Monday, March 28, 2011

ZomBlog Review: Part 1 of "The Walking Dead"

“The Walking Dead”
Season One, Episodes 1-3
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yuen, Jeffrey DeMunn, Emma Bell, IronE Singleton, Michael Rooker,
Writer: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore
Director: Frank Darabont, Michelle Maxwell MacLaren , Gwyneth Horder-Payten

When Andrew and I started this blog, we knew this behemoth was on the horizon. And I cannot count the thirty or so inquiries asking if we knew about/had heard of/were going to review “The Walking Dead.”
With all honesty, we do not know everything about zombies or everything about zombie films/fiction. I know the most (probably). But, combined, we know a load. There was no way in zombie-infested hell that “The Walking Dead” could have lumbered below our radar. That being said, the comics DID fly under my radar (long, boring nerdy story). So, for the sake of argument, I will be examining the televised version of “The Walking Dead,” and nothing about the comic book series (for now).
So, here we go.

“Days Gone By”:
Rick Grimes (Lincoln), an injured deputy sheriff, awakens in a hospital from a coma to find everyone and everything is gone. In a desperate attempt to find his (nearly) estranged wife and child, he hauls ass home in his hospital gown to find a few peculiar pedestrians along the way and ultimately a father and son team of survivors who fill him in that, should he get bit, he will develop an uncontrollable fever, a fever that will kill him dead and later cause a return from death. They know — because the wife/mother of the Jones boys seems to return nightly to the house they have landed as a hideout; Mama comes home and wants to reunite, while father, eventually armed with a high-powered rifle, just can’t bring himself to blow mama’s brains out. Deputy Grimes heads toward Atlanta, Georgia, on horseback, hoping that the news of a heavily-fortified shelter are true. Rumors are unfounded. Rick finds his only shelter from a horde of the hungry undead is an abandoned Army tank. And from there, a friendly voice may be able to save him…

Rick finds his savior is a smart-ass but fleet-of-foot Asian, Glenn, who guides him into a department store in the middle of besieged Atlanta. From there, Rick learns many others have survived the …well… hordes of the undead. The survivors he meets, he learns, are scavengers, looking for supplies, and, thanks to his boomy hello, are now drawing the attention of the surrounding undead, blocking their return to a camp in the middle of the Georgia wilderness. Speaking of the camp, the audience learns not only is Grimes’ wife and child are alive, but she is wantonly accepting the attention of his former police partner, Shane (which is fairly graphically represented in the opening credits). But, back to Rick, who has found himself inside a department store in the middle of Atlanta, realizing he has stranded the group of scavengers by firing off a full clip of bullets while hauling ass to cover. And he doesn’t get much help from a racist redneck, Merle Dickson (Rooker, aka Henry Lee Lucas; so glad to see you, sir). Upon meeting the scavengers, realizing their plight at the hands of now attentive zombies, Rick and Glenn devise a plan to transport the survivors inside a delivery truck — ultimately deciding the safest way to get to the truck is by walking through the horde of zombies using “creative camouflage.”

“Tell It To The Frogs”:
Upon reuniting with his family at a camp in the woods, Rick decides that leaving behind an incredible redneck/racist in Atlanta — handcuffed to a rooftop, mind you — might be against his moral code. After a brief discussion between the other scavengers and a difficult “Spartacus” like moment with the chained-man’s younger brother at the camp, Rick decides to take three men back to Atlanta to rescue Merle — and pick up a bag of guns he siphoned from the sheriff’s station but bailed on after seeking refuge in the tank. While all seems hunky-dory with his wife (Wayne Callies), her “I thought my husband was dead” replacement, Shane, is finding it difficult to see that Rick has rejoined his family and finds a way to still keep involved in the Grimes family dynamic. Rick, in the meantime, leads the team of four to Atlanta to rescue Merle, ultimately realizing they may be too late for a rescue.

