Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Dead 2: India - review

2013 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

The Ford brothers, Howard J. and Jon, have a lot to be proud of with this sequel to their ambitious 2010 African zombie romp. Sumptuous cinematography, confident production and acting, a gritty, serious Romero-esque narrative and effective gore and effects; there's a very good, and earnest zombie film here, acknowledging budgetary constraints of course. Things start really well too; a polished intro sequence bathes us in the extraordinary colour and culture of this mystical South Eastern country juxtaposing shots that show the deep divisions and extreme poverty it also faces. There's a delightful score by Imran Ahmad, some nifty camera work and a seamless transfer from the first film as we learn Africa is now overrun, and the zombie virus may have reached Indian shores. It's nigh on perfect.

Nicholas Burton (Joseph Millson), an American electrical engineer is weeks from completing his wind turbine contract. Five hours from Mumbai and the new love of his life, Ishani Sharma (Meenu Mishra) he's a hundred or so metres up in the air, finishing his job for the day, when he decides to call her. Now most zombie films believe in build up; yes, some can readily be accused of dragging the whole pre-apocalypse thing out but it's generally accepted that there would be more than a few minutes between a guy stumbling off a cargo ship with a nasty bite, and vast swatches of the rural population staggering around looking for people to eat. Unless I've missed something of course, but I don't think there's an Omni-present malevolent being or ancient evil, what with the total reliance and implication it's all down to an infection spread through biting. The Dead suffered the same problems. Great set-up, stunning cinematography, etc, but some choice decisions that just lessened its credibility and left immersion wanting.

Romero championed the idea of zombies as a relentless tide, and peoples inevitable and eventual succumbing to it. Zombies were slow, they were in individually ineffectual, their strength coming from their number and persistence. Whilst the Ford brothers have perfectly captured the relentless threat, with Nicholas and companion constantly on edge and weary from the onslaught, I'm yet again faced with feelings of incredulity. It's one thing to have an ever increasing horde approach a large American mall, it's another to have a dozen or so undead, magically appear in deepest rural India, even if I'm reminded that it is the second most populous country in the world. I noted with the first film that the Ford's only run two states, set-upon and nearly set-upon. Where ever they are, whatever they're doing, whether they're on their own, when they get there, it's guaranteed the moment they sit down a zombie will appear in shot. I'd like to say again, there's some external force drawing the undead to the living, and it certainly feels that way, but I'm starting to think it might just an anxiety that should there be five minutes without some zombie action it'll be called boring or lazy film making to ensure a reason for the heroes to move on to the next scene. If The Dead 3: was on the Moon I wouldn't be surprised if Ford brothers managed to see it running amok with gut munchers.

It's a road movie to get to the one he loves, and moving, from scene to scene, location to location, is what the film ultimately is all about. On the way he picks up a companion, the young Anand Krishna Goyal as Javed, he rescues people, he shoots people, he kills a lot of zombies, he hears stories, has dreams and it's good stuff; interesting, eventful and well-shot but one can't shake off the feeling it's all mostly superfluous. For all that happens nothing really does; the journey is kind of inevitable because he has to keep moving, the deeper plot turns don't quite have the impact you feel they ought to, and the constant imminent threat dissipates as you realise Nicholas has become impervious to all attempted zombie attacks.

Nicholas, who reminded me of Chris Redfield by the end is the luckiest man alive. If it was you or I close to but one dead-eyed zombie there would be but one outcome. Nicholas? Doesn't' matter how many have gotten as close as to have their grubby mitts on him, he'll be able to shrug them off. I understand the hero has to survive but some of his encounters, when side-by-side with the periphery free-for-all are downright condescending; though I guess having a limitless-ammo gun helps, despite several earlier narrative plays that ammo is a scarce resource. The main reason he needs these hero status survival skills though may well be because of his immense lack of luck with that rarest of commodity in the zombie apocalypse, a motorised vehicle that works. Whether they meant it to become a comedic theme, whether it was the gyro-copter crash, the bike being stolen, the car falling off a cliff, or his five second late arrival at the rescue 'copter headed exactly where he wanted to go, I started to look forward to his next plane, train or automobile moment.

Look; nit-picking aside, The Dead 2: India is a sumptuous visual treat with great acting, and is a good zombie film. Whilst I'll level the same complaints to this as the last, I'll also promote all that is good with the film. It's sincere, it's realistic with its goals and it's entirely competent, and a big step above a lot of serious low budget zombie endeavours. A respectful good old fashioned Romero inspired zombie story - 6/10.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Gangsters, Guns & Zombies - review

2012 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

I'm not really sure what director and writer (along with Taliesyn Mitchell) Matt Mitchell was going for with this low budget Reservoir Dogs meets the undead shindig. It's not funny, it's not scary, the little action there is half-hearted and never satisfying; and inherently dislikeable, obnoxious, one dimensional caricatures don't generally make for a good character drama, which is what, if I'm forced to say, I think best describes it. It's also another good cover and title, and yet more deceit to win over the TWD generation; though 'six tedious men drive round for an hour talking shit' I guess wouldn't have sold as many copies.

