Thursday, 31 October 2013

M is for Madness - short

A quick shout out for director Ross Williams' Kubrick inspired zombie short "M is for Madness". A three minute competition entry for the ABCs of Death Part 2 it's visceral, coherent, well shot and a great little disturbing ride - 8/10.

Well worth a few minutes of your life. You can watch it here: http://26th.abcsofdeathpart2.com/entry/m-is-for-madness/ or here: https://vimeo.com/75926635.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Hell of the Living Dead (Zombie Creeping Flesh / Virus / Night of the Zombies) - review

1980 (Italy / Spain)


Contains mild spoilers.

I've sat in front of the computer for ten minutes now trying to work out not only how to start the review, but actually how I actually feel about what I've just watched. I mean, I can't hide from the obvious; it's a woefully low budget 80s euro-trash zomploitation video nasty with b-movie acting, a poor English dub (there was no original soundtrack with subtitles option on my DVD), a meandering derivative story devoid of any real content or meaning, and an obsession with the ridiculous misuse of externally sourced stock footage. Yet, I somehow enjoyed my hour and forty minutes with Lia (Margit Evelyn Newton) quite the enthusiastic front line reporter and Lt. Mike London (José Gras) and his blue boiler-suit wearing commando goon squad.

There's a rather superfluous and unexplained back story about a global conspiracy to euthanize the third world and it all going wrong with some giant clouds of degenerative toxins leaking out into the atmosphere. There's also a radioactive zombie rat. All that's really important to know is Lt. London is in New Guinea with his crack force of three totally unconvincing exaggerated 80s bad boy throwbacks, he can't get hold of his superiors, his crew have stumbled into Lia, her camera man Vincent (Selan Karay) and decided to let them tag along, and the normally quiet jungle landscape is teeming with blue skinned undead flesh-eaters.

There's not much else to the story. The gang of six travel to the nearest village, Mia takes her top off to communicate with natives who she was alleged to have stayed with for a year, the village is overrun, then they travel to an abandoned plantation, it gets overrun, then they travel to Hope #1, a sprawling industrial complex and the source of the zombie death cloud, and it gets overrun. Each location starts with the same promise of respite, only for some shadowy figure sitting in a chair with their backs to them to reveal themselves as a macabre flesh eating zombie and the place to come under siege.

I've seen director Bruno Mattei described as a total hack unable to fashion anything original, but I've also seen him described as the man to turn to, to get the job done with as little fuss and money as possible, and both are undoubtedly true. Hell of the Living Dead is a veritable pastiche of everything Zombie Flesh Eaters and Romero. It's formulaic, it's derivative, scenes are stolen, music is literally stolen (Goblin's Dawn of the Dead soundtrack) but if the remit was for a by-the-numbers repeat of the two success stories above, to be filmed in four weeks with no money, credit however begrudgingly, has to be given. What story there is never really comes together and it does drag out, but it doesn't actually fall apart, the characters are cheesy and obnoxious, and played poorly, but at least they're all entertaining each in their own special way, and each action sequence is contrived and poorly choreographed but the way the so called professional soldiers throw themselves about is always amusing to watch. There's also the fact there's an abundant and near constant flow of gratuitous and shocking gore on offer, almost as if Mattei knew this alone would sell a few copies regardless of all films other short-falls.

The zombies are, funny enough, a Dawn of the Dead / Zombie Flesh Eaters fusion. They're blue, they shuffle and groan, they arrive on mass and they like eating people. I've that usual complaint, that for quite the desolate unpopulated area there's an awful lot of zombies and even with a Jeep and boat the gang can't find five minutes respite. Also the zombies do seem to know when to hold off that fatal bite, even with people literally in their grasp, yet on other occasions, for instance when the village is over-run, a native must merely flash a bit of ankle for the teeth to get sunk in. It's almost like the zombies knew when each main character was to be bit and all the action was contrived to ensure it happened as planned. Other than this, it's head shots, with the guys going through the early rigmarole of shooting the body repeatedly first before having the hallelujah head-shot moment, fire being the zombie-no-no and lots of staggering around slowly with arms outstretched. There's nothing new on show but at least Mattei has taken what works and not embellished it unnecessarily, other than allowing their innate cannibalism to get a fair bit more screen time than Romero would have.

I'm not going to pretend that this is a good film; it's one of those that somehow transcends all that it does wrong to become worth watching for the sheer exaggerated stupidity on display. Mia's tribal undress entwined with all the obvious third party tribal stock footage is worth watching if only for the audacity Mattei had in thinking he could get away with it. Wise cracking Zantoro (Franco Garofalo) is worth following if only to witness a truly great maniacal goofy performance, and there's a good game of guess the next jungle animal in stock footage forced in to allegedly make the film as long as Dawn of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead it isn't though; and for all I say go watch it, be prepared for a bit of a genre stinker that you must remember even Mattei was ashamed to have his name attached at launch (he went as Vincent Dawn). Still recommended for that 80s euro-trash no-story maggot-crusted, flesh-munching zombie itch, but don't say you've not been warned, 6/10.

Steven@WTD.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Zombie Hunter Rika (Rika: Zombie Killer) - review

2008 (Japan)

Low budget, crass, nonsensical Japanese exploitative zombie comedies are a bit of an acquired taste and I'll happily admit, having now watched all three of the nihombie high-school girl vs zombie bad taste flicks that it's one I've yet to truly acquire. I'll concede there are more than likely cultural reasons to why I haven't found the incoherent excessively stupid narratives engaging, laughed along with the juvenile humour or particularly felt comfortable with the awkwardly forced and dangerously close to age inappropriate nudity, but I'm starting to think maybe it might actually be them, not me, who's at fault, and the truth is simply that they're just pretty crap. I'm being a bit disingenuous; I didn't actually mind Naoyuki Tomomatsu's Zombie Self-Defence Force, pitched as it was at being as totally bat-shit crazy as it possibly could get away with. It understood perfectly what to do with no money and a ridiculous premise and story, knowing to never bow to common-sense or restraint at the expense of getting another cheap laugh from an endless supply of the audaciously stupid. It was still culpable of all the complaints I mentioned earlier and is undeniably crap but it knew it and knew played along with it.

On paper director Ken'ichi Fujiwara's Zombie Hunter Rika has it pitched right. School girl Rika (Lisa Kudô) is playing hooky to visit her master surgeon and expert samurai grandpa, there's an outbreak of green skinned flesh eating foot shufflers and the severed arm of a legendary American zombie-hunter is conveniently found just when our fair skinned heroine inadvertently loses her own. Add three moronic stooges that have somehow survived the onslaught, a conspiracy theory that blames the whole thing of a covert government program to euthanize the elderly, a cognisant zombie who arrives on the scene offering help and a rat-like zombie boss who makes not one blind bit of sense for existing and we have all the stupid, implausible and contrived we've come to expect.

