Zombie Feast Film Fest 5

Yesterday my brother and I spent the afternoon at a local zombie film festival.  We are not hardcore enough to dress up and go to zombie proms and occupy main street for a zombie walk, but we WILL hang out around those types to watch movies.  It was a pretty solid turn out of mostly non-weirdos and though I didn’t partake in any zombie carnival games and the theater seats were the most uncomfortable thing ever, I still had a good time.

First up was the classic Dead Alive, which I had first seen a bit of many years ago, before director Peter Jackson was OSCAR WINNING DIRECTOR PETER JACKSON.  Then I watched it a few years ago all the way through and it made me physically ill.  So, while I knew it was a great flick, I was dreading the gory climax because I didn’t want to be holding back gags in public.  Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.  Or perhaps these days, I’ve just seen too much…

Lionel is a young man living under the thumb of his domineering mother.  He doesn’t seem to want much out of life, but when the girl who works at the grocery store takes an aggressive interest in him, he can’t help but start to feel the things all people feel.  Soon enough, he is on a date at the zoo.  This does not please Mother, who follows them and ends up being bitten by a rat-monkey.  She quickly falls ill and turns into a zombie.  If Lionel had mother issues before, well things can always get much, much worse.   Lionel tries to keep things under control, but no matter what he does, the number of zombies he has locked in the basement just keeps growing.  When his uncle shows up and throws a kegger at the family home, that’s when things get really messy.

Dead Alive is a triumph of campy, gory fun.  I didn’t get sick this time, but it is still the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.  And I say that with all the affection in the world.  The leads are charming and likeable.  The script is hilarious.  And the gore is so implausible that it becomes just as much a part of the humor as any of the jokes.  This is obviously intentional.  One can’t help but smile when a pile of sentient intestines stops to admire itself in the mirror.  Dead Alive may be early Peter Jackson, but it holds up just as well as anything he’s done since.  Grade: A+

Next was an import from Cuba, Juan of the Dead, which apparently arrived by Fedex to a near-panicked festival director while Dead Alive was playing.  Juan is the ringleader of a merry band of ne’er-do-wells living an uninspired life of petty crime in Havana.  When the zombie apocalypse starts to go down, Juan is street-smart enough to know that this isn’t the work of the Americans or political “dissidents” as the TV tells him.  Seeing an opportunity to cash in, Juan starts a zombie dispatching business.  “Juan of the Dead.  We kill your beloved ones,” may be the bluntest slogan in history.

This film was another absolute gem.  The horror takes a huge backseat to comedy in this one as well.  Juan has a tango with a zombie, there are not one but two accidental harpoonings, one team member faints at the sight of blood and must remain blindfolded during battle and there are not one but two sequences that make a mockery of the tragic deathbed scene.   But as in all great works, there is a pureness of heart lurking underneath all the inanity and it is genuinely moving how far Juan is willing to go for love of friends, family and country.  I highly recommend getting your hands on this one, if you can.  Grade: A+ 

Finally, it was the granddaddy of them all.  The movie that made Zombie Movie Night and an entire subgenre possible.  Romero’s (public domain) masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.  Sure, you can pick it apart like every other low-budget horror movie.  Like is catatonia really the best choice for your heroine?  Why are there so many scenes speculating on the cause of the undead if you’re not going to reveal the answer and it’s ultimately unimportant?  But I don’t linger on these problems.  Respect, man.  And you certainly can’t hold the culture of the time against the film, even if it does make you cringe when a man punches a woman to shut her up or, in fact, women aren’t even considered when counting off the able-bodied people in the room.  Nope, can’t complain.  Respect, man.  What the film does well and what I think is one of the main reasons it holds up (mostly) and has spawned so so many imitators over a forty year span is that it understands human conflict.  No matter how grave the peril, individuals have the need to feel like they are in charge of their own fates.  “That’s what most important is that you’re right and everyone else is wrong,” Mrs. Cooper tells her stubborn husband.  “Go in the basement or stay upstairs” is the movie’s central conflict, but it could just as easily be interpreted as liberal vs. conservative, fight vs. flight or, though the film to its credit doesn’t acknowledge this, black vs white.  It’s the grey areas that are the real problem, since everyone can be paradoxically wrong and right at the same time.  That’s how it goes when “we’re only human.”

