Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Girl with all the Gifts - review

2016 (UK / USA)


Contains mild spoilers.

Just when I was starting to think the modern zombie love affair was over, all bar the bell, along comes a film (and book) that just for a moment reminds me that all might not be lost. With a clear, brave and original vision, great determination, and exquisite competence, The Girl with all the Gifts instils hope, and acts as to remind, if we needed it, that the zombie is a timeless metaphor, reflective and responsive to the fears of each new generation and both malleable and submissive to always be open to change. It's that admission that The Walking Dead post-apocalyptic survival slog, and the jaunty, flippant and entirely throwaway zombie-comedy might not be the only games in town; that rehashing the same narrative, or telling the same joke with minor cosmetic change might not be the only way to draw genre fans back time and again. Yes we're reliant yet again on brave independent film makers with a modest budget but maybe what with all the critical acclaim there's always the chance some of this fearless and avant-garde spice will rub off on the big boys; and also I for one would be happy for keen enthusiasts to once again take point even it does mean the number of films released takes a massive hit.

Okay; perhaps I'm guilty myself of going overboard whenever the next shiny new zombie story arrives, as British director Colm McCarthy's zombie's look and feel borrows heavily from Danny Boyle and the 28 Days Later phenomena. Also the story, without spoiling too much, of a new hybrid / evolved species potentially rendering the old extinct and redundant, shares more than few parallels with I Am Legend. Yet there's enough ingenuity and nuance in the weave performed by writer M.R. Carey, and more than enough skill and style in its transition from words to picture that I'm happy to overlook any complaints of imitation or derivation. Anyway; aren't there really only seven stories in the world?

Glen Close may be the name that grabs the box office headlines but it's 12 year old Sennia Nanua as Melanie that will certainly garner all the acclaim when the dust has settled. Her portrayal as the innocent, bright eyed but ultimately cursed inmate is nuanced and faultless, and contrasts perfectly with the cold, stark utilitarian lead scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell played by Close. Along with sympathetic and intensely conflicted teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and hard line Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) they perfectly capture the absurd, contradictory and desperate end of the world moral maze the story presents them with. Melanie is a human / zombie aberration torn, not born, into the world from infection in the womb. She shares the same vicious hunger to kill and eat, and yet she's also born with not just cognisant and rational thought, but perhaps, and this is the journey for both us, and the characters, the ability to control it.

Us zombie fans can be awfully annoying at times; stubborn and dogmatic that there's one way to do something; there's one zombie and he's dead, slow and Romero's prodigy. I still see pointless debate as to whether Boyle's not dead but infected are somehow not zombie, as if pulse alone dictates deadness forgetting that zombies were around and breathing well before the undead movement took them as one of their own and Romero finally applied the final death-nail. McCarthy's 'hungries' are vicious, flesh eating, fast, extremely dangerous and alive. They're also, and this is defining trait, utterly devoid of the humanity and more importantly self-awareness and cognisant empathy that made them who they were. They're rabid animals; actually worse; they're destructive entirely reactive automatons driven by insatiable hunger and nothing else. So they have a pulse? So what. McCarthy also isn't afraid to shock and disturb by presenting the zombies with a brutality that reinforces the no-win quandary those enforcing the imprisonment and experimentation are actually in. 

The Girl with all the Gifts certainly does better when the story sticks to the confines of the bunker / school, and the contrasting and clashing moral maelstrom of fear, necessity, desperation rubbing up against those small slithers of hope born from love and believing in the human condition. The action once the compound is breached and the group are forced to set out across the stricken over-run wasteland still shows signs of flair and originality, never content to becomes another derivative zombie survival yarn, yet it won't be what the film is remembered for. The Girl with all the Gifts is that shining ray of light in unending darkness, both as a narrative trope, and also as innovative and thoughtful movie in a plethora of mediocre. I loved it and perhaps the cinematic zombie might be quite safe after all - 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Returned - review

2013 (Spain / Canada)


Contains mild spoilers. 

