Friday, 3 October 2014

Apocalypse of the (Living) Dead (Zone of the Dead) - review

2009 (Serbia / Italy / Spain)

Contains mild spoilers.

Apocalypse of the Living Dead aka Apocalypse of the Dead aka Zone of the Dead must have caught me on a good day as though there's much to criticise, overall I really quite enjoyed director Milan Konjevic and Milan Todorovic's visceral and dramatic little Eastern European zombie horror. Made on a shoestring (a purported $1m) what we have is an earnest attempt at a frightening apocalyptic story in the Romero vein with absolutely no rom or com, with deference for the genre and a healthy respect to work to the budget. You could say Apocalypse of the Living Dead is an old school antithesis to all the Shaun of the Dead wannabe's, to all who've try to paint the picture that z-day wouldn't actually be deeply unpleasant, and to everything The Asylum has managed to put out. This is Serbia, it's the zombie end of the world, and it's no laughing matter.

Really, what Apocalypse of the Living Dead needs is a good edit. Someone to go over all the dialogue, give it good old polish and take out all the unnecessary exposition and play with pacing. It does improve significantly as the film progresses but struggles to get all the characters to where they need to be when the action takes off, in any kind of coherent or cohesive manner. This doesn't just apply to the dialogue either as the getting to the point where the zombie-genie is firmly out the bottle requires quite the number of dominos to fall in the most forced and avoidable way. Don't get me wrong, once Mortimer Reyes (Ken Foree - Dawn of the Dead 2004), Dragan Belic (Miodrag Krstovic) and Mina Milius (Kristina Klebe) are battling the undead forces of darkness everything clicks in to place; it's just getting there is all a bit amateur and if we're honest, not really very well thought or planned out.

You're the president of Serbia and you've got some crazy dangerous reanimating compound you're thinking of using to bolster your armed forces to make you an influential player on the world stage. I'm betting one of the first things you wouldn't do, is transport it on the railway with minimal protection, especially when we're lead to believe the Serbian public transport system allows random armed soldiers to not only wander on the tracks but get into light skirmishes with transport policemen inadvertently firing their guns at anything that happens to be passing through.

There's no ambiguity with the Living Dead of this Apocalypse. One whiff of the green gas and it's death and zombie as fast as you can say snarly little gut muncher. With ground zero established and a ravenous zombie first wave out and ready to make wave 2 the mayhem soon spills into the adjoining city of Pančevo and bumps into Mina and co. who have been tasked with moving a prisoner to the airport for transport to London. Not content to tell the straightforward disparate group of survivors against an increasingly belligerent zombie threat story, Konjevic and Todorovic include not one, but two mysterious kick-ass pseudo Riddick characters. Both know how to use a gun, both keep their cards close to their chests and while both could have come across as comical or farcical each actually fits with the narrative in a way that feels natural. Think Michonne from The Walking Dead; she's larger than life but still fits in the world and story.

As said, with a good hard edit and a bit of polish I feel we'd have a great pilot episode of a gritty new zombie series. Reyes, Belic and Milius along with Riddick 1 and 2 make for intriguing characters and some great zombie killing action, and the undead menace itself while following the traditional modern Romero template, shows enough original ambiguity and thus the possibility of complex content with two hundred year old ancient curses, the Chernobyl disaster and even that hell might be full, all getting a mention. A surprising gem, I really thought this was going to be more zero budget zombie fodder to throw on to the cynical fire but I couldn't have been more wrong. A solid, dark apocalyptic no thrills zombie explosion with blood, gore and truck loads of menace. With a bigger budget and some solid production and editing I feel these guys could really deliver something very special; scary indeed, 6/10.

The Blu-ray I watched was the German MIG release. It comes with both the original English audio track as well as a German dub. There are no English subtitles and it's region locked to Europe.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Night of the Creeps - review

1986 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Now I need to be a bit careful with this one as I believe Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps is a bit of a fan favourite and I'm aware many people hold the horror-comedy b-movie close to their denim clad hearts. But here's the problem. I'm a Night of the Creeps newcomer and not swathed in nostalgia. I've jaded forty year old eyes and I've now seen my fair share of zom-rom-coms; I don't have that sweaty adolescent sentimentality to keep me going between people dying and heads 'sploding. Anyway, the point I'm trying to get to; the point I'm dallying around, is though Night of the Creeps is good, I mean I did just say heads 'sploding, it's just maybe not quite as good for us, as those who watched it some 28 years ago without their parents knowing.

Things start absurdly and b-movie brilliantly, with weird looking giant Dr Who inspired 80's space slugs battling it out and a particularly grumpy looking one blasting what we learn to be a parasitic space slug to Earth against the others wishes. It's 1959, we know this because things are black and white, and investigating the shooting star that's landed, a young confident college boy out with his date ignores the warnings of an axe murderer escaped from the local mental institute gets her violently dismembered and himself infected and cryogenically frozen. As I said brilliant stuff.

Then it all goes a bit 80s and brat pack with J.C. During (Steve Marshall) trying to win Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow) as a date for nerd friend and roommate Chris Romero (Jason Lively); yes I did spot the names. With the only obstacle to their success, obviously, admittance to the most popular fraternity J.C. and Chris agree to break into the university medical centre and steal a highly experimental corpse, which just conveniently happens to be said cryogenically frozen bug hibernator from 1959. Of course they conveniently manage to defrost him, he conveniently happens to be not well guarded, and it conveniently starts a rather nasty series of events that soon spiral out of control.

It's b-movie parody, it's funny, it's well directed and well fleshed out with a preposterous narrative that sways from semi-coherent eighties teen angst movie to The Return of the Living Dead and over the top horror like a metronome on amphetamines. One minute it's geeky guys trying to get a prom date or hitting each other with pillows, the next it's audaciously absurd space aliens shooting one another with ray guns or twenty-seven year old axe murdering corpses up having a second swing at it. What should be a little disconcerting does actually work though creating that b-movie duality where there's the normal world where people worry about their hair and their dates, when all the while we really know there's a second reality only a block away holding an axe and full of alien space worms. My one small gripe was some of the more excessive contrived convenience, which even though I know is part of the b-movie charm, came across as a little too forced. It's one thing to learn that fire is the thing that can kill the little space leeches, it's another to just happen across a box of matches on the floor of your toilet cubicle lighting the last one at just the right moment as one rushes over to its flammable end.