The head of the festival asked how many people had never seen Night before and an incredible amount of people raised their hand.  I would have liked to get their take on the ending, which even after multiple viewings maintains its shock value for me.  I’ve seen bummer endings before and will again, but this one is so bleak and callous and jarring, it’s amazing.  Grade: A+

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Zombie Movie Night- Nov. ’12

Is there anything worse than sitting in stone cold silence as you watch something you know is supposed to be funny, but just really, really isn’t?  This is the experience I had last Saturday as we watched the crime against comedy that is Deadheads.  The story sounds just fine on its own.  Two buddy zombies, inexplicably blessed with the retention of their minds, go on a road trip to find the girl who got away…as in lost love, not a meal… never mind.

The problem is that this movie can not get out of its own way in its apparently never ending quest to be terrible.  It is truly incredible to watch as not one choice made by the actors, directors or writers turns out to be a good one.  The movie misses on every single swing it takes.  And I’m not just talking about the jokes, sadly.  I can see how someone somewhere might think it’s funny that a zombie’s penis falls off, but as I said, the badness extends beyond questionable humor.  For instance, why is half the cast allowed to talk in a silly cartoon voice?  Is THAT supposed to be funny?  One of the co-leads speaks in the most annoying nasally, punch-worthy voice.  Worse, one of the antagonists delivers all his lines like Cookie Monster doing a Sgt Slaughter impression.  The plot, while not incomprehensible from scene to scene, leaves a lot to be desired in the continuity department.  The two zombie buddies meet each other for the first time and don’t get along.  In the next scene, they’re planning the road trip like they’re lifelong best buds.  One of their pursuers says he works alone and then drives off.  Later, he’s working with the other villains like it’s not even an issue.

And let’s not get started on the ending that goes for romantic reunion at the expense of literally everything else.  Really?  What happened to the bad guys who turned good?  Is girlfriend at all concerned that her dad murdered her boyfriend and turned him into a zombie?  Guess those are questions left for the sequel I won’t be watching.  Grade: D

Next up was Legend of the Bog, an entry from my ancestral homeland of Ireland.  This one was also a disappointment, but a much milder one.  The frustration here is that the movie does a very good job of setting up the tent poles but then wanders off without finishing the project.  Basically, the legend of the bog is that ancient peoples left the wicked there to die as symbolism, somewhere between land and water being the same kind of thing as somewhere between life and death, I guess.  The problem is that one of these “bog bodies” comes back to life and he is not too happy.

‘Legend’ suffers most from not really knowing what it wants to be.  It has funny beats and it has dramatic beats but the parts don’t add up to a decent whole.  It all ends up seeming like an odd jumble.  For instance, wacky comic relief cab driver… who it turns out has committed vehicular manslaughter!  Umm…ok…  The villainous monster, known only as the bog body, comes off as sympathetic mostly.  He’s less of a monster than he is a thirsty and confused thawed-out caveman.  He only kills when provoked for the most part.  And I can buy three different couples having three different car troubles if this is a truly wacky comedy OR maybe the forces of the bog somehow summoned them all there because they’ve all covered up someone’s accidental death… and my God, won’t it be creepy and affecting when all the dead bodies come back to life to seek revenge against the ones who have wronged them?  Except that never happens.  That’s what I meant by not finishing the tent.  The movie comes so close to scoring a touchdown but ultimately, it gets tackled at the 1 yard line and has to settle for a field goal.  It was so close!  Grade: B-

If I said you have a nice bog body, would you hold it against me?

Dead Like T

“I’m the one black guy.  You realize how precarious that makes my situation?” – Theodore “T-Dog” …Something

http://youtu.be/3jf7OW5c5Xg

Late Sunday night, November 4,  the world cried out in a loud simultaneous wail as the most beloved character in the entire Walking Dead cast died and went to that big abandoned prison in the sky.  And why exactly was T-Dog, a very minor character in a rather large cast, so beloved?

Sarcasm mostly.

