Friday, June 24, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "Masters of Horror: Homecoming"

“Masters of Horror: Homecoming”
Stars: John Tenney, Thea Gill, Robert Picardo
Writer: Based on the short story “Death & Suffrage” by Dale Bailey; Teleplay by Sam Hamm
Dir: Joe Dante
58 minutes

I really wished the “Masters of Horror” series had a group of executives with balls backing it up. It gave a group of directors, mostly known in horror circles, a chance to take the “Tales From The Crypt,” “Outer Limits,” “Twilight Zone” approach to risqué material. Of all of the episodes of the two, short-lived seasons, I had a handful of favorites: Takashi Miike’s “Imprint,” “Don Coscarelli’s “An Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” among others, and, absolutely Joe Dante’s “Homecoming.”
Before you think me a hippie, elitist, liberal, soldier-hater, enemy sympathizer, etc., I purely looked at this (at first) as an entertaining take on the zombie mythos — what if zombies came back and had a purpose, other than to eradicate the “living disease?”
What if they happened to be soldiers of a current war conflict? What about soldiers of conflicts decades ago? What if all they wanted to do was express one of the most valued rights and expressions of democracy: To vote.
That, as a concept, is fascinating.
Put it in the hands of Joe “Gremlins” Dante, you have a few chances at making fun of the establishment.
For you young bloods, Dante skewered the consumer culture of the 1980s (without many of rich and privileged even realizing it) right in the middle of the craze with “Gremlins” in 1985 (take a look at that film with that idea in mind).
So, to take on “Homecoming,” written to address the current, heavy issue of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Dante churned out an hour of something that should have drawn a shitload of debatable heat.
So, here it is: A war is going on. A sitting president is facing massive ridicule regarding an ongoing war, a war that is increasingly becoming unpopular. When David Murch (Tenney), a pundit for the sitting president, makes an off-the-cuff wish on a cable news show for his dead brother, killed in (or around) Vietnam, and other dead veterans to return and tell the world how proud they were to die for their country, the dead veterans begin to arrive at polling places. While an Ann Coulter-clone (Gill) attempts to capitalize on the pundit’s call, the president’s re-election team soon learns the dead veterans might not be too happy to have gone to war “for a lie.” After they “speak” at the polls, the dead drop dead, but, for the sitting president, it may be the end of the line, unless his pundit and the newly-groomed talking-head can find a way to spin the exit polls, demonize the dead voters, and make it all palatable to the American public — all in an effort to win re-election.
But, you can’t keep a good soldier down, especially an American one.
Romero Rules Followed: None; these zombies arise simply to have a purpose, and they have no need for eating humans. In fact, the only violence they display is if their honor is questioned (great scene).
Gore factor: Moderate
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies, but in a very different category.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: I really, really enjoyed “Homecoming,” but I could not enjoy it as much as I think I should have. For one, I know a few vets from the current war. They are not exactly a fan of thinking they went and fought for nothing. And, sadly, the scars of how Vietnam veterans were treated are still mending. I would feel more comfortable in praising “Homecoming” if some honest servicemen/women could watch it, without reservation, and tell me “I have no regrets for what I was sent to do.”
I would be an incredible asshole to even think I could predict/give an opinion as to how any veteran of any war/conflict would/should react should they survive/be killed in battle.
While “Homecoming” was an over-the-top parody/political commentary that (slightly) flinches at really driving the point home, I enjoyed it, and would encourage everyone, conservative, liberal, green, anarchist, hippie, etc. to watch it, put aside your personal ideals, and then, only then, decide how you feel about “Homecoming.”
I can’t.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

ZomBlog Review: 'Zombie'

Stars: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCullough, Richard Johnson, Al Clives, Auretta Gay, Stephania D’Amario, Olga Karlatos
Writer: Elisa Briganti
Dir: Lucio Fulci
91 minutes