You just can't beat a good old alien brain parasite; well you could with a fiery stick, but there's just something about scurrying little black super slugs with the singular intent to zoom up trouser legs,  throw themselves into open mouths and take over brains, that makes me smile. Why do they want to do it / what's their motive? No idea though I guess the usual world subjugation. All I know is, once in place it's zombie time, staggering about looking for someone new to explode their head in the direction of. I keep saying exploding heads; whether cat, dog, recently deceased or long decayed it would appear they use the brain as some kind of incubation chamber with which to breed (asexually?), then assume control of the host body before popping the noggin wide open to great cinematic applause to fire new space slugs at any new hosts that might be dumb enough to have their mouths open. By this point it's really all over for the hosts, the best they can hope for some sympathetic soul putting a stop to it all with a one, two, blast to the head, heavy duty incineration of the little critters hiding inside.

I've moaned a lot that it's not perhaps grade A eighties schlock horror but in truth it's not far off. Dekker has fashioned a competent cohesive b-movie wannabe that entertains and shocks nicely and equally and flows by to a satisfactory conclusion. Exploding head, alien parasite zombies were never going to disappoint and honestly one could never get bored watching them pop. Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) who I've not mentioned so far is the undoubted star of the show, with one-liners and a personality that rivals even Sir Bruce Campbell in its dry delivery and inventive punch. A fun entertaining little ride with some truly outstanding scenes, but as a whole, one that maybe hasn't aged quite as well as some might have us believe. It's never going to be my favourite eighties horror spoof but thrill me, it did, 7/10.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Go Goa Gone - review

2013 (India)

Contains mild spoilers.

Rolls sleeves up. Right let's do this. It's Pre'Ween folks and yours truly has joined forces with eight other bastions of horror to produce some content to celebrate the year's run up to the main apple bobbing dark harvest itself. Brandon at the Dog Farm is generously collating it all (tis all his idea and hard work really) and you can check it out there. My aim is simple. To up my game, watch more films than ever this next 30 days and hopefully feel like I'm making some kind of contribution, however pitiful that might be. I was going to set myself the target of a film a day but let's be realistic; this is me so we'll see what happens. I'm also going to use it as a chance to catch up on the many non-zombie horror titles I've missed which I may or may not comment on. And yes, I have warned the wife.

So let's start the carnival with something that on the surface would appear to be a little different. Touted as Bollywood's first official zombie comedy, which I'm in no position to question, Go Goa Gone, directed and written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. is a witty, sharp character driven rom-com with oodles of charm and an endearing innocence. Entwined Hindi and English with subtitles the script plays with modern young Indian counter culture; with drug use, alcohol and an extreme apathy and directionless with a call-centred ennui and a country mired with extreme poverty and a colonial hang-over.

Hardik (Kunal Khemu) and Luv (Vir Das) are two stoner best friends trapped in the rut who persuade their flatmate and friend Bunny (Anand Tiwari) to let them tag along on his business trip to Goa. There they team up with Facebook friend of Luv's Luna (Puja Gupta), gate-crash a remote island rave hosted by the Russian Mafia and watch opened mouthed as a zombie outbreak spins out of control around them only to become unlikely, but very affable heroes on the way.

I know what you're thinking. I thought it. It's Shaun of the Dead or any one of the many films that followed with the same reluctant hero and rom-com-zom template. Establish likeable losers, drop them in an inescapable zombie maelstrom with a girl to rescue and no hope, and slowly watch them turn overcome themselves and turn into heroes. Go Goa Gone does it all; unabashed, even over explaining zombie rules as if we need to hear all about head shots in 2014. And yet it gets away with it.

Zombies, especially the Western Romero trope, are not an Indian horror staple and this allows Go Goa Gone to explain the zombie a to z in a playful way that never offends or feels unnecessarily contrived. Hearing Hardik, Luv and Bunny come to the conclusion that they're probably not vampires or ghosts but most likely zombies and the product of western globalisation is a triumph that imbues the film with a playful meta-innocence from start to finish. We're not expected to believe in a vision of an alternative yet familiar looking reality where zombies have never been imagined, nor are expected to believe a young twenty something wouldn't know to go for the head; their zombie journey is fluid and natural. 

It's not parasites, or evil magic or space monkeys. The cause of all the commotion is a new experimental little red pill, touted as the ultimate high, Russian mafia boss, Boris (Saif Ali Khan) has brought back from Siberia to try out on his guests. Whilst the idea to shut off all but a small part of the brain so the user feels no pain, no pleasure and no emotion and only a hunger to be high might have seemed like a good one in the lab, in the real world it's actually an extremely bad, what with the high transpiring to be other peoples flesh, and the side-effect of actually killing the taker. Nidimoru and D.K. firmly go with the Romero / The Walking Dead vision of zombies, and this fits with the meta-charm. They're slow, shuffling, stupid and only really good in a group. It's head shots (that bit of the brain left ticking over) and their only drive is their insatiable hunger. Clearly a lot of work has gone in to their look and feel, and there are some great expansive zombie scenes with as many as a hundred or so on screen at once. They act cohesively and though Go Goa Gone is never going to give anyone a nightmare there's more than a handful of well-crafted bloody gut munches and wrenches to entertain.

