Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Return of the Living Dead Part II"

“Return of the Living Dead Part II”
1988
U.S.
Stars: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Dana Ashbrook, Marsha Dietlein, Philip Bruns, Michael Kenworthy
Writer: Ken Wiederhorn
Dir: Ken Wiederhorn
89 minutes

The sacred rule of any sequel is, in my book, to continue the story, respect the original, stick to what worked in the former, and, if possible, improve on the original.
Like many ’80s films, the sequel to “Return of the Living Dead” fell victim to a terrible plot device: a kid is smarter than anyone else in the damn film.
For criminy. The base-film had all the elements that actually worked: characters the audience cared about, actual funny moments, plenty of gore, and plenty of zombies, all while keeping it at an R-rated adult level. Yes, I admit some of the characters were supposed to be deadbeat, lazy, punk-rocking teens, but they were still close to being adults.
The sequel, however, decided to up the ante with the comedic elements of the former and it falls flat. While the budget seems to have been slightly elevated, the fun of the first film takes a backseat to ghetto-talking disembodied heads, sight gags, spandex, hair-gel and a little dipshit I wished would have been devoured in the first few moments I laid eyes on him.
Again, the 1980s suffered a plague of movies where children were the heroes and more intelligent than any military member facing the Cold War, understood computers better than fogeys, and always survived any peril facing them. I remember being a child during the time, wishing death on certain child characters and envying others.
I never envied this wad, Jesse Wilson, played by Kenworthy.What begins as a continuation of the first film quickly spirals into typical ’80s film. A kid is being bullied, his older sister wants to get laid, the town loser wants to lay her, there are a couple of comic relief characters (James Karen and Thom Mathews nearly identically reprise their roles from the first film), and the military is inept.
Jesse and his two bullying brats inadvertently burst one of the infamous Trioxin containers — which happens to have fallen out of a military truck — containing reanimating gas and a zombie corpse, unleashing both contents into a cemetery and into the town.
Yeah, there are some moments that are amusing (“Michael Jackson” makes an appearance late in the film), but the clich├ęs bog this movie down and make it tedious and a by-the-numbers bore-fest. A scene in a hospital is the sole reason for the film dodging a PG-13 rating. It would have sailed through the ratings board these days. PG-13 horror is rarely worth your time. Or mine.

Romero Rules Followed: For the most part, they are all followed. However, the reanimation process mostly takes place due to the gas spurted from a drum. So, in this case, about 90%.
Gore factor: Mostly moderate until a pivotal hospital scene. Which was cool. And a strong point.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Waste of time
Additional comments: Andrew and I have been at odds over the quality film “Return of the Living Dead.” I absolutely embrace it, while he just says it is a big bucket of “OK.” I can point to this sequel (which includes cameos by Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and Mitch “Shocker/”X-Files” Pileggi) as an example of when a superior idea gets warped and raped. So much promise, so little to show for it.
And I hope Andrew attacks Part III before I do.

— ROB

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the Jungle, the Quiet Jungle, the Leopard Women Suck Tonight

The Night of the Sorcerers
Dir. Amando de Ossorio

1973

What the fuck was it with Africa and low budget Euro-sh(l)ockers in the 1970s? It’s like setting a film in Africa was fair game to just let every abhorrent, normally repressed racial stereotype about black people run rampant on celluloid. Granted, our Old World relations never really had to deal with the history of slavery and racial integration in quite the same way we did here in the U.S. of A, but even they should have paused at some point when filming a chiseled-chin white dude mowing down a horde of primitive black folks in grass skirts to ponder the racial implications. Films like The Night of the Sorcerers are enough to make The Birth of Nation look like a paragon of progressive racial tolerance.
Amando “Blind Dead” de Ossorio gets straight to the white women being menaced by leering black guys within the opening scenes of this 1973 zombie-voodoo-vampire-sexploitation failure. It seems 11 local magicians like to string up white women, rip their clothes off via bullwhip and decapitate them in order to turn them into vampiric “leopard women” who romp around the jungle in hilarious slow motion decked out in dime store vampire fangs and laughably lame animal print bikinis … for some reason. It’s kinda vague. Luckily a handful of British soldiers in khakis and natty pith helmets put a stop to that … at least for 60 years when a bunch of do-gooder endangered species researchers happen to drift across the forbidden altar.

