Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dead Set - review

2008 (UK)

Broadcast 2008 on E4, a 5 part mini series. Also available on DVD and 4OD.

Contains mild spoilers.

This had been on my radar since discovering it existed about a year ago. A Channel E4, 5 part mini-series written by the dry wit English comedian/social commentator Charlie Brooker, it took the setting of the Big Brother house and production studio and dropped it kicking and screaming into a full-on global zombie apocalypse. It sounded fun and quirky but if I'm honest it wasn't top of my list of things to watch; I mean Big Brother, mini-series, Davina McCall, come on. How wrong could I have been. Putting on the first episode thinking I'd watch a bit before going to bed and suddenly it's early morning, I've watched all two and half hours, I'm exhausted but I've had my zombie itch well and truly scratched.

It's Friday night, eviction, night at the Big Brother UK house. The seven remaining contestants are going through their usual pre-show tantrums and self-idolising, locked up away from the world wrapped up in their own little bubble. Outside the production team lead by the pompous-arse Patrick Goad (Andy Nyman) are getting ready for their big night, worried the weekly show-piece might get taken off air as the news media are focusing on an ever increasing number of cases of civil unrest and rioting.

The house is filled with the sort of self-aggrandising utterly vacuous contestants you'd expect; from the barbie doll page 3 wannabe air head to the self-opinionated pompous  vegan who's not on the show for fame. They're all irritating but brilliantly fleshed out and acted, and it doesn't take long till you find yourself actively looking forward to them being ripped apart.

Here Brooker and co. show real focus and confidence in what they're doing. Just when you think you're in for a long overdone, as tense zombie films all too often do, calm  slow build up to the storm they bring the horror and frenzy of the horde smack bang centre stage at the first opportunity with brutal and bloody ferocity. One minute they're bemoaning being taken off air, the next they're running and screaming for their lives. And let's get one thing straight here, the zombies of Dead Set are not the slow shambling Romero, nor comical Brains groaning parodies, they are rabid, nimble, visceral brutal killing machines. Definitely moulded after Boyles 28 Days Later infected, they are single minded mobile slaughter-houses interested in one thing and one thing only; flesh. Oh, but unlike Boyles monsters, there's no zombie ambiguity here, these guys are definitely dead.

Early on Patrick Goad comments that someone has 'a face like a Manchester Morgue' and it was here I clearly realised Brooker probably possessed more than a passing interest in zombies and we were in safe hands. The undead denizens of Dead Set are the most feral, frenzied and down right nasty I've seen; they are brilliantly realised and complete, and perhaps, just perhaps, my favourite to date. Seconds after passing away, gone is the human that once owned the body and immediately as if stabbed by adrenaline the monster is up and active, violent and strong. The reaction to these guys is real and appropriate too; there isn't any careful manoeuvring around them or pushing them away, the only thing to do is run, and run very, very quickly. The make-up and effects are as good as you're going to get and groans and sound effects are genuinely uncomfortable and frightening. Special mention must also go to zombie Davina McCall (the UK presenter of Big Brother and household name) who makes one darn scary critter.

Everything about Dead Set works. The story other than one small side track is tight, claustrophobic and personal. The pace is relentless with no filler and the ending satisfying. I do love the apocalyptic survival zombie story and this ticked all the boxes. Brooker and the team have perfectly captured what you feel is a small story in a bigger world. I was expecting more to be made of the Big Brother setting; more play with the house-mates ignorant in their own microcosm but on reflection they got it spot on and never overstretched something that could have turned into a one trick pony.

I really don't want to spoil this story so I'll leave it here with a massive thumbs up, 9/10.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Doom - review

2005 (UK / Czech Republic / Germany / USA)

2009 Universal Pictures Blu-ray R(All)

Contains spoilers.

Yes you read right, fucking Doom. The Karl Urban, The Rock video game to movie sci-fi horror action spectacular you probably once watched after a lot to drink round a mates and you don't remember much, if anything of.

In 2026 archaeologists discovered portal to an ancient Mars city in the Nevada desert and the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) set up a research base to investigate. It's now 2046 and after an emergency broadcast, and level 5 quarantine lock down the RRTS Hellfighters (Rapid Response Tactical Squad) headed by Gunnery Sergeant Asher "Sarge" Mahonin  (The Rock) are dispatched to secure the site, extract the 85 or so research staff and retrieve specific UAC files.