So why doesn't it work this time? Two reasons. One, is that there is actually an attempt to present all of the above in something other than a non-serious way. Two and more importantly, what should have been audaciously over the top and in your face actually comes across flat and insipid like all involved just couldn't shake off just what amateur b-movie drivel it all was. The acting is limp and lifeless, the dialogue lazy and the story gives up any attempt at retaining a modicum of coherence or natural pacing all too readily. Fleeing the zombie horde with help from Tomoya, a man purporting to be her grandfather's wife's brother, the trio arrive to find a sad old man riddled with dementia, a gaggle of young maids desperate to compare breast size and an awful lot of conversation completely devoid any mention of the fact the whole town is now fucking zombiefied. I can handle a bit of laziness but it's like no one cared at all by what was being said.

The zombies, I'll hold my hands up, aren't actually too bad; though I'm really using the term loosely. They're clearly the result of minimal time and money but, at least they have a uniform look to their shuffling around groaning and ponderous attacks on anyone unaffected. There's the usual Japanese quirky embellishments, with one zombie holding his crotch as if aroused, one driving a car and the excessive use of a questioning 'meha?' groan, but I'll leave these as observations as I don't think it's really worth any attempt at a semi-intelligent critique. Also where would be if there wasn't some token completely out of place and mind-bafflingly insane magic and mayhem, and a good old fashioned big boss fight with the excuse to throw in some average looking CG. A speaking, mask wearing cognisant revenent with a hokey eye and some strange CG death beam from his belly has the former covered; Grorian a dual sword wielding samurai who on defeat explodes into dust and somehow holds to the key to fixing all the wrongs that have been wrought and curing all infected or killed, covers the latter. There's no rhyme or reason to any of it and while not necessarily a bad thing; I mean look at Chanbara Beauty and Zombie-Defence Force which were equally audaciously stupid, here the action, effects and fighting is so lacklustre, bland and lacking in style, finesse and belief, it can’t rise to appear as anything other than as poor and amateur as it is.

Zombie Hunter Rika is so pedestrian and mediocre it took me three sittings to get through it as I kept thinking of things I'd rather be doing like taking out the bins or tidying the cutlery drawer. There were a fair few interesting and uncomfortable moments of gore, lots of blood and there's plenty of flesh-eating, but I'm scrambling for many positive things to say. An amateur script that felt like it was being made up as it went along, dry lacklustre acting performances from people who genuinely looked like they didn't want to be there, and shot capture and direction that looked cheap and harried as if Ed Wood with his one take what-ever happens approach was in charge; it's bad film. A chore I'd not recommend others endure, 2/10.

Steven@WTD.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

World War Z - review

2013 (USA / Malta)

Contains mild spoilers.
  
Now before we start we'd better get the whole is it faithful to the book stuff out the way as I don't want it to dominate the review. Kev, I mean, Burt Malone ahem, perfectly sums up not only my but I think pretty much everyone who has read Max Brooks' zombie opus's thoughts perfectly over at Zombie Hall so I'll not regurgitate it all here again.

Suffice it to say, I'm not going bitch and whine too much about the change to the more traditional linear narrative style as stylistically I'm not sure what else they could have done that would have lent itself to the big mainstream audience that justified such a huge budget. Yes, perhaps they could they have been a lot more clever about it, and somehow looked at keeping the broken interview narrative style interweaving multiple timeframes, characters and stories, but that could have easily become cumbersome and is more suited, funnily enough, to a medium where there's more room to play. I'm also not going to moan about the sanitised reduction in blood and gore, though the extended cut I watched I believe is somewhat improved. The target was disaster / apocalypse movie over horror and that's ok.

The one thing that does irk me, however, are the zombies and the war. The essence of Max Brooks' fight was mankind's stand against the slow <<< now this word is important, inevitable tide of death. The zombies were ponderous gruesome macabre flesheaters in the Romero mould, and the survivors' stories the pained weary confessions of those who were faced with the most difficult of decisions. The zombies' consumption of the world reflected their gait; it was slow, painful and endless and not as is the case in this movie adaption overnight and total. I'm not saying it's better or worse, just WWZ the movie is Max Brooks' zombie and zombie story only in name; and that's not really right.

Anyhow, we'll move on. The first ten or so minutes of WWZ the movie is perhaps ten of the most satisfying big scale zombie apocalyptic movie watching minutes of my life. There I said it; ten minutes in did I care the story wasn't being narrated and zombies were leaping and running about like crazed kamikazes? Not one jot. WWZ is what it is, a big budget, high octane triple A trip with a big name attached, the backing of a huge studio and CG exploding from every orifice. The fact that so many people were prepared to throw so much money and resources at my favourite genre is commendable and, despite any idealistic misgivings I have, I just can't help myself from loving them all for it.

Max Brooks' disparate tale doesn't lend itself to the idea of a single story and character and that screenwriter Michael Straczynski managed to do so convincingly while in my mind staying true to the investigative oriented origin story of the book is commendable. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired UN investigator used to working in the most hostile places and conditions. Surviving the initial zombie explosion in Philadelphia with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) he gets the call from his old boss Deputy Secretary-General (Thierry Umutoni) who promises to save his family on condition he joins the scant remaining forces to find out what started all this in the hope it will lead to some kind of solution.

Gerry's journey takes him to South Korea, to Jerusalem then to Cardiff; each location full of high octane drama, tension and close-calls. If we nit-pick one could argue the story is merely the vehicle to move Gerry to a new zombie playground to get chased around in and destroy; but that would be slightly disingenuous to what is a global investigative story. The big urban sprawl of Philadelphia, teeming as it is with pedestrians and vehicles, is the perfect place to show the pandemic arrive like a tsunami of death; cars get tossed, everybody screams and almost everybody gets turned. The tight fog-laden airport in South Korea provides the opportunity for claustrophobic tension and a wee bit of horror then rinse and repeat for Jerusalem and Cardiff. Each location provides just enough story to make the trip feel worth while allowing the action and zombie fun to never distance itself too far from centre stage.

Say what you will about director Marc Forster's ultra-fast uber-zombies in relation to the Romero plodders but they are well fleshed out, visceral and have certainly taken on an identity all of their own. The infection in WWZ is the puppet master and its need to spread and stay alive is all that's important; the undead are really only here to make this happen. There's no desire to actually eat flesh or brains; after contracting the disease through a bite, 12 seconds is all a person has until death, violent reanimation and the virus driving its new host on the singular mission. And man do they go about this in a virulent and exhilarating way. They leap, they bound, they never ever stop sprinting and if you've seen one you're more than likely already well on your way to being one too; they're pure instinct and animated muscle, sinew and teeth, and they also work together in swarms in ways we've never seen before.

