Thursday, October 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

ZomBlog Tribute: "Night of the Living Dead"

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

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

— ROB

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Slowest Gun in the West (Part 2)

Undead or Alive
Dir. Glasgow Phillips

2007

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Re-Animator"

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

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

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

— ROB

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Slowest Gun in the West (Part 1)

The Quick and the Undead
Dir. Gerald Nott
2006
The Quick and the Undead is a clever premise undone by a woefully subpar cast. Riding the recent wave of zombie Westerns, the film mashes together the familiar tropes of zombie films, post apocalyptic road movies, and Italian horse operas. It’s just a shame the zombies emote more than the movie’s stars.
Nearly a century after a viral outbreak has turned most of the American population into shuffling brain chompers, bounty hunters like protagonist Ryn Baskin roam the vacant countryside dressed like punk rock cowboys putting down the undead for a paycheck. Baskin goes chumming through vacant towns with a bucket of offal, waiting for the zombies to pounce on the bait.
A former colleague betrays Baskin to a rival bounty hunter, Blythe, and his crew of miscreants, who steal his bounty and leave him for dead, setting off the film’s tale of revenge. It’s just a shame that none of leads are the least bit engaging. Clint Glenn, our erstwhile hero, generally growls around a cigar, doing his worst Clint Eastwood impersonation while Parrish Randall, as Blythe, pretends he’s Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. All it does is remind you that you could be watching much better movies.

Zombology: While The Quick and the Undead offers up fairly familiar fare – a viral outbreak, reanimated corpses, lots of cannibalism – it cleverly fills in some overlooked details even if it doesn't employ them for any great narrative purpose. For example, the film sidesteps the acrimonious fast versus slow zombies debate that has rent the zombie community for decades by offering grades of zombies. The most recently reanimated still have some zip to their step, lunging and attacking in brief bursts of speed. The older, more putrid corpses tend to shuffle a little more slowly. Less cleverly, the film also features the protagonist sucking the infection out of his arm after he gets bit, spitting out the virus as though it were snake venom. I’m no biochemist, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how viruses work.

A post-apocalyptic zombie Western could have been an entertaining romp, but The Quick and the Undead is fatally hobbled by awful writing, amateurish acting and general inconsistency. Baskin lays out his rules of zombie survival, such as always staying outside so you have an avenue of escape, but breaks just about every rule without explanation or consequence. This disappointing mish-mash of good ideas being poorly executed earns a 67 on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of rotten films.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "The Return of the Living Dead"

“The Return of the Living Dead”
1985
U.S.
Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa
Story: Rudolph J. Ricci, John Russo and Russ Streiner
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon
Dir: Dan O’Bannon
91 minutes

