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.