It's probably not coincidence, what with the explosive re-emergence of zombies and the rise of the right wing political agenda, that two independent teams would come up with a near identical twist on post-apocalyptic story telling. Okay, BBC's In the Flesh is working class Northern Britain, and The Returned is urban middle class America, but the idea of a recovered and functioning post-zombie world as a backdrop to tell a rather relevant moral tale of a castigated minority dealing with that seemingly inescapable human and political condition, of hating and attacking what we fear; is remarkable in its similarity. Both present a modern bruised but stoical world soldiering on as normal despite a recent history, that's implied, certainly did play out more like what we're used to seeing from the genre. Both have as a focus a young and innocent victim, now survivor, burdened with a manageable but less than ideal medical treatment plan. And both paint a distinctly un-rosy picture of how society would likely react when forced to reintegrate thousands of gut-munchers in waiting back into their everyday lives. Both too, are poignant, insightful and tragic portrayals of how easily a small but vocal set of voices can garner power, and most importantly tacit approval, when fuelled by a narrative that's predominantly all about fear and security. They're both, it could be argued, liberal agenda, politically correct and unrealistically idealist and romanticised, and both could easily switch out 'zombie' for another conservative threatening medical ailment or idea; but for both the choice of using the undead in all their bloody rawness works remarkably well to highlight and contrast the polarised positions as well as providing a tense, entertaining and quirky movie experience.

There are differences of course. Big ones. In the Flesh is mostly Kieren's story where as in The Returned, as much as the film is concerned with Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) and his condition, the film is really about Kate (Emily Hampshire), his partner and a doctor on the front line, dealing both with the practical recovery of the 'returned', and in securing funding for, and pushing awareness of the treatment plan. 1981 saw the first outbreak and the global zombie pandemic really did seem to be as nasty, indiscriminate and prolific as one would expect with one hundred million deaths, a second wave and a full five years needed to contain it. It's five years since Alex was bitten, contracting the infection and  though he's managed to maintain his daily injection and hold down his guitar tuition position he's pretty much chosen to keep this part of his life hidden even from best friends Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and Amber (Claudia Bassols). Though people are aware that the 'returned' are moving and operating about the city and country, there are constant signs of dissent and though the truce is successful and legally maintained those infected are rightfully wary of publicity. Kate and Max's story is both a beautiful tale of unconditional love and support, and a harrowing journey of fear and hatred as public confidence in the program wanes as chatter starts to surface of issues with the stock of the protein which keeps the dormant zombie at bay; and peaceful protest turns to retribution and violence.

As would be expected, other than a few flashbacks and one particularly gnarly incident at a gas station the violence and threat comes from the anti-returned humans who seek the eradication of all those infected, treated or otherwise. And one of the problems is, as despicable their thinking and behaviour increasingly becomes, the actions of Alex and Kate as the contrast; isn't if we're honest that virtuous and really not much better. The whole argument of the anti-returned is how can we trust thousands of time-bombs to religiously adhere to their daily program without supervision or tracking; when one missed dose could easily lead to a multiple deaths and another mini-outbreak and the thing they kind of have a point. Yes there's the libertarian view that people shouldn't be monitored and their treatment shouldn't be tracked; yet we're not talking about a condition that if personally mishandled would affect one or two people; we're talking about something that with the slightest mistake could set off a exponential tsunami of death. Add to this Kate abusing her medical position to acquire 'other peoples' medication and Alex who's happy evading any and all official scrutiny in that it might threaten his personal liberty and freedom and their moral position starts to unravel. There's a lack of subtlety to proceedings and it's ultimately hard to have as much sympathy for the couple as I believe was hoped.

One thing that is brilliantly unsubtle though is each cameo arrival of an actual zombie. Snarling, rabid, 28 Days Later infected though not dead, they're every bit the down right cannibalistic psychopaths the non-returners have argued the state really ought to be worried about. There's much left deliberately ambiguous as to the state of the world outside the city. One hundred million dead is an awful lot and whilst people are driving about, shopping and working with time on their hands to learn guitar and protest, I couldn't help but think about the state of the wider world, not picturing for one moment how more poverty inclined countries couldn't still be having problems. 