So yes, look deeply and the finger could point to a story that's actually pretty generic, characters we've seen a dozen times before, and it has perhaps played it all too safe, but that's missing so much. Go Goa Gone has taken the western trope and has added Bollywood life, vibrancy and colour with some exceptional character acting and a production team that know how to make a sumptuous film. The chemistry between the main characters, especially Luv and Hardik is magical, and they're an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. Go Goa Gone is genuinely funny, heart-warming and intelligent, with no dead scenes, perfect pitch and pace, and a delightful score. There's also the hint of a sequel which I'll definitely be first in line for, 7/10.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Boneyard - review

1991 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I'll put my hands straight up. Director / writer James Cummins' 1991 zombie horror yarn is delightful, dark, gory, intimidating and full of tension. The zombies are macabre menacing little shits that make you feel uncomfortable and the set-up that enables them to torment the small disparate group that find themselves stuck in the same cramped isolated morgue is inspired and gripping. It's zombie horror as good as you'd hope for and though maybe it could be accused of being a little ham fisted and cheesy at times, this doesn't detract, in many ways adding to the retro charm. There is the issue of the last twenty minutes though, and I'm still not quite sure exactly what I think of it, though I know I enjoyed myself. On the one hand I've got to applaud Cummins for his audacity and insanity. On the other, I've got to question the decision to turn sinister and brooding into farce and stoopid in such an abrupt and in your face way.

There's a good zombie story. Lt. Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson) and his partner Gordon Mullen (James Eustermann) recruit the reluctant psychic, Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) in help them solve what appears to be the grisly murder of three children found in the cellar of mortician Chen (Robert Yun Ju Ahn). Under questioning Chen tells a fantastical yarn that the children are actually an undead master-race, called the kyoshi, and that he and his ancestors have been protecting mankind by feeding them fresh human flesh keeping them dormant for the last three hundred years. Dismissing the story Jersey, Mullen and Alley head straight off, at night I'll add, to the boneyard (the colloquial name the staff have given to the city morgue) to check the bodies out and see if Alley's special gifts can unravel what's really going on. And wouldn't you just know it Chen just happened to be telling the truth; cue reanimating dead, running, screaming and dying.

Cummins' does a remarkable job establishing a coherent and believable reason for the small band of victims / survivors to find themselves in an inescapable claustrophobic survival / slaughter-box combating the forces of evil. There's no big gaping narrative hole or anyone acting in an overly stupid manner to get themselves in the trouble, as the evil begins to rise one isn't distracted by thoughts of what they should have done. Okay, there's not much sense to Dana (Denise Young) the young suicide who happens to not actually be dead, but the motley assortment of morticians along with the police and psychic make for some interesting dynamics as they seek to stay alive.

Romero zombies these are not. It's possession / reanimation / demons and ancient curses, and the three gnarly putrid little kids are disturbing, quick, smart and terrifying. They can climb, leap, hide and a headshot won't cut it. The make-up and effects team have done a great job with them and whether they're chasing, harrying or playing with their next meal or tucking into a cannibalistic all you can eat spare-rib buffet the young gut munchers are always the uncomfortable star of the show. Someone at some point comments that their weakness is the heart, i.e. vampire, but as they're final deaths come down chemical spills, electric blasts, concentrated bullet fire and being blown sky high I can't confirm; there's also the point that if it's so easy why didn't Chen or his grand-pappy stick a stake in years ago while they were asleep. So maybe a bit vampire, maybe possessed, maybe a bit straightforward zombie, they're evil, they're dead, they're hungry and they're deeply unpleasant.

Okay it's time to address the finale. With twenty minutes to go The Boneyard shifts gear up from fourth to crazy and goes all Dead Alive (Brain Dead) - a year before it I'll add, Resident Evil and super-mutant with some of the most ridiculous prosthetic costumes and animatronics I've seen. Whilst there was a hint things were at some point going to go loopy, with Alley finding loose pipe bombs in the record office and Mullen equipping some kind of experimental machine gun, I wasn't at all prepared for how the kyoshi curse would manifest itself in those infected. Shortly before wilting away into a large pool of green slime, one of the zombie children manages to shove a large handful of its own brains / skin into the mouth of Miss Poopinplatz (Phyllis Diller) the feisty, impudent morgue receptionist. At first it's groans, fever and decidedly looking a bit peaky, but minutes later it's eight foot prosthetic madness, large bulbous eyes and not only cackling laughter from her, but raucous bellows from myself.

As said, up till now it was tense survival horror and suddenly here was a large daft boss fight and a wholly unrealistic model flailing its long arms at all and sundry. I'm not sure whether there were doubts at whether the taut atmosphere would make the distance, whether there was suddenly a budget for more special effects or whether it was all meticulously planned but the result is a change in direction that takes your breath away. Also it's just the beginning as now firmly down the rabbit hole Cummins has only one place to go, turning his attention to Miss Poopinplatz's yappy little poodle and some scenes that will never leave me.

My wife commented once that she really doesn't like horror with children in and I can understand her disquiet. The zombie kids are disturbing, wholly unnatural and thus a brilliant construct, brutally realised. The survival horror sequences are a delight; scenes are well-constructed, well-shot and believably acted by people who bring authenticity to proceedings by not standing out. The action flows effortlessly from one scene to the next, everything feels cohesive and the film is thoroughly absorbing. The crazy prosthetic super mutant zombie climax is what it is. I can't say whether the film would have been better or worse if it hadn't decided to take such a left turn, all I can say is when it does it's a hoot. None of it makes any sense, the action is audaciously stupid and inexplicable but it's god damn entertaining. A zombie horror riot both despite, and because, of twelve foot zombie poodles, 8/10.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Aaah! Zombies!! (Wasting Away) - review

2007 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Writer and director Sean Kohnen's Aaah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away) is film built on a single quirk. It's an inventive, imaginative quirk allowing for some brilliant scenes and set pieces; it drives the action, it dictates the humour and it also, almost manages to sustain momentum the whole ninety minutes without get boring. Playful with the zombie medium Kohnen's take is unorthodox and unusual but respectful, and though not particularly funny, or scary, or atmospheric relying solely on the twist this is most definitely still a zombie film, and one that's well worth watching.

