Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead - review

2014 (Norway)

2015 Entertainment One Blu-ray R(B/2)

Contains spoilers.

Dead Snow was a brilliant film, but it was also a bit of a confusing one. Not confusing in terms of plot and story; the way it told the derivative cabin in the woods cum Friday 13th albeit with Nazi zombies not Jason pick em off slasher was entirely gettable. But confusing in terms of identity, starting all dark with jumpy horror and switching half way through to full on Bruce Campbell at his audacious zany best. I reviewed it very early for the blog and this was enough to see it relatively down marked. It's the one review that has always sat heavy on me though. While confident to go against the crowd I couldn't help but notice it's appearance on many greatest zombie film lists, so with more (hopefully) insight with the genre I decided to use this look at Dead Snow 2 as an excuse to watch it again.

I ended up re-rating the film coming to the opinion that while there was still a spot of stylistic schizophrenia, if one was pull the whimsy and humour from the second half into the first rather than what I did last time being disappointed that the tension and fear was so eagerly brushed aside then the film held up far better. Go read my review but it's safe to say I'm now rather fond of the film. Anyway...

What of Dead Snow 2? Well, first off it doesn't make these mistakes. In fact Dead Snow 2 doesn't really make any mistakes at all. Cementing itself purely as a black comedy it continues the manic adventures that concluded Dead Snow, dials it up to max and is quite frankly nigh on perfect, and easily one of the best zombie films ever made. In fact, and I may get some criticism for this, in my opinion it perhaps more perfectly than most also captures the look and feel of Evil Dead since Campbell fought the Army of Darkness than any other film since.

Ørjan Gamst is back as Nazi commander Standartenführer (Oberst) Herzog, a Draugr (aptrganga or aptrgangr transl. again-walker) aka Revenant; an undead creature from Norse mythology up and about to protect his ill-gotten treasure. Except with the Nazi gold reclaimed (Dead Snow), and for a narrative excuse for him to expand his remit from just the barren tundra near Øksfjord, Norway into the town itself, he recalls Hitler's last order to raze the place and its population to the ground in a petty act of revenge for their acts of sabotage some, now seventy years ago.

Cue, death, destruction, blood, intestines, tanks blowing up babies and a general lack of any taste and decency and one of the best laughs I've had in years. Now cut from the shackles of the early part of the first film to at least attempt to stay sensible and rational, Director (and also one of the writers) Tommy WirkolaIt is free to indulge any and all ideas, however absurd or non-canon, and not break the film's overall coherence. Herzog is now the slightly more cognizant, talkative and able commander, the brainless zombie horde under his control has been expanded to include exaggerated comic roles such as a medic, tank driver and navigator, and his opposition have been heavily upgraded from traditional cabin-in-the-woods / Friday 13th sent to die trope.

Vegar Hoel is Martin, sole survivor from the first. Beaten, bloody, and now armed with not just his new found extreme zombie survival skills, but Herzog's arm, is the new Bruce Campbell. Armed with all the same quirks and qualities, though maybe not quite the charm, he's manic, desperate, slightly insane from all he's experienced, and most importantly, he's up for the fight. Switch chainsaw for magic arm, with the ability to raise the dead, he now also has the same iconic tools and mentality to challenge a foe which on first appearance was unchallengeable. Demonstrating real flare, vision and imagination WirkolaIt Martin isn't left alone for the task, soon picking up an assortment of companions, from the Zombie Squad™, three young US geeks with a love of all things Z, an out of his depth, introverted WW2 museum curator and the new Bub, who's bound to be a cult favourite: Sidekick Zombie (Kristoffer Joner). Their interaction is witty, natural, and despite being caricatures, their addition is a welcome addition opening up avenues to daft scenes and jokes that are masterfully taken, while never exploited.

Dead Snow 2 isn't a film, it's more an experience. A riotous explosion of guts, blood and fun; it's perfectly paced, perfectly formed and oozes style and imagination from a director and team that clearly understand how to approach the absurdness and inherent contradiction that lies at the heart of zombie cinema. With never a dull moment, never a distraction WirkolaIt, like Raimi, has managed that illusionist trick of presenting a world and story that is both laughable and preposterous in a way that is both coherent and tangible. Easily one of the top zombie films ever made we also finally have a worthy successor to Campbell, who now surely has entwined himself in such a way as a third without him would feel bereft. Dead Snow 2 is everything you'd want from an absurd splatter horror comedy. It's the best Evil Dead / Dead Alive (Brain Dead) film we've had in quite some time, and it's 10/10.


