I'm in! I've been accepted as member of the Large Association of Movie Blogs. One small step for zombies, one giant leap for credibility? Nah, but excellent nonetheless!
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Contains mild spoilers.
Alien Parasites. They're nothing new to the zombie myth and I've reviewed my fair share of films that saw little grubby predators weasel their way into the living and dead to take control. I'll admit though to always feeling a little wary when it comes to little green, err, things infiltrating and mimicking the native population, while all the while working towards the ultimate goal of global dominion. I mean, where the parasites take control of cadavers it's easy to shout zombie; they're reanimated dead and they look the part. What about when the hosts are still alive with their pre-parasitical personality suppressed or even joined with? What if the parasite has introduced a new uncontrollable desire or drive like sex (procreation) or hunger (survival); does an insatiable all-consuming addiction constitute enough of a loss of self, will, ego, being to semantically at least proffer the idea of zombie?
Director James Gunn's horror / comedy / alien parasites land on earth and look to take over zombie flick Slither both tasks me to ask this question while at the same time lets me off the hook completely. Three quarters of the way through the film after watching the very foreign parasite take its first victim, the town big shot Grantford Grant (the brilliant Michael Rooker), successfully find a mate and procreate with Brendalynne Gutierrez (Brenda James) and finally look to step things up spewing thousands of slug like throat guzzling parasitical spermatozoon on the world, Slither did the decent thing and allowed the hosts to die first. The resulting dead controlled by the will of the shared single conscious alien super disease are as close to the modern zombie as one is likely to get; their old selves, other than perhaps access from the new host to memories, are gone; they stumble about like something from a Romero film and they like to feast on flesh.
Slither lists itself as a horror comedy but I always felt the tension, gore and scares outweighed any desire for outright laughter. Ok, alien parasitical take over stories are out there and the film is chock full of audaciously brilliant set pieces that could certainly be seen as uncomfortably funny but there's no throw-away gags or cheap easy farce. The film takes its subject matter seriously but isn't afraid to be playful in a non detrimental way to the core story and atmosphere and it works brilliantly. Nathan Fillon as town sheriff Bill Pardy is the dry wit and hero of the film and arguably does have the lions share of one line quips but again they're never out of place or jarring; in many ways he's the Indiana Jones or Han Solo lightening the mood now and again but never at any expense.
The film has a comfortable cohesiveness, a singular vision, and flows with an effortlessness that signifies a cast and crew who were not only professionally invested but were actively enjoying the ride. All the sequences work, there's no dead dialogue or scenes and all the themes played with work; Gunn has cut and shot the film to perfection. Pacing is on point and the climax is satisfying and not drawn out and even though the central idea of the film is ludicrous it somehow manages to avoid any thoughts that it might be; it's a clever trick and shows it knows what it's doing.
As to the earlier question of whether the increasingly 'alien' but alive Grantford Grant is a zombie I'm happy to leave it up in the air. He's definitely had his self repressed but there's definitely a bit of the old person still there. It's all deliberately vague and disturbing, hinting at a precariously easy malleableness to a definition of self we consider so resolute and absolute. Also, if I start at this juncture including alien possessed films where do I stop? Species and The Thing are obvious starters, but I'd soon move on to any and all films that had someone temporarily possessed by someone / thing else and I'm not sure I'm ready to throw Wrath of Khan with Chekov and Terrell succumbing to Khan's indigenous eels into the mix just yet.
Slither is a triumphant alien parasite spectacular with first rate acting, a tight on point story that never languishes and lavish over the top special effects that manage to avoid ever degrading to farce. I'll admit to enjoying this far more than I expected and I was surprised I'd no memories of ever watching it before which is odd as it's the sort of thing I would have actively sought out. An alien parasite film, with tenderness, scares, laughter and zombies, this is definitely an extra-terrestrial recommendation, 8/10.
Monday, 16 December 2013
Now I'm not exactly sure as to the reason I felt the need for a couple of weeks zombie cinematic vacation but I'm sure putting myself through yet another undeniably mundane and mediocre, however well intentioned end of the world spectacular had something to do with it. The Zombie Diaries wasn't a bad film; it had an earnestness and a gritty realism that elevated it's rather poor production and pedestrian pacing to be something I felt wasn't as bad as it could easily have been. It was still a very average film however, and to learn that it felt deserving of a sequel with an equally low budget was surprising to say the least. Learning that it was also set in the same 'world' with the same look and feel and the same first person narrative left me perplexed but intrigued as for all its faults the first showed undeniable promise. Without giving away the punch line it would seem I was right to be cautious.
Directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates have returned to the bleak English muddy fields, slowest least dangerous looking undead shufflers ever seen on camera and obligatory shoehorned in morally bankrupt survivors as if insinuating should civilisation and authority ever crumble every young lad will immediately set off sadistically raping and murdering without a second's pause. The first instalment attempted an ambitious weave of a trio of survival narratives and while it didn't necessarily all work it was these small personal and desperate insights, and not the gun toting action finale that made the film work. The World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 seems to disagree totally with my take however, dropping any delicacy and any ambition to instead tell a more straightforward corridor shooter story with a single group of armed soldiers fighting their way through one heavily scripted encounter after another. There's no real depth, no attempt at anything particularly fresh and an over reliance that having a lot of zombies on screen and plenty of rather lacklustre head shots could carry it all.
It's several months after the apocalypse. The countryside is awash with the undead and a lone group of part time semi-military types are forced to flee the relative safety of their barracks / bunker, because someone left the door open, and make it on foot to the shoreline where they've been lead to believe they'll be rescued and transported abroad where things are much better. Each of the characters has a reasonably coherent back story and the plot itself while wholly unoriginal is not the worst thing I've come across in an amateur production it's just the whole thing is so dreary. I understand that bleakness and desolation was the theme, and that a zombie apocalypse wouldn't be a cause for balloons and dancing, but having the rather stale and derivative posse quite so uninspired and miserable soon makes viewing unnecessarily weary.