“Brrrrraaaaains!”
Sorry, such an easy go-to for this entry. And if you are familiar with that phrase, it may have been your first introduction to zombies.
You see, in 1985, a highly-publicized horror film hit the screens. The TV spot and trailer featured an incredibly detailed, tar-covered skeleton with huge eyes barking “More, brains!” at the audience.
Obviously, that movie was “The Return of the Living Dead,” one of the best examples of how a horror film can achieve greater heights by capitalizing on a decent cast, simplistic, traditional effects, and a well-written and executed script. “ROTLD” is one of my personal all-time favorites. The film, despite it’s age, has held up incredibly well, and, while many die-hard horror film fans have issues with comedy mixed with their gore, this film is the gold-standard in how to do it right, as comedy and horror may seem like the odd couple, but, in capable hands, can mix like peanut butter and chocolate.
“ROTLD” starts off suggesting the audience should take it seriously, claiming the film was based on true events. Teenager Freddy (Thom Matthews, who would later battle the first appearance of “zombie” Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” as Tommy Jarvis) is getting a tour of a medical supply building (Uneeda Medical Supplies), where he has just landed his first job. Frank (Karen) jokes with Freddy as they tour the facility on July 3, 1984; the boss, Bert (Gulager), has left to start his holiday weekend early. Frank decides to try and spook Freddy with a fantastic tale: That movie, “Night of the Living Dead” was based on a true incident.
As Frank explains, the military in the early 1960s used a chemical (trioxin) to spray on marijuana crops, and, while experimenting with it, they learned it had moderate reanimating effects on corpses, causing them to “jump around, as though they were alive,” Frank explains. According to Frank’s story, George Romero “stole” the idea and the military threatened to sue him if he told the true story, causing a young Romero to change his story around. Frank also tells Freddy that a couple of the containers holding the once reanimated corpses were shipped to Uneeda as a result of a “typical Army fuck-up.”
Frank takes Freddy into the basement, shows him the metal containers, and smacks the container holding one of the corpses, spewing a spray of the trioxin into Frank’s and Freddy’s faces, cueing the opening credits and a montage of what the trioxin can do.
Yes, all of what happened above happens in the film’s first seven minutes.
Cut to a serene scene several states away where a haggard military general comes home to his wife, checks into a computer console in his bedroom and then explains heatedly to his wife that they may never find the canisters they — the military — are actively searching.
The audience is introduced to Freddy’s friends, a group of jobless rag-tags that appear to be a mix of ’80s punk rocker, hipster and square (the square being Freddy’s seemingly token horror film virgin girlfriend, Tina). The group decides to party in the nearby cemetery, the appropriately named “Resurrection Cemetery,” to await the end of Freddy’s first shift at Uneeda. So, Tina, Trash, Suicide and the rest drink, play loud punkish music, strip and dance on graves (well, only Trash, played by scream queen Linnea Quigley) to pass the time.
Meanwhile, Frank and Freddy have called Bert back to work to survey the situation. Bert returns to find a container busted open, a cadaver screaming in the freezer, and Frank and Freddy getting increasingly more ill from the fumes they breathed. Thankfully, his mortician friend, Ernie (Get it? Bert and Ernie?) is next door working late in the morgue. And Ernie has access to a crematorium. So, chopping up the screaming cadaver (and a few other reanimated medical props) and burning them seem to be a way for Bert to save his business and contain the situation.
But, as the audience learned in the opening credit montage, those trioxin fumes have a way of escaping — and a convenient rainstorm brings those trioxin chemicals right back down to earth, and into the nearby cemetery, unleashing an assload of zombies from the grave.
Now, let’s discuss the zombies: They are fast, they talk, they are smart, and they only want brains. Well, there is a reason they only want brains. And I am not going to spoil this gem any further. Just go to Netflix and get it right now.
Just a couple notes before I wrap this one up: As I mentioned, the zombies run, and, yes, they move like track runners. They even trick their prey to bring their brains to them. So, my friends, I think the running-zombie debate should have begun 25 years ago, not in the last decade. Also, this film was written with the help of John Russo, a longtime Romero collaborator, and Dan O’Bannon, who is better known for his script for the stellar “Alien.” O’Bannon also shares directing duties with “ROTLD.”
If you are in the mood to be entertained, look no further than this excellent, funny and all out fun flick.

Romero Rules Followed: I give this one a pass for referencing Romero while making the zombies badass and fast; 4/5
Gore factor: Squirting arteries and munching brains are aplenty here.
Zombies or Wannabees? No hesitation: Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Top-10 of all time classic (I would even make a great argument for top five).
Additional comments: This movie still works as a blast of zombie-fueled entertainment. Plenty of gore, witty dialogue, great performances (James Karen and Don Calfa are particular stand-outs), and respect for source material make this a must have, not only to view, but to add to your collection and recommend to friends.
If you don’t enjoy this one, there is something wrong with your brains.

— ROB

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can You Dig It?

