Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Junk - review

2000 (Japan)

Contains mild spoilers.

Put aside for one minute all the gnarly gut munching, gratuitous eye gouging and colourful brain rainbows, by far and away the biggest shock of the afternoon was looking down at the case some thirty minutes in and realising that Junk was in fact a film released in the noughties, and not as I was assuming the early eighties. At times a low budget Yakuza film with guns and goons, at times a painfully forced The Return of the Living Dead wannabe complete with chemical spills, a military cover up and a hell of lot of painfully bad decisions, and at its best a Fulci inspired video nasty; the one thing Atsushi Muroga's Junk never is, is refined or even vaguely contemporary. Honestly, whether it's the gangster posturing, the copious leather and denim, the sets and cars, or heck, the score and video presentation, everything screams Nightmare City, The Zombie Dead (Burial Ground) and Zombie Flesh Eaters; and certainly not 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead, both of which were released only a few years later. If we're kind we'll say Junk is deliberately old school; a somewhat kitsch hark back to when acting qualities and narrative sensibleness weren't quite so important as long as guts were spewing and dead people were really, really unpleasant.

A zombie munch in the first minute is always a good thing in my book and watching the topless Kyôko (Miwa) pull herself up from her peaceful permanent slumber, take one look at the scientists inquiring innocently as to how she felt and deciding she wanted a piece, was delightful. Skin gets ripped, blood spurts out and yes, the set is sparse, the acting even sparser but it's campy, fun and unashamedly in your face zombie. Yet it was all a tease; a glimmer of what we'd have to wait a lot longer for, as despite this no nonsense zombie start, it takes another thirty minutes for things to really get going again as Muroga has another film in his head too.

As much as the film does end up descending into exactly the European eighties video nasty nonsense we expected after the start, it also tries very hard to be a semi-serious Japanese gangster film with a Yakuza boss, a jewellery heist and a motley assortment of honourless goons who'd no sooner ask for your hand as stick it in a zombie's mouth. The robbery, the getaway, the boss and his goon-squad and young getaway driver Saki (Kaori Shimamura) and her attempts to buy her second hand dream car from a bafflingly superfluous used car salesman is all light, fun and entertaining in its own special way, it just drags on way too long for what's really just a narrative reason to get nine victims to the same abandoned remote factory.

It's entertaining when the world of the gangsters and zombies finally collide; it's just baffling so much attention was heaped on the one part of the zombie story that really didn't need much at all; especially given the brief part each of the characters was ultimately going to play once it kicked off. On top of all this Muroga also deemed it necessary to provide a western narrative and even a love story, that could sit over the chaos to present it all as reasonable, coherent and plausible but again like the gangster preamble it all ends up feeling a tad half hearted and redundant. I should reiterate that it's not all bad though as when focused on zombies and death Muroga gets it entertainingly right.

We have DNX, a highly experimental US funded drug which has brought Miwa back to life as an insatiable neck biter and flesh eater. We have the two doctors that administered the drug now bitten and turned into Romero tradition zombies too implying oral / viral transmission and a situation that could quite easily expand out of hand. Then to top it all off, in full on Return of the Living Dead tradition we have a bit of an industrial accident, a vial is spilled and the remaining corpses are up and joining in too.

There's a bit of a mix going on if we're honest; Kyôko it seems is actually quite intelligent and powerful, in a kind of possessed The Evil Dead / The Exorcist / Manga kind of way; those freshly bitten are blue tinted ponderous walkers straight out of Dawn of the Dead and the extras are a hideous bunch of foul fetid maggoty horrors that look like they've shuffled straight from filming Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead; which for reference, also concluded in a very similar looking industrial complex. One could nit-pick the non uniformity or design of it all, but it doesn't really matter. The zombies are fun, dark, dangerous and there's copious quantities of well-presented gore on display. The final superhuman Kyôko who survives a head shot, only to come back stronger with different colour hair doesn't make any sense at all but by now I'm starting to get used to Japan's need for a boss fight and it was at least captivatingly stupid.

