Saturday, May 02, 2009

Capsule reviews: the lowest of low budgets

  • Graveyard: Oh, Graveyard, you could have been a contender. This quirky pseudo-documentary (with the excellent conceit of being filmed from the store's security cameras) follows two hapless 24-hour bookstore clerks who realize after the fact that they are somehow zombies. White collar minimum wage slavery is a brilliant twist on the Caribbean voodoo history of the zombie archetype. Rather than pure consumers of flesh, zombies are once again undead servants at work for someone else's wealth and standing. In this instance, they're even facilitating consumerism without actually consuming anything themselves. Given this historical echo perhaps it's appropriate that black magic, rather than aliens, a virus, or science, raises the dead. Great concept but indifferently executed-- a tighter script shot on film might have ended in a great product.
  • Night of the Dead: Leben Tod: Love never ends, but that doesn't mean you should bring your dead lover's body back to life. (I love moral zombie tales.) A pregnant woman trapped in a science compound with her intern husband finds her life constrained by the genius zombie-raising chief doctor. Somewhat more concerning are the smart, hungry zombies that rebel and take over. The film ends with a twist that I must admit I had not seen coming. How rare, to be taken unawares! Much appreciated.
  • The Forever Dead: One of those too-rare zombie movies directed (and co-written) by a woman, The Forever Dead suffers from uneven sound and storytelling and I was initially tempted to write it off before a thorough viewing. Two elements redeemed it early on: shot compositions that showed an innate talent and the knee-slapping, yell-worthy undead zombie bunny that kicks off the plague. The complex relationships of the main characters shows promise, but I gleaned more of the plot from IMDB than from watching the film. Nevertheless, rent this for the maniacally giggling rabbit corpse.
  • The Ghouls: Your humble Zomploitation proprietress is not particularly skilled at breaking through the alienating grain and crackle of low-quality films. This tale of a third-stringer journalist who makes the paparazzi look morally principled never came alive for me. One of the few lines of dialogue I could easily make out, and thus the sole verbal ambassador I have to offer you, was "Somebody stop that fucking retard!" On that basis this is not a film for me.
  • Die and Let Live: We tried to watch it twice but failed. As a plot line, "zombies attack a party" is so relentlessly overdone that a film absolutely requires something to redeem it. Clever dialogue, perhaps (like My Dead Girlfriend) or surreality (like Don't Watch This) or an impressive actor gimmick (like Necropolis Awakened, where one actor plays three main characters).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All You Need is Brains

Madison, Wisconsin, where I make my home, is a very zombie-friendly town. We have an annual Zombie Lurch with respectable attendance (created by your humble Zomploitation Blog proprietress and since renewed by a local couple as a family-friendly event). Madison Horror, a recent and enthusiastic collective, brings the occasional zombie movie to its film festival.

Now local rockstars and innovators The Gomers have taken their undead Beatles act-- a Halloween mainstay rightfully unleashed into the off-season because some zombies cannot and will not be constrained by mere holidays-- from stage to screen, thanks to undead Scottish comedian and documentarist Angus MacAbre. (He's also been known to credit himself as writer, director, and producer Doug Gordon.) All You Need is Brains officially premieres January 23 at the Annex as part of Madison Horror's Bordello of Blood webcast launch party.

I saw my first Zombeatles show in aught five, still high off the unexpected success of Madison's inaugural Zombie Lurch a week prior. As my zombified friends and I staggered around the dance floor (Method acting or the High Noon Saloon's excellent tap selections? I'll never tell) we suspected we were in the presence of something great. It's no surprise that this modern monster archetype with its natural affinity for puns improves when paired with the mockumentary genre. It's fertile territory. Want proof? Try this Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead video and the All You Need is Brains trailer.

All You Need Is Brains boasts more puns than a Stan Lee comic and the best ever use of forearms as drumsticks. I defy you not to smile at MacAbre's ominous warning (delivered in an aggressive Scottish burr) "But the severed arm of fate was about to give the Fab Gore... the finger." I hate to risk spoilers by listing the clever puns that made me smile most (Pool of Liver. Drat! Revealed one!) but I have to share my smile at the rumors behind not Paul's undeath but his suspected life. Trivia-prone music fans will no doubt catch subtleties I missed, but even zombie enthusiasts girded with the basic Beatles mythos will appreciate this living dead parody.

A brief discussion with Gordon revealed a grand vision that enriches subsequent viewings of All You Need Is Brains. The Zombeatles' world doesn't contain only the superstar zombie band; it's a zombie world of zombie celebrities. Perhaps musical genius like the Zombeatles, Elvis Grissly, and Dead Zepplin is fueled by ongoing consumption of more and smarter brains. I hate to be the one to point this out but who better to do so than a zombie blogger free of journalistic standards: that concept is not unlike the Marvel Zombies comic books, but with better music and more jokes.

Contribution to the zombie canon: As far as I'm aware, it's the first zombie music mockumentary. True zombie innovation occurs in these unexplored niches so this is exactly the kind of thing that will keep zombie cinema vibrant.

Favorite moment: Dingo Scarr lurching off camera to attack unseen film crew during interviews.

Moral: All you need is brains and a drummer you don't want to eat.