Friday, 18 September 2015

The Battery - review

2012 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

The Battery is a film that gives one the opportunity to glimpse between the cracks. It's the post-apocalyptic nightmare. Pretty much everyone is dead, or might as well be and there's the ever present chore of scavenging to survive under the cloud of an intense ever pervasive undead threat. Yet between the fights, the bloodshed, the extreme pressure situations where decisions determine who lives and who dies, there's the downtime, the monotony, the loneliness and great sadness. It's a world, that for the genre, while occasionally hinted at, is seldom allowed much focus; here though, under the direction and writing of Jeremy Gardner, we've been allowed in, and it's stark, honest and beautiful.

$6000 is all Gardner is reported to have spent. $6000. I bet Brad Pitt's shoes probably cost more than that. One thing I've said over and over is to make a budget horror, especially one with our friendly undead shamblers in, the most important thing is originality and vision. Derivative low budget amateur zombie films are ten-a-penny; heck I should know. Yes they're on occasion mildly, or even greatly entertaining for the night but they're soon forgotten. The Battery's world is derivative, the zombies look and behaviour is average, the sets are sparse and the action, and drama sporadic, humdrum and often off camera. But all this is perfect and exactly what's required; Gardner and his team know what they're doing and this is not a film that will soon be forgotten.

You see, the zombies themselves are really quite irrelevant other than being the plot tool to enable Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), two lost, lonely and now dysfunctional ex-baseball player's relationships to play out. First there's their relationship with the new grey world. Both Ben and Mickey are numb, desensitised. They're past the initial shock, and on the weary long road that is learning to accept that there will never be any great hope, and that eating old tins of food, rummaging through dead children's belongings and occasionally having to smash an ex-persons head in is the new norm. Ben and Mickey are of course different, as is their method of coping and dealing with this everyday grief and depression, but they are a team reliant on each other for much more than food and water. And it's this dynamic, this relationship that stands at the core of the story. At heart this is more a buddy movie than a zombie or horror one.

Ben is more the pragmatist, he can fish, he can mend, he can swing a baseball bat and he copes with the new world by interacting with it. Mickey is more the intuitive type, his coping mechanism is to detach from the world, disappear into himself with some headphones on, and let Ben deal with everything. On the surface Mickey needs Ben more than, Ben needs Mickey; without Ben, you feel Mickey would just curl up into a little ball and die, yet, Ben relies just as much, by having another person to interact with. Their relationship, like each character has great depth; their motivations feel complicated, convoluted and often contradictory, and thus real. As an observer you really end up feeling for both, invested and genuinely desperate to learn what will become them. This is truly great character development, subtle and hazy.

Make-up, effects, action sequences, acting, sets, production all comes at a price and as soon as less than ideal is accepted in one area, the whole stack begins to falter. The Battery in many ways manages to sidestep these amateur film making issues because it knows what its doing, wanting the world to remain firmly in the background, at all times. When needed the zombies are there, they're mean, they're snarly, if a little slow, ponderous, and in the Romero mould, seemingly quite pathetic on their own, easily pushed about and dispatched. But it doesn't really matter as remember, they're the background. The focus is always Ben and Mickey, it's their story, the interest and thus camera focus is how they cope with each trial, and never on the instrument of the trial itself.

Deep, thought provoking, poignant, ambitious; there are many superlatives that can easily be thrown at The Battery. Yes, it's the same film we've seen before, a buddy action / comedy with two guys fighting to survive the zombie holocaust, but it dares to be different; dares to approach it from a different perspective. The script is witty and authentic, the directing brave and acting exceptional. I've read criticism over the use of several long single shot scenes that feel to some unnecessary and ponderous, but it's exactly these scenes that frame the film as a whole lending it a realness that feels tangible. Complaining about this is missing the point. The Battery is an engaging, touching and most importantly human, zombie film and a low budget triumph. And I haven't even mentioned the killer soundtrack - 8/10.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Night of the Comet - review

1984 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Truth be told, as much as I like a good gory undead rampage, I'm also rather partial to the big grand apocalyptic event. Whether I'm just anti-social, or if we're going deep, probably acutely too social, the portrayal of such extreme sudden escapism from all social responsibility or more accurately accountability is salivating. I know it's all illusionary, and the burden of isolation in reality wouldn't be quite so appealing, I mean look at Castaway, but small fantasy interludes, offered by such films as Night of Comet do satiate some hunger that wishes everyone would, even for a just an hour or too, just bugger off. Sartre was quite right when he proclaimed 'Hell is other people.'
The other good thing about finding out you're truly alone in a world where electricity still works, water still flows and all the bodies, both human and animal, that would normally pile up, rot and introduce another problem all together, is the great sand box you have to play in; or more specifically shop in, especially if you have your sister by your side.

