Monday, 17 October 2016

Cowboy Zombies (Walking Dead in the West) - review

2016 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers. 

Now, the term 'cowboy' in the UK is more colloquially used as an adjective to mean reckless, wild or unreliable; usually for something that's been shoddily undertaken by someone not fit for the purpose. It's a funny term, that seems to be attributed to John Cleese and Faulty Towers in 1972 when it was first recorded, and here is generally a prefix to builder, or workman. So in many ways renaming director Paul Winters' 'Walking Dead in the West' to 'Cowboy Zombies' for the UK couldn't have been more fitting or honest.

One always starts to worry when the best quote they could get to emblaze the back and really sell the film is 'Zombie Fans Will Enjoy This'; as if admitting if you're not, then you really won't, and if you are, we'll attempt lame some headology to convince you in advance that you will. It's safe to say it didn't work; and I'll actually go one further, positing you'd actually have to be pretty desperate and a bit mentally unhinged in your undead love affair to actually get the enjoyment promised, from what is easily the most tedious zombie film I've reviewed. Yes, the daft little wild-west zombie story is kind of ok, the cause of the outbreak laughably bad and confusing, but once it gets going does obey all the rules; it's just that the film is entirely derivative, has absolutely nothing memorable of merit and is so exceeedingly tiresome I'd genuinely consider it the next time I'm struck with insomnia.

It's Arizona 1876 and Marshal Frank Wilcox (played by none other than Paul Winters) has rounded up some dirty outlaws. In the nearby town of Crumpet (I kid you not) Sheriff White (Jean Paul Turgeon) and Preacher Black (Greg Bronson) are hanging two other no-good hoodlums when one throws his lot in to God for a sign of mercy, but instead of salvation gets a cheap sfx clap of lightning and his final judgement for his efforts. That's kind of it; the dead come back, the headshot trope is done to death, Marshall and Sheriff eventually get together with a bunch of uninteresting survivors who tick all the wild-west ethnic, gender and moral stereotypes and The Night of the Living Dead template is abused till it all comes, thankfully, to an early and abrupt end. It's Armageddon, day one, ground zero, the wild frontier where civilisation is tested every day, and everyone is armed, drunk or both. It should be explosions, death and carnage and humanity holding on by the merest thread; not this unapologetically tame, and ponderous, second rate snooze-fest.

For all that it's God holy wrath; well there is some lightening at the right moment; it's also an infection. So we have all the dead, even those buried well before all the trouble started, back up staggering about, and we also have bites, dark ugly wounds and sudden extreme personality shifts. It's The Walking Dead regurgitated in the West, and the infection stuff confusion one feels was added just to drive a few painfully forced emotional scenes, where the group are forced to deal with little girls and deputies who are about to turn. The zombies themselves are unfathomably slow and shambolic. As they lurch and spasm about gargling, spluttering and yelping all the time being picked easily off by elderly Sioux or incompetent teens pretending to be able to use utterly fake six shooters, one can't help question how they could they possibly win. There isn't ever a point you feel they pose any tangible threat, and that each tame and generally off-screen kill is the result of baffling incompetence and hesitation.

'Cowboy' Zombies is not a good film. Second tier actors working with a mediocre script that's devoid of all spark; it's a film that drags itself and the viewer along for seventy pitiful and dreary minutes before putting us all out of its misery. I wasn't expecting much but I do normally get something for my trouble; here though, nothing. I've also read murmurings it was also to act as a possible pilot for yet another TV series, and yes Undeadwood with Ian McShane in full-swing taking down zombies with expletives would be glorious, but more of this miserable uninspired schlock? No thanks - 2/10


Friday, 14 October 2016

Lust of the Dead 2 - review

2013 (Japan)

Contains spoilers.
If I wasn't already on a list, after importing and watching part 2 of director and co-writer Naoyuki Tomomatsu's sleazy  and horrendously b-movie soft-porn zombie nonsense I almost certainly am now. Excessive, misogynist and exploitative Lust of the Dead 2, or Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 is everything that's wrong and shady with this odd little particular porn niche. It's a cheap one trick pony relying on the fun and games of horny rather than hungry and the willingness of actresses to show some flesh whatever the reason; and yet for such nonsensical zombie bunkum, it has to be said, the original origin narrative is surprisingly fleshed out and almost coherent, there is a semi-legit story being told and some of the audacious and stupidly bad set pieces and gore is surprisingly entertaining.