The team sweeps the empty archaeology wing moving onto genetics and alien weaponry, while the sister of Staff Sergeant John "Reaper" Grimm (Karl Urban), Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike) tells him they've reopened the 'dig' site and have found humanoid remains with the added twist of a 24th chromosome making them like us but super strong, super agile and faster healers.

I think we can all see where this is going as it's being spoon fed to us like we're even stupider than the premise.

Venturing further in the team first makes contact with missing chief scientist Dr. Todd Carmack (Robert Russell), named after the guy who wrote and designed the original game (John Carmack). Deranged and clutching a severed arm he is taken to sick bay and the rest of the team moves on. Here, and finally why the reason this film is on my blog they find the rest of Dr. Carmack's team who are now, dun dun dun! Zombies.

Well, they're called zombies in the original game, and it says on Wikipedia they're zombies so they're zombies right? When Corporal Eric "Goat" Fantom (Ben Daniels) got attacked by an imp (alien humanoid monster thing) it fired a parasite into him. Unable to save him in the med lab he clearly dies only to later reanimate. That's a zombie in my book. Ok, after reanimation they mutate into imps and these imps are clearly 'living' again, but there is a short period, demonstrated when 'Goat' pulls himself out of his corpse bag and charges the window, frantic, aggressive very much like a zombie, until his head is bashed in and he falls to ground. It's argued that during this stage he was still aware enough to kill himself though, which isn't strictly zombie... anyway... Later with the quarantine broken and the threat also back on Earth there are several scenes that are clearly zombie tradition inspired, with hordes grouped feeding on bodies; though they don't always need to be put down with a head-shot... Anyway, I'm done debating, if John Carmack says they're zombies, they're zombies. Maybe just alien-mutating-parasitic-host-zombies...

The rest of the film is aliens, deaths, shooting, covert experimentation, more shooting, more deaths and a boss fight. It's high octane stuff, tense and atmospheric, and as daft as you'd expect. For a video game film it's actually one of the best efforts I've seen and despite generally average reviews I felt it did what it set out to do probably as well as it could. The acting especially from the lead cast was authentic and convincing, it was well directed and the pace fluid and tense. Oh, we must mention the fps sequence to honour it's video game roots. It's daft, it's long and as an old Doom player I loved it.

Go in with a clear mind as to what you're going to get you'll enjoy yourself. Ok, there's nothing really original or ground breaking, but it didn't set out to achieve any of this. What you have is a good fun action sci-fi horror film with zombies that doesn't require much brains, 7/10.


In The Flesh - review

2013 (UK)

Broadcast 2013 on BBC 3, a 3 part mini-series

Contains mild spoilers.

Now I watched this while on hiatus almost only because I thought I ought to but I came away with the feeling I'd watched a genuinely original and brave zombie tale that was not only dark, but thoughtful and relevant in this time of recession.

It's about prejudice and difference. A metaphor of our time; of forgiveness and charity or the lack of and the ability of family and community to repair itself, reintegrate and look forward. All with zombies; fantastic.

It's about the outsider, being different and that Writer Dominic Mitchell and Director Jonny Campbell chose zombies, or more accurately recovering zombies, as this outsider is brave, and perhaps an indictment of their current popularity, as they could have chosen another ostracised subject group. Who ever at the BBC green lit this deserves a commendation. Using zombies makes the drama fresh, original and stand-out, and what's even better, is by acknowledging the heritage of the genre and respecting, not poking fun at the tradition they crafted a sophisticated gritty work that avoids ever being turned into a farce.

Kieren 'Ren' Walker (Luke Newberry) has returned to his family home in the small town of Roarton in Lancashire, England; for my foreign readers think 'grim up north'. Both a victim of the rising and survivor, in still being attached to his head when the cure was discovered. He is has spent his time in the rehabilitation centre and now as an official sufferer of 'partially deceased syndrome' (PDS) he has to reintegrate with a family that are broken and confused, a community in recovery and actively prejudiced against him, and his conscience as he struggles to deal with fragmented memories of his time spent killing.

