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.