Following the events of Lust of the Dead, Tokyo really is now the post-apocalyptic wet-dream; a smouldering ruined city-scape with desperate isolated survivors hiding from the now grotesque, charred and mutated men that survived the nuclear blast. Two such figures are Shinji and Maki who hungry and scared are at least safe in their apartment and able to celebrate their anniversary, with love, candles and wine. That is, of course, until zombie-penis-boy bursts in, rips off her top and panties, fondles her breasts then gets himself ready for a good ol' rape. Any hope this wouldn't just be succeeding the first in premise and setting alone is immediately quashed. Tomomatsu's Lust of the Dead 2 is the story of desperate women rallying together, of scientists scrambling to find answers, of a world torn asunder, but it's still a silly little one with otaku virgins forming a cult to take revenge on all the women who humiliated them, daft American robots with laser eyes, flamethrower mouths and perfect breasts, and an opportunity to screen a lot of half naked women and indulge an obvious public groping fetish.

If you don't remember, I'll refresh. For some reason; a meteor, the ozone hole, or even some evolutionary Gaia reason all men have become infected with a bacteria that removes any and all imperative other than to have sex with any and all women. I say all men; it's really only dokyun aka successful, sporty, normal that turn, with otaku aka manga, idol, anime, loners and virgins that while infected can somehow keep their urges dormant. Lust of the Dead 2 elaborates, explaining otaku are safe because in many ways they're the modern samurai; their years of abstinence and screen watching, actually a zen like philosophical conditioning akin to Bodhidharma's nine years of wall gazing. They're actually the enlightened ones. They're also quite a terrifying nonsensical bunch of losers and though I believe their ignorance, justified violence and deplorable objectification of 3D women (as in not on screen, ala real) is by design and a deliberate parody, like the first, there's always a line of dialogue or a particular sequence that makes you think you really ought to stop laughing along.

Gone are the randy little Japanese business men, instead in the aftermath of the blast, they're replaced with giant penis wielding monstrosities that appear more comical than frightening. Though it's never been a film anyone involved ever intended to be considered horror, for a film about rape and death it's incredibly light and frivolous. With the otaku now the main threat there is less rape; but what there is perhaps more graphic, though maybe my memories of the first have been deliberately purged (or repressed). The soft-porn has definitely upped a notch and titillation has now upped a base and it's no longer just jiggly boobs, but hands in pants, touching and obvious stimulation. I should also mention the obligatory and utterly incongruous lesbian and masturbation scenes, which as obviously uncomfortable and strained the actresses look, are equally awkward to watch.

Both men and women do a good job with what's obviously a mediocre b-movie script that's entirely driven by the porn scenes, and even the painfully drawn and staged backdrop they're forced to work with for all outdoor shots. In fact the two long sequences where there actually isn't any 'action' are painfully paced and entirely tedious. Half way through, there's an attempted philosophical diatribe, with added aesthetic twinkle, that tries to explain all the otaku bull, but more criminal is a brilliantly staged conversation, ala The Return of the Living Dead, with a genuinely good and graphic prosthetic zombie carcass with semi-detached head, but impressive erection, and a primal insight into the caveman brain, yet ends with appalling cognisant justification with nonsense about gender ratios and the relatively recent judicial outlawing of mans natural right to take any woman he wants, whenever he wants.