His town has recovered, or more accurately, adapted and just got on with it, and while there is less support for the HVF (Human Volunteer Force), the local militia who looked after the town when the threat was at large but now find themselves increasingly redundant and people just want to get back to normal there is also a heavy reluctance to accept those friends and family who were lost and dead back into the fold. It's a complex, delicate and uncompromising set up with characters and secrets that all interweave, where inertia and ignorance has let the voices of a vocal few spread fear and prejudice.

Smuggled into his family home in secret, his mother and father while overjoyed to have their son back are in denial as to his new state and go about as if nothing has changed. His feisty angst ridden teenage sister, Jem (Harriet Cains) an active member of the HVF is torn between what the HDF leader Bill Macey (Steve Evets) keeps telling her, that they could turn back at any moment and they're not really cured, and what she can see with own eyes in her own family home. The characters all have depth and you really feel for all of them. 

Not content with just this conflict we discover that Kieren actually shot himself after a lovers quarrel with the son of the town agitator Bill, who returns from Afghanistan in episode 2. Also that Amy Dyer (Emily Bevan) another PDS sufferer and hunting partner of Kieren while zombies is in town and far more at ease with her condition sharing tales of an underground movement under the banner of the 'undead prophet' who believes they should reject the cure. The tapestry being weaved is rich and ambitious, maybe a little too much, as the many contradicting and complimenting relationships clash. Yet it just manages to hold it all together and builds up nicely over the three parts to an explosive finale that always felt inevitable.

The rotters as they are called are well fleshed out, taking the Romero blueprint and freshening it up little for 2013. They're dead, reanimated and feral roaming the countryside looking for human flesh; it's your usual stuff. And cured? They're still same; they're still very much dead, they can't eat, can't drink, don't age, but they have their control, conscience and minds back. The government provides make-up and contact lenses to help the communities adjust to their return and the cure which requires constant regular mandatory administering else they return to their former state. It's a fascinating idea and raises a lot of moral, religious and ethical questions. A six part second series has been commissioned for 2014 and I'd imagine many of these are to be addressed with the 'undead prophet' playing a larger role.

In The Flesh is a fantastic intelligent well-rounded personal drama. Unabashed in its subject matter and thematically rich it's not scared to get its hands dirty and tackle very contentious issues straight on. It's as gritty, real and unpretentious as it gets with top performances and complex characters that do the subject matter proud. Add it all together and you get a zombie drama you can't afford to miss, 9/10.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Chopper Chicks in Zombietown - review

1989 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I'll admit I approached this film the same way a desperate survivor would approach a desolate gas station on the edge of a ruined city. Expectant there would be something useful inside, even hopeful I could find real value but at the same utterly terrified and the real sense I should probably just leave it alone and move on.

The opening 'Life's a bitch and then you die, maybe' with maniacal laugh then lively punk soundtrack and eighties tv film feel didn't do much to alleviate these feelings.

Anyway, meet the cycle sluts; an all girl biker gang full of big hair, denim and bitchy attitude who have stopped for some 'meat' at the small desert town of Zariah.

Cut to a young boy looking for his dad in an old mine shaft on the edge of town. Finding a closed unbolted modern door set inside he decides to investigate getting only to get himself killed and free the zombies within! Cue some of the cheesiest music I've heard to date with more maniacal laughing and poor-mans Zappa-esque lyrics about marching into town to have some fun, with I kid you not, a swallow whistle interspersed. This is B movie territory with a capital Buh. I just hope every time the zombies are in shot we're not going to have the same song/jingle... Oh we are.

So the zombies begin their incredibly slow shuffle to town (hi ho away we go), the girls take advantage of the weak will of many of the towns men until a confrontation with the elders ultimately sees them run out to the edge of town. Anyway we're now about 45 minutes in and the zombies have finally made it the 5 miles to back to Zariah and begin causing mischief. The girls deciding they're not done with the town, head back in to look for the gang members that didn't make it out and begin to realise something is seriously wrong (though they don't question it). On the way they team up with a bus full of blind orphans, rescue a baby, fight a horde of undead, and find out from the evil professor/town under-taker's dwarf side kick that the cause of all the trouble is the evil-professor who was reanimating the towns dead to mine radioactive waste left by the military. Got all that? That's the plot.