Junk may be cheap but it is fun. The gangster and US military narratives are superfluous guff adding little to the trashy exploitative carnage that's the focus of the film but they're not actually offensive; and at a little over an hour and twenty minutes long I'm guessing Muroga needed some way to fill the time. It's daft, it's brash, there's some appalling English from some Japanese speakers and some painfully amateurish moments but you get the feeling Muroga knew all this and didn't really care. The mash of ideas and narratives never really gel yet in never firmly adopting any distinct identity, it kind of ends up getting one all of its own anyway and one can see how it got its name. A daft English / Japanese hybrid eighties throwback that's as entertaining as it is awful it's definitely worth a watch with a beer (or ten), 5/10.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Rabid - review

1977 (Canada)

Contains spoilers.

Like Shivers which arrived two years earlier, Rabid is another avant-garde science-fiction / horror written and directed by the now infamous David Cronenberg with partial funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, and another to play with body dysfunction and the breakdown of cognitive function. Like Shivers, there are doctors playing god with the human body without understanding possible psychological ramifications, there's a physical pathogen; this time an infection rather than parasite, and like Shivers whilst no victim ever actually dies before becoming the aggressor there's definitely enough loss of self, unquenchable hunger and neck biting for me to call zombie, albeit pseudo alive zombie.

The central idea, much like in Shivers, is on the surface laughably b-movie. Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is seriously injured in a motorbike accident with her boyfriend and is rescued by a nearby cosmetic surgery who decide as well as keeping her alive, it would also be in her best interests if they try an experimental morphogenetic graft to replace her fire damaged skin and organs. Of course this being Cronenberg things don't necessarily pan out as chief surgeon Dr. Dan Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) hopes, and whilst her body does accept the new tissue it doesn't just replicate what was there before but configures itself into an underarm orifice replete with phallic stinger that fills Rose with an irrational hunger for human flesh and blood.

If a beautiful quite often topless young girl with a blood thirsty parasitic phallic oxter (US: axilla) on the prowl wasn't enough for a good old fashioned horror film, Cronenberg embellishes proceedings further by having those she attacks not remember what took place and most notably, and hence the name of the film, having them infected by a virulent rabies virus that makes them want to join in the flesh and blood hunger games too. It's all a rather far-fetched and over engineered set up for what ultimately comes down to a zombie-esque outbreak but like Shivers with its parasitical sex leeches, Cronenberg manages to not just get the viewer to suspend disbelief but fully on board that the whole thing is plausibly terrifying.

Cronenberg is gifted with the remarkable ability to present the world and the ordinary as not only interesting and natural, but transient and hyper-real; like we're only glimpsing a part of a bigger picture and there's so much more between the cracks. Characters always feel like they have real depth and conversations / behaviour always intimates thoughtfully crafted motivation, though some may be alien or incomprehensible. The effect is to imbue the film with a natural esoteric complexity that's both captivating and disturbing, even putting aside angry armpit penises.

It's well documented now that I don't mandate actual physical deadness in my zombies so with that in mind I'm more than happy to label the rabies infected blood thirsty psychopaths that were unfortunately made by running across Rose as she went about her road trip as such. With frothing snarling mouths, insatiable hunger to hurt anyone in proximity and the apparent now total absence of any empathetic, compassioned or rational self that once occupied the body they're pretty nasty and dangerous crazies and undoubtedly an influence on Boyle's deranged cannibal psychopaths which came some twenty five years later. Rose is more vampire than zombie; her parasitical driver wills her to seek blood, and only human blood, to satiate its overwhelming hunger. She's zombie in so much as she seems unable to resist the hunger, but she's still vampire in still being very much her, with her memories, personality and feelings of guilt and regret.

