August is tricky for a get-together because we all do the family vacation thing. Since the two of us were in the same beach house for a few days, we decided to lug the DVD player and have Zombie Movie Night: Vacation Edition! Back in 2005, I vowed to get the most out of my vacation by staying up as late as possible and getting up as early as possible. I operated on 4 or 5 hours sleep for 2 weeks straight and it was awesome. Why do I mention this? Because in the last 7 years I have gotten so much older. Logging beach hours and daily fun activity hours takes a much bigger toll on me than it used to. Zombie Movie Night: Vacation Edition quickly became The Battle to Stay Awake.
The film was Exit Humanity, about zombies during the Civil War. The acting seemed decent enough. Narrated by Brian Cox. Small roles for the mom from E.T. and the legendary Golden Zombie award winner for Pontypool, Stephen McHattie. Unfortunately, I can’t really go into great detail because it’s all a sleepy haze to me. The main character was looking for his son, who turned out to be a zombie. Then he met someone and they rescued that guy’s sister from bad guys and E.T.’s mom may or may not have caused the zombie apocalypse with witchcraft. I am not sure if the movie was too boring to hold my interest or if I was just so tired that a movie about exploding explosions that explode stuff would have put me out. To be fair, the best I can do is offer Exit Humanity a grade of Incomplete, and the promise that I will maybe but probably not give it another chance someday.
Returning home, Zombie Movie Night reconvened in its normal venue with two fresh movies I was totally ready for. First up was The Dead and the Damned, about a zombie outbreak in the Old West. (There was an unintentional historical theme this month). It’s getting harder and harder to select movies to watch. Eventually we’re going to be down to just handheld camera homemade movies with no redeeming qualities. But we’re not there yet! The Dead and the Damned might be cheaply made, but it is well done for what it is and I dare say, it is exactly the kind of cheesy crap I had in my mind when Zombie Movie Night was first conceived. Bad acting that’s so bad it’s funny, crappy special effects, gratuitous nudity…all the staples of low budget crapfests. And credit where credit is due: there’s a scene in a dark, boarded-up house where the heroine battles a blind zombie that’s stumbling around and it is genuinely creepy and well done. Even a little scary. It’s been so long since I was actually frightened by zombies that this scene was a pleasant little surprise in the middle of all the crap. Grade: B-
The second feature of the night was REC 3: Genesis from Spain. The first film in the series is so fantastic we’ve watched it twice (if you count the nearly shot for shot American remake, Quarantine, that is). REC 2 was a drastic misfire, shifting focus to the zombies actually being possessed by demons and changing their rabid behavior from the first flick. Also, the narrative was hurt by staying way too married to the handheld POV style of the first one. Also, there was a fucking magic door.
REC 3 addresses these issues and mostly fixes them. So much so, that REC 3 is now the odds-on favorite to win Golden Zombie Best Picture next month. The action starts out at a wedding and is told through the POV style of the first two films. You can picture the writers sitting at the computer, trying to think of a venue where there would be amateur cameras present. This all plays well as exposition but when the rabid zombie outbreak begins, we all collectively roll our eyes and ask, “Why would anyone still be filming this?” The filmmaker character answers with the go-to cliche for this sub-genre, that is, he is filming this so people will “know what happened here.” Then something delightful happens. The main character declares, perhaps on behalf of audiences everywhere, that that is the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. He then destroys the camera and we fade to black ten minutes in. From then on, we get a standard looking horror movie that is no longer constricted by format. Genius. The action is intense even while maintaining a much lighter mood than the previous two films. Brides with chainsaws! Guys who are dressed like Spongebob, but are definitely not Spongebob because of legal issues! And a random survivor no one knows whose reason for being there in the first place is sure to get a laugh from the crowd. REC 3 has it all and I’m happy to report it is a return to form for a series that looked like it might quickly be heading downhill.. Grade: A+