The phrase is mimicked behaviour and the WWZ team took the emergent idea from nature, that small but large scale micro-interactions could easily be misconstrued as some grand combined-thinking intelligence when seen on a macro level. Whether it's ants coming together to build a bridge or a flock of birds turning together in unison, the zombie ladder being erected to scale a vast wall is merely a product of them all copying each other, and entirely reliant on them having no superfluous will or motivation. When combined with the resilience of being dead and not needing everything to work, not feeling pain and a tenacious and relentless drive it a) lays the groundwork for probably the most dangerous zombies yet devised and b) doesn't half lend itself to some extravagant and excessive large scale CG scenes that somehow despite the sheer insanity of what's going on maintain a certain degree of plausibility.

For a film that cost some $190m to make the presentation is, as expected, immaculate. Buildings explode, bombs go off, planes crash with style and panache. Brad Pitt's pitched perfect performance is one of many and I really can't find fault with the film on any technical level. Character development is somewhat neglected and the final third does become dare I say a little derivative in style, though this isn't necessarily a bad things as watching Brad line up with several unruly looking scientists melee weapons in hand ready to go creep round a claustrophobic infested lab like in any other zombie film from the last thirty years was somewhat perversely gratifying. WWZ is what it is. A high octane, big budget apocalyptic thrill ride that really doesn't do a lot wrong other than not acknowledging the style, pace and heart of the source material it paid a lot of money to secure.

WWZ is a stunning piece of apocalyptic cinema and a zombie film I will be coming back to time and again with many memorable scenes, an original and audacious reimagining of the zombie and a competent and cohesive enough story to hold the orgy of global apocalyptic scale CG together. Yes it's a pop-corn flick, yes it's daft and it seems a lot of non-genre, new wave TWD fans liked it, yes it's Brad Pitt's WWZ, not Max Brooks' but it's I have to admit also unwaveringly full-on, intense and utterly brilliant, 8/10.

Steven@WTD

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Zombies (Loonies) on Broadway - review

1945 (USA)


Contains mild spoilers.

For a low budget 1945 horror comedy b-movie with sets, actors and characters aped directly from I Walked With a Zombie and Revenge of the Zombies, a puerile derivative mad scientist story and the poor man's Albert and Costello (Brown and Carney) Zombies on Broadway is surprisingly charming, funny and hard not to like. The key to this success I feel is the fact at no time while watching did I remotely come close to taking any of it seriously, and I think that's exactly what directors Gordon Dines and Gordon M. Douglas wanted.

Zombies on Broadway or Loonies on Broadway as it was called in the UK, if anything is a light hearted slapstick parody of the aforementioned more serious attempts at rehashing the colonial mad scientist / Haitian voodoo story. Comedy wasn't necessarily new; King of the Zombies and Revenge of the Zombies had Mantan Moreland to provide comic relief but the story and characters were still played straight. Zombies on Broadway is full on unabashed farce from beginning to end.

Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard), nightclub owner and ex-gangster has hired Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and Mike Strager (Alan Carney), two bumbling press agents to promote the opening of his new club The Zombie Hut. The problem for Ace is the two idiots have gone ahead publicising tat there will be a real live zombie (a contradiction in terms?) present and the talcum powdered actor they've hired won't cut it. Cue, Jerry and Mike taking a trip to a museum where they're told about Professor Paul Renault (Béla Lugosi), a prominent zombie expert now living on St. Sebastian in the Canary Islands, Ace putting them at gun point on the first banana boat and the two guys having quite the madcap escapade.

The story is nothing we've not already seen. Professor Renault is of course the evil mad scientist working on perfecting the zombie formula, the two oafs stumble around upsetting the islanders asking too many questions and somewhere along the way they get a dame, a broad, a canary, I mean a girl (Anne Jeffreys as Jean La Danse) to help. There's a naivety and innocence in Seventy year old b-movie films you just don't see any more. Wrong hands are held, people black-up and pretend they're voodoo dancers, monkeys slam drawers into peoples knees, and a minute doesn't go by without a joke that relies on one person (Mike) seeing something (a zombie) only for it to be gone before someone else (Jerry) can corroborate. Yes I did say people black-up; naive innocence remember. It's light heated, fun and hard not to laugh along with Brown and Carney's silliness. Even Béla Lugosi can't resist getting in on the action with a slapstick fights and some quite daft dialogue.

Darby Jones reprises his role as head zombie (Calaga) from I Walked With a Zombie. Professor Renault explains how he took him from the locals not long after arriving on the island, some twenty years ago and how in all that time his deceased body hasn't deteriorated one bit. Calaga was a product of local Voodoo and magic and an island native and Renault's aim is to reproduce this island's zombification but with science and western methodology. It's never explained why he wants to learn the secret of zombies; there's no girl to be saved or world to be conquered; he's an evil scientist parody and it doesn't really matter. What we do know, is he's close to perfecting his formula and all he needs if a few more specimens to test on; which is fortunate as two guys are about to come knocking.

Reanult's zombification comes in a syringe in liquid form. Once injected, the heart stops, and a person is put in a state of suspended animation unable  to feel pain and under the total control of another's thoughts and suggestions. Unlike Calaga, who seems to share some psychic bond with his master (although this doesn't appear to be absolute), the zombies made with Reanult's formula seem to be controllable by the person making the most noise. Oh, and like he said, it's also not perfect and only lasts a few days; after which, one can be revived, by say, seeing a pretty dancer in a revealing costume and everything's back to normal, pulse and all.

Brown and Carney are no Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy but they play their exaggerated silly charters well and the banter is always perfectly timed and natural. Béla Lugosi steals every scene he's in, though this isn't as many as would normally justify top billing (though after his eyes alone getting a cover mention on Revolt of the Zombies, I don't know why I'm so surprised), and he's ever so nearly beaten by quite the comedy monkey that takes over half way through. Over-all it's hard not really like this silly little film; it's inoffensive, innocent and good natured, and well shot, well-paced and never dull; 7/10.

Steven@WTD.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Harold's Going Stiff - review

2011 (UK)


Contains mild spoilers.

I've noticed a change in mood this last few years. Call it a post-modern response to the accepted mainstream post-apocalyptic trope fashioned by Romero, tweaked by Boyle, maintained by The Walking Dead and copied a thousand times until deplete of originality and utterly derivative. There are those who argue against straying too far from given norms especially with the zombie genre, but I believe without subversion and disruption a genre can get stale and tired. Everyday I'm seeing more mentions that 'zombies' are done and the story has been told; but one thing researching and writing this blog has taught me is the 'zombie' is a timeless metaphor and more than capable of adapting and changing, to make loss of identity and self fearful and meaningful for each new generation.