I'd better explain what the 'thing' is. In full on The Return of the Living Dead parody mode a bungled experimental super-soldier zombie chemical transportation goes wrong, the hazardous serum ending up mixed in some beer flavoured super soft ice-cream and yadda yadda yadda zombies. This isn't all that interesting, but what is, is everything during the set-up is presented in black and white with the green of the serum the only colour, Schindler's List style. Pulling himself up from the floor Tim (Michael Grant Terry) and his three co-conspirators with the colourful green serum now coursing figuratively through their now coloured bodies are now in Oz and empowered with their own shared reality. The use of colour, for Kohnen becomes the defining metaphor of juxtaposing how those that have taken the serum perceive the world, with those who haven't. In the black and white 'real' world Tim, Mike (Matthew Davis), Vanessa (Julianna Robinson) and Cindy (Betsy Beutler) are perceived as ponderous decaying gut munchers, but in their shared world, presented in full on Technicolour they are still cognisant, compassionate and unaware of their external appearance.

It's a powerful imaginative idea and works if one doesn't think too hard about it. In their reality nothing has really changed, they can talk, laugh, feel though they may be starting to display some unusual traits and appetites. In the other reality they're incomprehensible, macabre, indestructible; zombies and it's speed, specifically their lack of, that becomes the defining characteristic and the butt of the humour. 'Real', non-infected people appear sped up in movement and speech, and with the camera switched to black and white so we're looking at them as everyone else would the group are full on Romero lurchers. Which perspective / reality is the true one? It doesn't really matter; all that does is the back and forth play when the perspectives do clash.

Despite the inventiveness of the contrast, the actual set pieces and jokes do all too often feel a little laboured or obvious. The guy who's so drunk he can actually communicate with the zombies is a fun throw away idea but to not only repeat the joke but make it the centre of an important ten minute sequence two thirds of the way through has the feel of a writer struggling for ideas and this is the films main problem. I never felt Kohnen fully knew what to do with the great set up he'd come up with; the narrative jump to survival action, zombie-rights three quarters of the way through is most indicative of this. 

We're not talking big budget so constant contradictions like background noises being the right (or wrong) depending on perspective speed I was happy to let slide even though they were a little distracting. My biggest grumble was the back and fro regarding the groups conscience. We're supposed to go with the fact that even though to the rest of the world they appear as gut-munching zombies they're really still the same people with empathy and compassion, and their behaviour, dialogue and even the whole ending of the film relies on this. Yet, there's also times, usually implied and off camera, they do actually go full zombie with all the cannibalistic slaughter, gouging and gut munching their appearance assumes. I think we're supposed to either suspend disbelief or assume death comes with a loss of guilt and remorse; but it's never particularly fleshed and it all feels a incongruous.

Narrative to one side, the whole self-aware, compassioned, autonomous beings on one level, ponderous, flesh hungry groaners on another idea is presented and fashioned well. They are zombies. They're dead, they need severe head trauma to really stop them and they like brains. There's some more The Return of the Living Dead homage, playing with body part reanimation. In colour they not really zombies at all, more people who happen to be without pulse and a taste for things they shouldn't. Whether black and white or not things always look good and the film has been put together well, effects are strong and make-up realistic. Ok, the bodiless head is a bit slid into place, but it doesn't spoil things. One last thought. Going by my definition which equates zombie with deadness, irrespective of pulse, perhaps they're not actually zombies at all as they are still self-aware and autonomous? I'm in a pickle to be honest, though as it's mainly down to me over complicating things I'll move along, and I did say it was just a thought...

"The most unique zombie flick I've seen', is one of the choice quotes on the cover and breaking with tradition which says one can't agree with anything if it's in big letters on the front of a DVD, especially a low budget zombie one, this time I think I might make an exception. The narrative as a whole may well not live up to the premise and some scenes feel laboured but there's enough jokes and ideas to keep things fresh and entertaining throughout. The romance such as there is adds to the cocktail but this is no Warm Bodies which I'll will add shares more than one idea with this earlier film. I'll finish by adding the acting is well above what one would expect from a low budget piece, especially from the four leads, and the pacing is good with the film flowing by quite nicely. It's unusual, quirky and fun and for all my complaints I really quite enjoyed it, even though I feel it's been made in a way that makes it far too easy to dismember, 6/10.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lifeforce - review

1985 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

This was another one that wasn't really on my radar. It was only seeing it chosen by Dominic Brunt (Director of Before Dawn) as one of the headlines for the 2014 Leeds Zombie Film Festival that put it on. Having now watched it I'm still a tad uncertain. Sure the final fifteen minutes, depicting a ravaged London overrun with snarling cannibalistic monsters is zombie all the way and the victims of the space vampires are for the most part unwitting slaves incapable of imposing their own will on their actions. But, it's energy vampires. Both Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), the only survivor of the ill-fated deep space explorer and Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard) chief medical scientist of the European Space Agency and Thanatologist (the study of death) say so, and it is really all about three intelligent bat like creatures camouflaged as pretty wee things who are sat at the top of the food chain.

The first fifteen minutes or so are pure eighties space indulgence. The HMS Churchill out in the deep beyond on a mission to explore Halley's Comet discovers a hundred and fifty mile ancient space relic in its tip. Inside as well as the desiccated remnants of hundreds of human size space bats they find three perfectly preserved and perfectly naked humans caught in some kind of suspended animation and decide to bring them back on board.

The lead naked, and that's a word I'll be saying a lot, space person, is played by Mathilda May and as I'm watching the splendid new Arrow Blu-ray transfer of the original 116 minute cut, which is fifteen minutes longer than the theatrical cut the US audience had to watch there's an awful lot of it; not that I'm complaining. Brought back to Earth by the US Columbia which finds the HMS Churchill gutted and burnt out and the crew dead, it doesn't take long for those investigating the disaster to realise it might have something to do with honey lips and perhaps they're in a spot of trouble. Finally alone with a young doctor sparks fly, both metaphorically as lips meet lips, and literally  her first victim has his lifeforce zapped out of him before moving, naked, through the complex like an electric maelstrom escaping out into the wider world.

