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.