And then it was all over. You see Lust of the Dead 2 was shot with Lust of the Dead 3. I say shot with; I think the actual phrasing would be Lust of the Dead 2 was filmed then cut in half with some bright spark thinking two sixty odd minute films with nothing cut would be better, financially, than a single well edited entry, thus explaining the poor pacing and the overly drawn out exposition we're subjected to throughout. A soft-porn monster movie no one thought we'd ever want or need, Lust of the Dead 2 is brazen with its desires and painfully honest with its execution. Now with parts 4 and 5 finished it's obviously a niche somebody wants to see and though I did have moments of fun I do rather find the whole rape fetish, as trivially, and justifiably played with as it is, uncomfortable and unsettling. Still, it's not a film I can honestly say is possible to take too seriously and I'm not going to end the review with a moral lecture. It is what it is and I do actually now want to see how the story ends, so it must have done something right - 4/10


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Maniac Cop - review

1988 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Not your typical zombie film this one, though just because vengeance from beyond the grave doesn't come in a brainless, shuffling and highly infectious box doesn't mean we should pass it up. That he also seems to have some capacity for free-will and independent and cognisant, albeit downright sociopathic and nasty thought, shouldn't necessary rule it out either; nor the fact he can drive, shoot guns, get around in broad daylight, and understand the intricacies of a complicated stitch up… That he might not be actually dead, however, might be a bit of a problem….

Director William Lustig, and writer, director Larry Cohen's cult eighties slasher is a nasty, uncompromising police thriller / slasher that immediately evokes parallels to all the great, albeit cheesy, early eighties gratuitous in your face murder-fun, most especially Friday the 13th. Like Friday the 13th there's the endless barrage of indiscriminate killings, a faceless enemy who always has the upper hand, newspaper cuttings and a mystery pointing to someone who might be (of course is) behind it all, and a hapless hero, seemingly picked at random, who just might save the day. The thing is, as good as Maniac Cop is, and it is, unlike Friday the 13th, or even Halloween, it has actually all kind of been done before and not being fresh does count. Even maniac cop himself aka Officer Matthew Cordell (Robert Z'Dar) is strikingly alike in build, temperament and the rather generic manner in which he quietly goes about stabbing, slashing, throttling, with both supernatural strength and unnaturally compliant support.

Is he dead though and does it matter? I do tend to try and get as close as one can, what with such inherently ambiguous life and death play, to the some kind of answers. He's billed as 'vengeance' from 'beyond the grave', yet there's a scene where it's clearly intimated he's still alive, albeit pretty broken and brain-dead after his prison beat down, and his doctor does point out he was technically alive when he handed him over to girlfriend Sally Noland (Sheree North). Yet, for someone who's got a pulse he a) can't half take a lot of damage, even shots to the head, b) does appear deliberately macabre and corpse like, c) does seem to have a strange supernatural knack to be both in the right place at the right time and have an influence on his surroundings, and d) takes quite the blow at the end and is definitely dead in the two sequels. Anyway, undead / brain-dead / ambiguous / left unanswered; to my questions, don't no, no, probably semantics and doesn't really matter.

For a film that cost just $1m the sets, scenes and action is all surprisingly fleshed out; with plenty of coherent and expansive shots set across the city complimenting the tight, claustrophobic trauma of a focused unstoppable psychopath on the public streets or inside a supposed fortress. For such an array of acting talent; Bruce Campbell as Officer Jack W. Forrest, Jr, Tom Atkins as Detective Lieutenant Frank McCrae and Laurene Landon as Officer Theresa Mallory the standout three; the performances are solid and professional if maybe not a lot more. Campbell especially, for someone on the back of Evil Dead II is rather subdued, even deflated and other than for a lively and brief chase scene near the end demonstrates none of his trademark eccentricity or enthusiasm. 