Zombology: The Limeys may have smoked the local magicians, but thanks to voodoo their zombified bodies keep on trucking, just waiting for a new sacrifice to find its way to their altar to revive their manslaughtering ways. With the help of the blood-drinking leopard women, the magicians, who emerge from their stony cairns each night – and apparently neatly bury themselves again each morning – lure the braless free spirits accompanying the researchers to the altar one at a time to add them to their collection of pasty white servants.

Inverting the classic Scooby-Doo plot, the men immediately dismiss any talk of living dead sorcerers as a hoax to scare them away from their research only to later confront the zombified reality. Though they’re central to the film, the women in The Night of the Sorcerers have no personality development beyond casual nudity and insane jealously of each other. Though there’s decapitations galore, the film falls short on both gore and suspense. De Ossorio has never been a deft hand with pacing, and The Night of the Sorcerers lags even at 80 minutes. Racially insensitive, riding a ridiculous plot conceit and poorly executed, The Night of the Sorcerers sucks 92 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, December 20, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead"

“George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead”
2007
U.S.
Stars: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany
Writer: George Romero
Dir: George Romero
96 minutes
George once again wants to warn us about the dangers technology and progress pose to us. And he hit it well in the very middle of this film… but he dropped the ball at the beginning and end.Uncle George decided to jump into the first-person camera angles with “Diary of the Dead,” and attempted to do it better than others. Since “Cloverfield” had already become a huge hit, as well as the terrible “The Blair Witch Project,” Romero was too many years too late to be inventive. The beginning of the film is tough to make it through. A handful of college students are awkwardly stumbling through a “senior project,” where a group of students are in the woods filming a short horror film. Their director, Jason Creed (Close) refuses to stop filming as his players hear radio and TV reports of an undead uprising — including many of the same 1968 TV and radio reports from the original “Night of the Living Dead.”
That is where the film lost me. Any audience member who has logged time with the Romero zombies is instantly taken out of this film and realizes this film is supposed to take place at the same time as “Night of the Living Dead.” Yet, the protagonists have cameras, the Internet, and more access to and knowledge of technology than Barbara, Ben, and Johnny.
WTF, George? Do not do a reboot of a classic, just continue the story. I mean, you could not have done any worse than “Land of the Dead.” Could you?
George steamrolls ahead with a “documentary” effect, making Debra, (Morgan) the girlfriend of the primary filmmaker, narrate certain parts and tell the audience early on that she “added music for effect” and completed the film because the student director would have wanted it that way, a terrible attempt at foreshadowing. Also, Romero seems to have jumped into stereotypes for his film rather than breaking the barriers: the “brothers” talk ghetto, the college students say “dude” a lot, and the “filmmaker” has to complete each and every shot, no matter the fate of his friends. Again, the attempt at realism smacks the audience awake and out of it.
The pseudo-documentary effect never works. In fact, weak performances distract from the desired effect. There are some great moments, however. A sequence involving a deaf Amish farmer and the dissolving head of an infiltrating zombie are highlights to a rather by-the-numbers and frustrating film.