Written and directed by Keith Wright, Harold's Going Stiff, is an extremely low budget attempt at crafting a zombie film that while respectful of all that's gone before, wants to try something fresh and new. There is a ground zero, but it's tired old widower Harold Gimble (Stan Rowe), and his loss of self isn't from reanimating after dying with a primal instinctual to run out into the streets and eat people, it's from the gradual onset of dementia made worse by contracting an all new debilitating zombification disease. There are also zombies, and they do eventually become a bit wild and dangerous and spill out into the world, but they're not actually dead, they aren't particularly out of control in any apocalyptic sense, and the message really ought to be these people are ill and should be cared for while a cure is sought, rather than beaten senseless and dispatched at first sight.

Like Warm Bodies and In the Flesh, Harold's Going Stiff is another attempt at a new post-Romero narrative where zombies might not actually be irredeemably lost forever, might actually pose more of a societal dilemma than full on apocalyptic challenge and might not inherently be the bad guys. The situation is more ambiguous, more complicated and less black and white with sympathy and sadness allowed for all sides. There's also a narrative switch and blurring of boundaries, allowing the audience to relate and sympathise with the thing that would normally be the cause of the anxiety and fear with the so called hero now positioned as the bad guy (or girl) abusing his position of power and showing painful ignorance and prejudgement of the situation. The metaphor of loss is almost expanded to include the survivors who seem to have abandoned their humanity to their prejudice and fear.

Harold has lost his wife, is isolated, lonely and is now losing his mind. On top of this one day he wakes with more severe stiffness which at first his doctor attributes to arthritis, then when more men, some much younger start exhibiting the same symptoms, he's dubbed the first victim of ORD or Onset Rigors Disease. To help with deal with his new issues Penny Rudge (Sarah Spencer), a member of the home nursing team, and also a character with her own deep rooted loneliness and sadness is sent to Harold's home where the two instantly hit it off and come to have an authentically heartfelt and deeply warming friendship. Watching Penny and Harold dealing with the ups and downs of his gradual decline to ORD is poignant and moving and both actors do a remarkable job portraying what is a delicate friendship and the central strand of the film.

Let's not forget though this is also a comedy. Set and filmed in South Yorkshire, Harold's Going Stiff is daringly authentic with sharp-dialogue, sets and story that convey both the bleakness and beauty of Northern England with it's speak-your-mind no nonsense humour. With ORD sufferers on the increase and stages 2 and 3 proving to be a bit harder for the over burdened authorities to deal with vigilante groups have set themselves up to deal with what many consider the now dangerous zombies that are wild and uncontrollable. Jon Grayson (Andy Pandini) leads one such ragtag assortment who have bought into the out of control zombie panic and believe themselves front line heroes fighting the good fight. They're a motley trio of three dim witted bullies with a hit first mentality and provide much of the slapstick and wry dark humour. There's a lot going on; they're insensitive, they're oafish, they're banter is juvenile and puerile, and more importantly they're a great vehicle for Wright to be playful and light hearted with what could easily have become quite a dark story.

ORD stage 1; stiffness, leads to sores and deterioration of all mental faculties, stage 2, then with stage 3 comes total breakdown, loss of self and violent uncontrollable outbursts. In many ways it is the atypical zombie albeit not dead, yet parallels with dementia and the inability of society to deal with the condition can't shrugged off. Dementia care is a big issue in the UK, and with resources stretched and people living longer the picture painted by Wright of vast swathes of the male population suddenly affected by the fast and debilitating condition spilling out into the countryside is powerful and perhaps not quite so far fetched. As for their portrayal, we learn that the cause of all this trouble is actually the special sauce found on an all new must have man-snack called meat-a-rino that Harold aside, seems has the same effect on first bite, as crack cocaine. Deterioration is fast with stage 3 sufferers made-up to look quite deranged and dishevelled as they goose-step around the countryside with limbs still as stiff as boards. They're deliberately comical and easily dispatched almost exclusively with excessive trauma to the head. It's low budget but that doesn't mean they don't look great, and behave uniformly with authenticity. As with the rest of the film it's abundantly clear that attention to detail was a high priority with beatings, deaths shot so that they never break the illusion.

With hauntingly good writing, confident film making and commendable acting, it just goes to show with even the most modest of budget excellent films can be produced. Harold's Going Stiff is a true indie gem; poignant, memorable, brilliantly paced and ultimately extremely satisfying for both the zombie-genre fan and general film fan that I am. Keith Wright's docudrama approach to style works tremendously well and the blending of first person narration with traditional cinema style is never obvious or distracting even though I was conscious of what was going on. Hilarious (the zombie mice have to be seen) and heart warming, with a touch of horror, Harold's Going Stiff is a refreshingly original drama that's recommended, 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Return of the Living Dead 3 - review

1993 (USA / Japan)


Contains spoilers.

There's two things I'll take from Brian Yuzna (director) and John Penney 's (writer) twisted little zombie love tragedy. One is never, ever stick your hand in the mouth of a zombie however permanently dead you think it might be and two, don't ever think resurrecting your significant other with a highly experimental biological agent in a top secret military base is a good idea, however much you miss her. They're two quite avoidable scenarios when you think about it, but where would we, the zombie enthusiast who gets off on buckets of gore, total pandemonium and apocalyptic end game scenarios, be, if people could be relied on to demonstrate the tiniest bit of common sense.

The story in Return of the Living Dead 3 is really that of a succession of bad ideas. Whether it's Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond) stealing his father Col. John Reynolds' (Kent McCord) security key card, so he and his girlfriend, Julie Walker (Melinda Clarke) can break in to the top secret military base to see what they're all up to, or speeding down a highway helmet free in the centre of the road at night with your crotch being fondled, it's one moment of stupidity after another. In fact the whole idea, that there could still be a practical use for Trioxin, the highly volatile and dangerous zombie resurrection compound responsible for all the trouble and death in part's one and two, is itself a really bad idea. But as I said earlier, it doesn't half lay a great foundation for another good zombie horror film.

I didn't really like part II; I felt it was watered down and excessively family friendly-goofy with a Goonies vibe and too much focus on the teen audience. Right a way I'll say part 3 is back to where I feel it should be. It's visceral, it's depraved, deaths are plentiful and nasty and there's an abundance of gratuitous blood and gore thanks to some down right imaginative and gruesome brain eating zombies.