If you've watched the first you'll understand the description, slow and non threatening, yet persistent and plentiful. For a group of armed and trained soldiers the near snail paced zombies pose a surprisingly major threat. In fact I'd go one further and really question how such a pedestrian and unassuming foe could so quickly and totally have overcome a far quicker, more mobile, better equipped and far more cognizant population. And here's the rub; I'm all for no direct monster post-apocalyptic dramas, but if you're going to go to all the trouble to fill it with gnarly undead flesh eaters that are purported to have been responsible for the untold murder of billions, one could at least try and present them in a way that might other than fleetingly appear vaguely dangerous. There is some nice blood and gore and some nice deaths, albeit all too often helped by the coincidental blurring / damaged film / interference from the hand held docu style capture but it never manages to ever completely shake off it's low budget restraints or dare I say lacklustre direction.
It's [REC], Diary of the Dead, Blair Witch all over again with one of the soldiers Jonesy (Rob Oldfield) seemingly intent to record absolutely everything that happens however ridiculous it would be that he wouldn't stop and put the camera down to say, run away or shoot back. I've seen far worse but still suffers the same contrivance accusations levelled at all films of this ilk. There's also an attempt to add tension and purposeful drive to proceedings with the inference that should they not reach the boats on time the country will be firebombed to oblivion though this too never feels any more than a tacked on convenient narrative contrivance.
The World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 is an uninspired Romero-esque homage. Average acting performances, laboured dialogue and a plot that feels artificially stretched with unnecessary scenes added just to fill the gaps; it rarely offers anything for the viewer to ever get particularly excited about. There's a certain competence to proceedings and there's nothing pro-actively offensive, other than maybe an unnecessary and unhealthy fixation to include rape or torture, it just fails in all ways possible to stand out. Maybe I'm a tad jaded or maybe I've seen too many 'average' zombie films but The World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 just didn't do it for me in any way, 3/10.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Now I know what you're all thinking. This low, LOW budget shoddy piece of amateur film making will undoubtedly receive a full zombie beat down where I'll bemoan it for ambition over ability to deliver, for having a quite awful artistic and physical presentation and for having woeful b-movie actors forced to work with a contrived hammy narrative. Well you're right, but you're also kind of wrong. For all its faults which there are many, the thing I will take away from director / writer / make-up / producer / line-manager / editor / special effects / camera operator J.R. Bookwalter's cinematic début is a feeling that here was a genuinely earnest and honest attempt at a grand zombie opus, and it nearly got it right. Sure, it should possibly have been a bit more realistic with it's aims; going small and discrete rather than expansive and ambitious, especially with someone at the helm who by his own admission had not really even known how to operate a camera. But really who could really argue against an enthusiastic young eighteen old, who'd just been given $75,000 by Sam Raimi, who also came on board as executive producer, just going for it.
A possibly misguided attempt at to pay homage to Romero, The Dead Next Door is the tale of a team of pseudo military cops called The Zombie Squad and their stand as part of the last line of defence against a world two years consumed by grotesque flesh eating undead. Pete Ferry is Raimi their leader and he's assigned the mission by Doctor Moulssson (Bogdan Pecic) to head to ground zero, a research lab run by the late Doctor Bow (Lester Clark), find his research notes and return so they can put a stop to the flesh eating viral parasite. To say the acting is the worst I've probably seen would be exaggerating, but not by much. Whether it's screaming glib and cliché one word action-film lines or working their way through tedious contrived exposition designed to tell us the audience who these people are, what they're doing, what's happened to the word and the compete zombie survival guide a to z, it's amateurish, obvious and badly dubbed in a Mattei way, yet it's all somehow incredibly earnest and watch-able. And that's the rub. As the group reach Bow's Lab and come face to face with a strange pseudo Christian, pro undead, sacrificial death cult lead by the ever weird sunglasses wearing Rev. Jones (Robert Kokai) and his band of equally weird disciples, the characterisation, the dialogue and their interaction never gets any better; and yet it somehow manages to never offend as you feel it should.
The cultists don't like the soldiers and the soldiers don't like what the cultists are doing so they inevitably clash with guns, grenades and rhetoric. The action moves along at fairly nice pace and along the way there's a good amount of blood, guts and imaginative and original zombie set pieces, especially at the cultists lair and the manner in which they're a) being protected and b) being used as a weapon in a manner not all too dissimilar to that employed by the Governor some twenty years later. It does suffer from all too contrived and needlessly uber-stupid behaviour for many of the totally avoidable zombie bites and whether it's accidental fingers put zombies mouths, or mucking about with electric windows each kill is lazy and distracts from the generally good amateur effects that ensue.
There's a mad scientist, isn't there always, and he's inadvertently unleashed an infectious virus on the world that kills its host then continues to hunger for nutrition to sustain its life. It's actually probably most similar to World War Z; the idea that the hosts become vessels to propagate the spread of the virus and require flesh to keep going. Without sustenance, the undead drop after about three months, but with so many tasty morsels as so if often the case when something does global, the virus was able to stay alive and spread. Interestingly Bookwalter also used The Return of the Living Dead total reanimation idea, though who was first will have to left open (ROTLD came out in '85 / TDND started shooting in '85). The virus keeps whatever part of its host going, albeit until it runs out of juice, so head shots, decapitation all help slow the zombies down but they're not a permanent solution. Bookwalter also brings to the table a solution of sorts. Moulsson, with the help of Bow's research concocts a formula that can speed up the viral process so that the corpses burn out in hours not months and that leads to some nice melting zombie scenes and the concept of zombie/human hybrid fusions, that are neither alive or undead, but pretty grotesque, violent and quite coherent all the same.
Don't get me wrong, The Dead Next Door is out and out poor b-movie film making, but I'm starting to think I secretly hold quite the candle for earnest amateur horror, especially zombie rubbish as my recent euro-trash reviews would attest. As contrived as the story is, the tussle over Dr. Bow's research and the pro-zombie stand off was at least original and mostly held together as long as one is willing to look past all the inconsistencies. whilst not a comedy, there were a few deliberate and non-deliberate laughs and even the attempts at the odd bit of satire, though this could never be called a deep film (watching petty bureaucracy survive as Moulsson is forced to sign for zombie specimens, and the attack on the pro-zombie protesters were personal highlights.)
Alas a good film this is not, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it for any kind of casual viewing, but if you like good b-movies and appreciate sincere, industrious, if incredibly flawed attempts at zombie horror you might find, like I did, that you enjoy this far more than you feel you probably should, 6/10.
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Contains mild spoilers.