Analysis: I know I am not the first person to point out that “anal” is the first part of “analysis,” which is probably why I wanted to find so many issues with “The Walking Dead” upon first viewing. Look, the show’s pilot showed balls with the first scene showing Rick blast the brains out of a little zombified child. That takes guts for a basic-cable channel to introduce a new show to a wide audience in that way (especially if the audience has only heard that the show featured zombies, and knew absolutely nothing else about it). Darabont is probably the reason that two out of three adapted Stephen King stories have reached dynamic critical (and Academy Award-nominated) acclaim. “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” are phenomenal films, faithfully adapted from the source material. Darabont seems to understand the importance of strong character development in a drama/horror (he wrote the screenplay to “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” the collective fan-favorite of the series [Sidenote: Hey, Andrew, where are the Academy Award-nominated writers from the ‘Friday the 13th’ series? Hello? Hello?]).
Darabont gets it. Or so I thought.
My biggest problem with the first three episodes is Mrs. Grimes and her quick dismissal of Shane upon learning Rick is still alive. It is nearly glossed over in a few lines of dialogue and, considering the introduction of Shane and his relationship with Rick in the first episode, it remains a tense element, but how it is handled in the third episode seems almost an afterthought (yeah, Shane beats a misogynist’s face in after being told to stay away, but still). Really, the “our relationship is over” talk is less than a minute of screentime. And, am I alone in thinking Lori Grimes might be a colossal bitch? She certainly was portrayed that way. I don’t want to sound like a soap opera watching house-frau, but the relationship with Shane/Rick and Lori is a glaring plot issue (which I had assumed would be addressed in more detail later).
Another issue? The blatant “I’ve seen this before” moments. You’ve read this blog before, right? Seen a guy wake up in a hospital after a zombie apocalypse with no idea it is happening? You might remember “28 Days Later.” Seen bodies of the slain undead wrapped and tied up in white sheets? You might have seen Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” Seen a group of people trapped in a department store? You might have seen “Dawn of the Dead.” Seen a sympathetic halved corpse? Yup, you saw her give detailed plot exposition in “The Return of the Living Dead.” Seen people shuffle through a horde of the undead by pretending to be one of them? “Shaun of the Dead” made it damn funny.
OK, I am picking nits. The real problems I have with the first season of “The Walking Dead” show up later.
So, after my curmudgeonly remarks, let me give the first three episodes the praise they indeed deserve.
First off, the pilot gets the audience sucked in right away. The zombie effects are top-notch (go figure, Greg Nicotero of the KNB Effects company is a producer). The acting is suitable for a cable-network show (although I seriously doubt any Emmy award nominations are headed hereto forth). But, again, it’s a drama series with zombies. If you are a zombie fan, you’ve suffered through many an atrocious attempt at acting. “The Walking Dead” succeeds on many levels of marrying heady-social issues with an undead apocalypse (Rick murdering [rescuing?] the aforementioned halved-corpse-lady in the park is a rather bizarre, yet touching, moment).
So, down to brass tacks…

Romero Rules Followed: I saw a few quick little bastards in the zombie hordes, but these are, almost to a “T,” Romero zombies…at this point.
Gore factor: Fairly mild, save for a couple feasting moments and the dismemberment-of-zombie-for-camouflage sequence.
Zombies or Wannabees? Absolute zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: I’ll save this spot for the final review of season 1.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gaming the System

Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad
Dir. Yohei Fukuda


Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a katana-wielding Japanese chick dressed in a bikini, feather boa and cowboy hat; Pinky Tuscadero’s slutty Asian twin; and a fat, bumbling bit of so-called comic relief go trekking through the zompocalyptic wasteland in search of revenge for the most clichéd of reasons. The multifarious problems with Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad, adapted from the hack and slash video games of the same name, are painfully apparent 15 minutes in when a promising zombie-slashing sequence grinds to a halt for a solid five minutes of uninterrupted, shoe-horned exposition. After that you know the whole plot and how this will inevitably end. The next hour is just shuffling lethargically toward the inevitable confrontation with the madman behind the zombie outbreak, his murderous minion and a horde of undead brain-munchers sporting identical hooded ponchos. Along the way, all of the trials are telegraphed well in advance and dealt with so perfunctorily that not even the cast has any investment in this flick. Because of that, none of the ham-fisted attempts to strike a dramatic, emotional beat ever ring true.