Boom! They've robbed a bank, one guy has been shot and they're making their escape across London. Boom! It's the undead apocalypse; zombie hordes roam the streets; society is collapsing and hell has come to Earth. Boom? All the five remaining east-end goons can do is whitter on about shiny shoes, the sat-nav and getting to the safe house with their ill-gotten gains, with scant regard for the zombies knocking at their window. Maybe they were as bored with the laboured, stifled and awkward dialogue and banter as we ultimately got to be, but the set-up for more than just a drawn out road movie is there.

There is a big zombie problem and Mitchell goes to great lengths to ensure both we know, and that we know that they know. Whether the dry radio exposition, always perfectly timed, or highly contrived, tortured and entirely superfluous zombie shorts, that include clowns, a bride and groom, medieval knights, kids or amateur football team, that accompany the van on its meander; the larger apocalypse is restated over and over. This is it; end of the world stuff and yet it's all such a tedious and seemingly inconsequential affair and not worthy of much more than cursory recognition; there's the group in the van, and the world outside, and trivial interaction. Even the road offer no resistance, what with everyone else conveniently deciding to stay indoors.

Dare I say it, the film does pick up after an hour or so when the confines of the van are finally ditched and half the cast is replaced by a girl and her gun toting grandmother. It's also saying a lot, that this alone managed to breathe some life into the soulless mish-mash of half-hearted ideas that constituted a narrative. That there's actually some chemistry between the final four only demonstrates just how bad it was before the cull; and just how baffling Mitchell et al. didn't pick up on it earlier and radically alter things.

It's the derivative zombie outbreak painfully clarified and explained. Blood, bites, brains, head-shots, a virus with the sprinkle of something darker. It's 2012 too so expect fast 28 Days Later zombies, snarling and ready to bite with their five second made-up red smeared mouths. The extras do as good as job as one would probably expect though there's always the one, you know, the one with his hands in his pockets off to the side, or the one who looks briefly at the camera, or the one that's just not as in to it as the rest, and they do distract. There's also, as budget probably dictated, quite a lot of off-screen slaughter with thrown in blood and crunching sounds offered more in hope than belief.

Gangster, Guns & Zombies just never gets going. A lethargic ponderous little drama, with odious caricatures and forced dialogue it's a film that is truly hard to recommend. Whilst there are little moments that shine, they're so sporadic and so short-changed they're engulfed by the large swathes of monotonous filler that dominates. When all is said and done, all one will remember Gangster, Guns & fucking Zombies for is the rampant use of foul language, presumably because there's a belief all cockneys treat expletives as mandatory adverbs, and because, for an hour and a half, absolutely nothing happens. Go watch Cockneys vs Zombies instead - 3/10


Saturday, 5 December 2015

Zombie Driller Killer (Dark Souls) - review

2010 (Norway / France)

Contains spoilers.

The 2010 Norwegian film Dark Souls, subsequently re-released as Zombie Driller Killer no doubt to take advantage of new tidal wave of zombie affection, is a dark, macabre, brooding tight little budget horror competently made and acted with some delightful little scenes. It's also a rather hard one to review for as much as I respect what director and writers César Ducasse, Mathieu Peteul have put together it really does fail to hold up to any serious scrutiny in any way, with a narrative full of suspect decisions, and an explanation and ending that unravels just when it should be delivering.

I feel some clarity is needed. The driller killers(s - as we later discover) are a group of orange jump-suit Jason wannabes that have set siege to Oslo; jumping unsuspecting passers-by, drilling into their skulls and implanting something that leaves them, albeit after a small period of deadness, vegetative black bile spewing degenerates. These zombies of the piece are for the vast majority exactly this. Sickly with epileptic seizures, neurological disorientation and fast growing cancerous metastasis that's spreading through their central nervous system; the only dangers they present is someone slipping on their spewed bile or tripping over them as they lay lifeless and in the way.

There's none of the usual biting, chasing or gut ripping; the protagonist of the film is the driller killer and he's real, alive and a tangible target for both police and wannabe super sleuth. Johanna Ravn (Johanna Gustavsson) is victim number one and her gruesome (though off camera) end sets the narrative on its way not only for her sub-story focus that sees her slow macabre transformation, but also for her father, Morten Ravn (Morten Rudå), old and portly, single father, music teacher and unlikely hero of the hour. Not only faced with twenty-four hour care of a vegetative daughter who is constantly oozing black bile, he has also decided to take it upon himself to investigate the ever increasing number of attacks and track down the culprit.

There's a patch some one hour in, a five minute interruption where the vegetative rise from their beds and set upon the living, and it's good; I mean really good with tension, horror and an eerie unnatural atmosphere that Fulci would be proud of. Yet that's it. The first hour is the double investigative story, on Johanna and by Morten, and even the final twenty minutes when one thinks, with the zombies out of the closet so to speak, things are likely to get undead and spicy, it again slides back to Morten just running about an industrial factory from semi-zombie henchmen armed all armed with varyingly sized drills; obviously compensating for something. All this build up isn't bad per se; it's a tad meandering but fairly interesting in an x-files investigative drama kind of way. The problem is one of believability and I just never truly bought into the podgy cello teacher as entrepreneurial investigator, never mind swashbuckling hero. And it's not the only inconsistency I found in the story; from a random homeless man happening to know the origin story for the whole oil-based zombie death cult, Morten happening across the driller killers' lair, or the fact that despite the whole city being on lock-down because orange jump suit mask wearing maniacs were drilling all indiscriminately, they were able and quite happy to drive around in broad daylight without garnering any attention. Oh, and we're also supposed to buy into a totally incompetent police force… okay, this one's not so hard.

