Thursday, July 28, 2011

Zombie or Wannabe: The Stuff in "The Stuff"

“The Stuff”



Stars: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello

Writer: Larry Cohen

Dir: Larry Cohen

93 minutes

There are many a film that date the 1980s as the time of indulgence, trends, and paranoia. Few capture it as well as “The Stuff.”

That is a bold statement, to be sure, but watch it. A new creamy, yogurt/ice cream dessert phenomenon has been drilled into the American culture, a dessert that seems to bubble out of the ground, have no calories, increase energy, and satisfy appetites. It is the Coca-Cola. It is Pepsi. It is a new titan on the market.

And there are ice cream and dessert companies who are fearing the new taste sensation will put them out of business, considering the new sensation, The Stuff, surpassed any FDA or any other food/government regulations, and is being distributed at will by a company.

Enter David “Mo” Rutherford (in a brilliant and having balls-out-fun performance by genre favorite Moriarty), an industrial espionage expert hired by the dessert companies to figure out how The Stuff is made and marketed and how they could compete with it. With his pretend dumb drawl, Mo asks his shady employers, “Do you know why they call me ‘Mo’? Because when I ask for something, I always want ‘Mo.’”

Yup, it’s the ’80s.

Switch to a young boy, Jason, whose midnight snack craving led him to see The Stuff “move” in his family’s refrigerator. Jason embarks on a skeptical and ultimately destructive attitude toward America’s “new taste sensation,” including attacking a grocery display, drawing Mo’s attention.

While Mo romances/influences the advertising director of The Stuff, Jason’s family ostracizes him, demanding he start to enjoy The Stuff, which they have begun eating exclusively. Jason attempts a rather humorous rouse to escape his family, meeting up at the right time with Mo, prompting Jason to explain his reasoning for puking in Mo’s car: “I just had to eat shaving cream!”

“Well, everyone has to … eat shaving cream once in their life,” Mo quips.

Oh, did I mention what seems to happen with hardcore Stuff eaters (later referred to as “Stuffies”)?

Starting with the mouth, The Stuff eats the head, the brain, and, ultimately the innards. And, during that time, it controls and consumes the consumer (subtle, right?). Mo and Jason meet up with Chocolate Chip Charlie (another hilarious turn by Morris, of a boatload of TV fame, including classic SNL), an industrialist also interested in how The Stuff has put him out of business.

When the crew meets up with Col. Spears (Sorvino), the movie takes, and embraces, the campy turn it had been speeding toward the entire time. And drives home the Reagan-era 1980s Cold War paranoia, the expense of consumerism, the price of excess, and the hopelessness of the American public to fight against corporate power.

So, bottom line: Why is this sucker here on the zomblog?

“The Stuff” expands, deftly, on what Romero introduced with “Dawn of the Dead.” In fact, Cohen’s take on the subject better encapsulated the pulse of the era. And it pains me to say that. Romero foreshadowed with “This is where we are heading.”; Cohen said “You know, you suckers, you were warned and didn’t care. And you still don’t, you sheep.”

Sadly, “The Stuff” has never been given its due. It is hardly a horror film, save for the few shots of mostly bloodless gore. It is satire first and foremost and handled better than Mr. Romero did in “Dawn.” While both directors were heavy-handed in their delivery, Cohen’s message was a sledge-hammer compared to Romero’s tack-hammer.

Zombies are of a collective mind: they all do what has been told to them via instinct: Eat and reproduce. By eating/biting us they create more of their kind.

Are we so different?


Friday, July 22, 2011

On the wane, oversaturated, or on the rise?