For all that I enjoyed Rabid I still couldn't help feeling that it lost its way somewhat as the narrative wandered from an alien / Species / slasher to an apocalyptic pandemic in the moments of its inception. Both work as dark and disturbing ideas yet I'm not wholly sure both quite mesh together in as coherent and natural way as hoped. Very much of its time, this seventies horror is inventive, well-crafted with many iconic scenes, and an obvious influence on the zombie / infection craze which exploded. Whilst it doesn't quite hold together as well as Shivers it's still a gutsy, bloody not-dead zombie film that's never superficial or insulting despite a central premise that is quite audaciously daft, 6/10.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Zombie Hood - review

2013 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

Director / writer Steve Best certainly knows how to fashion an extremely good and stylish zombie cinematic experience. Full of tension, imbued with hopelessness and with arteries a plenty ready to be ripped open by well thought out, coherent believable gut munchers there's plenty to commend; especially given the extreme budget. I'm always ready to be somewhat lenient with amateur productions, especially those of a UK origin. For all the good acting performances there will always be times where someone, or some sequence will come across as less than convincing. Special effects need to be tempered somewhat and there's always the possibility that scenes that should really be cut end up being left in just because they were shot and there's no time for something else. Yes all this is applicable to Zombie Hood and no, it doesn't detract from what is an earnest attempt at a serious traditional zombie survival story; but, and it's unfortunately quite a big but, its main problem is not encompassing all the aforementioned zombie carnage in a good honest narrative.

It all starts well. Actually it all starts extremely well. Best is quite the cinematic artist and the myriad of distinct scenes that help set up the apocalypse are imaginative, stylish, shocking and constantly well put together. The crowded Nottingham nightclub makes an effective ground zero, though it reminded me somewhat of the opening sequence from Blade, and the no nonsense introduction of our undead friends is tenacious, vicious and commendable without excess dalliance. There's a great zombie attacking a girl in a bath scene, there's plenty of carnage and panic, lots of blood and guts and though I soon came to realise the survivors who were to be our main focus were going to be another deplorable set of morally deplete forgettables, as I watched them escape the city I was still enjoying myself.

Now I can understand with the world falling all around that running around like a headless chicken may be unavoidable, for a time, but really, that's all Best seems to be able to envisage the rag tag miscreant band are capable of once out of immediate danger and surrounded by trees. Whether it's Rik (Richard Lee O'Donnell) with his incessant need to goof about, make small talk and eat crisps, Sam (Tom Murton) the token bad boy gleeful in the groups misfortunes, or old Bill (Harry Keeling) and his ever ready bag of Werther's Originals, none of the group seem able to come up with any kind of plan other than to wander around in circles. The group stumble from car to pub to forest, to car, to forest, to car back to forest without I'm guessing much more of an idea why, than Best did when an hour into writing / film production he realised he needed another thirty minutes to fill. It's all a bit a shame really as he is an undoubted talent and when focused on what on what works; blood, gore, tension and its scene construction the film shines.

The white eyed, pale skinned, snarling death muchers of Zombie Hood are well crafted Romero / Boyle modern infected. A tag, you're it, you die, you come straight back up, and the person you once were is gone and you're ready to get started on your new cannibal way of unlife. There's some ambiguous insinuation that when freshly turned the dead are fast, almost Boyle 28 Days Later fast, and as the body adjusts to death they slow down to a Romero gait. It's a new idea and one I could get behind; but other than that, and the confidence / audacity / bad-taste to include a lot of children, it's really what we've come to expect. Best has done a great job with makeup, making sure the zombie extras behaviour is uniform and coherent, and what the film lacks in effects budget he more than makes up for with intelligent, highly stylised off camera, blurred and implied sequences that still pack a punch.

With only a purported seven thousand pounds to play with Best has worked wonders putting together an earnest somewhat convincing medley of ideas and scenes that works as a celebration of the modern zombie zeitgeist. The great start is let down with a pretty drab and meandering last two thirds but it never fully unravels, maintaining its semi-interesting survival sub-narrative. However without any attempt at fashioning a focused narrative spine and without any real character development to speak of, the film really just runs out of steam; its blistering sprint start ending with a rather limp and lifeless stumble way too early. Certainly above average, it's an amateur zombie endeavour well worth watching and supporting, and if it could only have sustained its heady take-off could have been right up there, 5/10.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Map of the Zombies

A bit over due this one. I was fortunate to come into contact with the extremely talented Jason Thompson of fame because of a very interesting kickstarter he was running to, in his own words, produce a 'vintage medical illustration-style poster identifying over 350 different zombie types from movies, books, games & more'.