The driller killers are kind of zombies too though they're more chosen tier one zombies, and not the fetid oil oozing mindless tier two drones that make up their victims. All identically donned, they might be unselective in who they attack, but they're very focused on how. Under orders, control or necessity they jump a victim, drill into the cranium, suck something out then push something in, all for the 'old man' (Gustav-Adolf Hegh) who lives atop the factory rewarding them for their work with a sip of the old black stuff. The origin story, which we learn, conveniently from a chance encounter, is one of a deep oil well and drill (spot the clever parallel) and a mysterious evil let into the world, but beyond this I'll be fucked if I know what's going on. What they're extracting from people, what are they putting back in, why they're doing it, who the 'old man' really is and what his motives are? It's some ancient evil, something to do with hydrocarbons, life and oil and I think the total subjugation of mankind.

An interesting hour and a half, and whilst not convinced at all by zombie driller killer I've certainly had less celluloid fun. The investigative pacing was intriguing and Johanna's degenerative journey enthralling. Some choice decisions aside, introducing the zombies earlier, then seeing through their promise and I think Ducasse and Peteul could have produced that most rare of undead beasts, a budget zombie film that's interesting, original and intelligent. As it is though, zombie driller killer just makes too many wrong turns to off-set all it does get right - 5/10.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

[REC]⁴ Apocalypse - review

2014 (Spain)

Contains spoilers.

So the sequel we've all been waiting for? Back to tight and claustrophobic, to demonic ravenous inhuman zombies, to intense jumps and scares, and to Director Jaume Balagueró, and Manuela Velasco reprieving her central role as investigative reporter, sole survivor, eye candy and where we left her, newly appointed harbinger of death and disease to all of mankind Ángela Vidal. But what about [REC]³? There's no blatant pretence that it didn't happen; there's definite reference to Paco Plaza's slightly lighter, more flippant and expansive wedding shenanigans, but we're under no illusion that back with Balagueró, it's directly back to [REC] and [REC]² both in storyline and a more serious and sombre tone and demeanour.

I personally liked [REC]³. Ok, it was definitely quite the departure from its predecessors and by trying to be a bit more adventurous and accessible, dallying with humour and romance, it certainly lost that aura of stupefying dread and unnatural trepidation that the series had cemented as its own. Yet we can't forget that after the rather weary and formulaic [REC]² the series was in serious danger of falling down to staleness before it had even stretched its legs, and at least [REC]³ injected a shot of adrenalin. [REC]⁴ is back to the formula; the quarantined Barcelona apartment block is now a cranky old tanker far out to sea, the situation the crew find themselves in, full of questions and uncertainty, and once the maelstrom hits, both literally and metaphorically, things descend once again and very quickly to jumps, scares and lots of brutal carnage and dying.

The third person camera has quietly and without fuss, been retained from [REC]³, with no attempt to try and force a narrative that dictates a camera should be kept rolling under the most bewildering of circumstances. [REC]² ended with Ángela receiving the Medeiros slug unbeknown to her SWAT team rescuers, and [REC]⁴ follows straight from this with her transfer to the isolated remote tanker to be prodded and probed by a medical team lead by Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé). Whilst there's nothing too original to the breakout and slide into pandemonium story on offer, Balagueró does manage to recapture that original [REC] mood and tone. The narrative too, flows coherently providing that all important immersive foundation that allows for the intense cat and mouse chases, the desperate backed into the corner fights and frantic decision making, to be exploited with conviction and investment.

The zombies of [REC] don't hold back. Frenetic, vicious, hungry, they're the definition of dangerous. A bite, or ingestion of contaminated flesh and the transition from healthy human to blood crazed maniac is total and quick. They're fast too; 28 Days Later fast, with none of that Romero or The Walking Dead slowness, ponderous or weakness. It doesn't take a horde to present a real problem, just the one, and if not ready with an automatic weapon and a few mates, I'd say the odds of meeting one's grizzly gut ripping end is all but certain. There also seems to be more emphasis on infection, the parasite, death and dare I say it more traditional zombie story, than the religious and ambiguously supernatural preoccupation of the previous outings, and this does somewhat serve to lessen the foreboding atmosphere. The objective is still horror and it still all works, but it's all rather action-horror than unnatural horror-horror, and it's a little bit of a shame. The slimy Medeiros Wrath of Kahn ear-slug alike, just isn't quite up there with eerie, shadowy, spindly and utterly other-worldly Medeiros girl, and the zombies too, are always now kind of where they ought to be, or where they were left, rather than popping up discordantly.