Zombology: Some time in the near future Sugita, a madman researcher at the D3 Corp. (producers of the game in an Easter egg) has figured out how to revive the dead. Predictably, the dead turn into virus-spreading shambling corpses. Undeterred by a world slowly depopulated by his creations, Sugita keeps working on his formula, needing only the blood of the heroine's family line (why? who knows?). While that all seems to comport with the Romero Rules, St. George would probably look askance at bullet proof kung fu zombies.

Though Onechanbara continues Japan’s tradition of women in swimwear facing off with the living dead, it is, put simply, not a good movie. It doesn’t even work as an 85 minute commercial for a game that debuted on the PS2 seven years ago. In fact, Onechanbara highlights the difference between gaming and watching movies. The lack of coherent plot and appreciable characterization (at one point we’re told the titular bikini-clad samurai can no longer emote after the death of her father) can be glossed over when you’re button mashing your way through a horde of pixilated zombies. In a movie, it’s just piss-poor filmmaking and a tedious waste of time. For proving Uwe Boll hasn’t cornered the market on half-assed video game adaptations, Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad sucks its way to a 71 percent on the Hell of the Living Dead scale.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "Frankenhooker"

Stars: James Lorinz, Patty Mullen, Charlotte Helmkamp, Louise Lasser, Jennifer Delora
Writer: Robert Martin and Frank Henenlotter
Dir: Frank Henenlotter
85 minutes

It is not often I can watch a movie I know is crap and still recommend it. Just about everything Frank Henenlotter has directed could be called a crappy film — but they each have just enough of the right elements to make them tolerable and, dare I say, fun.
I have been beaten down over and over again for loving “Brain Damage.” I have taken a lot of guff for enjoying “Basket Case.” And I’ve been kicked in the teeth for praising this terrible gem.
And, yes, it is bad — but so bad it is good.
I keep looking back at the past two months of reviews on this site and think, “The few readers/subscribers we have must check this blog and think to themselves, ‘When in the fuck are they going to talk about zombies again?’ ”
I promise, this is simply housecleaning.
I am a Facebook-rat. I admit, I get lonely and sometimes virtually reach-out to like-minded horror fans. I get about four to ten suggestions a month of, “Hey, have you checked this out?” Sometimes I simply say, “Yes, we reviewed it, here is the link, enjoy!” Other times I say, “Hmm, that might actually be interesting.”
Here is one of those latter instances.
I own “Frankenhooker” on DVD. I should be ashamed. I’m not. After Andrew did such respectable job examining the Frankenstein-undead/zombie inspiration, I pretty much disregarded anything Frankie-like.
But, you know, when an entire film is dedicated to an undead hooker, exploding crack-heads, and features a pre-porn career Heather Hunter, I have to dive in and argue it needs to appear here, even if it is only loosely married to zombie-lore.
“Frankenhooker” is itself a cult classic, something you would have expected to see Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear hosting on USA “Up All Night” in the early ’90s. I am sure it was featured at one point.
After gifting a self-propelled lawnmower to his fiancée’s father, which promptly runs over his hilariously “plump” lady, Jeffrey Franken (Lorinz), a nerdy and awkward inventor, sets his mind to bring back to life his severed bride. After Elizabeth Shelley’s (Mullen) accidental pre-nuptial death-by-lawn-utensil, Franken collects the salvageable pieces, including her head, and stores them in an icebox full of bubbling, electrified purple Kool-Aid. In the meantime, he goes searching for possible body parts, including using his life’s savings to rent a room full of New York hookers from a muscle-bound pimp in order to shop for the perfect parts. But when they discover he brought along his secret “re-agent,” a sparkling basketball-sized crystal of what they dub “super-crack,” all bets — and heads — are off. After a hilarious display of exploding hookers, Franken gathers up what he can salvage from Hookershima, and sets to rebuild his fiancée from the ’sploded parts. And, well, when he gets his girl back together, she greets him with a slew of the most familiar movie hooker pick-up lines — “Wanna date? Wanna go out? Got any money?” — with hilarious, robotic delivery. I must apologize, my friends, but when the newly minted Elizabeth shows up, and shows all her “quirks,” I can’t help but smile.
Oh, and Jeffrey must find a way to deal with/confine his new creation, even if she is going around New Your City and making Johns explode everywhere (no, that is not a euphemism.).
Beating “Bride of Re-Animator” by a couple months, and trailing the original premise of “Frankenstein” by nearly 60 years, “Frankenhooker” expands on the idea of collecting multiple body parts, each of those parts having an individual trait carried over from whence it came, and the composite of those parts struggling to find a collective identity. That might seem a bit heady and existential, but, nah, not for this movie. Henenlotter doesn’t go for deep meanings. He went for cheap laughs. And I was a sucker for them then and remain so now.
Looking back, it seems the “Frankenstein” grave had somewhat of a small robbery around 1990, with the Jeff Fahey/Brad Dourif starrer “Body Parts” also coming out around the same time and only a few short years later the Kenneth Branaugh/Robert DeNiro “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (which, I, um, also kinda like). “Frankenhooker” is laughs first, gore second, and story third. It hangs together with loose stitches, but, hell, you weren’t expecting “The Godfather” with that title, were you?