It’s pretty telling that someone could post literally all of T-Dog’s lines  from Season 2 (link above) and not crack the five minute mark.  Honestly, I was surprised it went on as long as it did.  You could watch that montage and think T-Dog was an actual character on the show.  But alas, he was not a character at all.  He was a set decoration.  Mostly he was there to scowl or nod or perform manual labor or, most famously, lean on stuff.  T-Dog’s one story arc on his entire twenty episode credited run spanning three seasons?

He cut his arm.

And therein lies the enigma of T-Dog.  We know nothing about him!  How can you be on a show where characters are in peril at every waking moment, manage to live through that and yet still never contribute anything to the plot?  Who are you T-Dog?  Where are you from?  How did you join the group?  Why do they call you T-Dog?  These are questions that were never answered and now never will be answered.

How could this have happened?  Some have cried racism.  I disagree, but I do acknowledge that some evidence has been compiled.  (He sure was subservient to those white people in southern Georgia!  He sure did lazily lean on stuff all the time!  He sure was named T-Dog!)  Others have bemoaned that it was just bad writing.  I agree with that a bit more.  Season 2 became wearily bogged down in the search for Sophia and the ludicrous notion that everyone would be safe on a farm forever and ever amen.  Sure, T-Dog was underdeveloped but you could say that about more than half the cast.  Did you know there was a kid named Jimmy that lived on the farm?  Quick, name Otis’ wife!  Give up?  It was Bertha.  No it wasn’t,  but you didn’t know that.  Ultimately, what I think happened was that T-Dog was penciled in from the very beginning as someone who could easily be killed off at any time.  Season 1 was only 6 episodes long so no surprise that he made it through.  Season 2 spun its wheels a lot with no one dying.  The showrunner change picked up the pace but by the time things were fixed and the death order had been altered to accomodate Frank Darabont loyalists, we were already rolling downhill toward Season 3.  With Season 1 being so short and Season 2 being so boring, I would argue that the story itself is still fairly young and T-Dog died right when he was supposed to, as inconsequential as he was always meant to be.  It was only the length of Season 2 that made it noticeable that he wasn’t just dying already.  (Another possibility: if you watched the Talking Dead post-show, you could see how naturally likeable actor IronE Singleton is.  He had an instant rapport with the audience and the producer who was there seemed genuinely sorry to see him go.  Maybe they let him live longer because they liked him.)

But here’s the thing about sarcastic love, for me anyway.  It is STILL A FORM OF LOVE.  When I sarcastically love something, what it really is or becomes is genuine affection.  I haven’t watched WWE most of my life and recently allowed my cousin to get me back into it because I appreciate it as a sport.  No, it’s because it’s so much fun to make fun of it!  I appreciate the athleticism and the things that are well done, but more often than not, I am googling the “worst angles in wrestling history” or botched moves or terrible characters.  I mock what I love and I love what I mock.  In that sense, T-Dog became a snarky internet commenting phenomenon.  Some praised T for never getting involved.  If you don’t do anything, you can’t die!  For some, the terribleness of the other characters made T-Dog even more worthy of their love.  The guy who never says anything looks pretty good standing next to the passive-aggressive whiny bitch who won’t shut up or stop contradicting herself from scene to scene.   So when T-Dog died last week, a lot of the fun died with him.  I’m sure someone will create a “Ghost of T-Dog” gimmick account on some of the message boards but it just won’t be the same.

T-Dog, we loved you and even though your death was supposed to be overshadowed by the death of the second-billed cast member, we wouldn’t let you be overlooked.  They had no idea what they were dealing with.  We, as one, rose up and shouted your most famous line.  The line that epitomizes your entire man-of-few-words and possibly racist persona.

AWW HELL NO!

http://youtu.be/AS6kUOoBz74

R.I.P., T-Dog.   You were dead as soon as they introduced other black characters.  Sorry.