Twenty Five minutes in, watching Alice (Milla Jovovich) in full black leather glory leap, spin, slash, kick and shoot her way, with sumptuous control and style through one group of slobbering flesh eaters to another, to only finally come up against the equally resplendent Ada (Bingbing Li) ready for another whirlwind CG cat-fight, it came to me director / writer Paul W.S. Anderson had finally, metaphorically and literally lost the plot. One very much for style over substance I'd noticed a general decline in actual coherent content as the budget rose and technology caught up with his flamboyant far reaching designs, and with Resident Evil: Retribution, he's finally reached a new high (or low depending on where we start) in cinematic superfluous superficial silliness. There's no attempt any more to try and provide any rational reason for the series of high octane combat sand box set ups, no attempt whatsoever to reign things in, and totally no remorse for any of it.
This is where I'd normally talk about the story but honestly I could put it all down on the back of a postage stamp. Alice, captured after the fight at the end of Resident Evil: Afterlife gets some help and escapes. That's it. Ok, I'm being a little trite, but if I embellish, adding her escape involves traversing and fighting through a series of connected virtual cityscapes with a vindictive computer AI throwing increasingly absurd and implausible bioengineered opponents at her, it doesn't make it sound any more rich in narrative. Don't get me wrong, it looks spectacular; with grand sweeping virtual camera pans and some jaw dropping virtual sets and ideas, it's just the endless grind of combat and gratuitous drive for the most extravagant of set pieces on the biggest baddest scale, it just all ends up coming across flat, and dare I say all too precariously close to feeling like a series of rehashed scenes all done before.
The problem with with this all action approach is there's no longer any real emotional engagement, character depth or sense of danger. Watching the now seemingly invincible Alice plough through a set of zombies, a pair of executioners and even a gargantuan Uber-Licker one never feels she's ever really in any trouble and the experience feels sterile and even mundane. I'm not sure who's to blame; but whether it's Jovovich or Anderson finally tiring of their cash cow there's a very humdrum and by the book feel to the film as if (re)producing a series of sterile high staged action scenes with CG abandon would be good enough.
Anderson does try, with arguably the best set of sequences of the film; a genuinely engaging ground zero scenario played out with 'real' people in suburbia and it is one ray of hope in the wash of tedium that the series can be saved. Jovovich is now mum and wife and not the uber-fighting killing machine we're accustomed to, and the siege of their little safe world is the one heart pumping moment where there's real dread and anxiety. Her movements to desperately make sense of the whirlwind she finds herself in all the time keeping her little girl safe, with palpably intimidating and chilling, real traditional zombies smashing their way through her living room, is moving and utterly absorbing. Ok it's not Alice's memory, it's those of a clone grown to research and showcase Umbrella's biological weaponry, so it's not a real part of her story any more, but it demonstrates that should Anderson ever feel the need to return Resident Evil to its roots he could do so quite admirably.
By now, five films in, we understand that alongside your more identifiable fast moving Boyle-esque flesh eaters there will be an assortment of other undead / mutant proponents Alice and crew will have to fight. Majini zombies (the ones with the parasitical face thingie) are back along with the executioners I mentioned, but all new are a rather macabre army, literally, of machine gun toting, rocket launching and chain sawing Las Plagas aka Red Army zombies who pack a real mean punch and look like something that could have crawled straight out of Outpost. As said, the connected biodome / narrative of Retribution grants Anderson licence to finally play as much as he likes, so each area is filled with the rafters with all the zombie types the series and games are known for. Yes, it's probably closer to the games, but call me old fashioned, I liked it all better when the main enemy simply wanted to rip into a bit of flesh and hang out in number.
An undoubted CG showcase, cinematically Resident Evil: Retribution is off the scale with lavish effects, perfect make-up and spectacular fighting choreography, but big dial up to eleven effects alone just won't cut it. With a woefully superficial story the whole film comes across as a lazy half-arsed way to include all the daft over scripted fights he could think of, and while the story has never been central to Resident Evil at least with the previous films it tried. The action itself it so sterile to be uninteresting and tedious, and with no real danger, or cause for any of, the audience is utterly unable to engage or care with what's happening. Arguably the worst of the five, Retribution is not style over substance, but style instead of, with a narrative so contrived and perfunctory to be an insult to the viewer, 3/10.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
2004 20th Century Fox DVD R(1) Watched on Netflix
Well this is a bit of departure, but I did say I was going to review it all. My daughter's a big fan of the PG rated late nineties adaptation of American author R. L. Stine's horror shorts. They're fun and exciting little self contained stories with Stine getting the fine balance of scary and family friendly right every time and the US/Canadian television interpretations are well made and true to the source with Stine even beginning each with a small narration. Each episode usually drops one or more children, quite often siblings into evil and frightening situations where they, without adult help, have to use their own abilities and imagination to win the day. It's child friendly, so there's never any deaths, the children are never on the receiving end of direct violence and there's always a happy ending, yet Stine, as my daughter will attest, certainly knows how fashion a stressful situations a child can get into.
Egyptian mummies, Monsters, Werewolves and possessed magic items all story themes played with but it's the two part adaptation of his first book published in 1992, and my daughter telling me all about it after watching it on Netflix that's the focus of this review.
Brother and sister Amanda (Amy Stewart) and Josh Benson (Ben Cook) have been forced to relocate some five hundred miles to the town of Dark Falls for their fathers work. It's your typical children's haunted house of horror, the building itself is dilapidated and in desperate need of modernisation and a lick of paint, the neighbour hood is overgrown and run down, and the neighbours act suspiciously and keep to the shadows. No sooner than they arrive Amanda begins to feel something isn't right briefly glancing a face at the bedroom window that of course her parents disregard as a gust of wind or a trick of the light. Things go from bad to worse and in full scooby-doo / gothic-panto glory lightning, thunder, sinister piano music, mystery voices and barking dogs are all used to tell us the Bensons are in for a rough couple of days.
Part 1 ambled along pretty safely; overly friendly neighbours introduced themselves yet shied away from an old family wreath reputed to bring good luck that had been hung, weird pale skinned neighbourhood kids acted strangely and even a few good scary moments, all directed at Amanda with strange sightings, something breaking at the wall in her wardrobe and even a ghostly visitation and dire warning. It was fun, reasonably coherent and well acted family friendly entertainment; not especially my cup of tea but I could go with it. I came into this understanding it was, as my daughter put it, all about the living dead and if these walking talking neighbours were the zombies then that was fine.