Exhumed
Dir. Brian Clement
2003
If the hoary formulation, alternately attributed to both T.S. Elliot and Pablo Picasso, holds that good artists borrow and great artists steal, then writer and director Brian Clement has a fucking Oscar in his future because the best (for lesser values of “best”) moments from his three vignette zombie outing Exhumed were outright five fingered from much better films. This may, in fact, be the world’s worst attempt at Sweding better horror and adventure films.
The eventually interlinking stories, flung through time and space, revolve around the search for the “object,” an off screen MacGuffin that allegedly has the power the bring the dead to life (it’s here you should be flashing back to that glowing ball thing that linked the stories in the first Heavy Metal). So we see a samurai and monk wander the “Forest of Death” in the first segment, one looking for the object to raise an undead army to conquer feudal Japan for his lord and the other to keep the object from being wielded as a weapon in a segment that plays out like a LARPed version of Versus. Just typing that forces me to consider seppuku. It’s also heavily reliant on something that will become painfully obvious as the film drags monotonously on: Clement uses shadow and fog incessantly to cover up for the film’s pitiful zombie effects. But that's OK because the zombies run away from this pitiful film about halfway through, as well.
By the second segment, “Shadow of Tomorrow,” the shadows grow even longer and the dialogue becomes a faded Xerox of hardboiled Chandleresque patter in the wannabe film noir tale of a detective who stumbles on a case of grave robbing while looking for a client’s missing ex-wife. Eventually mad scientists and b-movie saucer people become involved and the ending scene, where said mad scientist opens up a box containing the MacGuffin, bears a passing resemblance to the ark opening from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But it was the final segment, “Last Rumble,” where my soul truly began to vomit out all that was good in the world and thoughts of genocide became a light-hearted distraction. It’s a … *heavy sigh* … tale of mod vampires on scooters versus greaser werewolves on Harleys against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic warzone where a human general hunts for the object to create an unstoppable army. If you ever asked yourself what Quadrophenia would have been like had it been scripted by Stephanie Meyer, first, you should be cock punched, and second, your question has been answered. Let’s put it this way: the inevitable vampire/werewolf alliance is sealed by a lesbian sex scene.

Zombology: The film’s zombies, prevalent in the first tale, eventually drift to the background, powerless against the accumulated, black hole suck of the mass of excrement being flung at the screen. It’s not even worth discussing.

For achieving the rare trifecta of just awful writing, amateur directing and overacting Al Pacino would call excessive, Exhumed is 97 percent as shitty as Hell of the Living Dead. If it had only devolved into questionable racial stereotypes and grossly abused stock footage, I may have had a new measuring stick for horrible films.

Monday, October 4, 2010

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

Part 2 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, and this time, I am expanding to include a nod to Romero’s sparsely-made sequels to NOTLD, the 1979 classic, “Dawn of the Dead” and the somewhat maligned, but loved by me, 1985’s “Day of the Dead”:

4) Destroy the brain, kill the zombie
This rule is one of the universal ones. It is simple: Aim for the head. Destroy the brain. The zombie flops dead instantly. In NOTLD, the principle is put forth in two ways. Ben uses a tire-iron to dismantle a particularly aware zombie who made his way into the farmhouse. The tire-iron is driven right through the skull. Later, Ben uses multiple bullets to disable the undead, despite hearing the television broadcasts informing the general public to destroy the brain. Hey, even heroes have their faults

5) Zombies have the ability to remember important things from their former life
When our four protagonists arrive at the best place for a stance against the undead — a shopping mall — in “Dawn of the Dead,” they find themselves with a great deal of company — zombies. Steve “Flyboy” muses that “this must have been an important place in their lives.” While Romero was making his not-so-subtle commentary on American consumerism, he also instated another rule: Zombies can hold onto deep-seeded memories, something else he later expanded on in “Day of the Dead” with Bub, the zombie pet. While the stumbling, bumbling undead may seem to only seek flesh, they also seek connection to… something…maybe a shopping mall…maybe to their atrocious prick of a parent (hence Harry’s demise in NOTLD).

6) One-on-one, you might have a chance; against a horde, you are screwed
Romero’s zombies, while slow, seem to add strength in numbers. While human protagonists are making epic mistakes, the zombies are gaining traction on the prize. In NOTLD, Ben makes a heroic stand at the farmhouse while sending young Tom and Judy to fuel the truck he barreled into the movie with. They screw it up and give the audience the very first feasting scene in any zombie film. While it seems cordial, tame and dated these days, it was beyond shocking back in 1968. In “Dawn,” Romero once again gives the audience and his protagonists a false sense of security: all the doors are locked, all the windows barred. What they don’t plan on is a group of bikers breaking through the initial barricade and all the zombies find a weak point to the protagonists hidden stronghold — and inevitably find a way to push through. While the zombies in “Dawn” had a bit of help, the zombies in NOTLD were focused and headed for the one opening they saw, like a football running back through a hole in the defense.
Romero zombies do not get tired. They will stick around until they see a hole in the defense. And they all seem to push through at once…hmmmm...

More rules to come. Chew on these for awhile...
-ROB