I've mentioned before that some films are so bad, so utterly terrible they actually have a kind of charm and reading many reviews I can see that this film to many has achieved this cult status. If I'm brutally honest though I just can't see it; in my mind it's just a terrible slow rambling incoherent mish-mash of ideas obviously put together on a shoe string. It has neither the style, originality or humour of The Return of the Living Dead which came a few years before nor the bad taste and over the top effects of Dead Alive (Braindead) which came just after.

The zombies are just regular extras staggering with their arms out-stretched groaning and flouncing about woodenly. The characters are all single-dimension and the acting extra hammy throughout. Even Billy Bob Thornton in one of his early roles does nothing to save the whole shebang. And also while I will admit to the odd smile, and recognition that some thought and originality had gone into certain scenes they're all too few and far between and it takes way, way too long to get going.

I really want to say this is the worst Zombie film I've seen but I fear that title will reside with Osombie, for the foreseeable future, and maybe if I'd have been drinking (heavily) I'd have found more of the humour that I'm sure was supposed to be there, and others saw. It really set out to be a stupid bad b-movie but it ended up placing a bit too much emphasis on the bad. By the end I'd had enough despite the last 20 minutes being the best part with ludicrous action, effects, and zombies galore.

I should add my feelings weren't helped that this DVD had a bad transfer with warbling the sound and occasional interference that made me think I was actually watching on VHS at times.

I won't totally slate this. If you get a few mates round, a lot of beer and deliberately want a really bad film night you could probably have great time with it, but other than like this I can't really recommend it with any kind of clear conscience, 3/10.


Planet Terror - review

2007 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I went into this film with no expectations; I knew nothing about it other than the tagline 'action sci-fi horror' so if anything I thought it was an action sci-fi shooter set in space; marines or space misfits pitted against a zombie threat. I really couldn't have been more wrong.

What I didn't expect was a highly stylised Tarantino-esque un-pigeon-hole-able  twisted dark action horror-thriller with fucking Bruce Willis. Yes, fucking Bruce Willis. Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror I discover is the first in a Grindhouse double tribute, the second being Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof; Grindhouse referring to particularly low budget, low value exploitation films from the 70s. For Planet Terror this exploitation is the overuse of excessive violence and the ridiculous amounts of blood and guts to shocks and provoke the audience. In all honesty, us zombie film aficionados are quite used to films that instil these ideals whether we'd ever thought about it under these terms or not.

It's Texas. Go-go dancer (not stripper she insists) Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) which I'm sure is her birth name, has quit her job and whether deliberately or, not, has bumped into her ex boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). At the same time and unknown to them, an altercation at the nearby US military base between  Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) and chemical engineer Abby (Naveen Andrews) has lead to great quantities of a deadly biochemical agent, codename "Project Terror" being released into the atmosphere.

Project Terror is gaseous, green and like what was released from power plant in The Return of the Living Dead causes a particularly nasty set of symptoms.  As the first cases of exposure start appearing at the hospital with increasingly extreme sores, mutations and chemical burns it's clear the small town is in trouble. I won't be spoiling the film if I tell you all this is really just a first stage in everyone's problems...

So are they zombies? Kind of. The biochemical agent certainly turns people into brain eating homicidal monsters but it also horribly mutates and disfigures them and doesn't demand that the victim actually dies. It's all quite ambiguous though as there is an instance early at the hospital where three declared dead bodies rise up and leave the morgue and there's certainly an emphasis on head shots, though this doesn't seem strictly necessary. If I had to call it? Probably not if I'm honest and we'll have to chalk another film up as infected.

As the trouble ramps up and the infected start to take over the town the fight back headed by El Ray and the Sheriff becomes increasingly violent and fast paced. It's all lavishly over the top with oodles of brilliant highly choreographed mayhem and carnage all accompanied by a stonkingly strong sound track that perfectly captures the Southern American vibe. The main characters are all very strong; there are no clichés or two dimensions and they possess great back-story and secrets. Rodriguez managed to assemble a fabulous array of talent, possibly the strongest I've yet seen in a film I've reviewed, to play them and all the performances are of the highest calibre despite the often ridiculous over the top story line.