Romero Rules Followed: Many references are made to Romero zombies, including an early-on joke about how the dead “shamble” rather than run. All of Romero’s rules are followed here.
Gore factor: Fairly high, and, on two occasions, inventive.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: Some highlights feature Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro in radio reports; with King as an overzealous preacher screaming for penance and Del Toro commenting on immigration woes. I see what George was going for: If there was an apocalyptic outbreak, more people would sit on their asses and watch from their TVs or online, rather than react. However, the edict that mankind is more detached than ever has already been driven home. We get it. George Carlin told us that the more we are connected, the more we communicate less. I understand that Romero wanted to demonize bloggers, the media and the Internet in general as a land of misinformation and escapism. He might have slammed it home without the documentary-style gimmick and better actors.
He also should have not attempted to reboot his franchise in the modern era. Stupid, stupid move.
— ROB

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fine Young Cannibal

Cannibal Holocaust
Dir. Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony M. Dawson)

1980

Cannibals are the like honor students of the zombie world. They’ve cleverly figured out you can dispense with that whole tedious bit about dying and matriculate straight on to the flesh eating stage. It’s like skipping a grade.
After pulling war buddies Tommy Thompson and Charlie Bukowksi (That’s right, Charles Bukowski in a cannibal movie) out of a Vietcong prison where they were chowing down on BBQed human flesh, Captain Norman Hopper (a pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street John Saxon) is just trying to piece his life together, repressing the wartime flash backs with a cocktail of pills while his psychiatrist openly schemes to swipe his wife and neighborhood vamp Mary tries to ply her wiles on an aged target.
But once Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice of City of the Living Dead) gets his “first leave out of the booby hatch” and goes mano a handgun with with the police, it triggers the old cannibalistic cravings. Soon Norman and his cannibalistic sidekicks are tooling around town in a stolen van with a flesh hungry nurse riding shotgun like a cannibal A-Team as they try to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Zombology: I’m cheating a bit here as no living dead are involved. However, Vietnam vets Norman, Charlie and Tommy picked up a funny bug while serving overseas. Suddenly a long neck or a bared thigh gets the munchies brewing. While Norman has been able to repress his urges somehow, the impulses become overwhelming when Charles drifts back into his life. Now when teen tramp Mary comes slinking over from next door to flirt with the neighbor man, Norman’s got an urge to eat her…just not the way she wants. Like any good zombie-grade viral outbreak, the cannibal compulsion can be spread through a bite, and Charles seems to be sinking his bicuspids into bystanders left and right as he tussles with orderlies at the mental hospital or while getting arrested following a murderous shoot out with the cops.

There’s no reason this movie should work as well as it does, but it’s got its own sleazy charm as it squashes together First Blood and Dawn of the Dead. A sensitive portrayal of the stresses of Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD this ain’t, but neither was Rambo and that’s taken on a patina of respectability in the last 30 years. Saxon is all masculine posturing of the sort you could only get away with in the early ’80s and Radice, paired with blaxploitation vet Tony King as Tommy, projects a fevered verve for heavy caliber mayhem and femur carpaccio. The gore is well done and Margheriti has a deft hand at pacing the action set pieces and a sly eye for humor (Bukowski starts his rampage while watching George Peppard in From Hell to Victory). All told, Cannibal Apocalypse, a late entrant into the cannibal craze of the late ’70s, is only 27 percent as awful as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

ZomBlog Review: “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead”

“George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead”
2005
U.S.
Stars: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy and John Leguizamo
Writer: George Romero
Dir: George Romero
97 minutes