I was wrong though and nothing quite prepared for me for where it was all going in part 2. Eventually with the children searching the woods for Petey their dog who'd escaped, they stumbled upon a graveyard, and the entirety of the neighbourhood who had seemingly convened for a town council style meeting. The realtor (estate agent) was here, as was the neighbours daughter, the town fireman, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (probably); however gone was the slightly off tone skin tone, and friendly rational demeanour. Here were zombies, grey and blemished rotting undead parasites discussing how they needed to siege the house for the Bensons blood. There was no sugar coating it; they were dead and they wanted Amanda and Josh to join them.
Giving the zombies the two states is quite a fun little idea and not a million miles away from Dead & Buried. On the one hand they're living out some strange fantasy existence pretending to be who they once were to gain the new families trust, however underneath they're vampiric brainless corpses with a singular uncontrollable appetite for blood. They're not who they used to be; they're an echo of their old self, a charade able to remember but only in the pragmatic sense that this might help them to satiate their hunger. For a simple children's story Stine shows a surprising amount of sophistication and the story is refreshingly complete and compelling. The make up is edgy with more than passing resemblance to Romero's offspring, albeit with blood itself off the table, their movements are purposeful and menacing and the final siege of house is scary and suitably relentless with undead bursting through walls and gnashing their teeth, and for a moment I could almost have mistaken it all for something far more grown up.
Welcome to Dead House is fine example of how to make children's horror fun and light yet also not insulting or overly dumb. A great little self contained story; narrative isn't as rigid as it perhaps would be in an adult tale, with several scenes of misdirection never really fleshed out but it all works for a target audience that doesn't really need it to. The central story feels strong and satisfying, production values, music and acting are all as competent as you'd want and the zombies are well made up and genuinely intimidating. Undeniably one for kids (probably not small ones though) there might just about be enough here for big old hairy kids like me too, 6/10.
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Had some PR sent to me about a new Danish zombie film that took inspiration (if that's the right word in this context) from the horrifying flesh eating narcotic Krokodil that I WOULDN'T recommend you ever image search. Looks and sounds gritty and deeply unpleasant; so one to keep an eye on.
Here's the PR gubbins:
The good old classic quote "There's something rotten in the state of Denmark" rings true these days, although it is probably not quite in the way it was meant when written by William Shakespeare in "Hamlet"!
In directors Martin Sonntag and Bastian Brinch Pedersen's near-doomsday prediction "Escaping the Dead", Copenhagen reaks of rotten flesh after having come under attack of the living dead and the last remaining survivors fight for their lives.
The film stars Bastian Brinch Pedersen (who is also the co-director and producer of the film) as David, Rama Øzel as Ahmir, along with Daniel Hutera, Ali Öezkan, Iben Ma Bønnelycke, Nicolai Huan Nguyen, Camilla Ludvigsen and Kim Sønderholm ("Blood Fare", "The Winedancers", "Sinister Visions") playing Lars - a policeman that David comes across during his run out of the city.
Director Martin Sonntag about the film:
"The film is inspired by a series of articles about the deathdrug "Krokodil" that was published about the same period of time when Ronald Poppo had his face eaten by a naked man hooked on bathsalt in Miami. We saw it as the perfect zombie plot: a deathdrug that turns people into zombies.
The film has its starting point in a typical day for the lead character, David. David is the local marihuana pusher, but he is the kind of dealer that smokes more than he sells. In the meantime the country has been hit by a new deathdrug and when David and his partner in crime Ahmir is offered some exceptionally cheap cocaine they see it as an opportunity to earn big money at the big techno concert the following Friday, but the cocaine turns out to have a terrible side effect that creates a giant zombie outbreak that spreads across the entire Copenhagen. In the film we follow David and his bloody fight out of the city."
Contains mild spoilers.
"This is so the Breakfast Club", my wife commented, "They've even taken whole scenes and lines." Now, I've not watched The Breakfast Club as back when it was released I was ten or so, and more interested in running around skidding on my knees shouting pew pew than watching teen angst ridden romantic indulgence. Then the years since I've never really felt the need to catch up; probably because that young boy grew testicles. "You should watch it, for research," she commented at the shrug of my shoulders. "But I don't have to now" I replied "because you've told me this is The Breakfast Club and this one has zombies in it." She had no reply to this of course, smiled and nodded. So... my point is, this is The Breakfast Club with zombies, and it even says so on the cover, but you're going to have to take my wife's word for it, not mine.
It's detention time and six one dimensional high school types have collided to write 'I must not be so superficial' or whatnot a hundred times. Jacob Zachar is Eddie the bullied nerd, Jayson Blair is Brad, the good looking cool popular kid who torments him, Christa B. Allen is his gorgeous blonde cheerleading girlfriend Janet, Max Adler the token jock Jimmy and Alexa Nikolas, Willow, the angst misunderstood goth chick. Each is adorned in the appropriate costume, each is replete with lines and behaviour befitting their caricature and each actor is really way too old for the high school personality they're purporting to be. Oh, I should add, there's also Justin Chon as Ash, a token stoner and a bit of a throwaway character with throw away jokes. There's something about dumbed down high school comedies that almost demands single dimension tropes and it's hard to be too critical about it all if I'm honest. Detention of the Dead knows what it's trying to do and it's an authentic parody attempt that never tries too hard to be anything other than a pop corn indulgence with characters and acting appropriate and on message.
The characters are introduced and zombies appear. Detention of the Dead to its credit doesn't dally with their appearance and plays the new post-modern zombie card that of course the high school kids are fully vested with the modern zombie zeitgeist and instantly recognise them for what they are. They know not to get bit, they know to go for the head and brain, and they know that a good barricade, or closed door will hold them back (yes they're your quite crap corpse eaters that stop their immutable creep of death at the smallest obstacle - or the budget didn't include breaking and replacing doors.) What follows is a zombie survival story with angst ridden misogynists and the me-me generation trying desperately to come to terms with the fact the zombie apocalypse might actually be more important than their own depthless problems and confused romantic troubles.