It is a return to the original, it is still a well fashioned roller coaster ride of terror, and yes it's clear the director and team have learnt a lot over the years with a feature richer and more polished. Yet possibly this extra shine; the clearer, less ambiguous narrative and traditional third person [REC]³ camera work, has all somewhat helped to take that something away that made the first truly and astoundingly edgy, and unnerving. [REC] embodied shock and unpredictability and [REC]⁴ is perhaps just that bit too safe; too obvious. It's also all rather disappointing as a conclusion to the enthralling and baffling four part escapade, neither providing any real or satisfying answers, nor any ambiguous or jaw dropping nuke to ponder; the final five minutes rather a damp squib than an edifying bowing out. All this aside, [REC]⁴ is a great zombie horror film, with suspenseful and shocking scenes, some great zombie carnage and pulse pounding action; I just can't help but come away feeling a little short-changed - 7/10.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Zombieworld - review

(2015 Anthology with some original content)

2010 - 2013 (USA / Spain / UK / Canada / Australia)

Not a movie, but a collection of varied quality 2010 - 2013 zombie shorts mashed together by a rather strained news-reader narrative. Presented by Dread Central these 11 short films have nothing in common other than their gut munching brothers and sisters, so some credit should be given that there's something to tie them together at all. Also Bill Oberst Jr. as Marvin Gloatt does a half reasonable job portraying a reporter deteriorating to a zombie bite with a script almost always lacklustre and overreaching.

I've reviewed each film separately. Some are good, some are bad, most are average. As an overall product I feel hard pushed to recommend it as the great shorts can be found independently and other than Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz's audaciously excessive duo Fist of Jesus and Brutal Relax I doubt any would be watched a second time. Still promoting amateur zombie film making is something I feel should be rewarding so I'll be kind - 5/10.


Shorts in order shown: 

Dark Times

2010 (USA) 5 mins

Rather formulaic first person shakey cam short that leaves the viewer scratching his or her head. Why were so many people near the power plant that late at night? Why doesn't he stop filming? Why is there a guy dressed as Father Christmas and why when he's a zombie does he spit his food out rather than consume it? (Ok I'm being facetious as we know the actor just didn't want any of the gut-a-likes in his mouth.)

These cohesive wrangles aside Dark Times is a reasonably competently put together little bit of apocalyptic carnage that just tries too hard to not only stop and think (see above), but too hard to cast off the derivative accusation it surely wears. I can understand writer / director's Peter Horn and Jared Marshall's fear and could even get behind some of the genre-play, especially the first person transformation, casting aside its, again, disjointed feel, but by the finale it felt they'd given up any desire to remain cohesive or consistent at all, and it suffered for it - 4/10.

Fist of Jesus

2012 (Spain) 15 mins

Okay, where to begin with the silly little gem. Blasphemous? Most definitely, though with tongue firmly in cheek and no real desire to offend ala Monty Python etc. Excessive? Off the chart with perhaps only their previous gore-fest Brutal Relax or Dead Alive (Brain Dead) coming close. Yes it's also prosthetic madness but with such little regard to reign things in, whether it's spinal cords beings ripped out or heads being popped, the comic anti-realism just adds to the insanity. Finally, any good? Yes, it's quite the riotous ride, though perhaps it does actually go on a tad too long allowing me to finally apply the phrase gore-bore; after thinking it up years ago. Another Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz must watch, but for all the wrong reasons - 7/10.

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

2010 (USA) 23 mins

Over-all a highly stylised pop-culture bit of zombie fun that manages to blend story and comical narrated instructional video cohesively and engagingly. Split into segments, something Zombieworld takes advantage of to spread it across its presentation, some are distinctly better than others and sometimes the humour misses the mark, but overall it's a highly engaging little romp. There's a play with genres from people who obviously understand post-zombie cinema and it's a recommended throwaway bit of fun - 6/10.

I am Lonely

2011 (UK) 8 Mins

A brief flirt with action quickly turns into a six minute mildly amusing, utterly throw-away one-man ramble. Chris (Matt Prendergast) spills out the annoying diatribe of self-obsessed irreverent nonsense to his dying house mate and whilst I can respect what they were trying to do it's just not all particularly funny. A tight little play; it's not bad in what it's doing; I'm just not sure why anyone would have done it in the first place - 3/10.

Dead Stop

2011 (USA) 5 mins

A great little ground zero short. Tense, gripping and dark, this to the point zombie footage-cam flit fits a lot into five minutes, even managing a pervasive hint at a larger problem. Very good and would love to have seen something bigger from director Tommy Woodard, who went on to become location manager on such series as Fear the Walking Dead, 8/10.


2010 (Australia) 12 mins

A short survivalist film playing with isolation, loss and grief in the Australian Post-Apocalyptic outback. Jaimie McDowell staggers lost and confused mourning the loss of her would be husband between one gut muncher and another fully occupying the empty barren tundra. An average composition if we're honest, that even manages to drag out a bit. Moody, indulgent, and a bit up its own behind, it's still tight, well performed and shot - 4/10.

Dead Rush

2013 (Canada) c. 12 mins

A mixed bag shaky cam short from Director Zach Ramelan. Full of energy it's a wild little zombie survivor chase that's interesting and engaging yet entirely throwaway. There's a nice little twist at the end but for the most part it feels like a cheap thrown together / made up as it's going along student project, with mates acting as a favour rather than a calling - 4/10.


2010 (USA) 2 mins

A one gag throwaway short; but one that actually works. An idea played with in Demons 2, though reversed here; but we'll let it go, as it's so well put together, brutal, straight to the point, and delivers. A delight - 8/10.


2012 (USA) 9 mins

A delightful and charming rural 1950's zombie tale in the Creepshow / Tales from the Crypt vibe. It's postman Frank Nuttell's (Thomas Garner) first day on the job and he's soon intently embroiled in the sad tale of a young girls lost father and brother to a mining accident, and a mothers forlorn denial. Writer / director Luke Guidici's little yarn works, is well performed and delivers a great punch line which I won't spoil - 8/10.