The young naked space girl with ulterior motives beguiling poor innocent men who just can't say no when presented with a willing bosom is a trope that's been done to death. It's a good, neigh, great excuse to show copious flesh with a semi-legitimate excuse, though in this case I'm not quite sure whether to applaud director Tobe Hooper or not, for the audaciously long time it takes for him to decide she should cover up. While Lifeforce doesn't go down the Species road making this trope the be all and end all of the film it does make up a large part of the story, and to be honest when if does decide to stray playing with alien possession it does unravel a little becoming unnecessarily convoluted and complicated, almost making one think it might have been better if they had.

There's a lot going on with the space vampires and while it's possibly all a bit over contrived it's fun, thought out and for the most part cohesive. They're energy vampires capable of draining the lifeforce from people. They can beguile people, making them fall so deeply in love, both spiritually and sexually, that they can't resist and they can also transfer their consciousness / soul / being into another person assuming motor control and suppressing the host's will. Also while they don't always drain all the lifeforce from a person when they do, leaving them a dehydrated lifeless husk, they do also leave a nasty surprise.

Two hours is the magic number in several ways. Firstly it's a two hour alarm call that springs the mini-vamps / zompires back to life, pulse racing with an insatiable hunger for some lifeforce of their own, else they'll explode. Secondly should they drain the next victim before they pop, they've only another two hours until they need to feed again. This idea of brainless primal hunger, the constant need to feed and the exponential spread of the disease is zombie all the way. These zompires, especially during the last fifteen or so minutes certainly look the part snarling goring their way through the streets of London and the effect as they leap on cars and chase the view remaining survivors also certainly looks zombie and they're a good enough fit in my mind. And let's not forget writer Dan O'Bannon's next film was The Return of the Living Dead, so this is a man well versed in the genre.

A solid script if a little convoluted and farcical, Lifeforce is a good film though not a great one and for such an over the top premise I felt it perhaps played it all a little safe. Peter Firth leads a strong cast who do well with what they've been given, and one can't help watch Patrick Stewart being wrestled to the floor and later orally explode with blood, without a wry smile. The pacing is good for a long film, and there's never a dull moment but it just as we too were coming near  the two hour mark and the finale, I felt it just hadn't elevated my heart rate to the to the same level as those on screen. A fun hokey sci-fi, tame-horror with a lot of nakedness that will leave a smile on your face, if nothing more, 6/10.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Stalled - review

2013 (UK)

Contains mild spoilers.

In the world of generic, lazy and very serious expansive and over ambitious zombie survival stories, and farces that don't respect the medium or just aren't that funny it's always a delight when something low budget comes along that not only understands the constraints but exploits them to produce something delightfully original that feels cohesive and entirely sure of its self.

Written by Dan Palmer and directed by Christian James, Stalled is a dark comedy and zom-rom-com with an intimate and claustrophobic twist. The film centres on office janitor W.C. played by the same Dan Palmer, who finds himself stuck in a ladies toilet cubicle on Christmas Eve at first wanting to escape the many obnoxious, drunk and half-naked girls that are coming in fresh from the office party on the floors above, then later wanting to survive the full blown zombie outbreak that's exploding all around. What's important, and what distinguishes Stalled from other films that at this point probably sound awfully similar, is that the four walls of the bathroom are for an hour and twenty minutes the only ones he, or us will see (not quite true but go with me.)

Limiting the film to the single personal setting and presenting it all, though third person, from W.C.'s perspective imbues the film with a feeling of intimacy like that of a drama or play, and not that of a feature film. It's twenty odd minutes before W.C. speaks, the only other non-zombie that's on screen for longer than a minute never shows her face and the action and jokes are measured and constrained; there's a lot on paper that could have gone wrong. Thankfully a deep well fashioned main character full of moral ambiguity and complicated drives, and an actor who can do him justice, combined with a well-paced, inventive and intelligent script and story enables Stalled to pull it off. 

The zombies exhibit that mixed behaviour we see in all main stream pop culture flicks picking and choosing heritage tropes to satisfy the vision of the film makers. The film does a good job setting the scene with subtle revelations rather than relying on any long winded and obvious exposition; there's a dead rat, a 'rapey' pizza guy who gets a bite in, and an implied non-airborne infection. Whilst the infected don't actually appear to die before becoming groaning single-minded cannibalistic gut munchers, once shuffling and hungry they're capable of withstanding quite the pounding with only a good old fashioned heavy trauma to the old noggin capable of putting them down. They're nicely presented and cohesive; the make-up and effects are excellent as is expected post TWD. There's a little too much one minute Romero slow, next minutes Boyle snarly and fast but it's not distracting and the zombies aren't really the main focus as they're really there as the vehicle to enable the character development and personal interaction to flourish, and to provide a few laughs.

Well thought out and confidently constructed Stalled comes across as a film that came out exactly as planned. It's tight, intimate, claustrophobic and personal precisely because that was intended. It's not hampered by the restraint of a small budget but at one and empowered by it. As a small tight single set zombie drama I honestly don't think it could have been done much better. I'll mention that just as Stalled is tight in vision, it's tight in length bringing an end to proceedings after a mere hour and twenty minutes though it gets away with it, and I suspect had it tried to go longer it may have suffered. I could also see how in the wrong mood or state of mind the film could labour with some of the jokes missing the spot and scenes lingering but approached in the right way, maybe without any beer there's a lot on offer. Something different, something intelligent, something witty and absorbing, Stalled is a great piece of film making and recommended, 7/10.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Zombie Night - review

2013 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'm sorry. I'm part of the problem.

Derivative direct to DVD / TV cash-ins like this only exist because of the great number of idiots willing to hand over money for literally anything new that has the z-word on the cover, and I did. I do console myself somewhat in the hope I'm providing a kind of buffering service, and my sacrifice may help others avoid the same cinematic misfortune. If just one person recalls the roasting I'm just about to give this latest The Aslylum snore-fest and returns it to the Walmart shelf with nothing more than a cursory glance then maybe my +1 sale will be justified and I can forgive myself.