A good idea, great characters brilliantly portrayed, effortless and evocative filming and production, it's a shame that writer Hatem Khraiche and director Manuel Carballo's vision ultimately fails to pull together to either provide a satisfying conclusion to the highly charged personal story, or a fitting end to thea wider political and ethical discourse. At no point do any of the characters feel as powerless or as heroic as they ought with Kate's increasingly unethical and brazen attempt to circumvent the rules for personal gain a constant thorn in the story. To counter this and retain their position as the true baddies of the piece, the anti-returners have to be even more extreme in their actions. Not content with pushing the quite reasonable agenda of basic surveillance and some form of accountability; it's all a bit black and white villainy with guns and killing and spilt blood stained teddy bears on the hospital floor. Still, a nice little film that my nitpicking aside does deliver both on its emotional and poignant promise, and is a tight dramatic experience that should appeal to both zombie fans and those less undead enamoured alike - 6/10.

Steven@WTD. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

Prison of the Dead - review

2000 (USA)


Contains spoilers.

There's really not a lot to say about this appalling turn of the century low budget zombie snore-fest. Resembling more a tepid amateur high school project that any kind of sincere or mature production, it's inconsistent plot and drawn out dialogue heavy narrative, is matched only by its strict intent to demonstrate no originality, content merely to rehash all and every outdated and hokey horror trope without a care. Quite what director David DeCoteau (tellingly listed under pseudonym Victoria Sloan) and writer Matthew Jason Walsh were trying to achieve in this hour fifteen car crash I'm not quite sure. Neither comedy, drama or a horror with any real teeth; Prison of the Dead plays like it wants to be a cult and edgy young adult, possibly self-deprecating, Return of the Living Dead wannabe but comes across more as a bland, silly and rather insulting episode of Goosebumps, save with excessive bad language.

If I asked a group of junior school pupils to describe the setting and atmosphere for a haunted horror I don't think it'd be far removed from that of Prison of the Dead. A gloomy, derelict and isolated funeral home built over the long abandoned ruins of a medieval dungeon that once held witches and warlocks. A bleak and stormy night with owls hooting, billowing fog and complete with thunder and lightning. Four weary friends, two girls and two buys, reuniting to pay their respects to an old friend, and more than happy to send their driver away, and open an old creaking door to their inevitable doom. Now there can be a time and a place for cheesy nostalgic homage, and revisiting old myths and stories, but Prison of the Dead isn't it. The derivative setting isn't tribute or cute; it's lazy and easy; and the story isn't an inventive twist on the familiar but a wearisome and altogether incoherent set of musings from a team that clearly didn't care.

Brought together by Kristof St. Pierce (Patrick Flood), a spoilt, rich, occult obsessed man-child and also the recent heir of Hawthorne funeral home, the group soon realise the late Calvin (Sam Page) isn't actually that dead and their reunion is all actually part of some ill-conceived plan to bring the old scooby-doo clique back together to speak to the dead, unearth some mysterious lost key and solve an ancient mystery. All well and good if they'd just get on with it; yet the vast majority of the film is the group, plus three additional well-groomed locals seemingly intent to spoil the party for shits and giggles, happy squabbling and bitching to one another generally over how they don't want to be there. For a film that spends pretty much all it's time bogged down in character dynamics you'd have thought too, there would have been some effort to make the characters more interesting and agreeable. Whether a design decision or inexperience, Calvin, Kristof, Rory (Michael Guerin), Kat (Alicia Arden) and Michele (Debra Mayer) are played dryer than the Atacama Desert  (I looked it up; this is the driest desert). Even when people do start dropping; or glazing over and chanting the Latin (I think) beyond the grave mantra the predisposition is always stoical and the responses nonchalant and mostly self-absorbed. I'm all for the odd dry and unlikable character but when the lack of interest, care or any urgency is shared by all it's really hard not to end up sharing in the apathy.