Maniac Cop ticks a lot of the right boxes. A well told, interesting, pacey story with plenty of hack and slash, suspense, intrigue, and twists and turns; yet it's all rather safe and dare I say mostly derivative, even in the murder scenes. I'm not saying it’s a bad film; far from it; for a near hour and half of silly eighties slasher fun I can heartily recommend it, especially as a short reprise from Friday the 13th reruns; just don't expect anything particularly new. Is it a zombie film? No; but it's not clear and he is dead, mysterious and inhuman enough to warrant a look even if I have now probably opened the proverbial can of worms to all vengeance from grave horror fun, including main man, Jason, himself - 6/10.


Friday, 7 October 2016

Horror Rises from the Tomb (Blood Mass for the Devil / El Espanto Surge de la Tumba) - review

1972 (Spain)

Contains spoilers.
Not overly original, not particularly well-paced and a bit of a garbled cacophony of ideas; nevertheless Paul Naschy's (under the writing guise of his birth name Jacinto Molina) odd little seventies euro horror is remarkably atmospheric, utterly watchable and entirely endearing. This is actually my first taste of the infamous Mr Naschy. Renowned for his role as the werewolf El Hombre Lobo, as well as such horror staples as Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy and Count Dracula, his acting prowess has seen him rewarded with official accolades, as well as household recognition across Spain, for horror fans at least. On top of these roles he also starred in several original zombie horrors, and it's his first, filmed in 1972; Horror Rises from the Tomb aka Blood Mass for the Devil, or Blood Mass for the Zombies, and originally in Spanish El Espanto Surge de la Tumba trasl. Fright Rises from the Grave that we're looking at.

Paul Naschy is the blood drinking, baby-eating, beard wearing and all powerful warlock Alaric de Marnac. A brilliant opening sequence sees him and his beloved Mabille De Lancré (Helga Liné) put to death at the hands of his brother and accomplishes, and them screaming a curse on their bloodline with a promise to return and settle the score. Five hundred years on and it's Hugo de Marnac (also played by Nashy), Maurice (Víctor Alcázar) and their girlfriends Paula (Cristina Suriani) and Sylvia (Betsabé Ruiz), a séance that leaves a lot of questions and a field trip  to Hugo's remote mountain retreat to look for the late Alaric's missing head and find some answers; what could go wrong?

I've seen the film come in for a bit of criticism, and it considered a bit of a let-down, at least when held up against his best work, and this only excites me. Personally other than, as said, a plot and origin story that seemed to scramble about looking for identity the film hooked me with it's odd satanic / vampire / witchcraft / zombie world, and positively oozed otherness with a disturbing erotic, dark and sinister personality I felt it forged all of its own. Nashy is quoted as saying he penned the story in a day and a half, with the help of amphetamines, and the film itself was shot in days, not months with little to no budget at his family home in the Lozoya Valley, France. Whilst the wandering, and it could be argued up until Alaric's resurrection, ponderous, narrative could be held as testament to this, I personally see it as all the more reason to recognise and praise the obvious craftsmanship and passion of all those involved. Horror Rises from the Tomb's story is coherent, the threat tangible, the dialogue and relationships believable, and the action suspenseful. Effects, which are normally the first thing to suffer when money is tight are remarkably polished too, which given the whole detached head being transplanted thing, is quite something.

Alaric and Mabille are positioned as vampire / satanic witches, without fangs but the ability to translocate in the blink of an eye and often a puff of smoke and swirl of the cape, and beguile victims into servitude, and quite often to take off their clothes. Alaric is definitely the boss; well it is the seventies and mainland Europe; and it's his perfectly preserved head and body that need to be reunited first before he can perform the necessary blood sacrifice on the bones of his beloved and bring her back. Mabille can be killed with a silver needle through the heart, where-as Alaric requires the sacred medallion Thor's Hammer (though what pagan polytheistic Thor and Mjölnir have to do with fighting Alaric and his monotheistic Satanic worship is anyone's guess) to be placed on his forehead; which Elvira, the caretakers daughter, conveniently knows where to find. Thor's Hammer also acts to protect them from direct attack so Alaric turns to the swamp and some recently deceased to do his dirty work. It is a bit of hodgepodge if we're honest; but an endearing one, and I'm all for a bit of artistic license when it comes to surrealist existential euro nonsense. 