If Curt didn't take Julie's death well the same can really be said of Julie's reaction to being brought back to life. Sequels have a fine line to tread balancing respect and homage with telling something new, yet with the toy box provided. Part II got it wrong, losing focusing too hard on having fun and thinking re-filming verbatim scenes from the first was what fans would want to see again. Part 3, by spinning a tale that references all that has gone before, subtly using imagery and the zombie set of rules Dan O' Bannon set out, yet telling something unique in content and style demonstrates with confidence how a sequel should be done. At heart what we have is a story of love, forgiveness and redemption; a Greek tragedy. Julie isn't upset to be reunited with Curt, she's upset because she knows a line that should not have been crossed has, and the story is their journey to accept the mistake and forgive each other and accept the inevitable however painful it will be. It's stylish, at times poignant and what's most important, it works. 

I should also mention that along with the sad tender journey, there's also the fair bit of action, blood and gore and Brian Yuzna isn't afraid to crank things up. As well as being sought by his dad, the base commander, and the morally unscrupulous Colonel Sinclair (Sarah Douglas), the love-struck duo manage to upset a local gang of four Mexicans lead by Santos (Mike Moroff), get a shopkeeper killed and even manage to find room to return some hospitality shown on them by a homeless river-man (Basil Wallace) by seeing ultimately turned into the worlds first prototype zombie cyborg. It's quite the trail of destruction all delightfully presented and paced.

When Julie first comes back, with a pulse we might add, she's coherent, her memories of the bed they shared just before the accident are still in her mind and she's walking and talking as if nothing is really wrong. It doesn't take long however, with the onset of numbness and cramps for her to tell Curt she can tell something definitely is amiss though. Melinda Clarke is exceptional as Julie, authentically portraying a woman slowly deteriorating in mind and body and desperately grasping on to what little humanity and self she has left, all the while fighting off an insatiable hunger that promises to consume her entirely. Cramps and a general feeling of unease turns to stiffness, pain and ravenous hunger which after failing to satiate with snacks at a 24 hour convenience store, she realises her hunger is actually for brains. It all stays true to Return of the Living Dead zombie lore, this time we're told by the military scientists the zombie craving is for electricity, from the neurons in the brains rather than endorphins, but it's still brains and this time we get to see a lot more of them, both splattered about and being chewed on. Another thing still firmly entrenched is the idea that the dead undeaded (should be a word) are in a lot of pain.

The hunger is the pain but fortunately for Curt, Julie has also worked out that actual pain, most of which is brutally and sadistically excessively self inflicted, can be temporarily relieved. It in some way's goes to alleviate the discrepancy why she alone is able to fight off turning full on zombie but it doesn't do so, if I'm honest totally convincingly. Other than Julie, a whiff of Trioxin or a bite and transference of the compound and you're turned, groaning and bashing at doors and walls as if the old self and all humanity has been extinguished like a flame. This disparity between 'good' dead and 'bad' dead doesn't detract too much if taken for what it is and understanding Yuzna still wanted to fashion a good old zombie film with zombies in it. In many ways, the film shares much with Warm Bodies, albeit this time Juliet plays the zombie-aberration, and it perhaps, as Col. John Reynolds comments near the end, introduces a new element to the given rule-set, as the old self might not actually be gone after all.

The franchise is renowned for it's fast pace, over the top presentation and slightly camp tongue-in-cheek undertone. Return part 3 has embraced all these, albeit with less overt playfulness, and fashioned arguably the most complete, original and cohesive horror narrative of the lot. With brilliant acting, a tight cohesive story, an abundance of over the top make-up, prosthetic and gore excessiveness, and an explosively satisfying ending, I'm surprised this isn't more highly regarded. It's certainly re-peeked my interest in in parts 4 and 5 and I'll even be taking a more active role in looking at Brian Yuzna's other work. Extremely satisfying, 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Nudist Colony of the Dead - review

1991 (USA)

2007 Pirromount Films DVD R(1)

Contains spoilers.

With an introduction and production notes from writer, rewriter, director, producer Mark Pirro (director) explaining how for this remastered 2007 release of his 1991 goofy horror musical comedy, such was the bad quality of the original footage he had to resort to extreme post-post-production make-over techniques and the use of rehearsal shots just to be in a position to release something he was willing to admit to, I knew this one was going to a bit of a slog. I'm also not going to pretend for one second it's a good film; the story is both absurd and infantile, the songs are irritating and chintzy, the acting b-movie cheesy and despite being a bit of a satirical side-swipe at Christian hypocrisy, it itself is more than little guilty of political incorrectness with Jews, Mexicans and the Japanese all the butt of crude racial stereotyping.

Yet for all its flaws, and a willingness to disengage all critical thinking and flow for an hour and twenty in the weird and corny waters of Pirro's mind it's actually impossible not to actually have some fun with it. The ridiculously exaggerated one dimensional and highly unlikeable characters somehow get under your skin, the story never really goes anywhere but ambles along without ever causing offence and you'll even find yourself humming 'inky dinky doo dah morning' long after the credits have rolled however much you hate yourself for it. I know it's a bad film, heck, it knows it's a bad film, it's just somehow managed to make me not hate it as much as I feel I ought to; which is a lot.

The Sunny Buttocks nudist colony has been forced to close by Christian do-gooders convinced of it's role in corrupting the innocent; you know, think of the kids. Unwilling to go down without a fight the last core group of naturists including the quite preposterous Rachel Latt dressed as an extremely elderly Mrs Druple with prosthetic boobies that hang down to her knees, agree to a suicide pact and a curse to rise from the graves to enact vengeance should any Christian visit the land. Five years later the camp is now called Cutchagussout and is available to hire. Cue, evangelical preacher Reverend Ritz (Dave Robinson) who persuading his parish that the fornicating youth need time away to repent as in his words 'they can't praise the lord with genitals in their mouths', gets a motley assortment of weird and wacky teens to the site where the fun can begin.

For a zombie film it was disappointing that they didn't play a prominent role. Really, other than for a few seconds' cameo here and there they're not really in the film for any of the first hour. The kids arrival at camp, their introductory banter and painfully slow exposition of each quirk that sets them apart from the others and defines their behaviour and dialogue is the focus. Whether it's Lou Jobee (Steve Wilcox), an annoying bible basher who misquotes scripture at every opportunity, Juan Tu (Peter Napoles) who is of Mexican and Japanese decent and is only present to make fun of his  mispronunciation of 'l's, or Fanny Wype (Heather McPherson) and her ever increasing mascara, the kids are painfully shallow with one trick pony jokes that get old very quickly.

The zombies curse proves true, though why they would enact their wrath on kids deemed un-Christian enough to send for lessons on scripture is a rather glaring narrative stumble. Pulling themselves up from their resting places they're surprisingly cognisant able to talk, high-five and prepare elaborate ways for killing the zealots, as they put it. There's no flesh eating or scratching on show with the blue/grey, surprisingly well-covered for a bunch of nudists, preferring knives, strangulation, cheese wire and cars as the method of dispatch. All I'm going to say about costumes, make-up and effects is whist there's a fair amount of originality and imagination on show the extremely low budget is also painfully obvious.