I say, when people start dropping. Noting the eighteen certificate, the cover and presentation, and the horror credentials one would assume adult content. Nada. Okay the zombies initial appearance; skeletal medieval axe, scythe mace wielding long dead executioners sombrely and menacingly clambering from the soil is promising, and delightfully old school, reminiscent of all our old continental favourites, especially the blind dead. Yet, for the number of deaths that are eventually perpetrated there's a ridiculously low quantity of blood, next to no gore and no actual on-screen horror to actually speak of. As the film progresses each and every unlucky soul is suddenly, and arbitrarily taken by a spasm of shameful CG, a moment of possession as one of the so called long dead witches takes control before one of the zombie executioners pops out from nowhere ready for the camera to pan away, them to slash, and someone to throw something red and wet over the lens. I'm not advocating that all horror needs to be in your face and wall to wall torture porn, but this is tame for convenience sake and detracts totally from what I believe was being aimed for. In fact the only adult content I'd argue would be the copious bad language; even the token contrived sex scene seemed to mandate modesty, and with the f's and blinds dialled down I'd honestly, save for the fact it's so god damn awful, have no qualms letting my children watch it.

With more effort and energy with the action and a good rewrite of the script focusing on the transitions between the various sequences, and imbuing the characters with some charm and reason to care at all for them, there's a movie here that could probably match the reasonably competent directorial and camera work. Though not a lot more if we're all honest. Sometimes one just needs to call it as it is; that Prison of the Dead was probably a bad film before the ink was dry, and quite how someone thought an amateur budget, cast and production was going to imbue it with the necessary life and savvy to stand out was baffling to say the least. There's very little to recommend in this seventeen year old miss, and it's not one you'll be doing yourself a disservice for skipping, even if like me you want to watch them all - 2/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Pandemic - review

2016 (USA)


Contains mild spoilers. 

Pandemic, subtitled Fear the Dead has a lot going for it. A gritty, broken and desperately cruel post-apocalyptic world. A complicated and some-what original zombie threat that at times is nail-bitingly scary. A sturdy performance from a cast full of recognisable faces. And a beautiful crisp clean transfer and audio track thanks once again to my European neighbours (though why I'm increasingly reliant on the French, German and Dutch for a Blu-ray version of a film deemed merely DVD worthy for the UK is frustrating to say the least.) Under the helm of director, and co-producer John Suits it's a low budget film that holds it surprisingly together with an energetic first person perspective (POV Point of View) approach that doesn't unravel, and a fearlessness to go outside, with wide, expansive shots and play with huge crowds of extras all at once. It's hard to put a finger on quite why it all doesn't quite work what with all the fine ingredients, and why the final result is when all is said and done, a tad tedious and dare I say quite forgettable.

Rachel Nichols plays Lauren Chase a CDC doctor, separated from her husband and daughter but one of the few who made it into the militarised safe zone. Though more than a little green she's given command of a small team and tasked to head to a school on the far side of Los Angeles to test and hopefully save eighty-nine survivors, and investigate why the crew sent before failed to return. The rest of the crew comprise of Gunner (Mekhi Phifer - Andre in Dawn of the Dead), the captain and muscle, Wheeler (Alfie Allen  - Theon Greyjoy) the driver and Denise (Missi Pyle), the navigator. 

It's all there; hindering their mission are quite the assortment of increasingly desperate and surprisingly well organised survivors, hordes of semi-psychotic crazies, and full blown terrifying zombie-demons you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Each stop on the groups little tour of downtown LA is full of suspense, action and ultimately maiming and killing, and yet it's also all rather derivative with much of its punch tamed by an aura of invincibility that seems to follow Dr Chase and troupe like a contrived guiding hand. Our heroes are crept up on, grabbed and jumped; and yes I know, small spoiler, they don't all survive, but watching wave after wave of crazy ultra-violent mad men and women chase, surround and swarm the group only for them to yet again make it clear by the skin of their teeth tests credulity and reduces the intensity fat too easily and far too early.