He was very gracious to cite my little ol' blog here as an influence so how could I possibly not back it too.

Anyway, it came a few weeks ago, it really is as awesome as it sounds and in the end included a good deal more than the 350.

It'll be framed by the time you read this and it's well worth any zombie aficionado's pennies.

You can get one at Mock Man Press.


Monday, 14 April 2014

FleshEater (Revenge of the Living Zombies / Zombie Nosh) - review

1998 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I've got to begin this review with a confession. You see, I really enjoyed FleshEater, though I know, deep down I shouldn't have. It's amateurish lazy film making, badly edited with campy b-movie acting and dialogue. It's embarrassingly exploitative, delighting in baring the young titties of every girl on cast at every opportunity. It's also painfully derivative with director / producer / writer and chief ghoul Bill Hinzman happy to brazenly steal narrative and genre staples from all and sundry but mainly the film that gained him his notoriety in the first place. It's a bad film with little to objectively praise it except… and here it is; it's a hoot from start to finish. It's constantly entertaining, there's plenty of gore and blood and seeing cute young things bare themselves is never dull however uncomfortable one feels it should be. FleshEater is another of these zombie bad-good film that you can't but help smile along to.

Bill Hinzman is the eponymous zombie that depending on how you look at it kind of started the whole thing off. His macabre shuffling towards Barbra in 1968 devoid of the influence of voodoo, master or divine power marked a change in direction that came to have not only a profound influence on the genre, but possibly the whole modern zeitgeist. Now one could argue that Romero's creation was inevitable with society hurtling from religion and superstition towards a world of science and objectivism, and Matheson amongst others with I Am Legend had already challenged the entwined notion that undead should be linked with mysticism, but it was Bill Hinzman, flesheater with his autonomous hunger and primal drive that firmly planted the flag.

It was with all this in mind, that an eyebrow was raised when his black suited ghoulish frame was introduced to the screen with the breaking of an ancient magical seal and a warning not to. Still, with the cast of young amateur and extremely unlikable misfit kids out on a Halloween hayride to drink, cavort and obviously die it was obvious I really wasn't supposed to be taking it all that seriously. The film almost plays out as one would expect. Teenagers do what teenagers do, Flesheater does what a flesheater would and before you know it half the kids are dead and back up staggering about and the few little brats that survived are running about and screaming for their lives. It's lively, the blood and gore is gratuitous and if you're not over critical, the acting and dialogue, whilst hokey is quite agreeable. 

It almost plays out as one would expect but Hinzman obviously has ambition, or at least delusions of. Thinking I was watching a zombie Friday The 13th wannabe it soon turns into Night of the Living Dead with the group holding out in a nearby deserted farm house complete with nails, hammer and wooden boards (ridiculously close to hand) and all the same interpersonal conflict and fisticuffs. The transition wasn't smooth if I'm honest but it's low budget and Hinzman is at least trying. There's also another scene with more miscreant kids having a Halloween party in a barn, and a totally gratuitous and unnecessary (though this could be debated) urban house shower sequence. It jumps around and there's no real rhyme or reason to any of it, as if each scene was penned before they had any idea how they would stitch it together; but it's lively and fun, and as a series of camp entertaining gory death rooms it achieves its goal with aplomb.