It's light, it's airy, full of all the bright clean colours of US high school life and it never takes itself seriously. There's plenty of infantile and throwaway jokes and dialogue, with humour and playful a constant theme to the many extravagant and gratuitous scenes of gore and flesh ripping. There's a little bit of satire scattered here and there but the narrative never tries too hard to come across clever or insightful. Director / writer Alex Craig Mann has done a more than competent job imbuing the action with a teen audience look and feel and has picked a suitably light youthful soundtrack to accompany the gut munching and high school shenanigans that never allows the pace to lull.
The zombies are Romero slow lurchers that never-the-less lunge quite quickly at times for the bite. They're well made up, though with, in my opinion excessively forced and added guttural low demonic growls; they snarl, horde, pull out intestines and generally act with all the unpleasantness you'd expect. The action starts small and insular focusing tightly on the school then expands leaving the question whether the whole world is now in trouble hanging. The manner in which the many extras stagger out about is cohesive enough for what it is and I've no real complaints with our undead chums.
Detention of the Dead is what it is, a Saturday night spectacle suitable for partners and mates with pizza on the coffee table and beer in hand. It also made a nice change to watch something openly with my wife rather than skulking off shamefully to some exploitative thirty year old nonsense I'd probably not openly to admit to liking as much as I do. Yes it's superficial, deliberately derivative and ultimately quite forgettable but never-the-less it's fun, obvious and enjoyable for all the same reasons. I've no real complaints with comedy, horror parodies such as these; they're undeniably jumping on the zombie bandwagon, uncomplicated and not particularly ambitious, but that's ok and its far better to work within your limits than try too hard and too serious. Also competently made zombie reinterpretations of, let's say, more female oriented cult classics are always welcome and it's not the first; just look at Romero & Juliet aka Warm Bodies; which actually kind of worked and it makes me wonder what might be next, Fried Green Tomatoes? Pride and Prejudice? A recommended date-night film with first rate acting, that should also satiate that zombie itch, 6/10.
Friday, 15 November 2013
Contains mild spoilers.
It all started so well. Amando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead was an original creepy and atmospheric euro-horror masterpiece with intelligent characters, a surreal yet coherent narrative, and enough exploitative scenes to satisfy and shock even by today's standards. Unfortunately for de Ossorio, whether it was from over reaching, with Return of the Evil Dead, or from having to work with cripplingly low resources and money the sequels never came close to reaching the same height. Night of Seagulls, the final chapter, marks the end of long, tumultuous, yet not entirely unpleasant low budget euro-horror journey. Like The Ghost Galleon, it's a tight, often ponderous story full of cliché and some unnecessary repetition imbued with a feeling of forced financial temperance, but it would also appear that de Ossorio has finally come to terms with the hand he's been dealt presenting a film that's self contained with a less audacious story that's at once more coherent and believable. Gone are transdimensional ghost galleons, contrived one-dimensional villains, and forced obligatory rapes, instead we almost return to where it all started with simple yet deep characters, a non overly convoluted set-up and a rounded complete story with a beginning, a middle and a satisfying end.
By now you'll be aware the other than the back story of medieval templars returned from the East with new found occult knowledge and a willingness for baring and slicing into the breasts of nubile young virgins to consume their hearts and flesh, all in order to gain undead immortality, de Ossorio has never felt the need for continuity between the films. Each film has it's own setting, it's own rumours and superstitions, and an all new set of modern heroes and anti-heroes with which to play with in an all new sandbox. All that we can be sure of is at some point the blind undead wispy chinned knights will rise from their rest and people will be killed in as gratuitous and exploitative a way as de Ossorio can get away with.
Dr. Henry Stein (Víctor Petit) and his wife Joan (María Kosti) have travelled to a run down isolated fishing village to replace the old doctor (Javier de Rivera). On arrival they are met with blatant rejection and dismissal from a community that makes it clear outsiders aren't wanted, an aging anxious doctor who's only to happy to be getting out as soon as possible and Teddy (José Antonio Calvo), a handicapped and bullied young man who fresh from a recent beating is treated and given refuge in their loft. That night Joan is woken by the ringing of strange bells, which Henry dismisses as a necessary aid for passing boats in thick fog, and the cries of distressed seagulls, which neither can explain, but it puts them on edge and suggests there's more to the village than meets the eye.
Come the morning and ignoring all the demands to not pry and not leave, Joan befriends a young village orphan Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky) who agrees to come work with them and she also takes in Tilda Flannigan (Julia James) a young girl from the village who is clearly quite scared. After a rather confrontational visit from the village elders, the mystery is slowly unravelled with Teddy finally spilling the beans. "Corpses, rise up out of the sea, take pretty ladies, one each night for seven nights, the pretty girls that die, they become the seagulls; they're the damned spirits of the sacrificed girls."
It's the same costumes, the same models and the same adorned horses; also nothing has changed cinematically with how the blind skeletal crusty old corpses pull themselves out of their tombs, ride, dismount then ponderously shuffle towards their prey stabbing and slashing their swords as if they're waving their white sticks. What's different is the very specific nature of the curse, which requires them to rise every seven years, to take seven fresh female victims on seven consecutive nights, and how they're not doing this to appease Satan, but as an offering to some Lovecraftian-esque sea god / demon they have a large statue of.
The tighter smaller story and ensemble allows the templars to shine in a way they probably haven't since the first film. They're intransient, yet unreal, menacing and for the first time in three films believable and not distractingly amateurish. Pretty virgins in white linen gowns tied up to rocks by a terrified village folk, to appease a curse isn't new, and Andromeda tied up for the Kraken to appease Thetis immediately came to mind, but de Ossorio manages to make the scenes his own and doesn't squander the opportunity with stylish cinematography and restraint. It's clear that Night of the Seagulls feels more at one with itself; it's story is rounded and complete, the narrative and dialogue is confident and understated, characters are exposed slowly and subtly, and pacing never feels harried or forced.
Not perfect, Night of the Seagulls at least bows the Blind Dead out on a high and reminds us that Amando de Ossorio when push comes to shove can fashion quite a moody, eerie atmospheric horror that can stand the test of time. It's still undeniably misogynist, where girls are demarcated by how pretty they are and women who show undue concern are labelled hysterical and in need of sedation but at least finally the obligatory shoe-horned in rape is absent and really, if it wasn't for de Ossorio's track record, I probably wouldn't be making such a big deal of it all for a film of its time and place. Competent, coherent, de Ossorio's Night of the Seagulls is a fine 70s euro horror and a nice reward for getting through parts 2 and 3, 7/10.