“Zombies, man. They creep me out.”
Let’s set the stage, shall we? It had been 20 years since Uncle George decided to revisit his creation — the living dead. 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” for most people, was the closing chapter of Romero’s trilogy of flesh-eating undead. In those 20 years, countless rip-offs, spoofs, and other varying incarnations of zombies have either graced the silver screen or squandered space on video rental store shelves (or tricked you into adding them into the Netflix queue, nowadays).
It was a glorious day when I went stumbling around the numerous geek-run movie websites back in 2004 and learned Romero was going to take on zombies once again — and this time on a larger scale, both monetarily and talent-wise. He would have big studio backing, a larger budget than he had ever been given, and could hire a handful of well-known (and even cult-status) actors.
“Finally,” 2004-Rob thought, “we will get a real apocalyptic zombie film.”
Well, sort of.
2005’s “Land of the Dead” was the result of several ideas and germs that never fully developed from “Day of the Dead.” Romero wanted to have an army of zombies, trained to take out other zombies in “Day.” He develops an army of zombies in “Land.” And, as with the original script for “Day,” the zombies in “Land” are much smarter than the headshot-fodder we’ve come to know. Led by a gas station owner/attendant, zombies in “Land” learn as they go. They’re tired of being slaughtered by the well-organized scavengers who come by now and again looting supplies to take back to Fiddler’s Green — a city surrounded by water where the poor and blue collar live on the streets while the privileged live in a swank mall/apartment complex, complete with all luxuries of the “old world.”
The organized scavengers, led by Riley (Baker) and Cholo (Leguizamo), travel around on motor bikes and a rolling fortress: Dead Reckoning, a massive $2 million armored mobile transport, fully equipped with .50 caliber machine guns, short-range missiles — and fireworks to, you know, put on a show for the zombies (seriously — zombies seem to like fireworks in this movie). After a raid on a nearby town for supplies, the zombies, led by a leader dubbed in the credits as “Big Daddy,” decide to follow the looters back to Fiddler’s Green and launch a primitive assault on the island city.
Much to the zombies’ advantage, Cholo and Riley have both called quits to their scavenger days, calling the last supply raid, the one where the zombies get the gumption to follow them, their final one. Riley has decided to take a gassed up car he purchased and head north into Canada, where there is nothing (he said it, not me — but it’s true). Cholo has decided he would take his earnings for taking care of Kaufman’s (Hopper) “garbage” (i.e. people he does not want in his little paradise). When Kaufman decides Cholo isn’t worthy to live among the wealthy, he casts him out, but not before Cholo takes Dead Reckoning and threatens to destroy Fiddler’s Green with a couple missiles. Riley is bribed by Kaufman to recover Dead Reckoning and stop Cholo.
Yup, pretty simple plot there. This would have been a Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris movie 20 years ago, sans zombies. But the zombies, and the threat that they are “evolving,” adds to what little drama there is to be had here. The real show-stopper with the zombies happens about halfway through with a horde of them realizing water is not a boundary. Those brief moments are pretty awesome to look at. And, of course, there are the numerous feasting scenes. Where Romero once used to hold back until the climax, he decided to inject some spurts prematurely all over this one, giving the special effects team free reign to come up with zombies eating and ripping people apart that had not been seen by audiences before.
While “aw, man, did you see that?” is sometimes fine by me, I wanted more with this outing. I wanted characters I cared about. While Asia Argento is very easy on the eyes, her constant battle with her Italian accent in delivering American dialogue was distracting. Riley’s friend Charlie (Joy) was amusing at times, but by 2005 I was tired of what I call the Giovanni Ribisi School of Acting: act mentally handicapped, garner audience sympathy. Yes, Riley seemed to be a great guy, but his desire just to head north and get away from it all never made me want to care if he lived or died, no matter how many minor plot elements were thrown in to make him appear as a “good guy.” Leguizamo just seemed to be around for a paycheck. So did Hopper.
So, Uncle George gets a big budget, some B-list talent, and free-reign … and he punted it. Now I know why Romero prefers to direct independently — he can’t contain himself.
Much like another George I’ve come to malign.

Romero Rules Followed: He created a couple new ones here, mainly the zombie learning curve. In this film, zombies evolved faster than apes in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But, I’ve referenced zombies using tools before in a Romero film, so, for the sake of argument, these suckers are still in the Romero realm.
Gore factor: Goriest of the Romero flicks thus far, although I was not a fan at all of some of the CGI effects. Stay practical with my zombies.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: This is the first Romero film to call the undead “zombies,” while the preferred term in the film is “stenches.” While the “thinking zombie” aspect is a bit intriguing, it was much too much for this outing. It should have been slowly introduced over the next couple of films (yeah, Romero has been cranking them out as of late), which would have probably made this one slightly better and made the two that followed a bit more bearable. Instead, Uncle George is just all over the place. And he lost the one thing that made me care — well-developed characters.
I like caring about zombie films. I wish George did this time around.