Planet Terror is a big budget spectacular with a very strong script and cast. The story may be a bit formulaic and hackneyed but it's never slow or boring and never, ever stops to take breath. Rodriguez obviously had a clear vision as to what he wanted and pulled it off at a canter. I've not yet mentioned the over lay of lines and static to further cement the idea that this is a film on a tape from the 70s or the fantastic unrelated Grindhouse action trailer before the film or the missing reel gaff half way through which all add to the atmosphere. I really did enjoy this film and there's not a lot to criticise, maybe it's a tad misogynist but it all kind of fits with the theme of the film; is it still sexism when you're deliberately poking fun and paying homage to a time when everything was sexist? I'll leave that debate for another day. It would also appear the general public was not really interested in reliving this kind of film with lacklustre box office receipts despite generally good reviews. It's a non-zombie zombie film more people should watch 8/10.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Undead - review

2003 (Australia)

Contains spoilers.

Now I first watched this six months ago at a time I hadn't the time to pen my thoughts. Here we are now with the time and inclination to do just that and I can't remember a single thing about it. I think that in itself probably says quite a lot.

It's Berkeley, a small town in Australia and the summer of 2002. Local beauty pageant winner René (Felicity Mason) is hitching a lift away after losing her late parents farm to the bank after defaulting on her payments, when they are forced to stop as the road is closed. Obviously a nod to Night of the Living Dead, the cause of road closure accident was a meteorite shower which has the added side effect of turning the citizens of the town into, duh duh duh! You guessed it undead killers.

First off, it's safe to say it's a very silly film with tongue firmly in cheek though out, and obviously takes a lot of influence from zombie spoofs such as Dead Alive (Braindead) and The Return of the Living Dead. The zombies, and their victims for that matter, are comical blood-sponges with the ability to be sliced, smashed, crushed and dismembered with ease and imagination, and the whole premise of aliens, meteorites, acid rain, abductions is all as daft as it sounds.

After escaping her first zombie encounter René finds herself holed up with local hero, bad-ass, whack-job, poor shooting Marion (Mungo McKay) who also happens to be the only guy that seems to know exactly what's going on. Joined at the cabin and fallout shelter by an ensemble of characters including the hilarious foul mouthed police chief Harrison (Dirk Hunter), they soon find themselves under siege without food and water enjoying the same over the top conflict we've come to expect when a group of disparate survivors are forced together in an extremely tense situation.

The zombies are your traditional brain eating, shambling critters we've come to cherish and like many of its less serious contemporaries they regularly groan exactly what they're after; Brrraaaiiiiinnnnsssss. They're capable of taking some pretty heavy punishment and are only put down for good with the a good old heavy trauma to the head which our band of heroes seems incapable of ever doing early on.

It really can't be overstated just how eighties the film feels. The music, the special effects, the hammy characters all come together with the ridiculous story to create something truly daft but at least its intentional. The worst zombie films are those that achieve this effect whilst trying to be earnest and serious but despite how bad the film is it's never really quite bad enough; which might sound strange. 

There's also the change of pace with thirty minutes left on the clock, almost forgetting that it was a zombie farce with a change of style, scale and even seriousness as if Spielberg with his Close Encounters hat on had suddenly decided to take over. It's as if they suddenly realised they had a hundred times the budget and needed to spend it, or they didn't like the film they were making so decided to shoot and append another. It's all rather odd, not bad per-se but not what I was expecting, at all; oh and this all drags on way too long.

So, all in all it wasn't as bad as I'd insinuated in my opening line. It's problems come from the fact it neither does anything particularly new or noteworthy and it goes a bit too off tangent with a third to go. It is however camp, gory, over the top and fun on occasion; I did like the spade in head guy, but it's easily beaten on all these fronts by other more notable efforts, especially as already stated, Jackson's Dead Alive. So there you go, as I've said, not bad, not good; easily forgettable, 5/10.


Colin - review

2008 (UK)

Contains mild spoilers.

The fact Director, Writer and Producer Marc Price filmed this entirely in standard definition on an old Panasonic mini-dv camcorder that he had owned for 10 years, that he edited the film on an ageing old PC,  that all the cast were found on-line and worked for free and the claim that the entire production budget was a mere £45, it is remarkable that Colin came to see the light of day at all. What is even more remarkable is that the poor production quality, given the films subject and premise, actually works to the films benefit.