Brutal Relax

2010 (Spain) 15 mins

Another truly eccentric zombie silly from Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz. A silly a show-case for excessive violence, it's audaciously over the top and really if we're all honest, just an excuse to fit as much gut ripping, bone splintering, head exploding and blood spilling nonsense into fifteen minutes as possible. Also if we're honest, I'm only reviewing this as it appeared on Zombieworld as I don't think the sea-lizard-creatures from the black lagoon are actually remotely zombie. Still, it's breath-taking relentless fun, and doesn't quite get as gore-tedious as their subsequent Fist of Jesus; also José María Angorrilla provides a lead role performance I'll never forget - 8/10.

Marathon Apocalypse

2013 (Canada) 2 mins

Entirely throwaway short zombie chase, followed by nice clean CG narrated zombie global pandemic intro video. A promotional video for the Montreal zombie run event, it did its job, but is entirely too lightweight as an entity in its own right to really pass any kind of meaningful judgement; still, it is quite a nice atmospheric 30 second chase - 4/10.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Dead and Deader - review

2006 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Shh, don't tell anyone, but I quite liked debut director Patrick Dinhut's direct to TV (Sci Fi Channel) schmaltzy little zombie shenanigans. Light, funny and throwaway; it's pleasant hour and a half of albeit formulaic zombie frivolities, comradeship and bloody scrapes. Directorial confidence provides an abundance of rather satisfying old school non-CGI blood, gore and action to compliment the whimsical buddy story, and it's a film I find it rather hard to be too critical of. 

For this zombie story we're talking Cambodia, a sceptical military, an evil scientist and parasitical scorpions that render a person dead but reanimated and hungry for flesh and it's all as implausible and absurd as a) you'd expect and b) you'd want.  Later in the film there's mention of a virus, radiation isotopes, and nonsensical unnecessary exposition, but it's got all the hallmarks of a daft seventies or eighties zombie horror where sense is always secondary to set piece action or gag.

Lt. Bobby Quinn (Dean Cain), hero, action-man wakes to a scalpel and buzz-saw, moments away from his own autopsy at the hands of, amongst others the inimitable John Billingsley playing Doctor Langdon. Without too much fan-fair they all conclude that while no mistake has been made, and Quinn is actually physically dead, with no pulse, pupil dilation, vital signs, he does still possess higher brain and cognitive function and perhaps he should spend some time in quarantine. He appears reasonably rational, ethical and concerned with not only finding some answers but the marines he died alongside, not just out of brotherly concern but because his new spidie- aka zombie-sense is tingling as to their whereabouts. Alas though, it would seem fate has not been as generous, as finding the first of his contingent in a room nearby engaged in an orgy of blood and violence it becomes apparent that he's alone in not wanting the never-ending feast of human flesh, and his rescue mission may have turned into one of seek and destroy.

Dead and Deader is more action and comedy than horror. While there are some quite tense scenes, especially later in the film, the narrative in general spins from one stylish set location blood bath to the next with the between time given to churlish humour, excessive pop-culture dialogue and dissemination, and a smattering of romance between Quinn and bartender cum film-geek cum kick-ass Holly (Susan Ward). Private Judson (Guy Torry) is provided to bring some innocent and naïve humour and distraction, in a manner reminiscent of the token black guys of 1940s horror, like Mantan Moreland; and though I'm not going to go as far as talk about racial stereotyping, the fact I'm able to make this comparison speaks. And while it's all rather predictable and unoriginal, the pacing is good, the performances from the main three are warming and engaging and each actual moment of conflict is gritty and satisfying, as said partly because of Dinhut's decision to use prosthetics and models rather than sending it all to a budget animation studio to smother things with artificiality.

We do eventually have it explained (at length) why Quinn alone possesses the cognitive reasoning to not eat his companions. The scorpions you see, are really 'jindu' scorpion likes creatures and legend has it they possess the ability to grant everlasting life but only if they don't manage to get straight to the victims heart. It seems it's blind luck really that Quinn was saved yet it's not all peaches and roses, or super strength and instant healing. He still gets a hunger which must be satiated quite quickly, with raw meat, else he'll turn homicidal killer, and should he bite anyone, they'll automatically, and in seconds, be enrolled in the brain eating gut muncher brigade too, so he'll always be that ticking apocalypse time-bomb. It's all quite the over-elaborate set-up and I'm not sure full exposition at any point was really necessary. He did give me that Deathdream (Dead of Night) vibe of a hidden depth that was empty and unnatural but Dead and Deader is a shallow popcorn flick and I don't think one was supposed to think that hard.

A naughties action popcorn zombie flick that feels like an old-school eighties one, even with full screen black one second transition breaks, Dead and Deader provides lots of bang for your buck, for an evening's fun. Torry and Cain have great on screen chemistry and their banter is the perfect refreshment while the narrative manoeuvres everyone and everything towards the next big and bloody conflict. Some of the peripheral performances are disappointing and laboured, but over-all there's very little to actually complain about with the film gliding by amusing and enthralling in equal measure. As stated though, whether there will be much you'll recall, or care to recall once the credits have rolled may be a different matter - 6/10.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead - review

2011 (USA)

I have two ways of approaching this review. This first, is to avoid giving anything away, which quite frankly I'm going to find hard, given the sort of zombie review I normally do. The second is to just come out with it… Or maybe there's a third where I do both…

Contains mild spoilers.

