Monday, November 29, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Chopper Chicks In Zombietown"

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

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

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


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Because Cannibal Holocaust Was Already Taken

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are You Getting It? Yeah Zombiegeddon It.

Chris Watson


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "World War Z"

“World War Z”
By Max Brooks
Three Rivers Press
342 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies

Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic

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


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Jack Goodman

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 4, 2010

They’re an American Band Zombie

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

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

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