Never really able to shake the tall gangly non-descript role he only received for being a camera man in the right place, at the right time, with the right old suit, Hinzman died in 2012 with Night of the Living Dead, a few other b-movie parts and this plus one other feature film as director to his name. Here, aged 52 he struts about chasing and chomping with vigour and panache; like a man who understands how to play a zombie, yet while he's never dull to watch, I couldn't help but feel a little sorrow, that after all this time here he still was staggering about snarling with his arms out stretched in a rough b-movie as if he could never escape the undead road Romero started him on. Still, in some ways I'm glad he is, as sure, the film is a bit of a confusing mess throwing ideas around, and baring boobs, like an angry teenager, but it's light, lively and trashy, in an enthralling and hilarious way, and it's all down to Bill. A masterfully bad great zombie film, 6/10.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Resident Evil: Degeneration - review

2008 (Japan)

Contains mild spoilers.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Sony's CG animation departure from the increasingly over the top on screen antics brought to the big screen by Paul W.S. Anderson. If anything being a return to the franchise's video game roots Sony should be applauded. It's no longer the Milla Jovovich show instead going back to a time of feisty and moody young heroes battling geopolitical greed and corruption and trying to protect a world from big baddies with some really nasty biochemical goodies. I've read the film is ultimately fan service, written for those invested in the deep convoluted story arcs and quiet suppressed sexual tensions; Resident Evil 4.5 without the game-play. Now I've played through RE4, 5 and 6 and respect the film for playing out as an elongated cut scene, but this is ultimately the heart of the film's problems too.

The thing about video game cut scenes is they're intrinsically, and I may be opening myself up for some heat here, boring. Good cut scene design is to keep it brief and to use them as extremely satisfying rewards and momentary respite for completing a particular intense sequence of game play. You make it through the airport finally scurrying outside to be rescued just before the zombies catch up; cut scene of shooting guns, the survivors hugging one another, a bit of exposition to set up the next chapter, then back to shooting zombies in the head. The problem here is the interspersed interactive game play between each cut scene is more cut scene. There's still the 'BIG' dramatic cut scenes but the action in between that you feel you should be playing is played out for you. It's not you running to the doors, it's you watching someone else running towards the doors. And there's a problem with this.

I wanted to like Resident Evil: Degeneration, it played with some nice ideas, the action scenes were entertaining, the dialogue pretty crisp and coherent, the voice acting good and the animation competent; it's just whatever I tried, namely coffee, opening all the curtains, opening a second screen on my lap with saucy pictures of Milla on, I just couldn't keep my eyes open. I'll freely admit that it probably didn't help that I'm not au fait with the full RE mythology, having not played 1-3 and if I'm honest I didn't pay too much attention to the cut scenes and story of 4,5 and 6, and as such maybe the film just isn't for me. 

Putting aside the question as to whether Resident Evil: Degeneration is deserving of automatic praise because it stays true to its origins against Anderson's bastardisation, my main problem with it is that the story is incredibly bland and tiresome. Derivative narratives can work to a certain extent in video games because they're not the main focus. For most action titles the story is there to enable some amazing fire fights and set pieces; take it out and critique it in any serious way and most likely it'll all fall apart. With some pretty uninspiring whingey characters, cookie-cutter villains and weary locations there's never any moments to really get excited about and even the final boss fight, which lasts a good half of the film never gets the heart racing, which is a shame as there's not an awful lot wrong with the presentation.

After the constant drive from Anderson to move away from telling anything resembling a good old zombie survival story there's a lot commend in director Makoto Kamiya's decision to focus on a small group of survivors versus a plane load of t-virus traditional zombies, at least for the first half of the film anyway. The action also comes thick and fast as snarling, blood thirsty, ambling undead ankle biters demonstrate how easily they can replicate given a good food source. There's a bit too much deliberate and obvious visual exposition to teach us how zombies work (head shots, biting, they're not human, alive or nice); I mean c'mon it's 2008, but at least they do stick to the rules. As said with the second half and the introduction of the g-virus RE does what RE does and goes a bit manga and implausibly excessive. It's just even with buildings exploding, rockets being fired and people being batted about like paper balls it was just hard to get too excited about the whole thing, though I think I know why.