Then there's the infected. Suits really fleshes out a city in turmoil and the multi-faceted zombie threat; yet combined with the seemingly predetermined danger, and their varying contradictions, the many encounters which to begin with are pumped and explosive, soon deteriorate to feel rather forced, and even bewildering. The narrative too suffers from questionable decision making; none more so than going to all the trouble of presenting a dead city with empty streets full of carnage, and a desperate last ditch attempt to find some, any survivors; then suddenly having them drive past swatches of homeless vagrants; one of whom I swear was drinking coffee, with not a mention that they should perhaps stop and enquire how they were doing?

A lot of thought and effort has gone into the films zombie infection, fleshing it out with depth and subtlety. Rather than a generic The Walking Dead binary position Suits has contrived a five phase degenerating condition and made it central to the narrative. It starts rather safely with Level 1 and flu like symptoms and Level 2 and haemorrhaging, before level 3 and black necrotic blood, diminished mental capacity, confusion, and enough extreme aggression to fashion the threat needed for all this to be a thing. But it's levels 4 and 5 where things get interesting. Just when things looked like they couldn't get any worse level 3 patients suddenly go into stasis, hibernating with an extremely low heart rate. Then it's level 5 after some god awful demonic transmutation and it's bonies from Warm Bodies or the vamp-zombies from I Am Legend, and utterly inhuman and genuinely terrifying. The bulk of the action involves the group evading and combating the infected pre this final mutation; they're varying positioned crazy and confused; some desperate for aid, others increasingly violent and random, with even an odd bit cannibalism I think shoe-horned in as some clumsy zombie homage. They're all good; well presented and perfectly choreographed but I would have liked to have seen the level 5's a bit more prominently positioned and introduced a little earlier as their impact certainly elevates the film and once introduced it's hard to go back.

Pandemic has a lot going for it but ultimately struggles because of a few small decisions and characters that offer little to no reason to either empathise with or get behind. Also, John Suits, having managed to do the hard bit and get the first person camera view point to actually work, possibly over eggs it, with scenes that seem overly contrived to take advantage of the success, and as mentioned a zombie threat that gets too close too often only to impossibly be beaten back. An awfully bleak world, an apocalyptic shit-storm; there's certainly a place for films that truly paint the end of the world in a manner where there's no silver lining and it's good to see directors and writers shun the current, and cheap trend to align zombies with lighthearted and flippant. A high-octane zombie horror that's not afraid to bare its teeth, and definitely worth seeking out for a throwaway evening; but also struggles to ultimately hold it together or stand out - 6/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Sky Has Fallen - review

2009 (USA)


Contains spoilers. 

Sure, writer, director, producer, chief cook and bottle washer Doug Roos's passion project has its faults; I'd bet my bottom dollar Roos himself could easily provide a list of all things he'd want to improve or change, and sure there are better dark and brooding; for a frivolous zom-rom-com this is certainly not, zombie horrors out there, but I honestly challenge anyone to name me an independent no budget fully-fledged feature with as much character, attention to detail, originality and honesty. The Sky Has Fallen is testament that indie passion and vision, combined with stubbornness, tenacity and energy can produce something that easily holds itself up to far grander and more entitled efforts. At a time when the zombie movie scene is awash with cheap and lazy, that honourable and sincere little gems like this still make it through the quagmire gives genuine hope.

If you're one that believes a true post-apocalyptic landscape would be far from an introverted paradise and self-indulgent playground then The Sky Has Fallen could well be your wet-dream. Roos paints a world of misery, brutality and insufferable despondency. I'm a genuinely glass is half full kind of guy but faced with this alien / zombie nightmare, where the danger isn't just being bitten and going rogue but possibly facing an eternity of the most depraved Hellraiser torture; if you're lucky; I really don't think even I'd be able to muster any positivity or hope. Fortunately it's not down to me though, as Roos has Lance (Carey MacLaren) and Rachel (Laurel Kemper) two strong and driven characters who do seem up for challenging the status-quo and saving man-kind.

