Yesterday, my brother and I attended half of the 6th Annual Zombie Film Feast presented at Proctor’s in Schenectady. We attended the first block of three films which consisted of Night of the Creeps, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, and Shaun of the Dead. The second block was equally good, if not better, featuring Return of the Living Dead, [REC], and Cockneys Vs. Zombies. We have already seen 5 of these 6 so we chose the block that contained the film we hadn’t seen yet and a classic that we had not watched together and therefore was not in our official rankings. We didn’t watch BOTH blocks because we are cheap bastards and the seats are really uncomfortable there. Also, we literally JUST saw the Cockneys. Anyway, I had a pretty good time. It’s always fun to watch movies in a theater setting, especially with a bunch of zombie true believers such as ourselves.
First up was Night of the Creeps. The only thing I knew about this film going in was that I had seen bits and pieces as a kid when it aired on cable and I was terrified. I was so traumatized by the idea of a slug going into my mouth that I became afraid of the bubbles in glasses of soda. Perhaps if I had been brave enough to watch the whole thing in context, I would have realized this movie is actually a campy comedy! Kids are so dumb. Being an adult rules.
In 1959, an alien space pod of some kind is launched toward the Earth. We don’t learn much about the ridiculous-looking pink, naked alien creatures, but they are shooting at one another and one side reveals that this pod launching is not a good thing. Once on Earth, the pod bursts open and fires a slug into the mouth of the first young man to discover the crash site.
We then flash forward to the present, in this case the mid 80s, where our heroes, a couple of dorky college kids, are looking to score a corpse for a fraternity pledge prank. The slug-induced zombie madness begins when they break into the morgue, gain access to a secret room and unleash the cryogenically frozen first responder from the 50s.
NotC us definitely a lot more fun 27 years later than I remember it being as a ten-year-old. The humor holds up pretty well and the 80s fashion sense is not as distracting as I’ve seen it be in other films of the era. Tom Atkins in particular kills it as a gruff old detective who is haunted by the events of his rookie year as a cop- when he went vigilante on an axe murderer who killed his ex-girlfriend on the very night of the alien pod crash. The slugs have the ability to bring corpses back to life, so things get messy when they make their way into the murderer’s secret burial site and he comes chopping his way out through the floor of a sorority house. If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in this film, there is, though it never gets confusing or hard to follow. The aliens from the opening could have used a little more exposition, but since they weren’t really the point, it’s easy to let it slide. It’s just interesting that they threw so much at the wall and it all stuck. I mean, it’s not that complicated to make a zombie movie and the fact that they seamlessly added in axe murderers and aliens is actually pretty impressive.
Next up was The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. (A wikipedia check reveals this film actually has more than a dozen alternate titles and was originally released in the US as “Don’t Open the Window.” (WTF)) I didn’t remember particularly liking this one. I consulted our rankings to try and find the Mendoza Line of rewatchability and I definitely wouldn’t have picked this as the starting point…but…it was okay. It was less boring and has more unintentional comedy than I remembered. Here is a reprint of my original review, which I stand by:
(from May 2011) The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue/Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) …the time machine took us …back… and we ended up in England during the swinging 70’s. Back then, if you accidentally wrecked someone’s motorcycle with your car, you could not only offer them a ride, but let them drive. And if you were going in different directions, you could just loan them the car and send for it later! This all happens in the first ten minutes of “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.” The title credit lists the name as “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” and you can really see the Romero influence. While not quite a remake or a reimagining, it’s like the makers tried to take the same basic story and twist it into their own message; in this case, that messing with the environment is bad. Romero never bothers to explain why zombies happen, but this film makes sure you know that it’s because of THAT BIG MACHINE THAT THEY’RE USING TO KILL PARASITES.
The big problem with the film is that it really gets bogged down and boring. Maybe in ‘74, Night of the Living Dead was still fairly fresh and shocking and LSCL was clearly trying to capitalize on that. But in 2011, it’s not all that shocking. We’ve seen it all by now. Can’t quite recommend this one unless you’re a big Romero fan and want to count the rip-off scenes that don’t work quite as well as the original granddaddy of them all. Grade: C-
Finally, it was time for the main event; a rewatching of the instant classic, Shaun of the Dead. If the Romero films invented the zombie subgenre, Shaun (along with the Dawn of the Dead remake) brought it much more into the cultural mainstream than it had ever been before. I honestly don’t believe we would have The Walking Dead or World War Z being turned into a major motion picture if not for this 21st century resurgence of the undead corpse as viable movie monster. Here is a reprint of my original review:
(from Oct 2004) SHAUN OF THE DEAD
I knew I would like this movie before I even sat down. The tagline on the poster outside reads: “A romantic comedy. With zombies”. Well, two out of three isn’t bad. There’s plenty of comedy and plenty of zombies, but not much romance. It’s not missing entirely, but the movie has better targets in mind and no one is going to leave the theater complaining that there wasn’t enough kissing.
I really hope no one sees this movie expecting an actual romantic comedy or worse, to be really scared, because the film is pure laughs. The zombies are really more of an inconvenience that keeps getting worse as the film progresses. At first, our hero Shaun doesn’t even notice them- in a hilarious extended scene where Shaun does exactly the same thing he had done the previous day, oblivious to the fact that there is blood everywhere and the dead walk amongst him.
Shaun’s world starts out as both monotonous and all-consuming. He is going nowhere as an employee at an electronics store. Even when having a heart to heart with his girlfriend about getting a life, he can’t be bothered to change the scenery from the pub he frequents or tell her friends and his to take a hike while they sort things out. These every day problems keep him in enough of a rut that dire news reports and television warnings to stay inside go unnoticed. I imagine there’s supposed to be some thinly veiled social commentary when even the viewer can’t tell at first who is a zombie and who is not- such is our workaday lifestyle! But the movie doesn’t spend any time dwelling on such observations before amping up both the violence and the comedy.
The movie does resort to the usual horror cliches from time to time. For every hysterical scene like Shaun and his friend Ed trying to decide which of their vinyl records they can part with before hurling them at oncoming zombies, there’s also obligatory horror items such as one of the survivors trying to hide the fact that they will soon be forced to switch sides.
Overall, the comedy is sharp and fresh- even if it wasn’t, the premise alone keeps one from ever being bored. It’s easy to like Shaun and root for him as he finds his untapped courage while battling under strange circumstances. The film should not be frightening to anyone over twelve, but there are a few moments where things do look grim, even for the residents of a zombie “spoof”. The ending is inspired and I believe it is what might really happen if we were ever forced to share the world with the undead.