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Ok I didn't come at this low budget zom-com with high expectations but from the cover I at least expected a daft zany riotous zombie spoof with an abundance of gratuitous and unnecessary gore and blood, albeit to make up for lacklustre narrative and barely adequate acting. You know, looking at the cover, there's crazy demon-esque zombies and the diner's on fire, so something along the lines of Trailer Park of Terror or even Plaga Zombie; nothing that would blow me away but ninety minutes of leave your brain at the door indie fun. Well, I can definitely attest to the latter as director / writer Patrick Horvath's zombie cum serial killer / slasher is certainly light on the story side, and if I'm being kind the three leads just about get away with it, but as for the rest, well, it's another oh-so-familiar case where redesigned cover and choice quotes don't necessarily match what's actually in the box.
KFZ: Kentucky Fried Zombies is neither riotous, zany or funny, and it's neither gratuitous, gory or particularly bloody. If I'm allowed to cut to the chase, it's a slow, rambling, occasionally mildly amusing, dry little amateur art project that never really goes anywhere and even unfortunately manages to bore the viewer on the way. I would normally stop at this point to point out despite the purported $500k budget and mere eight nights of shooting there was obviously a lot of good intention and the directors ambition and vision does manage to bubble to the surface here and there, but really here it's quite the opposite. Whether it's the performances, the script, the story, the action, the make-up or the direction, it feels the benchmark was set to merely adequate early on and there was never a drive in any aspect for anything more. Even for a low budget b-movie everything manages to feel cheap and rushed, scenes that are mostly superfluous and could easily be dropped, linger, sequences are repeated unnecessarily and the story runs out of steam well before it even gets going.
On paper there's not a bad little yarn. Ken (Joshua Grote), a serial killer picks out an off the beaten track diner in the middle of night to have some fun with its staff and passing customers. After dispatching the waitress Rose (Maria Olsen) and cook Fred (Jorge Montalvo) he's forced to impersonate a new member of staff to avoid undue attention from love-troubled couple Kathy and Rob (Liesel Kopp and Parker Quinn) and Duke, the local Sheriff (Larry Purtell). As if pouring coffee and being faced with having to make a house salad wasn't enough, Ken is suddenly, without warning, faced with the additional problem that everyone he's just killed has reanimated and is hungry for flesh.
As said, it's not a bad little set up and an interesting survival dynamic in the making, with really enough for Horvath to sink his proverbial teeth into, except he never really does. The zombies are dealt with, Ken reveals and asserts his position as alpha-one by gun point and over extended over indulgent monologue and lecture, then Kathy and Robb manage to over power him allowing Horvath the opportunity for the first of two quite baffling dream like sequences supposed to in some way take us back to Ken's childhood and why he is the way is. I'll admit my attention was drifting somewhat by this point but if there was some intelligent and important insight that helped make sense of his one dimensional sociopathic character I missed it. Like the story I'm sure some thought had gone into it and the many meandering encounters and drawn out dialogue that made the rest of the film, but it always played out slow, stale and safe, and was never as interesting or dramatic as it really could have been.
The zombies too are merely adequately made up with just enough make-up and blood substitute to differentiate them from everybody else. They're slow, they groan, they bump into things and when they do attack it's always telegraphed and always a bite to the neck with the same token of flesh ripped off. There's also plenty of the low budget, cut to anything else, trick, when the action looks like it might get a little tasty. Also, the zombie origin story is never really explained, as with the rest of the film I don't think Horvath really cared enough to think any of it needed to make sense; after all it's just a zombie film and us zombie fans will simply lap up any old shit, won't we...
KFZ: Kentucky Fried Zombies is a turgid, incoherent amateurish bit of cinema that plods along happily wallowing in its own tedium and averageness, never pushing itself to try just a bit harder. None of the little semi-interesting narrative plots get explored or developed, the easy option is grasped at every opportunity and it all stumbles to an obvious and abrupt conclusion that comes across as if someone on the eighth day looked at their watch and called for the film to be wrapped whatever state the story was in. Best avoided, 2/10.
Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Contains mild spoilers.
The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday, redubbed, rescored and tamed a little for the US) is a sumptuous visual treat and widely regarded as one of the finest cinematic gothic horror fairy-tales with directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton all citing its influence. Despite being banned for eight years in the UK by an over-sensitive conservative reactionary committee for several dark and shocking scenes it's really the tangible and constant atmosphere of dread that flits seamlessly though and along all facets of the film that defines Mario Bava's full directorial debut. The Mask of Satan is a film at one with itself; flowing with grace and ease from one scene to the next, full of symbolism and subtlety yet telling a very real story with a firm unambiguous back story and climax.
The opening five minutes is evocative and provocative cinema at its finest; a bewitching and haunting sequence that demonstrates directorial confidence and skill. It's a dark brooding night and Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her lover Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are dragged up onto wooden posts to face the most severe of punishments by the inquisition for devil worshipping and witchcraft. Before the mask of Satan, a cruel iron-maiden-esque metal depiction of the devil punctuated with internal nails is hammered on to her face and she is burned alive she manages to scream out a curse on her brother, the head of the inquisition, and their family line declaring she will have her revenge though the bloodline. The thump of the hammer as the mask is driven into her head is sadistic, gratuitous and shocking. It's also one of the main reasons the film was banned, yet without it's inclusion the scene would lose the impact and focus it had and deprive of us of one of cinema's most iconic scenes.
200 years later and Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), travelling through Moldavia come across her burial tomb and you know how things are, one thing leads to another, the crucifix standing guard at the end of her resting place gets broken, her mask is removed and Dr. Kruvajan manages to snag his hand, dripping blood onto her surprisingly fresh looking face. I really don't want to spoil the plot, but I don't think I'll be giving too much away by saying that it looks like she might be getting that chance of revenge after all, especially with the nearby castle now being occupied with her brothers direct descendants, Prince Vajda (Garrani), his son Constantine (Enrico Oliveiri) and his daughter Katia (Steele again) who just happens to be the spitting image and exactly the same age as Asa, when she was killed.