— ROB

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Zombie or Wannabe: Pod People

Don Siegel’s 1956 B-movie masterpiece Invasion of the Body Snatchers is almost the perfect Rorschach blot of a film. You can make equally compelling cases that the film is either a parable of the feared Communist infiltration of the United States that strangled the country at the time or the mindless conformity being demanded of Red Baiters like Joe McCarthy and his assistant Robert Kennedy who saw political hay to be made from the national unease.
But I propose you could also read the film’s central conceit, that aliens are wiping out emotion and individuality, as a proto-zombie text. Sleep next to a pod and you wake up a pod person. But are you a zombie?

The case for: Twenty years before Romero sent zombies mindlessly shambling through the mall to send up consumerism, Siegel’s pod people were featureless imitations of humanity simply going through the motions of living without all the emotional messiness actually being a person entails. Like zombies, the pod person invasion spreads almost virally. One person will be converted and feel compelled to infect their friends and neighbors as the infection spreads exponentially through a small California town. Dr. Miles Bennell’s patients, who complained to him just days earlier that family members were impostors, suddenly laugh off their prior fears as they join the ranks of the pod people. As Miles, love thang Becky Driscoll, and their neighbors slowly piece together what is happening to their town, the zombie elements of the film come to the fore. The survivors get trapped in a web of paranoia, fearing any friend or family member could turn on them at any time, much like they would if they were the walking dead. Becky and Miles even spend a night holed up in his medical office waiting out the invasion, much like the cast of Night of the Living Dead boarding themselves in the farm house. Beating Shaun of the Dead by half a century, Miles and Becky even feign being emotionless pod people at one point to escape a dragnet of infected townsfolk.

The case against: Making the case for viewing Invasion of the Body Snatchers is hampered by the fact that the film is never clear on what exactly is happening with the pod people. Our plucky band of heroes find gigantic pea pods containing featureless, anthropomorphic slugs hidden in their basements and greenhouses, which slowly taking the characteristics of their psychic hosts as they sleep. At first, the film implies the pod people, having absorbed the human’s memories, will replace their doppelgangers. Which would seem to imply there would be a whole rack of murdered bodies stinking up the town. (Miles does suggest perhaps the humans’ bodies simply dissolve once they’ve been drained). However, violating its own rules, Becky later becomes a pod person without an actual pod in the vicinity, making it hard to determine whether she’s been zombified or murdered and replaced. More importantly, can you really make the case the pod people qualify as the living dead?

The verdict: While a pretty compelling case can be made that Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ cinematic DNA eventually trickled down through the zombie canon, all of the elements just aren’t there yet. The fact remains the pod people are not the reanimated dead in the conventional sense whether they’re mind stealing doppelgangers or murdering impostors. However, this is another transitional fossil, much like Frankenstein's monster, in the proud lineage we’ve come to love.

Monday, December 6, 2010

ZomBlog Review: "Creepshow"

“Creepshow”
1982
U.S.
Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Gaylen Ross, Stephen King, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Tom Atkins and Viveca Lindfors
Writer: Stephen King
Dir: George Romero
120 minutes

I wanted to take on George A. Romero’s second zombie trilogy, starting with “Land of the Dead,” but the death of Leslie Nielsen made my brain turn into another direction — toward comedy and a fun zombie debate.
Without argument, the collaboration of Romero and Stephen King is a moment where horror fans should take pause and celebrate. “Creepshow” is a great homage to both horror and comedy, and marks King’s funniest moments on screen (ignore his attempt at film directing; his appearance here is hilarious).
Anyone my age has seen or heard about “Creepshow” at some point. The film is a set of five stories with a horrific and slightly tongue-in-cheek-theme, all written by King, with a true EC Comics (think “Tales From the Crypt”) vibe.
The two stories I wish to focus on are “Father’s Day” and “Something to Tide You Over.”
The film kicks off with Tom Atkins screaming at his kid over reading a “crappy” comic book (“Creepshow,” drawn very much like the great EC Comics that drew a Congressional investigation), the film starts with Ed Harris attending an aristocratic affair, a bunch of uptight, rich assholes sharing their tale of how Aunt Bedelia killed her father as revenge for daddy killing her beau. Daddy simply wants his cake and returns from the grave looking for it. And, well, some people die in order for undead daddy to get it.
After a hilarious outing by King, you have Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, and Gaylen Ross, the heroine of “Dawn of the Dead,” stuck in a love triangle, with Nielsen playing a jealous rich husband, Danson the hunky boyfriend, and the ocean as the equalizer: by gunpoint, Nielsen forces Danson and Ross into the sand to await high-tide and ultimately their death. But, in this story, death is not an end, and jealous revenge is met with revenge from a watery grave.