I'll explain. Colin is not another amateur attempt at reproducing Night of the Living Dead or an over optimistic  grand apocalyptic world ending extravaganza, it's a tight claustrophobic personal story of a single man's descent into the chaos and madness that is becoming a zombie. The single hand camera shakes and is low quality, the music is subtle and basic and it all helps create a raw unpleasant mood. An early scene where Colin desperately stabs an assailant repeatedly in the head with a knife is shocking, ugly and world away from approach most usually seen in highly choreographed Hollywood zombie films. Imagine a zombie being stabbed in the head in a Romero or Fulci film, then really imagine a zombie being stabbed in the head with a kitchen knife, in your own grubby kitchen. Price managed to capture the latter and I could be cynical but I believe it was intentional; that he understood his limits and worked with them.

There's no big hero; Colin (played brilliantly by Alastair Kirton) is a normal English guy caught up in the ugly situation that is the end of the civilisation. The film follows him as he's attacked, dies, then staggers from dark place to dark place witnessing just as much unpleasantness from those who've survived to those that didn't. The large cast of extras who Price claims all gladly came to his aid for free do a remarkable job and there isn't a single no hammy or second rate performance. Price also does a remarkable job in making the audience care about Colin despite the fact he's now a flesh eating marauder. In fact, turning to my partner I commented how I already cared more for Colin after fifteen minutes than I ever did any of the characters in Diary of the Dead and she nodded agreement. This says a lot.

What Colin lacks in production finish it more than makes up for in moments of genuine artistry. Price shows real vision and camera placement, shot structure and symbolic overtures are all commendable. I'll be honest, when I read £45 zombie film on the sleeve I was a tad apprehensive but this turned out to be misguided and anyway, if you actually include people's time and energy the film's cost would be considerably more. Also with such production limitations one would think the make-up and effects would be passable at best but throughout they are realistic, gritty and actually pretty good.

Colin is well worth seeking out and offers a genuinely unique take on the genre. As said the low quality production doesn't detract from the film and is more than made up for with great vision and editing. The slow pace and subtle music help bring a real visceral sense of brutality to proceedings that is often missing from glossier films. If you like your zombie films tense, claustrophobic, personal and intelligent you'll get a lot from it; just give it a little slack at times, 8/10.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Resident Evil: Extinction - review

2007 (France / Australia / Germany / UK / USA)

Contains spoilers.

Well, here we go again. In the opening scene Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes dazed, confused and once again dressed like the day she was born. Adorning her trademark red dress and black boots that are carefully laid out for, she finds herself in familiar territory faced with deadly obstacles from the past. Successfully past the crisscross laser room of doom with the reflexes of a cat, everything seems normal she's in control and ready to kick ass, then bang! She's dead. Enter two scientists and her body is tossed out onto a pile of identical doubles in the middle of a fenced up desert compound with instructions from head Umbrella scientist and all round general bad guy responsible for the previous instalments Nemesis program Dr. Sam Isaacs (Iain Glen) to take a blood sample so they can go again.

Yes we're back in writer and producer Paul W. S. Anderson's pop-corn, adrenalin fuelled mind full of zombies, apocalyptic-viruses, secret corporations, mutation and mayhem for a third instalment.

It's now five years since the t-virus outbreak and the Earth is dead, mankind are on the verge of extinction, what rag tag people that have managed to stay alive are surviving on the edge, moving from place to place seeking whatever scant resources they can. Even the Umbrella organisation, headed by Albert Wesker (taken directly from the video game franchise and played by Jason O'Mara) are struggling with dwindling food supplies and are pinning all their hopes on the good Dr. Isaacs to find a solution. However with the failure of his plan to domesticate the zombies; captured in a brilliant scene paying obvious homage to Bub from Day of the Dead, all his attention has returned to the aforementioned Project Alice.