An aversion to the cross, blood for rejuvenating, hypnotic suggestion of the weak, puncture marks on the neck, only coming out at night and resting in a sarcophagus during the day all point to vampires and this is certainly right. A. Boylan at Taliesin Meets the Vampires argues that Asa is a witch vampire in keeping with Romanian mythology, and the strigoï vii (a living witch type vampire) and strigoï mort (the undead variety, which the vii becomes after death). This witch/vampire cross over certainly fits with her psychic ability to drain Katia and the recommended method of dispatch which isn't by wooden stake through the heart, but by piercing the left (evil) eye.
So what does this have to do with zombies? Other than Asa, the undead whether summoned like Javutich to climb from his two hundred year old slumber in unconsecrated ground, or those more recently turned, act as mere puppets to her will. Though able to talk with occasional glimpses of the person they once were, they are stripped of their self and soul and unable to refuse her commands however unsavoury or malevolent. I'm not going to pretend The Mask of Satan is any way a traditional zombie film but those woken / reanimated / turned to protect and serve her are of definite genre interest and show many of signs of the genre-fusion we've seen before in an Eastern European mythology and folklore full of vampires, revenants and the draugr. One must also remember the year is 1960 and it would be many years before Romero would usher in the new wave. Zombies were still transitioning from the new world and magic to the west and scientific dogmatism; they were still synonymous with slave/servent and it wasn't yet established whether they even had to be physically dead. The undead vampire-esque slaves of Asa depicted here, are valid enough in this transitional period and we should always be mindful not to under estimate the vampire's part in the zombie story.
The Mask of Satan has little to fault. Steele shines amidst equally solemn and assured casting and acting performances, and the cohesive and satisfying narrative is accompanied by equally exquisite photographic direction and pacing that makes each scene a delight to flow along with. Bava has a real knack for allowing sequences to evolve with single long sumptuous sweeping shots that start on small details only to pan out without breaks or changing camera and the results are beautiful, stylish and utterly absorbing. The moody black and white palette compliments the gothic ambience and Roberto Nicolosi's musical score is an accomplished and understated accompaniment (there was a new more generic horror score by Les Baxter for the US release which I've not heard.) The Mask of Satan is a cinematic triumph full of flare and vision with plenty of zombie genre crossover to warrant it's inclusion. Magical, powerful, it's recommended, 9/10.
Friday, 8 November 2013
On 2009 Karloff & Lugosi Horror Collection DVD R(1) with Zombies on Broadway, Frankenstein (1970) & You'll Find Out.
Ask me a year ago whether a frankenstein-esque film such as this had a place on my oh so precious zombie only blog and I'd have shook my head, resolutely quoting my ideological stance that zombie equals reanimated dead and definitely not resurrected and alive. Today I'm a little more relaxed, my naive dogmatic definitions shaped in the post Romero era have crumbled a little and while I still hold to notion zombies and deadness is immutable I'm a little more amenable to whether a lack of pulse is strictly necessary.
Boris Karloff plays John Ellman, a pianist and unfortunate wretch who has recently been released from a ten year stretch. Desperate for employment he becomes the unwitting patsy for a group of wealthy racketeers who see his release as the perfect opportunity to rid themselves of the troublesome Judge Shaw (Joseph King) who has become quite the thorn in their side. Hired by Trigger (Joseph Sawyer), their hit-man for hire, Ellman, who was originally convicted by Shaw, is tasked to wait outside his house and make notes on the judges coming and goings, as if a PI assistant helping establish whether he's engaged in an extramarital affair. It's the perfect set-up. Shaw's body is dumped in the back of his car along with the murder weapon, his note book makes it look like he's been stalking the judge and he has the motivatin as Shaw was responsible for his own sentence ten years earlier. As if this all wasn't enough Nolan (Ricardo Cortez), who is really working alongside the racketeers is put in charge of his defence. His death by electric chair was really quite inevitable.
It's time we mentioned Jimmy (Warren Hull) and Nancy (Marguerite Churchill), two medical assistants who happened to see everything. Despite being threatened to keep quiet they confess all and though they're too late to save Ellman, Nolan makes sure of that, there is a plan B. B stands for Dr. Evan Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn), their boss, who is researching artificial hearts and resuscitation, and because of the great injustice that now appears to have been befallen Ellman agrees with the district attorney and prison warden that it's worth a shot to see if he can be brought back to life.
Director Michael Curtiz depiction of Ellman being brought back to life is sophisticated, modern and understated. Yes there's vials bubbling and electric currents but there's no clap of thunder, hunchbacks pulling levers or screams. The reanimation sequence is clean, scientific and open; indeed Karloff himself was vocal about distancing the cinematic experience to Frankenstein which he filmed five years earlier. There's no stitching together of human pieces and Ellman comes back alive as if waking from a deep sleep to a cheque for $500,000 compensation, his picture in the paper and a guardian to help him back on his feet. So why am I reviewing this? Because the Ellman resurrected is not the Ellman who died.
He has no memories of his life before, not even his name. He can speak and understand, and he does demonstrate a new short term memory but he has no recollection of his death or, which is of particular interest to Dr. Beaumont, that period he was dead. His movements are also now sluggish and limp, and he has a crooked neck and he seems distant, like what has come back is some kind of echo and not the same full soul that departed. He's more than an echo though, and whether one interprets it religiously (there are many instances of scripture quoted), or scientifically, or something else, Ellman is now very much some kind of Ghost of Christmas Past with the knowledge and ability to directly confront all those who engineered his death.
It's a hard and strange one to interpret. There are hints of the old Ellman; he can still play piano, but what has returned, if it is Ellman at all is entirely focused on retribution. One by one he confronts each racketeer asking them "why did you have me killed?" and rather than taking the cheap and easy option portraying him as some knife wielding murderer out for revenge, Curtiz instead portrays Ellman as some untouchable innocent who holds some stark mirror up to the souls of those who caused his death. There's an 'It's a Wonderful Life / Christmas Carol' feel, and it's more subtle and more coherent. Ellman isn't a monster; he's the question, and the omnipotent knowledge and truth the murderers can't escape. Trigger falls back shooting himself, Blackstone runs away into an oncoming train, Merit has a heart attack then falls out his bedroom window; each racketeers' reaction to being confronted is different, some even try to mount an offensive first, but each of their deaths seems inevitable and self afflicted, as if Ellman is now some angel of justice obeying some grand design.