The Sky Has Fallen is a zombie film quite like no other. If I were to make connections I'd argue there's a European continental esoteric and ambiguous, yet deeply unsettling vibe akin to Fulci and his Gates of Hell trilogy. Then there's Barker's Hellraiser parallel; of paradigm-disrupting monsters visiting Earth for some gratuitous and sadistic fun and frolics. Then it's still all zombie and a western homage to the Japan's Versus with dozens if not hundreds of slow shuffling and insatiable dead falling to exacting and perfectly choreographed samurai sword-swinging and gun-toting precision. And if all this isn't enough it's a powerful character driven melodrama with forceful performances that resonate and move.

If an airborne pandemic with 100% effectiveness leading to the total downfall of mankind wasn't bad enough, it seems it was merely stage one. No sooner have the few immune survivors started to adjust to a new world alone without the love and support of friends, family or any form of coherent government or society their grieving is brought to an abrupt end by the arrival of real perpetrators; black cloaked, mandible wielding, mind controlling, zombie-fashioning sadistic little shits that seem to see humanity as nothing other than their next meal. And I mean to say this in the same way a cat views its dinner; for as much as our consumption is important, it would also appear sadism is an integral and important part of the process. Whether they're aliens, demons, transdimensional parasites, like their sinister, emotionless barbarism, not understanding or controlling the whys and wherefores all aids the brooding, deeply unsettling atmosphere. Again for a film with under such financial pressure, the handling and screen presence of these masters is fabulously realised, as are the zombies they create and control. And again as we'd expect much of the slicing and dicing is off camera and more intimated than realised, but Roos hasn't held back with some truly awful and appalling (in a good way) and highly effective make-up and close-ups that encapsulates his undoubted fetid and utterly depraved vision of hell on earth.

Ok, I did feel some of the moody and indulgent conversation and reflection did repeat itself and drag proceedings. I also felt whilst brilliantly realised and deliberately shocking, the film did somewhat lose its aesthetic soul with perhaps one too many perverse and gratuitous torture / murder scenes. It's ironic that the Ultimate edition I watched, with eight additional minutes of tinkering over the 2009 release might actually now itself be in need of edit. A fabulous passion project I'd far rather talk about for all it does right though, rather than its inevitable occasional stumble. The world needs visionaries that break moulds and its genuinely inspiring, against the hum drum and mediocre, that films such as The Sky Has Fallen are brought to fruition. A powerful and resonating film that captures the honest and meticulous vision of its own inventor and investor it's a film I can truly recommend, and fully deserving of all the indie plaudits it collected - 7/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Hanging Woman (The Orgy of the Dead / La Orgía de los Muertos) - review

1973 (Spain / Italy)


Contains spoilers.

I'd be lying if I said this quintessentially low budget European horror was good. I'd be equally disingenuous if I was to be overly harsh. Director José Luis Merino's La Orgía de los Muertos (translated as The Orgy of the Dead), otherwise known as Beyond the Living Dead (US),  Zombies - Terror of the Living Dead (UK), and finally and most popularly in the US, The Hanging Woman, in truth, is a distinctly mediocre gothic mad-scientist whodunnit dotted with enough distinctly brilliant and memorable moments that it almost fools you into thinking it's better than it is. The story, characters and acting is as equally laboured as It is convoluted and discordant, and despite Paul Naschy being Paul Nashy in his prime, he can't, this time, save the film entirely on his own mainly because his involvement was actually quite limited, due to parallel film commitment.