Duane (Allen Maldonado) and his buddy Russell (Taylor Piedmonte) attending a horror convention are enticed to attend a super-secret party by the alluring Judith (Lauren Mae Shafer). No sooner they down their first beer, they wake, it's morning, they're dressed up and come to realise they've been drugged so they can take part in a live role play of the great Romero classic. One grizzly and brutal murder at the hands of a Bill Hinzman wannabee, and one subsequent frantic chase with Karen aka Barbra's (Jana Thompson) from the blood hungry zombie to the farmhouse and protection of Duane, and we understand the safety is definitely off. One zombie becomes two, Karen and Duane find bodies on the first floor and the rest of the individually picked survivors in the cellar, and the movie becomes its namesake, mimesis: to imitate; life mimics art; and the classic zombie farmhouse siege is set to go.

The twist is their awareness of the film they're now taking part in, though disappointingly so for purported horror film fans. Between them they know how many of them they should be, they know how many of them survive, they understand what the zombies will do to them, and they have a rough outline of how; on the other hand though, they seemingly don't know how to break from playing out the same narrative with the same avoidable deaths and same level of indecisiveness. It's almost like…

Wait, I've already said too much…

Contains spoilers.

It's almost like there's a guiding hand; a puppet master pulling the strings, manipulating them to play out their roles and guide them to their assured death and destruction. It's that same that brooding under current of the original; the pervasive feeling that all is really utterly futile whatever one does; that one should just give in to the waves, the ever increasing tide of dread; the inevitable.

Except the cracks are there along with doubt and a rationality that's screaming that zombies just don't really exist. It's hard not to appreciate what Director / co-writer Douglas Schulze has put together, and he does a good job of establishing the illusion. And for a short time I almost believed they were zombies; hoped at any rate there would be another meta-meta-twist and the sick little killers who were staging the whole thing had themselves found themselves trapped in the narrative; though alas they weren't. You see they're not zombies, they're humans pretending. There's no zombies here at all; it's not really even a zombie film. Still, it is a neat trick, though I'd have probably preferred that they try and maintain the full illusion a bit longer, rather than deciding to blend back to the real with more than enough cohesive-interruptions, so that there was never a need for a big Ta-Da moment. While you're guessing, wondering, Mimesis really does shine.

Hat's off to the zombie-wannabees though. Ripping, feasting, gorging, gouging; for the short time they really do stay in character, some even seem willing to die for the cause and it's this that maintains the fantasy. They also look the part, staggering around the farmhouse slowly, randomly as if lifted straight out of the genre classic. As said, for a short time I was genuinely captivated; the problems for Mimesis is that with the game up, with the cat out the bag the narrative and ideas start deteriorating; they're sick privileged little sadists and they want to do what sick privileged little sadists want to do. The last twenty minutes with the zombies now out of character trying to wrap things up, the survivors fighting back and some laboured exposition to try and explain it all, things became a bit derivative and lazy. Yes, there's some nice deaths and drama but it's ultimately not as rewarding as perhaps it could have been.

The horror convention key note speaker Alfonso Betz's (Sid Haig) theme is that it's not tv / movies / video games to blame for societies murder problems but "sick little fucks just being sick little fucks", and I guess then film is trying to play around this and the mimesis theme. The bad kids are using NOTLD to indulge their sick perversions to kill; not because of it; at least I think the message isn't trying to make media culpable for mass murder. Still there's some ambitious stuff going on in Mimesis, perhaps too ambitious; as for as much as it does a good job setting the clever original meta-narrative up, it just unravels at the point it really should be hitting it home.

Contains mild spoilers.

Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead is a refreshing, original and well thought out take on the Romero legacy. Douglas Schulze has put together a quite the tight claustrophobic zombie slasher. Full of gratuitous deaths and gore, tension and intrigue, with solid acting, good pace and a coherent and competent script it's a great gritty dirty little horror. The film does eventually lose its identity with an ending that feels a little rushed and at odds with its potential but it's not a deal breaker and it's still entertaining - 7/10.


Friday, 6 November 2015

Undead or Alive - review

2007 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Undead or Alive is the zombie genres nod to Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos. It's a Western cinematic farce, full of slapstick and silly one-liners; it's a film of unlikely friendship, full of warmth, loyalty; it's an over the top action flick, indulgent and excessive, and it's a film with really great moustaches. It's also a movie that could easily have gone awry, but under the direction of Glasgow Phillips, and this may be personal, I genuinely believe it accomplished all it set out to.

The great frontier was sparse, brutal and life was painfully simple and great Westerns understand the need for a narrative that matches it's barren home. Unlikely companions Elmer Windslow (James Denton) and Luke Rudd (Chris Kattan) find themselves teamed up, and on the run from corrupt Sheriff Claypool (Matt Besser) and his posse. It's simple, straight-forward and the whys and wheres aren't particularly important, though the preamble is light, airy and fun. What is important, and the only extra layer or complexity, is that New Mexican el-supremo hunter is now quite the undead gut muncher and his hunger for retrieving the money the boys stole, is as insatiable as it is for their brains.