Then again he might not be. There's enough ambiguity, and divine retribution after-all is a bit old testament. He might actually be some primal damaged reflection of Ellman who has seen the infinite nothing of death and just wants to kill his enemies; I don't know. Karloff's character reminded me a little of Andy from Dead of Night (Deathdream), of someone who ought not to have returned. There also a bit of The Returned, the idea of the restless dead who aren't merely apparitions. Either way he might not be a 'ZOMBIE' in any traditional sense, but it's certainly of genre interest and he does die and is resurrected/reanimated, he does stagger towards each racketeer with a vacant look and arms outstretched, and he's definitely not who he was before with what seems like a prescribed agenda, so there's enough going on to warrant a look. Also it's called 'The Walking Dead', and that's something.
The Walking Dead is a delightful piece of cinema. It's beautifully shot with a great script, great score by Bernhard Kaun with believable sets and confident first rate acting. The story of Ellman is poignant and tragic with a beautiful ambiguity that leaves quite many unanswered questions, but no sense of being cheated. One of the best films I've seen from the 1930's The Walking Dead is a delightful, almost contemporary horror that never feels as old as it is and it's thoroughly recommended, 8/10.
Thursday, 7 November 2013
A crusty old professor (Raimondo Barbieri) unleashes an army of the undead from an excavation site, who then proceed to siege the nearby mansion picking off it's owner, his family, guests and servants in increasingly elaborate and sadistic ways. And that's your lot really. I'll say one thing about Andrea Bianchi; he certainly doesn't let a good story get in the way of an over abundance of exploitative flesh ripping and gore munching.
There's something about ancient Etruscan secrets of immortality which the professor proclaims he alone now understands, but what he exactly did to wake the dead from the tombs is never really explained, though I don't think we're supposed to think too hard about it. We're also not to question too much the whys or wherefores of the professor's benefactor George (Roberto Caporali), his new wife Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano), her bizarre little man child Michael (a 12 year old played by 26 year old Peter Bark), and the three privileged whiny couples tagging along for a weekend of hanky-panky away from the hoi-polloi. Suffice it to say the couples have all arrived at the isolated rural retreat, the girls have pretty much on mass stripped to their underwear, we've been explicitly told that the cars have been moved and there's no telephone and we know the zombies are on their way. Fifteen odd minutes in, there's only one direction this can go and boy does it.
I genuinely lost track of how many stomachs I saw ripped open and how many sets of intestines I saw feasted upon. Normally in a Fulci, Romero rip off I'd expect one gratuitous over extended cannibal-esque help yourselves group feast, but Bianchi obviously doesn't hold with less is more. It's not just intestines either with anything that could be ripped at and eaten done so including the now quite infamous nipple scene. I've mentioned the characters and actors are mostly shallow and forgettable; this is of course ignoring Michael. Some would call it audacious and brave others would be baffled with the sheer insanity of it all; I'm kind of both. But for some reason in all that The Zombie Dead is derivative, simple and trite, Bianchi decided to include a bizarre odious high-belted man child with a disturbing Oedipus complex indulged by his over protective mother and chose an obviously adult midget to play him. It's odd, it's jarring, all a bit forced and uncomfortable and has a bit of an extra sinister Twin Peak vibe, but it certainly adds to the twisted rambling incoherent charm.
The zombies arrival is very Tombs of the Blind Dead; sarcophagus lids slide and ancient wispy chinned old cadavers stumble out like tipsy old men. Once on their way to pay the nearby villa and its grounds a visit the style is turns very much Fulci with maggots, rotten putrid flesh and a mishmash of stages of decomposition from clearly old, old to maybe taken as a quick snack on the way. They're Romero, perhaps even Amando de Ossorio slow and even one of the guests comments on how on their own they're not necessarily a threat, which is a shame for them really, as there always seems to be a near endless supply. I think we're supposed to deduce that the professor actually caused all the dead to rise (at least in this vicinity but who's to say not across the whole world) leading to an abundance of old bodies pulling themselves Fulci-esque from the ground as if one was watching Zombie Flesh Eaters again, as a way to explain how each freshly dispatched batch is so easily replaced by another.
Talking of dispatching. It's headshots, fire (though it looked like paint) and brain smashing which there's a lot of, that stops them for good. The story is the derivative kill a few zombies, they kill a survivor, kill a few more, rinse and repeat with each death or series of deaths increasingly extreme and elaborately staged. Bianchi's zombies don't really follow prescribed convention; they may start shambling, brainless and happy to kill by sinking their teeth in but they soon start exhibiting some rather more advanced and adaptable behaviour as they seek additional fresh meat. They climb, retreat, start using weapons to bash down doors and even fashion and use in uni-some a battering ram. Then perhaps demonstrating just how little he gives a toss about zombie canon or narrative coherence as long as it enables him to move the action forward to another highly staged and scripted piece of cinema debauchery, they even contrive an elaborate murder of the house maid involving pinning her hand to the outside latched window with a pinpoint-accurate eight or so inch nail thrown from across the grounds to enable two others to work in tandem to severe her head with an elongated scythe. It's stupid, it doesn't make any sense yet it's somehow, like everything else, uncomfortably pleasing to watch.
The Zombie Dead is a riot. It's pure style over substance, except the style is putrid, gory, amateurish and ludicrous. It's a bad, bad film that epitomises everything wrong about all the Italian exploitative zombie low budget films that were made in the early eighties yet it's hard not to admire for exactly the same reason. There's nothing original on show with scenes directly ripped from Fulci and Romero but they're well filmed and well executed and one has to admire the audacity to make a film that takes all the gore, turns the dial up to ten and omits everything else. Sure if we cut into it, it's hard to work out how so little actual content was dragged out for ninety minutes and really the whole thing is quite a shallow, vacuous affair but it's not about story or depth it's about murdering and eating people; just because. A squalid and debauched ninety minutes of thirty year old Italian zombie madness, which if you think sounds fun, can be, 7/10.
The uncut DVD release I reviewed from apparent new label Beyond Terror is really just a re-badged vipco disc and transfer with a sleeve that looked worse than I could have printed. It wasn't the best picture and sound quality, but it was cheap and watch-able.