Serge Chekov (Stelvio Rosi as Stan Cooper) returning to his late uncle's estate for the reading of the will stumbles upon the grizzly scene of, whom he soon discovers to be, his niece's fresh corpse hanging from a tree. Then finding himself the, for all intents and purposes, sole benefactor he's quickly embroiled in a web of scheming and distrust, black magic and murder, in a claustrophobic and isolated backwater mansion with a cast of disparate and quite disturbed figures.

There's Igor (Paul Naschy), the crazy-eyed, dishevelled cemetery caretaker who we learn is also quite the necrophiliac and all round pervert; there's the newly widowed Countess Nadia Mihaly (Maria Pia Conte) who wants Serge to sell and is happy to persuade with sex, satanic ritual and voodoo; there's Professor Leon Driola (Gérard Tichy), the permanent guest of the late Count who specialist research is electricity and the nebulous curtain of death, and there's his daughter, the Countesses maid Doris Droila (Dyanik Zurakowska) who wants Serge to actually keep the estate for her father's sake.

At some point each and every one supplies motive and means to explain the, for at least an hour, rather sketchy, zombie murder mystery, and each and every one provides a discordant sub-narrative with Serge at the centre. And Serge loves it. Making the lead character and hero such an entitled obnoxious cad is either brave film making or suicide, as whether he's taking advantage of young vulnerable daughters or engaged in yet another innocuously provoked fist fight he's incredibly difficult to either empathise with or rally behind. Even as the credits rolled and he'd solved the case, and rescued and won the girl I couldn't help hope there would be some late twist and he'd still get the zombie maul he undisputedly deserved.

The zombies are one of the true highlights of the film and it was a pity it took such a long time to get to see them in all their splendour. Fetid, crusty and decaying, they're the epitome of the seventies walking dead infamously popularised by Fulci later in the decade. Unlike the esoteric mystical nature of Fulci's creation though, these guys have a mad Victor Frankenstein scientist and rational excuse for their reanimation. Spoiler… it was Professor Leon you see, and not any of the black magic or voodoo thrown in to put us of course. As well as learning the secrets of electrical resurrection he's also a whizz with micro-technology, designing and manufacturing a 'capsule' that slots in the corpses brain to both control its actions as well as pick up his thoughts. They're mindless drones incapable of independent thought driven solely to obey their master and the murders were all perpetrated at the behest of the prof who first wanted to kill his partner the count, to stop him using the discovery to amass 'an army of the dead'. The rest of the victims, beginning with the hanging woman, were unlucky dominoes that fell as the ever desperate Leon tried to cover his tracks. An interesting zombie twist to note at the end of the film and starting with the now resurrected Naschy, of a disobedience and demonstration of independent murderess intent, with the professor no longer able to exert control. It lead to a lively and satisfying climax, but as stated all came rather too late.

Naschy, the zombies, the sombre gothic atmosphere brilliantly captured, and the brooding organ music; there are many reasons to get excited over this early seventies continental horror. Indeed, as much as the story was long winded, trite, and discordant, and the characters generally unbearable and difficult to share any sympathy with, the constantly interspersed distractions were enjoyable despite themselves and perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Also one can't help but be charmed with echoes of a more innocent, or naive time when woman always fainted at bad news, it was ok to beat and shoot at the feet of disagreeable servants, and it was right and proper to invade and search a man's property because 'he's a strange sort and could be dangerous'. As charmed as I was though, and as much as I did enjoy the final fifteen or so minutes of zombie mayhem, I have to argue there are much better gothic horrors from this era, and this is far from Naschy's best effort. Yet, it does have a certain something that could warrant a viewing on a stormy night with curtains drawn, lights down low, and goblet of port in hand - 5/10.

Steven@WTD.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Zombie Killers Elephant's Graveyard - review

2015 (USA)


Contains mild spoilers. 

Let's talk apostrophes. We all get it wrong from time to time, especially when writing, and thought and creativity is more engaged, than say, any desire to satisfy the minutia. It's not Elephant's Graveyard; it's the whole romanticised idea that elephants would collectively travel to some mythical single location to gasp their final breath; there's more than one. It's a small thing I know, but this small lack of attention is quite indicative of director and co-writer Harrison Smith's low budget zombie effort. For as taken as I was with the refreshingly modern and airy look and feel, and enamoured with the highly emotive characters and their story, I couldn't quite shake off all the small niggles and warts that combined to spoil the party. 