Where, oh where, do I begin with this one? Aside from poor English dubbing, this could possibly the best zombie film aside from “Night of the Living Dead.” Yes, that is a bold statement. And I will stand by it without flinching.
Lucio Fulci, may he rest with the (currently) peacefully sleeping dead, saw the sensation brought about by George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” Dario Argento, famed giallo maestro of Italy, made a “European Cut” of Romero’s “Dawn” and unleashed it upon Europe and most of the rest of the non-U.S.A. world. It was simply titled “Zombi.”
Fulci felt Italy needed to answer. So, unofficially, he made this tiny film, known in Italy and most of Europe as “Zombi 2.”
While I will go down swinging saying that Romero’s “Dawn” is a superior film overall, Fulci made a far superior zombie film here.
Yes, I just wrote that.
“Zombie” kept simple what us gorehound and zombie fans wanted: basic plot, extreme zombie carnage, likeable characters, and, for the most part, Romero’s rules were left intact. And, he added some visual touches and startling, burn-into-your-brain moments that only Fulci could deliver.
I’m already praising this gem without telling the noobs what it entails. So, for the unfamiliar…
The film opens with a handgun firing a single shot into a rising white sheet, wrapped in rope, in the form of a person. An off-screen voice says, “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.”
So begins “Zombie.” Said boat seems to have wandered (maybe?) off course and wound up in the New York harbor. As the harbor patrol investigates, they encounter a rather portly man with a taste for neck flesh. As one of the officers empties his gun into the chubster, the fat man falls into the water…
Cut to a “newspaper newsroom,” where ace reporter Peter West (McCullough, an great yet oft-overlooked British character actor) is given an assignment to look into the strange adrift vessel (an assignment he gets from an obvious Italian-speaking Fulci himself). Upon checking out the dock, West encounters Ann (Farrow), from whom he learns the boat belonged to her father. Her father had left for the island of Matool (somewhere in the Caribbean, the best we can tell) and he lost touch with his daughter, aside from a note they find aboard. West and Ann set sail to Matool, aboard a boat chartered by “American” explorers of the deep, Susan and Brian (who are dubbed, at times poorly).
It is shortly after this rendezvous that one of the films first iconic moments occurs: Zombie Vs. Shark. Yes: ZOMBIE VS. SHARK. Susan decides to take an impromptu SCUBA dive and finds herself confronted by both a member of the undead and a member of one of cinema’s other unrelenting predators. I won’t spoil that encounter any further other than to say, again, ZOMBIE VS. SHARK.
Our pleasant protagonists arrive at Matool, the boat suffering a bit of damage from the ZOMBIE VS. SHARK incident earlier. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Dr. Menard (Johnson) and his fed-up-to-her-gills-with-his-obsession-with-the-dead wife, Olga (Karlatos). Menard is trying to figure out why the natives of Matool suspect voodoo in bringing some of the recently deceased back to life, while his gorgeous-eyed wife simply wants to get away from it all (her eyes…her gorgeous, green eyes…so often focused on…sigh).
We learn Menard is simply not willing to walk away from trying to figure out a scientific explanation to the recently dead returning to life (sidenote: the voodoo concept has been derided by some critics of this film. I am sure I am not the first to mention it was prominently brought up as a theory by Ken Foree in “Dawn of the Dead,” leading to a very famous catchphrase from that film).
As our travelers from the U.S.A. meet up with Menard, they learn the fate of Ann’s father, and Menard asks the travelers to check on his wife, whom, after a heated (and abusive argument) had been left home alone without a watchful eye over her (oh, if only she had a watchful eye).
If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll get that sad attempt at a joke later.
Upon finding Menard’s wife dispatched, the team attempts to reach the hospital and crashes along the way, conveniently into what appears to be a graveyard left by Spanish conquistadors. And, here, yet another iconic (one of about 16 in this film) moment occurs. Can’t spoil that sucker either, but you’ll know it when it happens.
The survivors haul ass back to the hospital with Menard and then wage a standoff the likes Romero wished he could have staged at the Monroeville Mall. Tons of fire, Molotov cocktails, gunfire, blood splatters, surprises, and carnage ensues. But, it doesn’t end there. But there is where it ends here.

Romero Rules Followed: Slow, shifty, shambling, rotting messes of undead meat. Get bit, get dead. Yup, zombies.
Gore factor: One of the goriest of all zombie films.
Zombies or Wannabees? Are you kidding? You fricken better have zombies if you are bold enough to name the film “Zombie.”
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Concrete, unshakable, inarguable classic.
Additional comments: Want to introduce someone into the realm of the zombies? Look no further than this one. And, look, I know, there is a generation gap where if the mouths don’t match the words (it’s called dubbing, jerks), viewers will scream “this sucks!” If they scream that, they are not worth being your friends. Embrace this Italian-made jewel for what it is — a classic zombie entry, and one of the finest films the late, great Fulci ever made. And one of the best horror films ever made.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

ZomBlog Review: Part 2 of "The Walking Dead"

“The Walking Dead”
Season One, Episodes 4-6
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yuen, Jeffrey DeMunn, Emma Bell, Iron E Singleton, Michael Rooker, and Noah Emmerich

Writers: Robert Kirkman, Glenn Mazzara, Adam Fiero, Frank Darabont
Directors: Johan Renck, Ernest R. Dickerson, Guy Ferland

It has been some time since the zombies have shown their sharp teeth on this tiny little blog. Both of your humble reviewers have been incredibly busy with, uh, real-life stuff. But, as we know, zombies never truly die. So, here we are; a return to the living dead with part 2 of a review of “The Walking Dead” season 1…

Rick has led a few of the survivors into the city to retrieve both Merle and the bag of weapons he dropped earlier. Upon arriving in the city, and discovering Merle found a way to his own escape, the focus shifts to the bag of guns. While executing a plan to grab the guns, Glenn is kidnapped by a gang of Hispanic thugs, while Daryl captures one of the “thugs’” own. After a brazen plan by Rick, the real noble purpose of “The Vatos” gang is revealed. Meanwhile, back at the camp, Jim is losing his mind, digging hole after hole atop a sun-baked hill, scaring the crap out of everyone, ultimately causing Shane to take action and settle him down. Rick and his crew learn their return vehicle has been taken, and as they race back to camp, they hear screams — screams of those at the camp, realizing they have just have been ambushed by the dead. Just in time, Rick and his newly armed troop arrive at the camp, taking out the remnants of the walking dead. At the same moment, everyone is beginning to realize the cost of the ambush, including a minor character.