This is the new world, the valley girls, who just wanna have fun (more on the kicking eighties soundtrack later) Reg (Regina - played by Catherine Mary Stewart) and younger sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) find themselves in. Okay, there's the initial shock and acceptance that everyone they know is now a pile of red ash, that there's the odd deranged cannibal pyscho aka zombie on the prowl, and getting a new boyfriend might be a bit of a struggle, but overall I felt they acquitted themselves to the end of the world pretty well. It also helped they were both well versed in self-defence, and had a father who wasn't shy about guns. This all isn't to say director / writer Thom Eberhardt hasn't been sensitive to the Reagan inspired eighties paranoia, that mutually assured destruction was mere moments away, just that this film wasn't going to be too serious about it. A tear may be shed for lost love but primary this is a heart-warming tale of two incredibly likeable sisters who find themselves together in an intense situation, get into a few scrapes, but try to make the best of it.

Night of the Comet is an audio and visual delight made truly stunning with this nice crisp clean HD transfer by Arrow and Eberhardt captures the look and feel of the desolate dead cityscape to perfection. Sweeping shots of early morning downtown Los Angeles, empty, deserted and shrouded in the red dust smog left behind by the doomsday comet is eerie and foreboding, yet calming and beautiful. This is not end of the world zombie or meteor collision or catastrophe, the only destruction is the human loss; this is 'Empty City'; electricity and water still runs, it's like someone just waved a wand and everyone disappeared.

Well, not quite everyone. There's Reg and Sam of course, then there's also Hector (Robert Beltran / Chakotay from Voyager), truck driver and leather-clad b-movie hero, who arrives on cue to deliver hope, that there may be other survivors, but also fear, that there is also a darker threat. Whether the antagonists he tells them of are zombies or not, for once is easily answered; Chakotay says they are, and I'm not going against Chakotay, so they are. Snarling, cannibalistic, devoid of humanity and compassion they also certainly fit the zombie bill, even if they're not actually dead, can ride motorbikes (okay this was in a dream, but I'm still using it), can talk a bit and probably wouldn't have made my cut a few years ago. They're degenerative humans exposed to the red dust, and the only shame is other than Sam's dream sequence and an early spat Reg has newly emerged from her theatre retreat, is the bulk of the girls troubles come from encounters with humans somewhere on their debilitating descent, and not with the full made up undead-alike's themselves. Whether the sociopath warehouse boys or the desert brain cult who want to harness them for their blood its the humans exposed who are demonstrating a loss of humanity, drive for self-preservation and acute deterioration both physically and mentally that provide the biggest threat.

Night of the Comet is a sumptuous dead-city post-apocalyptic piece of cinema with addictively likeable characters and a well-paced flowing narrative full of wit and heart. Eberhardt intelligently tells a story that's truly dark and menacing with enough gentle parody, that fear and the threat of menace never truly overwhelms, and yet, it neither at any point descends into infantile or farcical. Again the characters, both full of cliché and superficiality constantly hint at inner depth, and are portrayed by the main three actors triumphantly with measure and nuance. Night of the Comet wears its eighties heritage proud, with an ever upbeat synth rock/pop musical score and some even louder haircuts and costumes and it all helps cement a unique identity that stands tall against all the other end-of-the-world films. The perfect blend of tension, humour, horror, action and sisterhood, it's a film that can't help but leave a smile on your face and is now a huge personal favourite - 8/10.


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Dead Meat - review

2004 (Ireland)

Contains spoilers.

'Old O'Conner had a farm, ee-i-ee-o, and on that farm he had some cows ee-i-ee-o. With a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhhhere here, a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhh there. Here a mooeerrgghhhh, there a mooeerrgghhhh, everywhere a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhh. Old O'Conner had a farm, ee-i-ee-o.' Zombie cows eh, that's a new one, and yes it sounds ridiculous, hell, it is ridiculous, but at least it gives debut Director / Writer Conor McMahon's otherwise rather samey low budget bland zombie Night of the Living Dead remake, something unique that one will remember it by.

Mad Cow Disease or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a rather nasty neurodegenerative disease that came to wide spread attention in the eighties, especially in the UK after some bright spark thought the best way to feed cows on the cheap was to offer them the culinary delight that was the brains and spinal cords of cows that may or may not be already infected. Anyway, after 180,000 infected, a cull of 4.4 million and the meat entering the human food chain, mutating into Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and killing 177, farmers decided that maybe they should stick to grass.