Meanwhile the undead are everywhere; they've assumed total control of every built up area and despite five years show no sign of weakening and fading away. One such group of survivors on the verge of death from a t-virus Alfred Hitchcock-esque birds attack, and coincidently containing previous heroes Claire Redfield (Ali Larter),  Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and L.J. Wayne (Mike Epps) are saved by the now evolved tremendous psychic ability of Alice but in doing so she gives away her position to Umbrella.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy, Resident Evil: Extinction is once again highly stylised and full of spectacular and relentless action and combat sequences. Gone is the now claustrophobic feel of the first two films, the first in the tight confines of the Umbrella compound, the second in Raccoon City. Resident Evil: Extinction has our heroes traversing the vast expanses of the Mojave and Vegas now half returned to the sands of the desert. It oozes atmospheric and evokes the feeling of expanse found in films such as Mad Max.

Say what you will about Paul W. S. Anderson's approach to zombie cinema, especially when held up against more political, satirical, intelligent or funny endeavours, but it knows what it is trying to do and how to pack a punch. And while it may fail to compete with the highbrow and the lowbrow genre has to offer it excels in the pop-corn niche it has carved for itself. Anderson's zombies are relentless, quick and nasty, as is Alice's speed at dispatching them. Her constant spinning, shooting and leaping as she slashes monster after monster with unnerving control and poise is high octane stuff and if I'm honest brutally entertaining. With a big budget they also managed to capture some of the largest undead gatherings I've seen on film though I couldn't help but notice the uniformity of the zombies during several of the fight scenes as if there were only ten or so masked actors, all the same height and weight who needed do the job of fifty. Maybe I missed a point somewhere that they were zombie clones but I doubt it... But I'm nit picking.

Okay it has its daft zombie-mutant-super-monster hybrid boss fight again and the whole psychic stuff turning Alice into a bit of a Jedi is a bit daft but it's true to the video games and keeps the adrenalin pumping. I'm well aware it's not for everyone but I'm always happy for a bit of leave the brain behind entertainment now and again. Compared to the first two; it's definitely safe to say it's more of the same but that's not a bad thing in my book. Within it's own series though it has still managed to forge it's own distinct identity and voice and felt fresh. Films like this make me happy, 8/10.


Diary of the Dead - review

2008 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Three years on the from fourth big budget instalment in George Romero's Dead series, Diary of the Dead is an altogether different kettle of fish. Gone is the backing of a big studio and lavish budget that comes with it, and what we're left with is a tighter, more personal story focused on a small band of survivors attempting to make sense of a world falling apart. Produced by Romero-Grunwald Productions, formed by Romero and his friend Peter GrunwaldIt, and filmed in four months with a modest budget of around $2m, Diary of the Dead is not only a return to the franchises roots in terms of scale but also a return to the zombie origin story; following the outbreak as it first unfolds. Romero called this film 'a rejigging of the myth' and a break from the previous four films which followed (albeit loosely) a linear timeline.

Loosely put the film follows a group of  film studies students and their faculty tutor from the University of Pittsburgh as they attempt to escape the city and get back to their family and loved ones whilst more importantly feeding their desire to provide a truthful, up to date video record of what is really happening against a backdrop of perceived misinformation and mass-crowd control being broadcast by the main stream press.

Romero has always imbued his Dead films full of the particular zeitgeist of the time. Mass consumerism, racism, state control have all appeared to help shape and define his previous offerings and here in the late 2000s he has turned his attention to the power of communication in the modern age. The film looks at how the perceived power of controlling the message is transitioning from the state and mainstream media machine to the internet and personal bloggers who can cut through the propaganda to provide genuine personal accounts without distorting the story. Romero always likes to take the stance that the individual whether it's against an authoritarian state or repressive ideology will always eventually come to question the status-quo and force, or evolve a way to break free from it. The zombies are always the metaphor of this control and the survivors are always a mix of those who unconditionally  accept what they're being told or how they're being told to live, or are struggling and actively fighting against it.

From the off we can tell this is a departure from Romero's classical film style as we hear a narrator beginning to explain the accuracy and truth of the real life documentation we are about to witness. Like Rec and as made famous by Blair Witch Project the film is entirely told from the perspective of captured film taken by both Jason Creed (Joshua Close) and later his girlfriend Debra Moynihan (Michelle Morgan). Listening to main stream media and watching as stories of how the dead are coming back to life Jason takes it initially upon himself to document what is really taking place and the film follows the students as they stumble from pillar to post struggling to work out what to do or where to go whilst trying to do the right and get a truthful account of what is really taking place on ground level to a wider global audience.

