rents with murderously disastrous results.

The case for: From the moment the monster’s yellowed eyes silently pop open – sorry, no shouts of “It’s alive!” or lightning involved – Frankenstein is essentially a proto-zombie meditation on the ethics of transcending then-current human barriers of knowledge about the universe. Advance it 200 years, drop it in a military compound where an experiment is bound to end poorly, and we’re in fairly familiar territory here. In fact, the monster’s birth scene would make for a killer first zombie encounter in your next student film:
It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but the luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.
One of the most interesting insights I gleaned is how Frankenstein manages to subvert a cliché that would not take root for another century and a half. Where pretty much every zombie story ever told has come down to a band of survivors fighting off overwhelming waves of organ hungry grave escapees, in Shelley’s tale it’s the monster that’s outnumbered and hunted by a superior force of vengeful humans bent on its destruction.

The case against: Though admittedly zombies, particularly as we conceive of them, were completely unknown to Shelley, she turns to other undead folkloric traditions to encapsulate the terror Victor feels in response to his creation. Such as in a scene after the monster murders his creator’s youngest brother:
I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me.
Later, the monster is described as “in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy.
Also, it can’t be ignored that most canonical zombies are not as much of a whiney emo bitch as Frankenstein’s monster, who spends the bulk of the book loudly lamenting – yes, the monster can speak and even read – how, like, nobody totally gets him and he just doesn’t have any friends. That’s right, Frankenstein and his wrathful creation spend the better part of 200 pages trying to prove they’re more miserable and unloved and friendless than each other. If heartagram tattoos and anime haircuts had been known at the start of the 19th Century, you know damn well they’d be sporting them.
Compounding the problem, the monster teaches himself to read after unearthing a conveniently symbolic trove of books that consists of Paradise Lost (leading to a serious fallen angel-identification crisis), Plutarch’s Lives and Goerthe’s suicide encomium The Sorrows of Young Werther, sending him into paroxysms of self-loathing at great length.
In fact, the crux of conflict between the monster and his creator is the demand that Frankenstein build a lady monster to keep him company. Frankenstein’s reanimated abomination is far more interested in procreating his own species than bringing down the wrath of overflowing hell upon an actively hostile humanity.

The verdict: Not a zombie by reason of antiquity. No knock on Shelley’s sci-fi/horror/emo classic, but Frankenstein just exists in a different philosophical and cultural continuum. However, you do have to give it a nod of a squared off head for inspiring a series of films that would trickle down through the centuries, ultimately influencing the zombies we love today.