So what does this have to do with Dead Meat? Well, Dead Meat in a playful twist on real life events, has cows rather than stagger about dumbly as their brains turn to mush, instead turn into homicidal bovine butcherers hell bent on rampaging across the green fields of County Leitrim, Ireland, looking for people to bite and spread the epizootic-love too. Dead Meat is also a clever play on words to both point to the dead meat fed to the cows in the first place, and the state couple Helena (Marián Araújo) and Martin (David Ryan) and the scant other survivors find themselves in, as they battle to stay one step ahead of the ever increasing horde / herd.

One has to always frame reviews of film projects such as this in context. Financed in part by an Irish Film Board grant, it was filmed in just three weeks under frugal conditions making use of the production crew's own vehicles and sets and reliant on the good nature of locals who agreed to act as last minute extras. What I'm saying is, it was never going to be able to directly compete production wise, with the many million dollar franchises I've also reviewed. But the one thing independent films like this do have in their favour is the ability to be highly original, so the fact other than having zombie cows, it's all rather formulaic, is a disappointment.

On the one hand, like I said, we have a fairly safe Irish take on Night of the Living Dead; a couple get lost, the girl gets away and is harried across the countryside by an ever increasing undead presence until she meets up with a few other survivors before we have the big  final siege. It's well shot, pretty well acted and competently put together with some real attention to spice things up with gnarly bits of Fulci-esque gore-porn and pulls off the remake. On the other hand it tries a bit too hard at times to be a bit Evil Dead with dark and zany elaborate kills that just end up feeling out of place, and an odd-ball couple who feel like they've just dropped in straight from the set of Father Ted. The humour just never really gels with the competent little survival horror idling along in the background, taking over scenes and detracting from the flow.

This identity crisis travels over into the zombies themselves. The first gut muncher we come across is traditional picture perfect. He gets run over, his pulse is clearly marked as past-tense, he rises again devoid of humanity and takes a bite. The second however is a little more refined. He can wield a weapon, use a tool to break down a door and knows enough to stand on a hand to keep his victim in place, while he un-sticks said weapon to take another swipe. He's more homicidal crazy with a modicum of self-awareness and intelligence than primal gut muncher, as are the weapon wielding Irish-hill-billies that suddenly come tumbling into the arena to join the chase. And it's like this through the film, one minute it's a Romero plodder slowly and inevitably closing in, the next it's a screaming gurgling crazy (who might not actually be dead). Add to this the hint that the cows may actually be some kind of bovine-puppet-masters with the ability to organise the infected to group and attack en masse and we're left with an enemy that feels a bit thrown together at the last minute; I should add they look that way too.

A bit of a confused mess Conor McMahon's film making and core narrative do manage to salvage the film enough to be above the usual mediocre low budget zombie cash-ins. It's not a film I could hand on heart ever recommend, but if you happen to find it on and can't be bothered to stretch for the remote to find something else, rest assured you will be entertained, the action is well scripted, the gore and effects show attention to detail, the acting is solid and there are more than a few moments that will stick in your head once the credits roll. An unspectacular amateur action / horror, Dead Meat is overall okay, and sometimes that's enough - 4/10.


Monday, 7 September 2015

Premutos - The Fallen Angel (Lord of the Living Dead) - review

1997 (Germany)

Contains spoilers.

In the beginning, before Lucifer fell from God's grace there was another. Premutos - The first fallen angel, the ruler of life and death, the bringer of disease, hate and sin, and an all-round general douche-bag with a lot of daddy issues. Now Premutos has a plan to make Earth quite the most unpleasant place to bring children up in and he's decided the best way of achieving his goals is, like God, by gifting the world a son to bridge the gap and pave the way.

Premutos - The Fallen Angel is German splatter director and writer Olaf Ittenbach's low budget ode to Jackson's Dead Alive (Braindead). It has humour, a convoluted hokey story, exaggerated and eccentric characters, outlandish special effects and an unhealthy obsession with getting what's inside a person to the outside as graphically as possible. In the first ten minutes we witness blood vomiting, arms being ripped off, a spade being pummelled into a person's face, people being burnt alive, head explosions and enough innards to last a (relatively healthy) person a lifetime. From start to finish this is not a film for the squeamish; death, especially when there's axes, shotguns, ricocheting bullets, tanks, etc. is never going to be pretty but Ittenbach's gory insistence to leave nothing to the imagination makes this one of those films that you'll know is going to be for you or not before the title music has finished. This being said, this isn't slow and seductive Fulci torture porn; it's high octane Jackson head pop and move on. The camera rarely lingers as there's always another limb to see being severed, and it also helps to hide the obvious budgetary constraints when putting something together quite this lavish and ambitious.