The zombie popularity dilemma and the under appreciation of the undead

Q: “How many Vietnam veterans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
A joke in poor taste, but if you chuckled a little, you’re my kind of person.
If you love the zombies, you probably have a bit of wit about you.
I can look back now on the scattered wastelands of the past 10 years and nod with a smirk, “F-ing A, my zombies had their day.”
From Romero coming back into the game, to one of the stars of “Zombieland” starring in an Oscar-winning film, to countless books, low- and big-budget films and remakes of classics suddenly becoming en vogue, one would think I am a happy camper who thinks, “Finally, the shamblers get their due.”
To a point, I am.
As I approach the meh age of 34, I look back at my childhood far more than I should. I wax nostalgic for a lot of media I once loved only to see it ruined, either by a lot of meddling (George Lucas), retreading (how many post-apocalyptic movies can we take?), and “gritty reboots” or “gritty remakes” (making something more gory is not always better, Hollywood).
Now that a pack of those who are about 10 to 15 years younger than I are clamoring for the recognition of discovering the undead hordes as their Holy Grail, I find myself more often annoyed than proud.
Call me a curmudgeon all you like, but I think it really is a matter of appreciating the groundwork that was laid prior to the discovery of something grand.
No one visits Egypt without the intention of visiting the pyramids. Yet, one truly has a far greater appreciation for them once they understand how much back-breaking work, scores of people, and limited technology of the time made those things rise from the sand and withstand time. Yeah, they are cool to look at and watch Michael Bay blow up, but, really, understanding that there is a structure, thousands of years old, settled in the middle of a desert, withstanding the test of time, weather, and human curiosity. That, considering mankind’s ability to find more efficient ways to destroy than to create, is beyond amazing.
That is a far-fetched metaphor, to be sure. Simple gut-muncher films are in no way on par with the creation of one the world’s greatest wonders.
But, as I see more and more zombie (and often sort-of) related zombie lore come out, I get upset when my zombies get tweaked, played with, or underappreciated. I’ve addressed the greatest debate before. I’ve tossed Romero’s salad shamelessly here over and over again.
Yet, I know more people who have seen the latest “Dawn of the Dead” and never knew it was a remake than those who actually knew it was.
I’ve met others who find shamblers boring and unthreatening.
I’ve met those who think zombies are kind of like vampires, but just dumb.
And I’ve met people who think “Twilight” needed to add zombies to make it even cooler. Why not? That series fucked the vampire and werewolf mythos in the eyesockets. Why not just go ahead and screw up zombies as well? (And, if Stephanie Meyer did fuck with zombies, don’t tell me. I just don’t want to know).
So, what is my point, you ask?
Have zombies had too good of a run as of late? They seem to be literal rock stars.
That is of which I am afraid. I grew up with these suckers. I’ve attempted several times through this blog to convert the new, to train their eyes on the old, to appreciate the pyramids built by Romero and Fulci, which have been assaulted or accented by modern sandstorms of idiocy or brilliance, and sprinkled with chaotic spice throughout the past 50 years.
Yet, I find myself digging my heels in, falling on deaf ears, and arguing with those who “weren’t there” when zombies really hit the scene. Hey, do the math: neither was I. But, like most people set in the ways of what they like, I “was there, man.” I grew up in the initial thick of it.
Lately, it appears there is an author, a director, a screenwriter, or a hack by any other name who seems to have the very basic idea of zombies in their head. Zombies suddenly blew up in the mid-2000s and have proceeded to “atomic bomb” the world with the success of “The Walking Dead” and others such as “28 Days Later.”
Yeah, I should be happy. I almost feel indifferent.
I guess I should be glad I am not a Bram Stoker turbo-fan. If I were, some snotty, hack, Mormon writer would be swinging from a tree right now.
Do yourself a favor if you enjoy modern zombies: explore their history. I have found myself immersed in a tome of zombie-lore recently, “Zombies: Encounters with the Living Dead,” by John Skipp, exploring the works of writers I love (Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman) and those I have never heard of (Leonid Andreyev, W.B. Seabrook) and I am loving it. Even this curmudgeon is enjoying old works featuring zombies. And if I can go back and find new pyramids, so can you.
Not everything new shines with the brilliance of found gold. But when you do find that nugget…
Oh, and speaking of new, follow this blog on twitter @zom_blog. I welcome friendly/aggressive banter/debate. And, should you be bored and need a recommendation for a good/awful zombie flick, tweet me there.
— Rob Perry

Friday, July 8, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "City of the Living Dead"

“City of the Living Dead”
Stars: Christopher George, Katrina MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Giovanni Radice
Writers: Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
Dir: Lucio Fulci
93 minutes