What elevates Undead or Alive from being dismissed as just another low budget comedy, cashing in on the zombie fad, is the quality of the dialogue and acting, and the rather witty and satisfying story. Windslow and Rudd who are soon joined by the entirely endearing Sioux Sue (Navi Rawat) are a joy to watch. As they all come together there's genuine on-screen warmth and aided by a clever script they very quickly become characters you feel invested in. Likewise Claypool and his incompetent Deputy Cletus (Chris Coppola) play the western villain caricatures convincingly with just the right amount of intimidation and ham. For the reasonably low budget it's all very professionally put together, with great scene composition, good camera work and actors who seem more than willing to go that extra mile knowing the script and story are solid. I also especially enjoyed the switches back to the town long after it was ever going to be relevant again, to see it descend further and further down the zombie rabbit hole with as much humour as they could get away with. These interludes, again, despite being superfluous to the main story, helped cement the world and demonstrate a real enthusiasm that can't help but rub off on the viewer.

Sheriff Claypool, Cletus, their posse and the unfortunate collateral damage (townsfolk, army, etc.) have Native Indian Geronimo to thank for their Zombification, or White Man's Curse. How farmer Ben first contracted the infection is a mystery; the last and world famous Apache medicine man waved his magic sticks, spoke some powerful ancient words and the next thing poor old Ben was groaning, shuffling and tucking into a chicken aperitif before turning to his wife and daughter. The zombie infection despite starting as a curse soon turns into the tried and tested one bite and you're it infection game and before you can say Geronimo's your uncle, Ben's back at town and the majority are queueing up to join the brain eating club.

Now Glasgow Phillips doesn't hold back when it comes to gore, blood and the general excessive zombie silliness when it comes to either them despatching their victims or their prey getting the axe in first. He also doesn't hold back from genre disruption by allowing the recently departed their full cognitive abilities. They can talk, ride horses; they 're really just red eyed decaying versions of themselves though maybe now with less empathy, and the ever present yearning to eat people which dictates their behaviour. If one was to over-think them, sure there are inconsistencies and choices that would make the genre-purist shudder, but it's a comedy, and a farcical one, and there should be some licence to play.

Undead or alive might be cheesy, and it might all be a bit amateurish and silly, but it's charming, darn well likeable and can't fail to maintain a smile on your face. Well shot with a great sound track it has everything you'd want from Western Zom-rom-com; well-choreographed shoot-outs, immature and excessive slapstick and throwaway one-liners from two actors who play cowboy dumb and dumber to perfection. It's well-paced, thoroughly entertaining and hard not to recommend. Also, that there was found a genuinely consistent and cohesive reason for someone to wear a comedy arrow through the head prop for almost the entirety of the film is Oscar worthy and reason enough to give it a - 7/10.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Trick or Treat?

I've been rather treating myself since my return with some cracking zombie horror, and thought it only right I should pop again to the bargain basement to take a look at some of the films that, shall we say, weren't generally as well received.

One can kind of get carried away with DVD sales, especially when one is a bit bored and the debit card has been left unattended…

So my bumper haul and strategic plan of action (which I won't stick to) is the following:

Undead or Alive
Mimesis - Night of the Living Dead
Dead and Deader
Gangsters, Guns & Zombies
The Dead 2 - India
Zombie Driller Killer
The Zombie Farm
Portrait of a Zombie
Zombie Fight Club
Dylan Dog Dead of Night

I've not listed Zombeavers as I'm leaving it as a wild card to cheer me up?


See you on the other side…

The Last Days on Mars - review

2013 (UK / Ireland)

Contains spoilers.

That escalated quickly. One minute there's a tight soap-opera, with space weary astronauts and scientists, anxiously and frustratingly riling each other as they prepare for their long haul back to Earth, knowing they've been unsuccessful in their mission to find life on the red planet. The next, there's a crazed homicidal zombie battering the airlock with his gaunt black skinned face hell bent on death, carnage and really spoiling the going away party. And that's the thing. As much as I enjoyed début director Ruairi Robinson's claustrophobic little zombie survival story there's just not enough subtlety and nuance to proceedings. The result, while competently put together with a strong narrative and its solid cast, is never more than its constituent parts; it's all rather bland and safe, and it's a bit of a pity.

Their timing is atrocious. Okay they would be arriving back at Earth without plaudits, their mission deemed a failure, with a new crew already well on the way to scientific immortality, but one more day, nineteen hours to be precise, to stay out of trouble and they'd still be alive. We've watched enough horrors by now though to know it only takes a little over-extending, a small bending of the rules and a tiny bit of deceit by one self-centred idiot to put in motion a series of events that leaves most, if not all, others in a world of pain. And in The Last Days on Mars it's Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostic) the eight person crew has to thank, who on the eve of evacuation decides he'll break protocol and lie to take one final trip out to a site he believes may contain fossilized evidence of bacterial life; though instead of bringing him fame and fortune, it brings him a bad fall and a nasty case of dead and zombie.

The action is gripping, the effects lavish and production polished it's just the ensuing hour of good quality zombie shenanigans is rather formulaic and by the number. A fight here, a siege there, another fight here, a bit of betrayal and a last ditch plan to survive it's good manic fun but just all a bit derivative and predictable. It's also all rather in your face with little play with suspense or ambiguity. Marko lies dead in an alien pit, Lauren Dalby (Yusra Warsama) is left alone to stand guard while the rest of the crew lead by Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas) go get the body-in-alien-fungus-hole-retrieval-kit. On returning they're gone but there's some obvious tracks leading back to the base, which the film cuts to just in time to see them arrive, in full-on no-nonsense zombie siege mode. There's really no pause for breath, no time to gather thoughts, establish motivations, build tension. They arrive, they get in, they start bashing heads and drilling stomachs and we're expected to go along with it all.