Romero Rules Followed: Uh, none
Gore factor: Surprisingly little despite the amount of exploding bodies involved.
Zombies or Wannabees? The ending is open for argument, but, overall, wannabees.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine (on the overall cult-status scale, it is a classic)
Additional comments: Look, “Frankenhooker” is a guilty pleasure. I’m sorry. But, meet me back here next week for part one of an exhaustive analysis of Season 1 of “The Walking Dead.”
And, oh yeah, might have had an issue or two with that one...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "Dawn of the Mummy"

“Dawn of the Mummy”
Stars: Brenda King, Barry Sattels, George Peck
Writer: Daria Price, Ronald Dobrin, and Frank Agrama
Dir: Frank Agrama
97 minutes

I think I stumbled onto a new zombie influence not yet discussed on this blog: Mummies.
And damn my eyes for not stumbling onto it with the Boris Karloff/Universal Studios classic, “The Mummy,” rather than this sad sack of an attempt at filmmaking.
Full disclosure: I remember looking at the TV schedule as a young, impressionable boy and seeing the option of spending a Sunday afternoon filled with “Wide World of Sports” or going deep into the channels and watching an afternoon of horror films on the local graveyard of borderline public domain fodder, Channel 50 in Washington, D.C. DC-50 is now a radio station owned by the CW/Paramount network (if I am assuming correctly) and is actually broadcasting original programming.
But it wasn’t always so. And so (getting past my swim in “Lake Me” for a moment), my nimble fingers click-click-clicked the channel dial to see one of my first introductions into flesh-eating undead.
Well, special effects didn’t really need to be that impressive for a child in the early 1980s. Nor did plot, dialogue, character development, and editing.
Holy shit, what a difference 25 years make.
The fact that I could remember the name “Dawn of the Mummy” nearly 25 years later would make one think “Damn, this must have been good to have left such an impression.”
For all the wrong reasons, it did. I had remembered the final 10 minutes of the film in great detail, where a fairly nimble group of undead mummies raid a wedding party to start helping themselves to the main course: the wedding patrons. The black-faced/grue-dripping/gauze-wrapped fiends did an impressive job at ripping guts and gore from the guests and promptly consuming them (again, it was impressive then; it’s just OK now).
Yes, I remembered the “pay-off.” I think even at a horror/gore hungry 8-years-old, I must have found some other way to occupy my attention span, probably with He-Man or G.I. Joe toys, rather than to have sat with my undivided attention at the first 80-plus minutes of this terrible, boring, disjointed romp. And, instead of boring you with the usual, long-winded detail I tend to plop down on this blog, I will simply give a few bullet points.
• A photographer and a group of models are sent to Cairo to do a photo shoot for, what a terrible voiceover tells the audience, is a very important client for a magazine; So, one would think they would wind up shooting at the pyramids. Nope. This photographer decides to shoot in the middle of a desert that could have been in the Mojave, or a back-lot at a studio for all one could tell. And, yeah, the film was actually shot in Cairo and shows the cast driving around the majestic pyramids. Opportunity (or filming permit) missed.
• An American “grave robber” and his bumbling, stereotyped Arabic assistants have invaded the tomb of well-known savage mummy, but can’t find his treasure. They overact the shit out of every scene they are in, and, for absolutely no reason, agree to allow the photographer and his crew to take over the tomb they had invaded to finish their photoshoot. Still with me?
• The heat of the lamps used to light the terribly choreographed photoshoot take several days to (Melt? Burn? Annoy?) awaken the mummy. The mummy (a name I would write here, but it is said no less than 15 different ways throughout the film) gets up, gets pissed, somehow raises his henchmen (who were buried with him in the tomb) out of the middle of the fricken desert at the suggestion of a crazy woman. Confused yet? I just attempted to describe the first 20 minutes.
This movie is a mess all over. My counterpart really needs to review this one. Aside from (overt) racism and stock footage montages, this movie might heavily compete with “Hell of the Living Dead” as the worst attempt at zombie/undead filmmaking I have yet seen.
That said, the SFX people did not do too shabby a job with the gut-munching end. I’m only referring to the glimpses and long shots of the feasting. The entire climax is also a mess, and a hurried one at that.