It's Germany, it's modern dayish and the eve of Walter's (Christopher Stacey) birthday bash. His son, and who we discover to be also Premutos's little bit of Earthly flesh and bone, through the use of many, many flashbacks, Matthias (played by Olaf Ittenbach) gets into a bit of scrape at football practice resulting in his purple-helmeted Spartan of love needing hospital attention. His dad meanwhile engaged with planting his annual birthday tree, finds and digs up an old hidden treasure trove of phials, and the Premutos guidebook to resurrecting fallen angles and bringing on the zombie apocalypse. Anyway, the lad's throbbing beef probe meets Premutos's ancient zombie balm, a weird group of party guests begin to celebrate and the stage is set for the arrival of the other risen lord, his delinquent army of the dead and the z-mix buffet of running, screaming, death and carnage.

One thing  Olaf Ittenbach can't be accused of is playing it safe. What Premutos lacks in spit and polish it more than makes up for in ambition and scope. Whether India 1023, Germany 1942, Bavaria 1293, Scotland, Stalingrad or even Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, Ittenbach isn't afraid to throw his narrative off the linear path and each new setting is tackled with genuine respect and attention to detail. Ok, with such budgetary deficiencies there's always an extra to point at or a prop to laugh at, but one can tell that there has been a real attempt to make each scene unique, and yet authentic and plausible in the grander scope of the story . Yes the narrative is convoluted, and does linger and stutter on occasion; overall though what Ittenbach is trying to sell us as the reason for all the mayhem and bloodshed is coherent and interesting.

The recurrent theme through the ages is the eventual transformation of Matthias (or whatever his name is in each epoch), son of man into the son of Premutos. Each awakening is guttural and disturbing, never more so when Matthias himself writhes and contorts into his new form suddenly entwined with barbed wire and pierced with rods and blades. It's truly grotesque, as is his new found appearance; but putting aside for one minute whether his new state is zombie or some transcendent between state, it's his ability to now tap into his father's powers over life and death that's of most interest to us zombie fans.

The zombies of Premutos are Romero slow, actually they're slower; they're cumbersome, they're meandering and whilst they do make a right mess once they get hold of their next meal, they're actually a bit rubbish about actually getting it. It's headshots, mostly, as they go over should they take enough damage to other areas, though it's a bit inconsistent and vague. There's no virus, we never see any of the ones being eaten actually rise again, as they're mostly just eaten. Also the forces of Premutos must be quite something as the dead to arrive in quite the number, given for what I assumed was a quite the small town And while we're talking unrealistic numbers I'll briefly mention the infinity-guns that seemingly never need to be reloaded… Appearance wise they're adequately done. The actors mostly hold it together though there's never a need to try too hard as they're likely to not be on screen very long as Ittenbach like's to get through them at quite the pace.

Premutos - The Fallen Angel is the sort of film I never like to knock. Undoubtedly amateurish and a bit rubbish in all areas it's also ambitious, coherent, imaginative, expansive and generally entertaining. There has been a real effort at a dark, gritty old fashioned zombie splatter-fest and it delivers; from start to finish the gore is disturbing and disgusting, the story unfolds reasonably naturally, the characters and acting are euro-eccentric but never dull and the ending is outlandish and satisfying. My only real complaint is it does overstay it's welcome a tad. The final barn siege scene is twice as long as needed and whilst I was enjoying the copious carnage I quite often found my mind wandering after the third or fourth (or seventh or eighth) similar zombie gut wrench in a row. A proper daft old zombie splatter like Dead Alive but without quite the same level of humour, polish or pizzazz - 6/10.


Hello Darkness, my old friend…

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder; one can only hope.

Mornin' all. With provisions running low and a thirst for sunlight I've decided to risk leaving the security of the bunker, thus giving me once again the opportunity re-engage with you foul and sordid cretins in all matters undead, gut-munching and the big screen.

First off I plan on working through the back-log of films piled high behind the front door; so first off Olaf Ittenbach's sleazy cheesy splatter film Premutos and following that I'll dig my teeth into the old classic Night of the Comet.

Then we have the delightfully named Lust of the Dead aka Zombie Rape, Dr Blood's Coffin, Zombie Honeymoon and the old Zompire classic The Omega Man. Ahh, Heston. Lastly I'll arrange a date night, don myself in my least blood stained string vest, light some candles, ready cheesy puff balls and pop on Erotic Night of the Living Dead; she's such a lucky girl.

After this we'll have a look at all the new tasty undead treats that have come out since I went into hiding.

Talk soon,