It's Romero and we know what we're going to get from our undead friends and as one watches the zombies arrive on mass to swarm the barn or broken down camper van you could easily think you watching his first film from 1968.  There's no running and no driving ambulances; but there are imaginative zombie dispatches to go alongside the multitude of genre-staple headshots. There's also a nod back to the 'no more room in hell' premise, as the dead come back to life regardless of whether they've been bitten, and whilst hell isn't directly mentioned, Romero has stayed true to his original vision and provides no explanation as to why any of this might be happening. Despite the limited budget Romero employed a lot of CGI for the few more open shots, watched on by the group on televisions and monitors. They all successfully integrate with the style of the film and provide timely juxtaposition the claustrophobic of the small band with what is happening to the world at large.

It is another great Romero zombie film, thought provoking, and well produced but it's not without its faults. Unfortunately and I've accused Romero of this before; the characters, both main and side are all a little flat and uninteresting. Their reactions to certain situations are at times a bit bland, cliché or even downright woefully stupid, and at no time when any of them were killed did I find myself actually caring that much. I also guess, and it's part of the point; remember it's about the art darling, as their faculty advisor Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth) would put it, but those times when the act of making the documentary were taking precedent over personal and friends safety, it was hard to think of the young students as anything other than douchebags and way too full of themselves.

Overall it's clever and slots nicely into Romero's zombie series. There are many great scenes and some great ambience but it does fall a little flat on the whole. Despite the criticisms though it certainly deserves a place in any zombie, horror, or film studies student's film collection, 7/10.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Dance of the Dead - review

2008 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Well, we're back. A bit of a break and a new year can do wonders at reinvigorating an old rotten corpse, or something like that. So what better way to return to the world of undead than with the witty 2008 independent zombie romcom Dance of the Dead.

There's a recognised heritage within the zombie genre and Dance of the Dead wouldn't be the first film to play homage to many of its peers. An opening sequence  sees the cemetery man, yes from Dellamorte Dellamore, and keeper of secrets dealing with the unintended side effects of having dead people buried next to a big green smoking power plant; think Return of the Living Dead meets Springfield.

Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), girlfriend of pizza delivery guy and all-round loser Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) dumps him on the eve of the big high school prom choosing instead to go with her more sensitive and grown-up suitor Mitch. With other ideas Mitch first decides to take Lindsey to the cemetery (where else would you go?) for a bit of a kiss and a fumble where the local sci-fi geek club are also out looking for paranormal activities, and presumably because they didn't get dates for the ball. As they fumble around a crypt against the wishes of the cemetery keeper they disturb the dead who start to appear en masse. 

Braaaaiiiiiiinnnnnnnsssssssssss. Things have soon, haven't they always, escalated totally out of control. Mitch is the first casualty; both a victim of the horde as well as his over-reaching ambitions on Lindsey and the undead are exploding out of the ground, literally, with gusto. The gang are forced into a desperate retreat and with the burgeoning zombie horde beginning to swarm into the town, the gang are joined by the resident school bad-ass Kyle (Justin Welborn), cheerleader Gwen (Carissa  Capobianco) and the hero of our film Jared.  As they begin a battle for survival, first taking refuge in the town funeral parlour, they soon realise that  the real problem is the kids at school prom who oblivious to the mortal peril they're in, could easily, if found, provide feeding ground zero for the zombie world apocalypse and realise it's down to them to save the world.

Dance of the Dead is over the top, fun and full of vitality. Despite the comedy angle don't for one minute assume it holds its gore punch. The zombies are nasty, fast and scary as is the various methods used to dispatch them. They're dumb, lumbering and very much in keeping with the traditional western style but when roused they're quick and vicious and certainly have a little  of the more modern 28 Days Later influence.

For an indie title with a small budget it's wonderfully produced and full of style, wit with sequences and action scenes that would easily fit into a film with ten times the resources. The characters and acting is genuinely top notch with stand out performances from Chadwick and Kusnitz and despite being full of cliché it still feels refreshing and light. The youthful cast and kick ass sound track help it retain its high school look and feel though out; as I've said despite oodles of blood it stays fresh and light and fun though to a big climax.

A homage to Return of the Living Dead, Dance of the Dead is a top tier zombie indie title that is well worth an evening with popcorn and a beer, 7/10.