If you've not yet gathered, I'm not a fan of director John Gulager's (Feast / Piranha 3DD) weary pointless zombie endeavour, though I am amazed they got name-recognisable actors Anthony Michael Hall (Patrick) and Daryl Hannah (Birdy) on board; though let's be honest it's been a long time since these guys and girls were particularly relevant. Also in all honesty they don't do that bad job given the horrendous script they have to work with; though here we are one day after watching it and I'm already struggling to recall much of what they said or did. And this is Zombie Nights biggest problem. Nothing really happens. 

Looking at its Wikipedia stub, the plot in its entirety is described thus: "Two families must survive a zombie attack." That's your lot, seven words summing it all up, but here's the rub, even that I feel exaggerates all that's on offer.

Predictably it's z-day one for the traditional end of the world undead apocalypse. People are confused, people are scared, people die and even the brightest people are suddenly compelled to do really, really stupid things guaranteed to get them into trouble. Patrick, daughter Tracie (Rachel G. Fox) and a fodder friend are in a car, Tracie's mum, Birdy and grandma (Shirley Jones) are at home, their next door neighbour and all round douche, Joseph (Alan Ruck) and family are at home thinking about hiding away in their well-stocked safe room and the story flitters between the groups as they try and survive till morning when the zombies will all drop dead (again).

Contrived nonsense best describes how it all unfolds. Safe rooms with one zombie in and basements are given up in favour of graveyards and greenhouses. In all honesty the first five minutes will tell you enough. Tracie gets a text from her boyfriend (Joseph's son) that bad stuff may be going down, so Patrick decides to get off the free-way to make it back home via a short cut next to the cemetery. Fiddling with his own phone he hits someone and they all get out to investigate. With Tracie and Patrick studying two severed legs some eight foot from the car, two hands shoot out from under the boot (trunk) and grab said ensign expendable. Ok, nothing too bad so far. But with no sense of continuity, coherence or respect for the viewer we're then subjected to an awful borderline comical CG legless hover zombie pulling himself on to her, and more worryingly supposed to believe they can't hear her screaming for help despite being spitting distance away. It's all highly staged, amateurishly put together and one feels all happening just to enable Gulager to have the three of them running pointlessly between the gravestones for the next ten minutes. Zombie Night's problem is this scene becomes the template the rest of the film adheres to.

While I can maybe forgive a certain amount of contrived and convenient staging, here there's so little else it can't be overlooked and all the action, drama and tension is embarrassing and flat. I just have no idea what Gulager was going for. Even as a character piece positioning the film as real peoples experiences in the most traumatic of circumstance it utterly fails with people and performances shallow and forgettable. I'd almost go so far as saying I was quite early on rooting for the dead guys, and it was certainly a delightful relief when certain survivors got dispatched.

The western zombie cutty-cutter tropes are well made up and look the part though there's just too much staging and not enough of what I'd describe as natural behaviour for even these guys to save proceedings. Romero-esque gut munchers like this are all about instinct, hunger and teeth and I lost track of the number of times the zombie inexplicably suddenly held back from taking the bite so Gulager could try some cinematic wizardry and enable the following scenes to take place as written. It's head shots, it's some kind of virus with blood / saliva transmission, it's staggering, groaning, looking and acting stupid and some gut munching. It's groups appearing from no-where however remote, it's zombies outside the right window at the right time and zombies taking obvious cinematic direction and cues. It's nothing we've not seen a hundred times before, incompetently handled and insultingly perfunctory.

Insipid, derivative, uninteresting; there is nothing positive to say about Zombie Night. Utterly lacking cohesiveness, authenticity, the will to do well or any sparkle whatsoever, it's cinematic zombie fodder and deplorable bargain bin trash no one should give the time of day to. I'd started to think things were getting better as The Asylum's 2012 Rise of the Zombies was borderline watchable, but here things have gone backwards so far and so fast, I fear all hope the studio will eventually produce something of worth is lost. Zombie Night has no reason to exist, I've no reason to continue writing about it and you've no reason to ever think about it again; time for us all to move along, 2/10.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Demon Resurrection - review

2008 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

To get the most out of writer and director William Hopkins dark and twisted Lovecraftian exploitative zombie opus, one has to have patience. Patience not just to sit through thirty minutes of laboured exposition, an avalanche of superfluous characters, motivations and ideas, and a narrative that occasionally wanders but patience to see through a film that could easily be dismissed as amateurish and trite. First impressions aren't great; the acting is hit and miss, the dialogue hokey and the story audaciously confident in its presentation given how excessive the content. But if one perseveres, makes it to the thirty minute mark and is still awake, invested, and at some level open to the ideas presented, then the rewards are more than worth it.

There's mysticism, ancient races, strange cults, an ancient burial ground, a magic stick, path-working, and even an appearance from some old god shrouded in CG green mist to have his wicked way with the very naked star / victim of the story Grace (Alexis Golightly). There's a lot going on yet as fanciful as it gets, Hopkins pulls the Lovecraftian world together in a believable and coherent way. As Grace's friends begin their intervention confronting her and her boyfriend John (Damian Ladd), the real world as they perceive it slowly reveals a far darker one beneath, and their concerns start moving away from relationships, phone signals and what coke and snacks might be in the fridge to life, death and whether they might go the night without having their innards ripped out.

The long build up is approached with solemnity and absolute seriousness which can be a bit risky given the low budget and unfortunately it can't avoid the many pitfalls that come with amateur and b-movie yet Hopkins sticks with it and it never unravels enough to fall apart. Also this confidence and self-assuredness to stick to the plan no matter what is maybe the actual reason why with the arrival of undeniably the star of the feature, everything works so well.

The grotesque Fulci / Amando de Ossorio / Mattei zombies that pull themselves up out of mass grave to begin their siege of the house and brutal exploitative slaughter of anyone who happens to find themselves caught out is a full on return to the great zombie continental blood soaked lunacy we've come to look back on with great fondness, and never thought we'd get to see again. Innards get ripped out, eyes get pierced, skin gets lacerated with full on exploitative attention to detail, and the zombies advance like an unstoppable tide of death (as they should); it's breath-taking stuff from Hopkins and masterfully constructed from someone who obviously holds great respect for the genre he's not just imitating but in my opinion now contributing towards.