 

Zombie Movie Night: October ’12

To say I have been inattentive to this site is an understatement.  Since my last post, we have handed out the Golden Zombey Awards, and watched four zombie movies.  I’m sorry, but I have had a lot on my plate lately.  My brother puts a lot of effort into presenting our Golden Zombey Awards.  I encourage you to check out his site if you want the full run-down, complete with an amazing PDF file.  http://askmeaboutzombies.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/2012-golden-zombey-awards/

And now we move on to YEAR FOUR, almost unbelievably.  We kicked things off with the interesting case of The Cabin in the Woods.  I say ‘interesting’ because it is the most difficult film to categorize that we have ever seen on ZMN.  Zombies are a key part of the plot but it’s not a zombie movie at all, really.  It’s hard to explain it and to do so would create massive spoilers and believe me when I say Cabin will be a million times better if you have no idea what it is going in.  I guess the best way to describe it would be like if you were going scuba diving next to an iceberg.  The doomed teens and the zombies are the tip of the iceberg that you can plainly see.  The whole rest of the movie is the massive glacier lurking underneath and as you delve deeper and deeper, you get to see the much bigger picture.  And it’s also the best meta-horror film since Scream.  But here’s where it gets weird.  Cabin in the Woods is the best movie we have ever seen on ZMN but yet it somehow didn’t earn the top spot in our rankings.  It just has to lose points for not being a true zombie movie on Zombie Movie Night.  I believe it ended up third behind The Horde and Zombieland, but it’s better than those two as a film.  I told you this was weird.  Grade:  A+

On the other end of the spectrum is Shadows of the Dead.  It’s much more fun to discuss if Cabin should be in the top spot then it is to debate if Shadows should be in the bottom.  I mean you have to be really especially bad for us start reminiscing about the merits of Motocross Zombies From Hell.  The story goes that a loving, if imperfect couple take a shortcut of doom and have the standard issue car trouble.  They spend a lot of time arguing before they notice a dead body nearby.   Or is it truly dead?  Homeboy investigates off-camera and comes back with a bite.  The two abandon their car and run to a cabin…which was…their vacation destination?  Their home?  We don’t really know, but they spend the rest of the film there and no one misses them.  Homeboy gets sick and becomes a relatively coherent version of a zombie; Homegirl catches it from him.  90% of the runtime is them lying in bed talking, arguing and dying.  Basically it comes down to Homeboy doesn’t mind killing people to feel better, while Homegirl would rather kill herself.  This might be interesting if the dialogue wasn’t atrocious and repetitive.  Do yourself a favor and avoid this one at all costs.   Grade: F

Since October is national horror month or whatever, plus the ZMN anniversary extravaganza, we always slip in a few more features than normal.  The first film of our next event was Evilution.  I’m happy to say this one landed on the pleasant surprise list.  I try to screen the trailers on youtube before I make decisions and in this case, the trailer didn’t hold a lot of promise for me.   Not even sure how it ended up in my queue, let alone at the top.  Hobgoblins or something.  But lo and behold, the hobgoblins in this case had my best interests in mind, because Evilution is pretty good.  I was practically giddy about how much I was enjoying it.   Decent plot, decent acting (mostly), effective intentional comedy instead of the usual unintentional variety and even a halfway decent unexpected twist on the normal zombie movie tropes.  I will say that the zombies are a little subpar as they are very bad at attacking and are defeated more laughably and easily than aliens in an M. Night Shyamalan movie.  The climax also is a bit rushed and anticlimactic.  But overall, I very happily give Evilution a B+.  Also, whenever I hear Evil Woman by ELO, I change it to Evilution.  That’s how a movie sticks with you.

Finally we have Dead Season.  A man and woman meet up in the post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland and go through with the typical plan that everyone always thinks of but never usually goes through with…get to the water and go to an island.   The bad news for our heroes is that there are still zombies on the island they go to.  The worse news is the community of survivors they become  integrated into are cultish and military-esque and you don’t even want to know what their food source is.  The film does an above average job of delving into the human element of the apocalypse.  Like is it enough to just survive?  The leader’s daughter is not allowed to leave her house because it is too dangerous.  Is that a life worth living?  If you’re not particularly useful to the group, is it justified for you to become Soylent Green Jerky?  Some might see Dead Season as a pretty obvious rip off of Day of the Dead, as it strikes many of the same notes, but I prefer to consider it an homage.  Better to be well-made, yet derivative than a 100% original turd.   *ahem* motocross zombies *cough*   Grade: B+