It took a long time coming but the fetid gnarly walking dead are worth the wait, and their slow siege of the house oozes danger and evil. Before they arrived I was worried I'd have to make the point that those charmed by Alaric were zombies of a sort, and while I'd argue wrested control, subjugation of the will and mute obedience is every-bit zombie, opening up the blog to all and every vampire film where the eyes swirl and the young girl takes off her top and bares her neck would leave me in a world of pain. Fortunately here there are actual reanimated dead and Paula, Maurice and the late caretaker, my glib point aside, are fully possessed in a manner more reminisce of older voodoo zombie films, obeying their masters ad infinitum, or at least until freed by their death or in this case a magical totem. The walking dead are that; macabre shuffling, groaning corpses, impervious to gun shots but wary of fire which seems the only way to stop them. Ok, their appearance is fairly brief, and obviously inspired by Night of the Living Dead, and I would be hard pressed to sell the film as a zombie one per se, but their introduction is powerful, entirely coherent and an utter joy.

With a disturbing and uncomfortable identity I can understand why Naschy's gothic delight has become a bit of a cult hit and why Naschy himself held it in such high regard. A bit Fulci a bit de Ossorio, Horror Rises from the Tomb delights us with a story where the odds appear insurmountable and death is perhaps just the gateway to something far more alien and potentially far darker. Less sadistically in your face than Fulci, it's still a film that isn't afraid to close in when then there's blood spill or organs to rip out; and yes the copious amount of female flesh displayed was perhaps more for titillation than any narrative reason but it all added to the identity and charm (there's always the release which saw all nudity reshot and removed) but you know what, I unashamedly enjoyed the euro-trash. Moody, gritty, disconcerting; this tense Naschy horror is more than the sum of its parts and really given the tight constraints deserves the same corresponding level of attention and love from the horror fan as was obviously lavished on it by all involved - 7/10.

The 1997 Victory Films DVD I watched had a lovely 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer but presented me with a bit of a conundrum. With both the original Castilian and English dub track to choose from it took me until chapter three before I settled on the latter. With reasonable voices I felt despite the distraction of an off lip sync, it gave me more time to, ahem, enjoy the ample visual delights on offer…


Monday, 3 October 2016

Teenage Zombies - review

1960 (USA)

Contains spoilers. 

Now I knew revered b-movie specialist Jerry Warren came with a reputation to rival Ed Wood, and this movie in particular was ridiculed as one of the worst ever; but even I wasn't quite prepared for such incompetence and schlock. Definitely falling in the so dire it's good category, writer, director and producer Warren has truly excelled himself with a piece of cinema so cringe-worthy; and I'm saying this up front, just so god damn awful, that it, just like Ed Wood's endeavours, somehow transcends its own mediocrity to become watchable precisely for the reasons it fails. So yes, it's a 1/10 film, and yes all the things I'm just about to point out are as bad as they sound and it certainly won't appeal to all; but if you've got even a smidgen of the voyeur, then there might just be a fun booze fuelled evening to be had with this undisputed car crash of a movie.

It takes but ten minutes for Reg (Don Sullivan), Skip (Paul Pepper), Julie (Mitzie Albertson), and Pam (Brianne Murphy); four of the most insipid nondescript and asexual middle America teenager's ever to grace the screen to finish their milkshakes, sail out to the mysterious island™ and get themselves easily imprisoned by glamorous mad scientist Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor.) Another ten and we uncover her Eastern collaborators (I think it's all supposed to be Russian) and their plan to pop a nerve paralysing agent into the continent's water supply and turn every man, woman and child into a totally compliant slave. We also learn that each and every wide angle shot is going to clumsily staged and rehashed over and over, and each and every line of dialogue is going to end with a painful second or two of silence while the next actor cues his or her equally painful reply.