Watching someone else play a video game is generally quite a dull experience, especially when the danger that they might actually do something wrong or die has also been removed. Add to this a story that's safe, derivative and really feels like it's dragging the whole thing out to come in longer, and you end up with a film that's wholly flat; competent yes, but incredibly dull. As said, and reading the many positive reviews this has got, I can see an appeal, to some, of a fairly safe resident evil fan film that doesn't deviate too far from what is required; yet to the rest of us and as a film in its own right, zzzzzzzzz, 4/10.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Plan 9 From Outer Space - review

1959 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space comes with such a weight of nostalgia / infamy / reputation and anti-hype to really be above objective criticism. There's no doubting it's a bad film; a truly awful cinematic experience that deservedly languished in obscurity for two decades before being thrown once more into the limelight in 1980 when Michael Medved and Harry Medved happened to champion it as the worse film ever made. Overnight its mediocrity became something to celebrate and it became more than just a film, more than the sum of its parts; and possibly forever un-reviewable in any normative way.

As the subject of in-depth cinematic analysis, and even a fantastic film directed by Tim Burton, I can only repeat what a thousand other reviewers have said. The acting, the dialogue, the special effects, the story, the way in which it's all so haphazardly thrown together in the most amateurish and insulting to the viewer manner it's easily, as a film, as bad as made out. Yet as an entertaining spectacle to watch with friends these very qualities make it highly watch-able and dare I say it, delightfully light and somewhat self-satirical. Whether consciously, subconsciously or most likely neither, Ed Wood has somehow fashioned a parody of all things 1950s sci-fi, Mccarthyism and b-movie and it's genuinely hard to believe he and all those involved didn't know precisely what they were doing and weren't in on the joke.

Some very human looking aliens who travel the cosmos in awkward looking spinning silver saucers have focused their attention on us Earth folk believing they need to interfere in our affairs before we harness the power of sunlight and create doomsday weaponry that could destroy the entire universe. Having being spurned by Earth authorities (I'm guessing 8 times) their Ruler (John Breckinridge) has agreed to Plan 9; a last ditch and somewhat slightly more aggressive approach that entails resurrecting the Earth's dead and having them march on the worlds capitals.

There are three zombies. The first, in the credits as Vampire Girl Vampira, (Maila Nurmi) is a long nailed Elvira-esque goth. The second, her grieving, much older husband who passed away a day later, is both the same repeated stock footage of Bela Legosi (taken from some filming he'd done three years earlier on a different project) or Tom Mason, who was uncredited and spends the entire film with a black cape draped across his face. The third, and most interesting where we're concerned is the late Inspector Dan Clay (Tor Johnson), a towering brute of a man who stomps and staggers around, arms out stretched, eyes vacant with all the hallmarks of the voodoo zombies of stage and screen from the previous forty years, yet a full five before Richard Matheson removed religion from the pot. Before I give Ed Wood too much credit in the zombie story though, in truth it's perhaps more Frankenstein, than instinctual, soul-depleted Romero gut munchers. Still, credit where credit is due; there is a whack to the head at one point and while they are under ray gun control (which is never really explained) there is a moment the gun fails and the zombie, just for a moment does act a bit dangerously out of control.

The epitome of bad b-movie film making. A paranoid rambling incoherent shambles of a film it's watchable precisely because one is always fascinated by the car-crash. As a film it's utter garbage, a 1/10, yet as an experience it's highly agreeable and worthy of 7 or 8/10. Part of the zombie story? Undoubtedly and perhaps not given as much credit as it's due. Final thoughts? Bafflingly brilliant, captivatingly bonkers and cinematically special, Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad film but perhaps not the worst I've reviewed. Put up against such drivel as KFZ or many of the Asylum's attempts it's at least earnest, honest and most importantly entertaining. Ed Wood was hack but he was keen and invested in what he was doing, and people are still watching his films some sixty years on which I'll wager we won't be doing in their case. "Future events such as these will affect you in the future", indeed; 8/10.

I actually watched a restored HD and colourised version of this film which I'm not sure was necessarily the best way to fully immerse myself. Still, it was clean, crisp and didn't look as dated as it is. I'll note, the Blu-ray is region free too.