Romero Rules Followed: I could almost see some Romero influence. The mummies do not run, they are clearly dead, they eat the living, and they can be beaten down with blows/shots to the head. But, ultimately, not zombies.
Gore factor: Not much at all until the last 10 minutes.
Zombies or Wannabees? I’ll have to say very, very close to zombies. But, ultimately, no.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Waste of time, unless the MST3K guys have a commentary track and you have plenty of mind-altering substances on hand. Copious amounts of beer or Old Crow bourbon would be fitting.
Additional comments: I really think the director realized he had made a total piece of garbage once he hit the editing room. The excessive use of post-production voiceovers to attempt to fill in plotholes and dialogue miscues is a glaring problem that cannot be ignored. Who knows. The DVD copy I have does include a commentary. There might be a day where I attempt to sit through this again (if I want to really torture myself/punish myself for some transgression) and listen to the director either defend or destroy this film, Tommy Wiseau style. I can’t subject myself to it anytime soon, though. Remember, loyal readers, we do this so you don’t have to.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Zombie or Wannabe: Jason Voorhees

Rob and I are cinematically simpatico to a frightening degree for two 30-something heterosexual guys in committed relationships, but where we draw our respective battelines is at our preferred ’80s slasher cheezfests. While Rob mumbles excuses for the continued existence of the unfunny/unscary tedium that is the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, I could be found camping out at Crystal Lake.
Jason Voorhees is pretty much everything I ask for in a murderous cinematic maniac: yes, there’s a back story, but fortunately it’s not that important and takes a backseat to an endless parade of nubile camp counselors blundering blindly into machetes and spear guns after smoking a bowl and boinking a coed. Jason himself is an implacable force of bloodthirsty nature. There’s no bad one liners, no monologuing while the survivor girl comes up with a brilliant plan and he’s been resurrected more times than Aerosmith’s career.
And it’s that resurrection that leads me to ponder whether Mr. Voorhees should be invited to the zombie family reunion. So I turned my attention to Jason Lives, the sixth film in the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason’s fourth starring turn and the first appearance of the undead murderer that’s become ingrained in popular culture.

The case for: Things start off promisingly putridly enough as series staple Tommy Jarvis digs up Jason’s body to prove to himself the slasher is actually dead. The be-webbed, maggoty remains of Mssr. Voorhees pass the Fulci test gracefully. Jason’s reanimation, his first run as the undead and not just a backwoods retard with a bag on his head, comes courtesy of a bolt of lightning in cinematic Frankenstein fashion (the town general store is also named Karloff’s for extra Frankenstein-iness). We’ve previously dubbed Ol’ Frank a key root in the zombie family tree but decided he just doesn’t make the cut on his own. Jason's first shuffling steps out of the grave are certainly zombie worthy, but fairly quickly he's back to his traditional implacable stride as he mows through his victims. Speaking of the victims, Jason Voorhees is even smart enough to chop the phone lines to the camp when he comes a-callin’, which actually speaks to his zombie bona fides. Remember, Romero’s rambling dead were also smart enough to cripple the phones in Night of the Living Dead. But that does raise a question about ….