The story is incredibly thin, incoherent and awkward even by bad b-movie standards. A mysterious island with a top secret scientific facility with prison and lab that no one seems to know about; yet a fully stocked fridge, cocktails at noon and six kids who easily stumble across it all between water skiing sessions? Captives who pick locks, free themselves and even build an escape raft, instead choose to return to their cage to have a nap, and not make the little noise needed to free their girlfriends? Finally, Mitch Evans, a man in a rubber suit playing a zombie gorilla that's both one of the most truly ridiculous and amateurish monster scenes in all of cinema; and yet one the absolute screen-stealing highlights of the film. The other being Chuck Niles as Ivan the zombie, played somewhere between a stock Igor and the hulking voodoo slaves of the forties zombie plantation forays, and actually a highlight in the real sense; a single small shining piece of authenticity and competence in a wholly amateur affair.

It's that post-war, post dark-continent era that's seeing new scientific knowledge and theory replace magic and voodoo as the deep-rooted fear and methodology to take away a persons will and control. At heart it's still a forties / fifties Caribbean voodoo tale but now atoms, DNA and vaccines constitute the new unknown frontier and ask all the disturbing questions. Warren's Igor is the archetypical voodoo zombie; the perfect slave with a desire to work and obey, but very much alive and pre-Romero. It all starts well, with a good scene of multiple Romero-eque zombies spilling with menace and foreboding out over the landscape. But Dr Myra, an odd cross of Elvira, the perfect 60's housewife and the synonymous Scooby Doo villain and her plan, for all that's b-movie goofyness at its brazen best, is convoluted and a hodgepodge of ideas that merely drags out the already shallow ordeal. There phase 3, an inconsistent neuro-toxins leaving half; compliant and half teeming with rage; and a sudden shift to plan b and a zombie-inducing-formula that can be reversed. What initially showed some horror promise soon turns to Igor, the two girls who are briefly enslaved, and monkey-man to carry the threat, and it's all rather flat, and all scares, along with convincing fights or gunshots, are left firmly at the door.

Ultimately though, Teenage Zombies is perhaps for the purist, or the desperate, as there are better good / bad movies, and the good / bad bits are probably as not as numerous or funny as I think. Jerry Warren however one frames it, is a bad director and this is a bad film. Sharing Ed Wood's total lack of vision and inability to see fault or a reason to reshoot, each and every scene is a show-case for the entirely b-movie actors to clumsy position themselves and stutter their lines. Add to this the laughable action sequences; championed by the final 7 person brawl / wrestle in the secret lab, and it's easy to argue it's as bad, if not worse than Wood's classic. I can't however quite draw myself to recommend it the same way though. Plan 9 has Depp's Ed Wood film and nearly forty years of unrivalled infamy; it's untouchable as anything other than the myth it's become. Not many will have heard of Teenage Zombies and as such it hasn't earned the same reputation or pass, and it's difficult, if I'm honest, to argue for it as anything other than the awfully amateur, keenly low-budget and utterly unwatchable piece of 60s schlock that it is 3/10.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Another World - review

2014 (Israel)

Contains spoilers.

Much like the internet™ I'm quite torn by director and co-writer Eitan Reuven's debut zombie endeavour. I loved each and every highly stylised, frantic and ultra-violent encounter and it's homage to 28 Days Later was near perfect; yet split as it was into six distinct slices, each re-purposing a similar big frenetic climax, I was in all truth rather weary of it all by the end. I was also intrigued by all the long winded pseudo-philosophical and religious ramblings that contrived the bulk of the down-time; yet for all the clever little existential and academic insights I just couldn't shake off the thought that maybe I wasn't quite grasping the whole, no doubt brilliant, meta simply because there wasn't one, and the 'I am very smart' script was just really a right up its own behind exercise in academia.