Nudist Colony of the Dead is a hard film to hate altogether. Mark Pirro had a vision and the argument of whether he should aside, he did see it through producing something daft, corny and stupid, but original and not bereft of all charm. Quirky, original, but one probably for quite the devoted must-see-them-all zombie film fans, Pirro's silly little low budget film gets an inky dinky doo dah 3/10... Arse.

Steven@WTD.

Revenge of the Zombies (The Corpse Vanished) - review

1943 (USA)


Contains mild spoilers.

Now there's two ways of looking at this Monogram Pictures sequel to the 1941 zombie comedy King of the Zombies. The first is that it's really just another barely adequate seventy year old low budget thriller with unconvincing acting, and a hackneyed, long winded story full of all the charms of racial segregation, servitude and the perfectly acceptable misogyny that came with the times. The second is that Revenge of the Zombies is quite the uncredited gem playing more than a passing role in establishing the many of zombie tropes and idioms we now take for granted. King of the Zombies may still have had one foot firmly rooted in the Haitian voodoo zombie origin myth but there were hints of a more western scientific narrative. Revenge of the Zombies took the next logical step, shrugging off magic and the devil all together, fusing the idea and myth of the Haitian Vodou slave with Shelley's more western scientific methodology of reanimation, arguably for the first time.

Scott Warrington (Mauritz Hugo) accompanied by his friend Larry Adams (Robert Lowery) have arrived at a small retreat in the swamps near New Orleans to investigate the sudden death of his sister Lila von Altermann (Veda Ann Borg), which local family friend Dr. Harvey Keating (Barry Macollum) believes suspicious. Dr. Max Heinrich von Altermann (John Carradine) is courteous and welcomes the three men, and their servant, Jeff, the returning Mantan Moreland into his home where he shows them her body and promises a quick funeral. Behind the scenes of course he's the nefarious mad evil (albeit here it's ideological and political rather than being league with Satan) scientist, his motivations are entirely morally lacking and goal driven and it's not long before the usual cat and mouse, room to room intrigue and subterfuge with everyone showing restraint and decorum befitting those in high society when they actually all get together.

There's nothing new, it's all a bit over done and even for a just an hour long it manages to over stays its welcome. Lila disappears, Lila reappears, there's suspicion, accusation then rinse and repeat. Each actor plays their one dimensional caricatures as well as could be expected. Mantan Moreland reprieves his role from King of the Zombies as light relief breaking the scenes of serious drama with his slap stick style, quick and witty banter and contemporary, even subversive style demonstrating yet again why if he had been born a different colour he would have been an undoubted comic legend. However, what the film makes up for against the trite narrative is the occasional iconic scene and the paradigm shift in reimagining our zombie friends free of magic, hypnosis and new world influence.

Well, almost. First off, it's New Orleans, the heritage home of Vodou and the zombie but that doesn't mean magic is in the air. The zombies of Dr. Max are reanimated by science. Drugs, electricity, the idea that a body once mature retains the ability to be restarted are his methods of reanimation, the careful paralysis of parts of the human brain are those that gain him control. 'Against an army of zombies', he tells his Nazi confident, 'no armies could stand. Even blown half to bits, undaunted by fire and gas, zombies would fight on so long as the brain cells' that receive and execute commands, still remained intact.' Writer Edmond Kelso, allowed to continue to expand his ideas from King of the Zombies might well be responsible for establishing quite the set of zombie staples.

The zombies of director Steve Sekely's film might well be impervious reanimated machines built for fighting but they're still very firmly slaves under the control of a master. There's no flesh eating or rabid primal driving, they're workers able to reply to orders and perform all manner of rudimentary tasks implying their memories and cognitive abilities are still very much intact. There's also the indication that full self-aware reanimation would actually be possible with Lila seemingly able to retain some of her will and even the ability to 'turn' Max's army of zombies back onto him. The narrative for this control is still quite confusing and incoherent and it's never explained why the zombies were able to return to their eternal slumber once their master was killed but it did lend itself for quite the atmospheric final scene in the same graveyard that was saw the dead rise at the start, this time close the crypt's door.

Credit must be given for breaking the given notion that zombies are inexorably tied to voodoo and magic, hinting at a more western and contemporary approach to thinking about the walking dead in terms of chemicals and science and atmospherically it does a lot right but ultimately Revenge of the Zombies can't shrug off its dismal cliché story, shallow characterisation and pedestrian acting. A low budget war time film it's not bad per-se and Mantan Moreland does shine, but this undoubted piece of important zombie cinema is denied any real esteem by just being a bit too ordinary, 4/10.

Steven@WTD.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Demons 2 (The Nightmare Returns) - review

1986 (Italy)


Contains mild spoilers.

I rarely see any mention of Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento Demons duology in zombie film discussions. It's as if horns and bad teeth are enough to cement the notion demons can't be zombies and zombies most definitely don't originate from the fiery pits of hell. Me? I'm more relaxed on the subject. Global viral pandemic, mad scientist, interstellar parasitical space moss, I don't care, take away the person who once had control and replace him, or her, with a drive and will they have no command over, whether that's rabid and instinctual or as the puppet of an actual master, and I'll call zombie. I know this leads me into deep waters, and at some point I'll have to actually think about drug addiction, mental health, economic slavery etc, but for now, all I'll say after watching the maniacal flesh hungry monsters of Demons 2 torment and rampage the occupants of a high rise apartment block, is I've never watched anything more zombie in my life.

The cinema screen this time is replaced by the television but the story is the same as number one. A group of intrepid, albeit naive kids stumbling around ancient ruins (this time the cityscape, it is narrated, which was ruined as a direct consequence of the outbreak and subsequent demon war of the first film), entirely avoidably set in motion a new demon resurrection which then somehow metaphysically spills into the real world of those watching. Ok, I'll acknowledge this meta-narrative-pre-amble that's copied from the first doesn't quite work as well; I mean who would either watch a quite lame demonic horror film at the dinner table or leave their young kid home alone with the remote and the permission to watch what they like, but I will acknowledge it's at least trying to continue the same esoteric duel narrative, and the first demon pushing itself out of screen is at least dark and eerie to watch.

The first victim is an angst ridden prima-donna sulking in her bedroom and ignoring all those party-goers I don't believe for one second would have actually turned up for her birthday party, Sally Day (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni). A scratch, a bite and as she stumbles shocked back into the party to blow out her candles (yes, we're honestly supposed to believe that 18 year-olds of the eighties thought partying involved dancing and balloons and not getting utterly shit-faced) her veins start pumping, her teeth and nails start extending and she's ready to spread the fun. It's all cliché, tried and tested single location zombie horror without any character development or deep narrative but honestly Demons 2 is one of the best zombie films I've seen. There, I've said it. It has everything you'd want from the sort of film it's set out to be. There's claustrophobic scares, desperate survival horror, brilliantly gruesome choreographed murders and it's all done at break-neck speed to a fantastic eighties British new wave soundtrack which includes The Smiths and The Cult. I said watching crazed zombie-demons savagely torment the cinema-goers to 'Fast As A Shark' was good, well it was just as much fun with 'Power' by Fields of Nephilim.