The case against: Jason is far more comfortable with tools than I generally expect from my undead assassins: the signature machete, a belt full of knives and even chucking an arrow. And pausing fresh from the grave to don his signature hockey mask is more sartorial acumen than any zombie has a right to claim. While Jason shrugs off bullet wounds like his zombie kin, a point blank shot to the head—a sovereign remedy for zombies—doesn’t halt him either, which is a serious breach of the Romero Rules. His prudish disapproval of promiscuous sex and recreational drug use also represents more moralizing than a zombie’s festering brain can handle.

The verdict: Not a zombie by reason of utility. Jason’s just too handy with his … umm … hands to take a place among the living dead. While writers continue to find flimsy excuses to dredge his carcass from the bottom of Crystal Lake for another killing spree and the accompanying box office receipts, Jason exhibits none of the botched science experiment/viral outbreak symptoms we’ve come to expect from a canon zombie. Combined with his intelligence, skill with weapons and single mindedness, Mama Voorhees’ little boy just doesn’t make the cut.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Unfunny

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead
Dir. Jordan Galland


The only zombie to be found in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead is the shambling corpse that was once Ralph Macchio’s career. Now you may think it cruel to mock a man who’s life peaked 25 years ago and has since been auctioned off for vanity projects for Will Smith’s spawn, but watching a slumming former teen start waddle his Kennedy bloated visage through this incoherent, bloodless vampire farce is pretty much indicative of the world of suck we’re about to enter.
Vampires are not zombies. I wish Netflix knew the difference before I bumped this mislabeled shitfest up to the top of my queue on a lark. You owe me 82 excruciating minutes, Netflix!
Sad sack Julian (seriously, can I get a comedy/horror lead who isn’t a total loser?) is an unemployed 20-something theater director living in a back room at his doctor father’s office after breaking up with Anna (Devon Aoki, the model best known as the sword wielding Miho from Sin City).
Anna has moved on to possible mobster/failed business man/Ghost of Jersey Shore Yet to Come Macchio. Julian’s post-Anna life is a string of one night stands and moping with actor sidekick Vince. That all changes when Theo Horatio hires Julian to direct his avant garde production of Hamlet … with vampires. Soon Julian’s cast Vince as the dour Dane, Anna gets drafted as Ophelia and Theo starts eyeballing her pearly white neck.

ZombologyVampirology: The thoroughly incoherent plot revolves around Horatio and Hamlet (yes The Horatio and The Hamlet) who have somehow been transformed into vampires for reasons that involve the Holy Grail. I swear I was paying attention, taking notes even, but I have no idea what this movie is about. Vampire Horatio (who can walk in the sunlight, favors pancake makeup and detests garlic) has apparently spent the last 800 or so years putting on various vampiric productions of Hamlet and lunching on the cast – but the not the director. For some vague reason vampire law prevents him from noshing on the director until after the curtain falls. Unfortunately, that means Julian survives the bulk of the movie.

This movie is so awful it challenges my resolve as the ZomBlog’s self-designated Bad Cop.
Right from the title cards that break up sequences – Job Interview With a Vampire, Breakfast is Tiffany, Grave New World – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern just tries too damn hard and doesn’t deliver on either the gore or the giggles. In fact, this is the literary equivalent of Family Guy: instead of actual jokes, it just keeps tossing out endless cultural allusions and hoping those will distract you from the lack of humor, character or discernible plot. Given that damn near everybody in Hamlet dies in the end, I at least hoped the director would assuage our misery and off the entire cast horrifically, but alas and alack, most of these whiny fuckers survive. The movie never deviates an iota from the romcom template and you know exactly how this piece of shit will end. And vampires be-damned, it’s not bloodily. Imagine Twilight as written by Seth MacFarlane. This sucks 86 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.