Pretentious might be the word I'm looking for, and a passage from Genesis and narrator introducing each day rambling about the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the perfect storm that may have been the cause, while all the time shooting parallels to the current apocalyptic shit-storm, most certainly was for starters. Also not naming the four disparate survivors; simply billed as Colonel (Carl McCrystal), Wizard (Zach Cohen), Doctor (Susanne Gschwendtner) and Daughter (Davina Kevelson) or ever really exploring their characters beyond their contrasting and reductionist philosophical positions was a bit showy too. Then again there was obviously enough know-how that it made for some interesting dialogue and clashes, even if, as said, I never felt it ever really came together well enough to pull off what I think it was trying to accomplish.

While I think it does the film a disservice to analyse the action sequences totally separately from the conversations and narration I think it's worth it, as a lot of viewers, and this isn't being insulting, will have glazed over well before the second long over-complicated chemistry lesson or nihilistic eulogy has begun. As said this isn't an easy one to call either. There's no doubting Reuven has a real eye for horror and a real talent at bringing the dark, menacing and truly dangerous to the screen. I understand the shaky, bouncing and cam technique isn't for all but I felt it brilliantly captured the convincingly made-up and perfectly choreographed fast, rabid infected, and the increasingly desperate and edge-of-the-seat efforts of the survivors to out shoot and out run them.

The narrative itself though is a bit of a convoluted mess. Yes, even aside from the high academia word-wankery, the way in which the story jumps about, leaving huge swathes of time unaccounted is jarring, and the base position that the foursome would rather take the fight to the zombies with vapour bombs, dynamite and the tight urban sprawl rather than drive two hundred miles, with two lorries full of provisions to hide and wait it out, is quite frankly ludicrous. Also while the cat and mouse fight with a zombie-hybrid billed as Mouser (David Lavenski) was actually interesting, even finally firing some connections in me to the pseudo-intellectual stream of consciousness being spouted by the narrator, he was painfully underutilised and unexplored, and brought to an abrupt end weakly and prematurely.

It's 28 Days Later territory. They're infected, alive and the plan is to get to a month or two in when they've all died of hunger or exposure then move to a nice clean spot and start life again. So not zombie? It took me a while but I've now embraced the mindless but alive, and will gladly argue their zombie place at the table. While I fully acknowledge Romero's legacy the further I've delved the more inherently ambiguous and ultimately moot the whole life and dead debate is; and it's lack of control which serves as the actual signifier. There were zombies well before Romero stuck his grubby mitts in, and they were very much alive, and while he created an undoubted cult niche, let's not get carried away.

So while I do have quite a lot of respect for Another World, I can't help but feel the high intensity and highly stylised action would have been better partnered with a pseudo-intellectual meta that wasn't trying quite so hard. There's a lot going on; way too much with a Pandora's Box approach to the end of the world that tries to mesh together just too many ideologies and principles. There's euthanasia, Viking burials, bastardised Descartes, dinosaur extinction and Gaia theories, the merits of autodidacticism and utilitarianism, and even God's eternal grace and love is thrown into the mix; nothing is left out the intellectual maelstrom and whilst there's no doubting the writers know a great deal of words and concepts there's little evidence they know how to weave a coherent story with them all. So certainly interesting, and certainly entertaining, Another World ultimately falls short as either the gnarly little horror or the little existential piece of art it thinks it is - 4/10.