So who are the zombie killers? Well, they refer to the rag tag assortment of young waifs and strays tasked with protecting the isolated and fenced town of Elwood. Led with ruthless utilitarian zeal, Elwood under the leadership of Doc (Brian Anthony Wilson), an ex-military medic, has survived the fervent zombie contamination that has taken hold of the planet. For six years, under the sub-command of Seiler (Billy Zane) these young adults have foraged, hunted and risked life and limb outside the safety of the compound to provide for the rather religious and insular group of lowlifes, who as we will discover, would be only too happy to thank them with a bullet to the back of the head should situation or occasion, like not keeping ones space tidy, demand.

For a world ravaged by a multi-species zombie contamination, where society has collapsed, resources are scant and general subsistence has regressed to something akin to the stone-age you'd think people would have better things to do than paint ball or spread malicious rumour because it goes against rather wonky religious ideals. Yet that's what Zombie Killers Elephant's Graveyard is primarily about. It's not a tense or shocking survival thriller but a highly emotive character driven soap-opera where the very real zombie threat plays second fiddle to odd politicking and strange, almost sociopathic adherence to a disjointed dictatorial ideology; and though, as I've stated, it was genuinely refreshing to engage with something with a different take on post-apocalyptic living, it just didn't come together.

I won't spoil the Elephants' Graveyard bit save to say for an ingenious twist on a well-known mythit wasn't the worst idea I've seen, and certainly garnered some much needed zombie attention just when it needed it. It's a symbolically extreme and audacious idea and that's ok. Unfortunately it also marks the point the film starts to fall apart as if there's a sudden shift in narrative to one where anything goes, and coherence no longer matters. Rather than using it as a tool to pull the surrounding narrative together, this tsunami of madness acts as a catalyst for characters to acts out and the story to descend in to farce which was all a pity.

It's a parasitic, toxoplasmosis pandemic that's intimated to be of Proterozoic origin and has been thrown through time with fracking. In a candid and refreshingly glib post-zombie contemporary monologue which opens proceedings, we learn despite the best will of the uniting world, its swept mankind aside without mercy and this small band may well be all that's left. The some slow / some fast zombies are reasonably made up and realised, as would be expected in 2015 and though there's been an attempt to imbue them with fear, it all rather fails due to their rather comic spasmodic gait. As is now staple, it's the derivative bullet to the brain to stop them though as said, with their seemingly unlimited ammo and firepower it's not them one really needs to worry about. 

I can see what Smith was trying to do, and though the contemporary drama wasn't without charm the post-apocalyptic dystopia has fashioned characters that perhaps are just that too emotionally naïve and hyper-realised to feel plausible or congruous. There's an over simplification; a soap-opera immaturity and though Zane leads a cast who do adequately with what they have, all too often their characters behaviour comes across too extreme; either passive or otherwise, to believably carry the story they're central too. Sure I can understand someone contracting the virus, which Doc confirms with a blood sample, being evicted, and sure I can believe some bastardised reasoning, broken norms and twisted values and even eviction for seemingly minor indiscretions, but ruthless lieutenants more than happy to equate said eviction with totally detached murder is all a bit much. It's also all rather hampered by a convoluted soap-story which staggers in a rather derivative manner for an hour, only to spiral rather absurdly, in a way I'd more associate with The Asylum, to an unexpected, hectic and chin scratching finale, that again, doesn't do anyone any justice. So, certainly interesting, entertaining and reasonably well shot, this low budget zombie TV look and feel melodrama isn't nearly as bad as reviews would lead you to believe, but also doesn't particular deliver the cohesive, authentic post-apocalyptic character driven experience early signs hint of - 5/10.

Steven@WTD.