There's no mention of zombies on the box and it could easily have been a film I overlooked, but it's as zombie as you can get. The black veined oxygen deprived gut munchers are very much dead in the human sense with total loss of self and identity. They're highly infectious, they're driven with an insatiable hunger to kill, and possibly eat their victims and they really look the part, though with a c. $7m budget I'd expect them too. It's the alien bacteria that's responsible for all the trouble and the film adheres to the tried and tested trope that dictates blood exposure to lead to slow painful death then death to zombie, and there's not much in the way of dubiousness. Though for mindless homicidal brutes they're pretty nifty with all the tools, machinery and explosives they use to use, which maybe opens some coherency issues, but really it just cements their credentials as 'A' tier zombie bad assess one should not want to trifle with.

The Last Days on Mars is a solid action oriented space horror that doesn't really do much wrong other than not dare to be a more intelligent and passionate. With little emotional depth to the characters and some rather sombre performances the atmosphere of peril and dread you feel should be pervasive and consuming fails to appear, and the pain, anguish and ultimate deaths of the crew fail to carry much weight. This is no more exemplified than with star of the show Liev Schreiber as Vincent Campbell, hero and lone survivor, and the deliberately left-open final life and death scene, and my genuine lack of concern and enthusiasm towards its outcome.

With fighting scenes that are nicely choreographed and look great there's a simple uncompromising action horror here that will entertain, and Mars does make a beautiful back drop for full on zombie fun; it's just, like the red planet itself, lacking in atmosphere, and all rather flat and lifeless - 6/10.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

State of Emergency - review

2011 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

State of Emergency has its faults but writer and director Turner Clay, and brother and producer John Will Clay should be immensely proud of their low budget 28 Days Later inspired little zombie opus. Relying a lot on character interaction / development, and long moody shot construction, for a film of an hour and a half not a lot actually happens; yet as a complete work throughout it was utterly gripping and genuinely provocative. While I can understand some of the criticism this film has received, personally I feel the slower pace and more artistic direction lends the film its ever present atmosphere of foreboding, and makes the moments of action and horror far more terrifying for it.

State of Emergency has a very clear and cohesive identity. The Clays dramatize the down-time; with focus on the relationships and needs of those lucky enough to find themselves still alive in a sanctuary that appears to offer them some semblance of the safety of the old world. Then there's outside; outside the shelter means death. The world has gone to hell, the people they once called neighbour are now savage, deranged, and mean to kill and eat them. Inside the feeling is closest synonymised with that feeling as a child that all is safe with the covers pulled high and as long as you can't see the monsters they can't see you. The dichotomy the Clay's have produced is convincing and tangible and it makes the later infringements more disturbing. It's that play with binary conditions and inherent contradiction that also lies at the heart of the zombie concept; that is something that is neither alive or dead. We humans like one thing or another, clear lines, and when they cross the result is uncomfortable.

Fear works when the unpleasant inevitability is postponed. We know the monster WILL jump out, all the cues are there; one finds oneself wishing they would just get it over with. State of Emergency is a masterclass not only in building and maintaining heart pounding suspense but actually making good the promise of delivery. Are they zombies though? At this juncture I think it's quite naïve to demand actual physical deadness from the being that's now clearly no longer the being they were before. The people of Montgomery County exposed and not immune to the fallout from the explosion at the bio-chemical facility might not be physically dead but they're the perfect encapsulation of inhuman, unpredictable and uncomfortable. It's the monsters from 28 Days Later somehow made to seem more savage, more scary when juxtaposed against the frailties and vulnerabilities of real people who really are terrified of them. Like their confusion, their fear transfers through the screen, genuinely becoming palpable to the viewer.

This playing with deliberate vagueness and ambiguity, whether narratively or stylistically lies at the heart of the film. Like the survivors one doesn't ever feel in control of knowing what's going on. Obviously there's going to be a bit of confusion when faced with a county wide viral pandemic that's turning the vast majority of the population into primal homicidal cannibals; but here's its more. The Clay's deliberately embrace the notion that less can be more. There's no laboured exposition, past stories are handled with well-paced flashbacks, no need to fully dissect the zombie identity with long drawn out contrived sequence. We're there, we know as much as they do, yes there's lots of holes but its this that's driving the tension and maintaining the atmosphere.

Tense, gripping and enthralling throughout, this small claustrophobic horror placed a huge burden on a small cast who delivered tight authentic performances that matched the great direction and production. Special mention must also be made for the sound; whether it faint distant sporadic gun fire, close intimidating thunder or smothering silences matching compliment the vision and narrative beautifully.

State of Emergency is a zombie film that's more than the sum of its parts. While it could be argued by some its more style over substance it’s this very deliberate decision and vision that enables it to work the way it does; there's a very clear identity and a confidence to stick it out, and this has to be respected. The apocalyptic world the Clay's have constructed is both cohesive and coherent, and to be honest I'd have loved to have seen a second instalment, with slightly bigger budget to enable them more room to play with their undoubted vision and style, and this says a lot. Recommended - 7/10.