Yes it's another Romero farm house siege, though more Burial Ground than Night of the Living Dead, yes there's nothing we've not really seen before, and yes the masks / coloured CG mist are easy to mock, but it's intense and gripping, utterly and brutally brilliant and works on every level because it's dark, base and serious. Derivative is a term that's easy to throw at zombie films, but Demon Resurrection manages to dodge this label precisely because in the new zombie world of The Walking Dead and Shaun it's everything that they're not. Ok I'm playing with semantics but watching something old, nasty and no longer the vogue, that's actually new with the ink still wet is refreshing, even if it could be accused of rehashing the same mistakes.

The zombies look and behave much like the non-skeletal long dead murder-machines Amando de Ossorio fashioned for Tombs of the Blind Dead. They're chunky, brutal and slow staggering monsters that move and grunt under the control of Toth and seem to enjoy a sadistic pleasure in killing their (his) foes and eating their flesh. There's no blue skin here or parody uniformed recently deceased leaping about; they're methodical, they know where their enemies are and they will get back up after being knocked down. There's no head shooting and no hope; they're evil and desperately inhuman and seemingly invincible. And there's John...

John is also brought back from the dead by Grace who has a book and knows the right words. John however is not a Blind Dead gut muncher but a white vest top Gandalf / Jesus mystic zombie with an inscribed magic totem of power that's capable of blasting Hoth's army of darkness into dust. His return is poignant, spiritual and temporary, and though he's a bit Casper the friendly zombie, rescuing the scant surviving friends he does show a darker side, enacting brutal vengeance given the opportunity. I will add that a third zombie type makes a brief appearance  too in the guise of Hoth's zombie victims who are now dead and hungry in the traditional western Romero way. I'm not going to over think how these guys got turned or how their eaten insides are now tucked back in but like in The Beyond a little mystery always goes well Z.

A mash up Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living, Dead Zombie Flesh Eaters / Burial Ground with a good sprinkle of Lovecraft, Hopkins low budget dark and twisted exploitative zombie opus Demon Resurrection is a triumph of amateur horror film making. Oozing with dark passion with a self-assured unique personality all of its own one has to applaud what has been achieved. Demon Resurrection is a confident and self-assured film remaining intense and serious despite playing with the most far-fetched edges of the Cthulhu mythos. It has its faults; mainly born from its shoestring budget and perhaps trying too hard, but it's a film that ultimately prevails in many ways because of them. A full on return to past zombie craziness, with carnage, death, boobies and brutal bloody gore; it's a triumph and a zombie film made for zombie film fans, 8/10.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Zombie Town - review

2007 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

For a bit of a goofy, low budget zombie film with more than a passing reliance on groan inducing and convenient contrivance, it wasn't half bad. An incompetent car mechanic, Jake (Adam Hose), his ex-girlfriend and now talented biochemist with lab access Alex (Brynn Lucas), and Randy (Dennis Lemoine) the road SALTER come together to uncover and solve the parasitical alien(?) bloodsuckers zombie mystery and save the day (which to give you a clue involves SALT). On the way there's a zombie ground zero outbreak, a lot of neck biting, a convenient couple of road accidents that stop anyone being able to get in or out of town and a zombie dog called Mr. Slippers. There's a lot going on, the action moves at pace and for all its problems there's a lot to commend.

It either starts appallingly well or appallingly badly depending on what mood you're in and now you feel about true b-movie film making at its brazenly finest. There's some running, some red-necks drinking beer, some neck biting, some stumbling, some garden rake slamming and a lot of CLOSE UP in your face camera shots. The result? Some laughs, some tears, some winces from a great no nonsense opening and appalling amateur acting and filming, but most importantly some fresh zombies ready to stagger around the woody outskirts of the small town of Otis.

I'll say one thing for director / writer Damon Lemay and the small but earnest cast. You get the feeling that there's been a genuinely passionate attempt at doing it all right. With the cabin in the woods massacre out the way the film picks up the insulated small town zombie outbreak narrative by the scruff of the neck. There's an ambitious, albeit painfully forced story that still works, some fantastic made up zombies, imaginative, fun and original outbreak sequences, and it all results in a tight competent little zombie film that more than holds its own at the low budget end of the genre. Complaints are more niggles; there's a bit of an identity crisis in that it's never full on farce despite occasional scenes that do descend to such, and the story is so telegraphed with Lemay obsessed with ensuring every small detail actually coherently plays some part in the story epitomised with Randy, the only guy in town with access to unlimited salt suddenly and inexplicably joining the main cast by wandering into the infected police station half way through. Despite the ridiculous contrivance though it was refreshing after watching so many small town zombie films that never even attempted a complete and cohesive storyline to watch one that has one through its core.

It would be very easy to call Zombie Town a bit of a Slither rip off with extra zombies, but by my reckoning, that Slither was released less than a year earlier, and understanding what goes into film production of any budget, I'd wager the basic parasitic zombie take over idea had at least laid its first eggs by the time Lemay had to hold his head in his hands and watch it appear on the big screen first. This being said, alien parasites taking over a small community isn't the newest idea whichever way you look at it.

I say alien though it's never explicitly stated. Either way they're certainly not your regular earth like blood leaches capable of climbing, infinite asexual reproduction and pursuing fresh victims all over town like hungry little death caterpillars. Finding a host it's a quick trip to the base of the spine where they inject hormones or a virus or something that soon attacks the brain rendering the person rabid, dangerous and eager to pass on the new found companions which have already started to replicate.

So they're not actually dead but that's ok; they're vacuous dangerous gut munchers and as I've now iterated on countless occasions lack of pulse isn't the be all and end all of state-z. They stagger about, they'll bite people or animals who also become infected, they appear to lose all cognitive function but they do degenerate if they can't pass on the ever swelling number of parasites. Denton (Phil Burke), brother of Jake and captured and imprisoned, is a zombie film delight. Watching his slow decent into zombie parasitic madness ultimately resulting in his death with parasites burrowing their way out in number was a celebration of unpleasant and provocative film making and wonderfully done.