Romero Rules Followed: Romero tossed out almost all rules for this foray into fun. He obviously was going more for camp than for zombie fare, and he allowed King to bend the rules.
Gore factor: The most gore takes place during a later story, “The Crate,” but the film has been famously censored and, if you know where to look, a nice workprint is available, complete with some extra Tom Savini make-up effects.
Zombies or Wannabees? In both stories mentioned, they are wannabees. However, the Father’s Day “cake” ratchets it up to closer to zombie-lore.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: While not a zombie great, it is a classic. Just not for this blog.
Additional comments: I’ve so loved this film for years. And I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it and not instantly mention King’s hilarious role as Jordy Verrell. Romero probably found his most well-directed film post-NOTLD with “Dawn,” but this is the one film casual horror fans can grasp without the zombies we love. I really, really wish these two titans would collaborate on a real zombie film. I have said it before here; the results could only be … interesting.

— ROB

Thursday, December 2, 2010

That’s Not a Knife Gun. This is a Knife Gun.

Undead
Dir. Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

2003

When a meteorite shower unleashes the zompocalypse on your ass, what are you gonna be packing? Some puny handgun? Maybe a shotgun or sub-automatic replica of an assault rifle you bought from that unhygienic man at the gun show? Get the fuck outta here with that weak ass shit, zombie food.
Australian fisherman and arms dealer Marion comes correct in the flick Undead, sporting a trio of heavy gauge shotguns wired together for maximum effect (later upgraded to a foursome for even more zombie ass kicking potential). It's just a shame that a weapon so bad ass doesn't get top billing in this surprisingly appealing flick.
And a quick word of advice: always listen to the guy hefting such a zombie-slaying contraption. Dude has already survived an attack by zombie trout. Yeah. Zombie. Fucking. Trout.
And that pretty much sums up this Down Under zomcom’s approach to undead fare. Less slapstick than something like Dead Alive or Evil Dead, Undead plays up the absurdity of being caught in a zombie outbreak as a pregnant girl and her boyfriend, a pair of dopey, incompetent cops, the local beauty queen (Miss Catch of the Day) and heavily armed fisherman Marion hole up to wait out the undead.
Their failure to just sit still and stay quiet, largely the fault of the aforementioned bumbling cops, drives their increasingly absurd efforts to escape.

Zombology: A meteorite shower rains down on the small Australian town of Berkeley, tainting the local water supply and the rain. Anyone who gets enough of an exposure gets all white eyed and hungry for brains. These muscular zombies also have the brawn to decapitate their prey with swipe or punch their way through skulls. So get the quadruple shotgun rig actually sounds like a solid investment, doesn't it? They’re also more verbal than your average zombie, moaning “brains” and “join us” in voices like a Gears of War boomer. And hey, you wouldn’t think these zombies have anything to do with the aliens that just erected a spiked wall all around the town do you?

Surprisingly, Undead was more diverting than I thought it would be despite occasionally recycling gags more than is healthy. The actors are engaging enough, the zombies appropriately grotesque and the humor is mercifully understated and unwinking. My wife, no zombie fan at all, picked it and giggled her head off the entire time. For that impressive feat, Undead only sucks 33 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.