Leave it to Lucio Fulci to deliver a classic, top-five-of-all-time entry into not only the horror, but zombie canon as well, with “Zombie,” and follow it up with this film reviewed here and then his arguable masterpiece, “The Beyond.”
It is tough for me to jump right into this one as greedily as I did with “Zombie” or “The Beyond.” I fondly remember visiting those old video stores in the early 1980s and seeing the bastardized, MPAA-gutted, white box with ominous zombie skull beckoning me to watch “The Gates of Hell” (the ominous zombie skull strangely resembled the absolute suckfest “Hell of the Living Dead” box art, or vice versa; either way, someone should get their balls kicked in for confusing my developing brain with a suckfest and a mindfuck).
“City of the Living Dead” is not purely a zombie film, although it has rotting pussheads aplenty. It is a mash-up of ghosts, demons, and our beloved shamblers tossed into a blender of doomed prophecy, religion, witchcraft, the supernatural, and blow-up dolls.
Yeah, it’s all over the place.
Yet, it follows a very linear plotline that is surprisingly easy to follow.
The sleepy town of Dunwich is completely screwed now that a priest has hung himself and set in motion the opening of the gates of hell. During a séance hundreds of miles away in New York, Mary (MacColl) drops dead at a vision of the impending doom of Dunwich and the twisting-in-the-wind priest.
Naturally, journalist Peter (George) investigates the strange death-by-séance, and, like any journalist worth their salt, hangs around a graveyard just long enough to hear Mary screaming and clawing her way out of her grave — alive and having only been temporarily comatose due to the séance.
Still with me? Good.
Together, Peter and Mary decide to investigate the ominous visions Mary saw in her séance vision. They head to Dunwich, where, as the viewer already knows, shit has just gotten real-real.
Strange windstorms are rushing in. Random minor earthquakes shatter mirrors and destroy cinderblock foundations. Oh, and a girl, who imagines (maybe?) seeing the dead priest suddenly “evacuates” her abdomen. That is to say, “Guts, yer outta here, via my mouth.”
Yup, a woman graphically vomits up her entire digestive system.
And, the paranoid townsfolk decide the strange happenings are the doings of local weirdo, and pervert, Bob (Radice); the townsfolk must have seen “Cannibal Ferox” and just assumed he was up to no good … I think about three people just got that joke.
Anyways, Bob is (sadly) hunted down, drilled about the strange events about town, and, well, Bob can’t be blamed anymore after his brief interrogation.
As Peter and Mary (Paul was nowhere to be found) continue their investigation, they learn the priest’s suicide set off a series of events that will cause the gates of hell to open, on All Saints Day, less than three days from now. Suddenly, it becomes a race against time, a shower of maggots, disappearing and reappearing undead to figure out how to prevent the Biblical/Book of Enoch predicted apocalypse.
Damn, this is a fun horror film.

Romero Rules Followed: Fulci gave the rules the finger with this one.
Gore factor: Girl puking up her guts? Check. Table-drill through the head? Check. Lots of Fulci-designed gore? Double check.
Zombies or Wannabees? It’s a toughie, but, too many liberties are taken here. Wannabees abound.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic, as a gore/horrorfest.
Additional comments: I know I had a little fun with this one. Hell, watch the movie: It is fun. Fulci was having a blast. “The Beyond” was taken a tad more seriously. “The House by the Cemetery” was even more serious (it’ll be up here soon, no worries). In my worthlessly expert opinion, Fulci wanted to branch out from the Romero formula and inject a little variety into the zombie genre (by 1980, nearly 20 knock-offs of “Dawn of the Dead” had been unleashed around the world, each more terrible than the last; yet, “Zombie” landed firmly on its feet as an unofficial, and highly-regarded in horrordom, sequel to “Dawn,” six years prior to Romero’s “Day of the Dead”). Yes, Fulci threw some religious hodge-podge and new-age bullshit into the mix, but he made up for a lot of the “what the fuck is going on” with solid performances from stalwarts George and MacColl and “holy-shit, did-you-see-that?” sequences of graphic gore.
I’m not a huge gorehound. But, if I was, I think I would covet Fulci’s films above several others to get my fix.
The final verdict: It’s not canon, but it is a very, very fun flick to enjoy and just watch unfold.