The zombie attack has subsided, and the camp is cleaning up the bodies, both of the former living and the walking dead. During the disposal of the bodies, Andrea keeps watch over her severely bitten sister, awaiting for her inevitable reanimation, and Jim is discovered to have been bitten by the infected during the attack. A recurring theme appears in the series — again: Daryl needs to be stopped multiple times from killing a living being. Jim is quarantined to Dale’s camper, while Rick begins devising a plan to head to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta as a last-ditch effort to rescue Jim and the camp — and find an answer — from/about the plague. After forming alliances with his wife and his estranged friend Shane, Rick convinces (almost) everyone to mount a caravan to the CDC. Along the way, Jim decides his place to die is alone in the woods, and, after too much debate, the caravan decides to leave him on the side of the road. Meanwhile, the audience is treated to a glimpse into the life of Dr. Jenner, a seemingly alone scientist who has settled into a daily routine of trying to find a cure for the plague … as well as seeing a tragic mistake that may have set Jenner back years. As the caravan reaches the CDC, night has landed and, aside from Rick, the caravan members are growing weary of the prediction that the CDC is the last place to go. While the undead converge on the caravan as it arrives at the CDC, Rick pleads to a watchful eye…and it seems to answer.

The episode begins with a plot-filler — Shane at the hospital with Rick, still in a coma. Shane witnesses the slaughter of both patients and the undead by the military while he tries to rescue Rick from his hospital bed. Ultimately, Shane flees.
Flash to the present, and the survivors are underground, getting drunk on wine, eating a hearty meal, while their host, Jenner, sits off to the side, quiet and slightly amused. As the guests begin to question their gracious host, they learn that the plague has no hope of a cure, and the best chance for survival donated herself to the cause. In a brilliantly filmed scene, the protagonists see what the infection does, how it changes a once normal person into a flesh-finding beast, and, ultimately, the only known cure for the undead. While Mrs. Grimes and Shane (drunkenly) fight off feelings for each other, Jenner’s acceptance of humanity’s fate is soon revealed. And the countdown to survival begins, with some deciding if life on the outside is worth a chance, or if incineration is a better option.

Romero Rules Followed: I saw a few quick little bastards in the zombie hordes, but these are, almost to a “T,” Romero zombies.
Gore factor: It grew in later episodes, especially the camp attack.
Zombies or Wannabees? Absolute zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: I can’t help but admit I was royally disappointed by the first two episodes of this series. I waited until it was all over (the whole six episodes) until I dived in. It has a few pitfalls (the most zombie-fueled episode came near the end, and the overly-emotional, although nearly touching, zombie transformation was dragged out far too long [not to mention foreshadowing was fist-pounded at the beginning of said episode], and Jenner was too interesting of a character to not have been introduced earlier; the writers could have decided to introduce him in the same way (a sprinkle of his diaries at the end of each episode would have added a tad bit of mystery and intrigue into his character, rather than simply shoe-horning him into the last two episodes — but that’s just me).
I cannot say “The Walking Dead” sucked. I simply expected more. Once again, I admit I have not delved into the graphic novels as of yet, but seeing numerous Facebook/Twitter/emails about it, I really expected a new generation’s “Night of the Living Dead.” “The Walking Dead,” as a TV series, doesn’t even come close. It has some great moments, but some moments are (majorly) overshadowed by some issues I cannot ignore (How did Rick have all the answers at the beginning, seemingly holding it all together, and suddenly forget how to form a logical thought by the end of the season? He looked completely lost by the end. And, please, if women are going to survive the apocalypse, they should not cry so much. Seriously. I think any woman who could survive a zombie apocalypse would not sit around crying all the time. Cut back on that, please. For some reason, I prefer to think of women as strong, not crying sissies).
All in all, these are minor complaints. “The Walking Dead” had a lot of high points. Despite my hurtful slings and arrows, we really were given a set of characters to which we could relate. We were given top-notch zombies (great work, KNB EFX; I have admired you since my youth). We were given a zombie story that felt mostly real. We were given characters and (some) situations we could relate. Not shabby for a basic cable channel. I now divert my focus onto the graphic novel (which, certainly will wind up here for praise/slaughter).
And, yes, without reservation, I gave this one a “Classic” rating. I’m not entirely stupid.