Zombie Film Feast 2013

shaun

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.

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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. 

Grade: A

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-

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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.

3.5 stars

(Grade A)

Zombie Movie Night: Nov. ’13

SiriusXM recently launched an Entertainment Weekly channel and every Monday there’s a show called “Entertainment Weirdly” where they talk about pop culture off the beaten path.  So I have those folks to thank for turning me on to my selection for this month, Frankenstein’s Army.  They had me at “zombie with an airplane propeller for a head.”

The story goes that a small group of Russian soldiers during WWII answer a distress call from their comrades and find themselves in a deserted German town…only of course, it’s not so deserted.  Everyone there was either chased off, killed by, or turned into part of the titular “army.”  A Nazi scientist has studied and improved upon the work of  Viktor Frankenstein and can now use a generator to bring his monstrous creations to life.  But these are not just zombies, they are (listed in the credits as) zom-bots.  Reanimated corpses with knives for hands, drills for faces, and, yes, even one with a propeller for a head.  (Love it).

This movie is a wildly entertaining good time as there seems to be no limit to the crazed imagination of the script writer.  If I had to knock anything about it, it’s that it uses the done-to-death found footage technique which is extra distracting because it’s seemingly so anachronistic.  But this is a film where the Russians speak to each other in English and get annoyed by Germans speaking German, so ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.  Also…propeller for a head!  Suspension of disbelief is cashed in at a premium for this film.  But I loved it.  Grade: A+

frankenstein

Next up was Dead Before Dawn, a zombie comedy about a hapless young college kid, who along with his friends, accidentally breaks the spooky old urn in his grandfather’s occult shop.  Thinking the curse that comes with that is a goof, the friends rattle off a laundry list of bad things that should happen, not knowing that the evil spirits are taking notes.  Later that night, all the things they said start happening, most prominently, everyone they make eye contact with spontaneously commits suicide and turns into a zombie.  If the friends don’t work together to figure out how to undo the curse before dawn, the dire situation will become permanent.

It’s so refreshing to find a zombie comedy that’s actually funny and entertaining all the way through.  DBD gets right a lot of the things that Detention of the Dead got wrong.  Mainly, once the characters realize the stakes at play, they become terrified.  The comedy is built around their appropriate reactions to the situation and there’s no “ha ha our friends are dead” bits that ruined the first half of Detention.  Moreover, this film is simply my kind of humor.  I feel like I could have been in the writer’s room and contributed to the script had I been asked.  A lot of winking, nudging and meta commentary on the events taking place, such as when the characters realize they have been making eye contact with someone trying to help them, they complain “these rules are so complicated!”  There’s even a reference to Nic Cage’s Wicker Man, which, come on, is just a joke that’s after my own heart.  Any film that can make me laugh hysterically while someone is committing suicide is a winner in my book.  Grade: A

 

Zombie Movie Night: Oct ’13, Night 2

We began Part 2 of ZMN anniversary month with a fresher release I was eager to see.  If I were to make a list of my Top 10 hobbies and interests, two things that would definitely make the cut are “zombies” and “British culture.”  Cockneys vs. Zombies, by title alone, promised to be right up my alley.  And it is, paying tribute to both the undead genre and the fighting spirit of the English working class.

Two brothers, in a last ditch effort to save the grandfather who raised them from having his nursing home torn down for an upscale construction project, form a small gang and a plan to rob a bank.  Little do they know, that very construction crew has accidentally unleashed the living dead upon London.  The film then tracks two groups amid the zombie melee: the likeable bank robbers with their impromptu hostages and the grandfather and his merry band of fellow pensioners.  Will the brothers be able to step up and save the day, and can grandpa survive long enough for their efforts to pay off?

CvZ is solid from start to finish.  I’m almost positive I’ve said this before, but at this point, there is nothing groundbreaking that can be done with a zombie film.  The best you can hope for is to make a really well done movie and throw in a couple of moments that might not have been tried before.  In the case of the latter, there’s a great gag where one of the more disabled of the old guys has to use his walker to “outrun” a lumbering zombie in hot…er…lukewarm pursuit.  The film is a comedy all the way, but the characters are well developed enough to make the viewer care what happens to them, even when things start to look bleak.  Grade: B+ 

(I’d also recommend taking 5-10 minutes to look up Cockney Rhyming Slang.  It’s hilariously convoluted and the movie does poke fun at that a couple of times)

cockneys

 

Our fourth and final film was the wretched Dorm of the Dead.  This definitely falls into the category of “welp, we said we wanted to watch all of them.’  It’s not often that I long for the high production values of Motocross Zombies From Hell, but at least that turd had all of its actors in the same room.  That’s right, the most annoying and distracting part of Dorm is that almost every scene is punctured with close-ups of the character who is speaking, and then a cut to the other character speaking.  As one can tell by the framing, varying sound quality and background, no one is in the same place at the same time, even if they are supposed to be having a conversation.  It was clearly borne of necessity but it’s still awful and the most jarring, poor choice in filmmaking I have ever seen.  The budget of this film was the cost of the camera.  The actors are all atrociously amateur and the running time is padded by things like “pointless Lesbian sex scene” and “walking around the convenience store that let us film there” and finally, a head-scratching and unfunny ten minute post-credit sequence of “man making crude sexual come-ons to girl who is just not getting it.”  I’m not going to recount the plot or anything because that would require more effort than this affront to filmmaking deserves.  Grade: EFFFFFF!

dorm