Bava and Argento know what they're doing. The script doesn't stray, the tension, pressure and deaths intensify perfectly and the whole film flows with from scene to scene with ease. For the quantity of visitors and residence screaming and running about the film concentrates focus on a surprisingly few number. Hannah (Nancy Brilli), a pregnant woman after some of the reveller's cake, her husband  George (David Edwin Knight), who gets trapped in the elevator with working girl Mary (Virginia Bryant) and the star of the show the returning Bobby Rhodes as Hank the over exuberant body building grand-pedagogue who takes leadership of the panicking lycra wearing, shirtless eighties survivors in the underground car park. They're all competently portrayed caricatures you never particularly care about, but they play their roles as inevitable cannon fodder as well as required allowing the unquestionable star of the show to shine.

Sergio Stivaletti is again a make-up and effects wizard coming up trumps with zombie demons that appear and act with equal authenticity and fantasticalness. The first demon is brought back to life, or reanimated, it's never clear, by inadvertent drops of blood to its mouth and fangs and it's all very vampirish. Once through the veil and into our world it spreads the infection via bites, a scratch or if anyone is particularly unlucky to ingest any of the blood which corrodes and burns between floors like possessed acid. Turning zombie is pretty fast and once toothed to max it would appear all self is gone and the only desire is to rabidly hunt and attack anyone in sight. Like I said, in appearance and behaviour it's all zombie; there's no references to the devil, there's no magical abilities (other than the glowing eyes) and they're very much of our world limited to sight, hearing and being shot. If it wasn't for the mutations these films would appear on every zombie buff's film list and their fast pace and acrobatic movements along with high rate of infection might be even be referred to as the catalyst for the change in zombie pace we now see, rather than Boyle's imaginings which came sixteen years later. Talking of mutations I will mention both Toto the demon dog and the impish rubber demon that rips itself out of the young Tommy (Marco Vivio & Davide Marotta), which are quite frankly laughably appalling even by eighties standards. These aside there's really nothing production wise to gripe about though; it's authentic, sumptuously shot and stitched together with some quite beautiful lighting, and has the perfect amount of blood and death to satisfy any gore-hounds cravings.

Gripping from start to finish Demons 2 may be more of the same, retro derivative nonsense, with a confusing back story and forgettable acting , but when it's fashioned this well that's fine by me. I've noted it doesn't have many fans and I know it's not perfect but I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it recognising the many zombie tropes which crop up and admiring the artistry in the way it was all captured. Fast, action packed, gory and fun, Demons 2 might not quite reach the heights as its predecessor but taken together they're probably my favourite horror pairing. I also couldn't help but think a third (official) entry in the series, called Demons 3D with the demons popping through as the only thing with depth could be truly amazing; albeit I'll admit, a tad gimmicky. Maybe I'll drop Lamberto a line, 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Frankenstein's Army - review

2013 (Netherlands / USA / Czech Republic)


Contains mild spoilers.

So two reviews in two that are for releases of the same month; I could kid myself I'm getting relevant and with the times, but I'm sure its just coincidence and I think after being so recently taken by the Nazi Zombie madness that was Outpost I was really just after more of the same.

Director and co-writer Richard Raaphorst's Frankenstein's Army is a riotous insight into the mind of quite the depraved visionary. It's dark, perverse and deeply disturbing, and the descent for Novikov (Robert Gwilym) and his unruly band of degenerate Soviet scouts into Frankenstein's lair is truly the stuff of nightmares. I loved it.

Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden) is the grandson of the same Victor Frankenstein Mary Shelley penned back in 1818. Released from a mental institute by an ever desperate Nazi regime facing onslaught from two fronts he has been given resources and moral exoneration to expand on his and his grandfathers ideas to create an army of super soldiers that could put a stop to their inevitable defeat. The band of Soviet scouts that stumble into the hive are the usual ragtag assortment of ne'er-do-wells, innocents and beleaguered, and their exploration the usual tailspin from cocky to utterly fucked as their numbers start to plummet. 

WW2, Nazi occult, scientific, cyborg, morally repugnant experimentation; it's nothing we haven't seen before with each new iteration trying to out-do the one before with ever increasing depictions of cruelty and depravity. What stands Frankenstein's Army out from the crowd is the sheer lengths it's willing to go to become the new crowned king of in your face sick and repugnant and its use of 'reel' first person camera footage to capture the carnage, a la [REC] and Blair Witch.

I was in two minds, very much like how Sergie (Joshua Sasse) ends up under Viktors knife, as to whether to look at this as zombie film. Though my definition of zombie has gone through quite the period of reflection and relaxation this last year, I'm still pretty adamant that the synonymous Frankenstein's monster as penned by Shelley still doesn't quite fit the bill. While reanimation, slow ponderous movement, confused state and moral ambiguity are all obvious genre influences, it's the drive of the monster to always become the resurrected human he once was, that's the rub. I'm less concerned these days whether a zombie's deadness should be reduced to having a pulse or not; what interests me is whether there's still will, super-ego and ability to be autonomous and as is the case with the macabre monstrosities of Frankenstein's Army, whether they're entirely subservient to a master who has stripped them of all their self-defining facets. Viktor does reanimate them back to life with electricity and he does have to feed them once they're back on their feet but the people they once were are gone; there's no search for bringing back life, it's about the creation of robots, slaves and unquestioning killers, and in my mind this fits with zombies type.

It goes without saying they're also pretty twisted and unnaturally unpleasant to watch; and not that dissimilar in style from the nightmare creations in Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Viktor is indiscriminate whether the material for his bizarre flesh and steel fusion comes dug up, is recently deceased or even comes shrink-wrapped and alive and screaming. He's also quite the Henry Ford of monster making as once into his elaborate factory of recycling, r&d and manufacturing, conveyor belts of body parts are stitched and fused into quite the breathtaking original and elaborate array of creations by a workforce of equally unnatural zombie slaves. There's a definite anything goes approach to Raaphorst's freakish mis-creations, and wondering what he'll have come up with next is very much one of the highlights of the film. Such is the ludicrousness and excessiveness though that in some ways it does loose a little of the overwhelming fear that you feel should be there. In many ways I felt it all too quickly turned a bit comic book / video game-y as the first person camera ducked and weaved away from one bulking knife-wielding, propeller-spinning or jaw-snapping brute after another. It's a film more than many that calls for a high suspension of disbelief, as peeking behind the veil, which I did on more than one occasion, and seeing the terrifying monstrosities for what they were, quite excessive and daft prosthetic costumes, can be quite off-putting. It never turns into a full on farce though, but at times it falls precariously close.

