Zombie Shakespeare’s family is out of town this weekend and he was bored, so we decided to knock out a few more flicks yesterday. It really is an endless list of zombie movies and we will never finish if we don’t sneak these specials in sometimes.
First up was Deathdream, a 1974 classic (?) which according to imdb, is a re-working of The Monkey’s Paw. I get that. Boy dies in a war, but then inexplicably returns home anyway. He is clearly not himself as he is grumpy, introverted and has very little in the way of social skills. He is, in fact, a zombie. Or a vampire. Or some kind of monster who needs the blood of the living to keep himself looking and feeling lemon fresh. I’ll go with zombie because vampires usually have more, ahem, sparkling personalities.
The film doesn’t really work as a horror film for me; it’s just too distractingly a 70’s movie. The little snippets of violin that are supposed to cue the suspense sound more like an alien mating ritual and are so sporadically placed within the suspenseful scenes that I started to laugh more than I was scared. Especially when the violin goes off at the exact same moment a guy turns his neck. It also doesn’t help the movie’s cause that it was the middle of the afternoon and I still almost fell asleep during what were supposed to be tense moments.
What Deathdream does well is the family dynamic. How far into denial can a mom immerse herself? Something is so very clearly wrong with Andy that it becomes just as facinating to see Mom put the blinders on. Dad is more skeptical and angry at his son’s behavior but even he can’t go through with actually turning him in once the point of plausible deniability has been passed. What would you do as a parent if your son turned out to be evil is an interesting question that the movie handles nicely. This really is a better character movie than horror. And for trivia fans out there, this was Tom Savini’s first work and once Andy starts decaying for good, it does look pretty good and holds up better than the rest of the stuff in Seventies-ville. It landed kind on in the middle of the pack of our rankings, but I still give it a B.
After that, it was Last of the Living, which adds New Zealand to our countries list. Or maybe it was already on the list; it’s getting tough to remember. Anyway, the premise is simple: three slacker buddies survive a zombie apocalypse and embrace the new found freedom by living in mansions, scavenging for anything they want and killing zombies for fun. Then they meet a beautiful scientist who may be able to find a cure. They agree to help her reach her destination.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. It wants to be a slacker buddy comedy but often the stakes become too high for their antics. And when it wants to start getting serious, it throws in a fart joke. They set up a potential love triangle that never resolves itself; characters are given the opportunity to grow but the plot then just as quickly takes the chance away. The last act definitely goes off the rails when characters start dying and we are treated to one of the bleakest endings we’ve ever watched. The moment screamed for a big final laugh, but instead they go for the wildly inappropriate ending, tone-wise.
Having said that, most of the jokes range from decent to somewhat amusing and the characters are fun to hang out with. The acting and direction are all above average for a zombie flick and even the soundtrack full of original music is surprisingly not annoying. Both movies we watched landed pretty close to each other on the list, so I have to award another grade of B.