The bingo scene, the grandmothers town rampage, the leg chain sawing, the eclectic metal / country / chime-bell score, the whole goofy central idea; Zombie Town is full of vibrant lively ideas and ties them all together, and even though I could, I'm not going to ruthlessly tear it all apart just because in doing so it relies on the viewer going with all the ridiculously narrative convenience. Instead I'm going to believe it was all a deliberate play by Lemay to give the film that b-movie undertone that leaves the viewer smiling both uncomfortably, as well as from having a genuine good time. Definitely a lot better than expected, and definitely a lot better than the vast majority of the low (and many bigger) budget zombie films made in the mid-00s this is definitely worth a watch, 6/10.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead - review

2011 (Japan)

Contains spoilers.

I marked review #100 by turning to one of zombie cinemas more serious and reflective releases. The Serpent and the Rainbow based loosely on the real adventures of one Dr. Edmund Wade Davis, played with vodou and zombification both psychologically and symbolically; pitting western dogmas against Caribbean mysticism with neither coming out on top. It was dark, thought provoking, sumptuously put together and made a fitting choice.

Now the thing I've learnt about our undead friends and their portrayal ever since Béla Lugosi helped a wealthy plantation owner win the object of his affection, is the medium is also partial to the odd bit of farce and audaciously stupid. The very concept is in itself a binary opposition; a state of being, that is neither alive or dead, and the zombie myth, our primitive minds way to deal with the unsolvable dilemma it presents. Zombies are an irreconcilable anomaly; they provoke fear, unease and the reasons they make a great cinematic vehicle for horror are the same reasons they make a great vehicle for ridicule. I've never shied away from this fact; zombies are absurd, they are stupid and when I mention I review zombie films the looks I get are justified.

So what better way for review #150 than to shift one hundred and eighty and look at a film that's the pure embodiment of playing with, and ridiculing these aberrations of nature.

Just to emphasise how utterly, audaciously and ridiculous Noboru Iguchi's Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is, putting aside for one minute that you've already read the title, I'll describe the big final fight. Megumi (Arisa Nakamura) hurtling to the ground and her certain death has a last minute epiphany in the vision of her dead sister who took her life one year earlier for being unable to deal with the shame of farting in front of her bullying school mates. Surging with new vigour she soars back up above the Japanese forest canopy powered by her now never-ending fart-jet, with her small school girl breast exposed, to battle her camping companion Maki (Asana Mamoru) who after swallowing the queen of the Nekurogedoro parasites has mutated into a hideous flying monstrosity who's also carrying, a young knife wielding sociopath who has made a pact with the worms so that they'll keep her leukaemia in check. I'll add that the fight for the most part involves long anal worms flailing wildly at each other desperate to enter whatever orifices become available and I'll also add this isn't by the far the most ridiculous, or repugnant, or bat-shit crazy thing I'd had to sit through.

I'll cut to the chase. Is it just about the stupidest film I've ever seen? Without question. Is it misogynist? Yeah, probably, ok yes, definitely. Wildly inappropriate, even for a film with such dedicated scatological reverence? Yes, the two (yes) parasitic penis rape scenes make sure of it. Is it crass and at times painfully b-movie? Again, I've got to say yes recalling the paper-mache / zero budget queen Maki hybrid sfx (with emphasis on special). But did I enjoy myself? Oh YES…. Oh the shame… And whether Zombie Ass is for you ultimately comes down to whether you can even vaguely get behind the ideas I've mentioned so far; heck, even if you have, it will still test you.

Blood and guts are one thing and I'm now well-adjusted (don't confirm this with my wife) to deal with the day to day carnage that comes with the medium, but poo, that's something else. I won't mince words. Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is obsessed with bottoms and what comes out. From start to finish, whether it's excessive flatulence and its social impropriety, to ensuring we never forget out of which orifice the parasite worms are most likely to make an appearance, Zombie Ass is a vehicle for a non-stop barrage of rear-end focus, as if a giggling delinquent on the back of reading too much Viz had been let loose with a camera and way too much money. 

From their first appearance pulling their way up and out of a vile cesspit below a dilapidated outdoor toilet to grope and grapple Maki's naked bottom, the zombies are there to be repulsed by and laugh at. They're covered in excrement and surrounded by flies, they shuffle and jerk about painfully as if they're suffering chronic constipation and cramp; they throw poo, they fart excessively and they're gloriously excessive. By themselves they never come across as particularly dangerous, as is the Romero way, unless of course one gets oneself cornered by a group. The real danger, such as it is, comes from the parasites which control their hosts and the zombies second state; that of quick moving rear ended parasite protruding drill that resembles a bastardised wheeler from Return to Oz stuck in reverse.

Infection is spread by the Nekurogedoro parasites eggs, incubation is fast and the effects total and irreversible. To be fair quite a lot of work has been done to actually make the ludicrous narrative actually seem semi-coherent. Iguchi could easily have bypassed any kind of structured story given the premise but the film does actually try to keep on point, and it does flow with reasonably good pacing. Dialogue is deliberately hammy and the actors to an impeccable job given what they have to do / say. Also even though Iguchi is obsessed with bottom secretions he doesn't ignore blood and gore with plentiful quantities of both oozing, flowing and exploding at any given opportunity, making it quite a test for even the strongest of stomachs.

Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is the most audaciously daft and repulsive Japanese zombie film of its type I've yet seen even making the likes of Zombie Self Defence Force seem lucid and reasonable, and as such it's now firmly my favourite. Yes I know there's a totally unnecessary shower scene and having Megumi's dangerously close to age inappropriate breast in shot for the final ten minutes was wantonly gratuitous, but I felt Iguchi had actually behaved himself somewhat as none of these scenes were quite as exploitative as they could have been, and titillation obviously wasn't the main focus of the film. Then again perhaps I'm just getting used / immune to the fan service now with the ability to filter much of it out. Zombie Ass is a film I very much expected to hate and while I'll be the first to call it disgusting, vile and stupid, and certainly wouldn't show it to anyone who actually knew me, it's video nasty film making at its brazen finest, 8/10.