Frankenstein's Army is quite a stupid film with a very simple premise and story, but with critical thinking firmly disengaged it's quite the thrilling dark and unsettling experience. The soldiers descent into madness is coherently defined and paced, and Raaphorst certainly knows how to use sound, effects and the first person viewpoint to create quite the evocative heart racing chase scene (which there are many). The first person perspective almost avoids the pitfalls that come with the territory providing quite a reasonable narrative reason for Dimitri (Alexander Mercury) to not stop filming when the proverbial shit (well blood) is hitting the actual spinning blades, but inevitably it can't dodge them altogether. Frankenstein's Army could be nit picked to death, and maybe I'm getting soft, but I couldn't help but respect and enjoy it for being quite as audaciously excessive and ridiculous as it was. Gory, bloody, in-your-face-nasty but not quite as scary as it wants to be, 7/10.

Steven@WTD.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Walking Dead Season 3 - review

2012 (USA)


Contains mild spoilers.

I've never hidden the fact that AMC's The Walking Dead adaptation of Robert Kirkman's comic was pivotal in rekindling my forgotten love of all things Z. The first season was raw, post apocalyptic survival story telling finally out of the closet. With an all star cast and triple A production budget it was everything I could have wished for and really struck a chord with not only myself but a population that was ready to lap up the next big subversive thing. Not resting on their laurels the second season was greatly expanded with sub narratives, more expansive sets and side characters that were given more room to develop. Many criticised it for having too much of a shift from horror to character drama but to me the expanded narrative moving away from a tight corridor of consecutive dangerous zombie fights, to potentially having a refuge, and hope, was inevitable and necessary. The sanctity of Hershel's farm allowed for better dynamics between the real walking dead of the show and allowed the central conflict of being ideologically good at all costs (Rick - Andrew Lincoln) vs. the utilitarianism of Shane (Jon Bernthal) to play out to a satisfying and explosive climax.

Season 3 begins with the group once again on the road, scavenging for supplies and surviving on the edge. In many respects their situation is a return to season one though this time the group are far more war weary and the atmosphere is darker and less optimistic. The various writers and directors don't allow this to last long though, as the focus for the season is their discovery of a new, potentially game changing sanctuary, an unclaimed prison, albeit with it teeming with its previous inhabitants, and its close proximity to Woodbury; a high walled and heavily guarded community of 73 survivors under the leadership of the self styled autocrat Governor (David Morrissey).

When I first watched season 3 last year, weekly, on television I actually came away slightly disappointed. I felt it could again be charged with feeling a bit like a series of two distinct parts, I felt the Governor came across a bit disingenuous and his behaviour a too conveniently excessive, and I wasn't sure how I felt watching Rick fall apart and make a series of quite out of character decisions. I don't know whether the last year of watching nigh on a hundred zombie films has changed me, or whether it was from being able to watch all sixteen episodes again, back to back without all the season stops and breaks, but this time it all made far more sense; it felt more cohesive and I could see how the very things I challenged were actually vital to drive the key narratives of the series.

Having gone through the all the trouble of settling the internal conflicts and whittling down the group to a core few its audience is now quite heavily invested in it was time to look outside for conflict, challenge and something to push the narrative and characters. Season 3 has the prison, and the job of clearing it out provide the first thing for them all to do then moves to the threat of The Governor to provide the rest. This time the conflict isn't within the group, there's no in fighting or vying for power and it wouldn't make sense for it to be so.

Season 3 deals with some quite complicated issues; protectionism, moral ambiguity, dealing with profound loss and guilt and questioning the lengths people would go to, to secure what little safety they perceive they have. In many ways Rick and The Governor are very alike. Both make morally dubious decisions to look after what they have, both are responsible for the deaths of any perceived threat, and both display on more than one occurrence total moral ambivalence. At the end of Season 2 Rick takes total control blaming his stubborn desire to listen to all angles and make decisions that satisfied the majority, while still abiding by his unambiguous moral beliefs and codes, as the reason for the groups ultimate disintegration and the many deaths that resulted. Season 3 is Ricks journey to rediscover that person the group chose to follow rather than be swallowed by hate and vengeance which is the direction the Governor takes.

It's deep, it's complicated and there's enough nuance and ambiguity that trying to explain it in simple terms is impossible but it's a fine portrayal of a person under the most extreme circumstances finding balance and inner calm. As with the previous seasons, some of the additional characters aren't allowed to flourish as much as they should, especially 'T-Dog' (IronE Singleton) who three seasons in was woefully under-utilised, yet others including several new, or reintroduced characters including Michonne (Danai Gurira) are delightfully well-fleshed out and given plenty of room to develop. Acting is, as per the previous seasons first class and it's the perfect marriage of sharp intelligent dialogue and seasoned professionalism. The pacing is perfect, in relentlessly driving the action when it needs then having the confidence to allow it all to slightly deviate, the highlight of which is episode 12, 'Clear' where Rick, Michonne and Carl (Chandler Riggs) stumble into Morgan (Lennie James) the man who originally saved Rick, which is both poignant and incredibly rewarding television. All in all it's put together with such consummate ease watching hour after hour is a joyful experience and never hard to do.

One thing that can't be levied against The Walking Dead is pulling its punches when it comes to gratuitous blood and gore. The many, many zombie killings are excessive, visceral and lovingly crafted. Heads are stomped on, chopped off and sliced in half; and as for survivors, the zombies may be treated in general as a little more of a nuisance or hindrance than the out right single main threat they were in the previous seasons, but up close and personal they're still as gnarly, vicious and dangerous as ever. Season 3 also doesn't shy away from some quite dark and uncomfortable film making especially regarding Lori's (Sarah Wayne Callies) pregnancy which makes for powerful and highly emotional viewing.

The Walking Dead is still the benchmark for post-apocalyptic story telling. Yes, it might be accused of being derivative and for a show about extreme survival with flesh eating zombies regularly allowed to rip into the main cast, it could even be argued it's all a bit safe. But honestly, for the particular niche of modern Romero zombie cinema it's decided to make its own, it's nigh on as good as we're likely to ever get. The action is relentless, the characters deep, complex and constantly evolving, and the production and acting qualities are like that of a Hollywood blockbuster. The Walking Dead may be a main stream popular phenomena adored by a crowd that had never before taken the genre seriously but that doesn't mean it can't still be adored by those who also enjoy the more obscure and unsavoury morsels that are on offer. Staggeringly good zombie fun, 10/10.

Steven@WTD.