Monday, 26 September 2016

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - review

2006 (USA)

Contains spoilers.
One bloody monkey. That's all it took to dictate whether or not Gore Verbinski (director) and Jerry Bruckheimer's (producer) second hokey Pirates of the Caribbean adventure would make for a zombie movie review or not. One bloody monkey. You see, I don't think Davy Jones's crew, though gnarly, dark and ugly, really make the zombie cut. I know they're century old degenerates, in both mind and body, and forced to an eternal servitude of murder, rape and pillage across the high seas, but for the most part they're cognisant, and seem pretty enamoured with their whole predicament. Now, like in my review of the previous film there's certainly some zombie ambiguity to the crew what with all the immortality and curses, and it is the Caribbean and voodoo with priests with funny bones and what-not; but there's just not enough groaning and mindlessness. It all comes down to one bloody monkey and you probably, like me, even missed his zombification at the end of the first film, where the long credits fade and it's Barbossa’s pet back with the cursed gold coins of Cortés in Isla de Muerta's. A thirty odd second bit of throwaway fun with the little shit stealing a piece, and wham, a zombie-monkey and here we are.

What to say about the film? It's every bit the triple-A bombastic multi-million pound spectacular it's billed as. It's Johnny Depp , Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley all doing what they're paid audaciously stupid amounts of money to do. It's wall to wall ridiculous and jaw dropping effects; an extravagant non-stop roller-coaster of fun, and a tremendous way to spend a family Sunday afternoon. It is perhaps a tad long, at two and a half hours and it's also perhaps a little more contrived and forced than the first; but the high jinx high-seas tale of treachery, redemption and friendship is strong and competent enough to deliver every bit the perfect level of low brain escapism.

It's also every bit the part of something greater. You see, Dead Man's Chest is part one of a two film story arc shot simultaneously with the third PoC instalment, At World's End. As such I've seen it compared to The Empire Strikes Back; an unresolved journey movie that leaves more questions than it answers. Whilst Davy Jones's heart is turned over to the East Indian Trading Company's Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), and the Kraken is overcome so that Elizabeth, Will and the crew can make their escape the film is chock full of hanging threads, none more so than the fate of Captain Sparrow, last seen being dragged to the depths of the sea. We could also, if we wanted to be cynical, strip the film down and argue that there's actually very little meaningful content, and that the film is really just a rather drawn out two and half hour long tease for a climax we'd have to wait another year to get. Also, that a great many of the long elaborate sequences, such as Captain Sparrow's capture and on the island ruled by cannibals, or the extended three-way in-fight on Isla Cruces are rather unnecessary contrived filler, and if merged with the second film and given a rather frugal edit they'd both benefit. I'm not sure though, for as much as the critic in me agrees with all this, I did actually enjoy all the superfluous goofing about and maybe that's what the film is ultimately all about.

So this zombie monkey. As I stated in the previous film's review, the curse is actually more about looking undead than actually being undead, and though appearing as a ghastly ghoul when the moon is out might not be everyone's cup of tea, the immortality and a imperviousness that comes with the condition probably more than compensates. So perhaps he's not quite a zombie; but Jack clearly calls him undead and demonstrates his unique selling point with a close quarters gun shot during a trade with obeah priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to discover the location of the Flying Dutchman. And its crew? Not really zombie either, with looks more akin to undersea creature hybrid mutants, and temperaments closer to the particular nasty and uncouth pirate crew their reputation alludes to. And also while they may well be under the command of Davy Jones, as said, they don't seem particularly upset about carrying out his wishes.

So not really a zombie film and even the undead monkey is perhaps probably a bit zombie suspect; still ambiguity is at the heart of zombie myth and Barbossa has come back, albeit briefly at the end, from a state that was most definitely dead. It's also the Caribbean and voodoo; and as I've said before, part four, On Stranger Tides does promise no question gut-munchers (well maybe not quite, as remember this is Disney and family friendly fun), and we're now at least one closer. Fully deserving of its accolade as fastest film ever to gross over $1 billion in the worldwide box office at the time, and fully deserving of all the popular plaudits I can't really fault it as a great pop-corn action spectacular, and recommend it wholeheartedly for a family treat. Albeit as said, have At World's End sat ready in the wing to finish the story, which I'll be no doubt doing too, and also hoping that bloody monkey has done one so I can skip another nearly zombie film - 7/10.