Further viewing: If All You Need is Brains doesn't fully sate your hunger for musical zombies, try these:
Hard Rock Zombies
Wild Zero
Dead and Breakfast
Death Metal Zombies

Or, for a slurp of relentlessly non-humorous zombie documentary, try:
Diary of the Dead
I, Zombie

Friday, April 18, 2008

Zombie Strippers

Directed by Jay Lee, 2008

Thanks to an Easter tip from Russell, I’d had weeks to anticipate opening night of Zombie Strippers (an honor Madison was given alongside many larger towns-- how magnificent to see our zombie-friendliness recognized!). This is, of course, the Jenna Jameson vehicle that by virtue of its star and its title leaves the plotline fairly well telegraphed. It’s likely that your assessment of zombie strippers is close to complete without my input. But while the evening’s first crowd settles into the theater (I saw an afternoon show) I’m going to bang out a quick review. Timely? Me? There’s a first time for everything. Now let’s get some more butts in those seats, because it was a good movie for fans of zombies and comedic horror.

You know that contemporary trend that dictates half a movie’s budget should be spent on its artistic, engrossing credit sequence? Zombie Strippers hates that trend. The way it drops almost immediately into zombie action is one of the more transgressive things I’ve seen on the screen in months. The smirking premise: George W Bush’s fourth term and eighth war are in full swing, and while he disbands Congress and declares public nudity illegal, insufficient American lives exist to fight on multiple fronts. Are zombies partisan? I can imagine Republicans loving them as much as I, a self-avowed bleeding heart liberal Democrat, do. But don’t worry; if you’re not offended yet, you will be later in the movie (probably while laughing aloud). With soldiers’ lives an increasingly nonrenewable resource, a virus is created to reanimate the dead and encourage unstoppable supersoldier behavior.

And so we have our science-born zombie virus. In a neat nod to other epidemiological threats we have a transmission vector named Byrdflough, pronounced Birdflu. Oh, how I chuckled. When our infected soldier falls into an illegal strip club, Zombie Strippers kicks into high gear and strips away (groan) any doubt that a cinematic debut was a fluke. And I do not say this solely because Jenna Jameson is taking her clothes off. I am female and not so easily swayed by cinematic eye candy, and therefore you may trust my unbiased judgment in this matter. (Did you buy that? Cool.)

When a soldier returns from the dead, his reanimation has reduced him to primal pursuit of his training: he is a supersoldier. When a stripper zombifies, she too harnesses her training. Superstripper. Jameson’s philosophy-quoting star stripper leads a personable stable of dancers (goth, cynic, ingĂ©nue, rival, coward, firecracker, et cetera) on and off stage and in and out of death. The passionate performances of superstrippers brings in copious cash, even if it results in a little backstage blood, so fastidious club owner Robert Englund encourages the zombie stripper trend-- for a while. The zombie stripper performances really are fantastic; there’s enough dead girl to the choreography to maintain an edge of revulsion but despite bloody wounds these are unequivocally beautiful women.

I mentioned that you would be offended at some point, but perhaps I should downgrade that promise to “grossed out.” The gore is great, but it’s the broad sexual ribaldry that makes it a laugh-out-loud horror comedy. Englund insults his dancers’ herpes and carries disinfectant to spray in their wake. Rival strippers engage in a final showdown using clichĂ© sex acts made hilariously terrifying by superstripper strength. At my early afternoon showing two of the three people in the theater laughed themselves out of breath. Not telling which one I was.

Less plot, more reviewing! The zombie makeup was excellent-- I love good zombie design, and many of the strippers and victims alike were superb examples of what’s possible with enough budget and creativity. (I see so many movies that have neither, when a decent quantity of either one would suffice.) Characters were certainly broad caricatures but the right nuanced script turns those caricatures into comedy delivery systems instead of endpoints in and of themselves. The editing was tight (not something you take for granted when you watch as many amateur horror movies as I do) and the story was perfectly paced. I would see it again, and plan to.

But then again I am an unrepentant zomploitation fan.

Zombie explanation: A super-soldier virus designed to supply multiple wars of American aggression under an illegal administration.

Contribution to the zombie canon: It has zombie strippers in it. Duh. It’s also a good contribution to the ongoing subgenre of zombie comedy.

Favorite moment: A recently resurrected zombie stripper, laughing to herself as she reads Nietzsche: “This makes so much more sense now.”

Favorite zombie: I will avoid the obvious “goth stripper zombie” response and instead nominate a split-jawed fellow reminiscent of the iconic Dr. Tongue from Day of the Dead, one of cinema’s best and scariest zombies.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Night of the Living Dead Peeps

Happy Easter, Blogspot!

Night of the Peeping Dead

Rest assured that Zomploitation continues to monitor the world's zombie films. Our master list of movies watched is expanding like an epidemiological threat.

Until such time as sanity and energy combine to produce new reviews, please enjoy Management's zombie confectionery diorama based on Night of the Living Dead.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Directed by Michael Su, 2007

Doomed is a strange melange of styles. Whether or not that's deliberate is unclear.

When zombie movies meet video games, good things can happen. Junk was a grand movie in that style; I cheered the hero on as he fought his way to the final boss. A few years later we saw Resident Evil competently fit a videogame into zombie movie conventions. Uwe Boll didn't even try to choose a style; he just slipped game footage into House of the Dead.

But even Boll acknowledged what he was doing. Doomed purports to use reality television as its undead framework and although the Battle Royale homage is evident, there's an unmistakable videogame feel that undercuts it all. Each human/zombie fight, for instance, is halted by constant freezeframes with a list of type of shot and points earned. Body shot: 350 points! Choke hold: 150 points! Kill shot: 1000 points! I'm friendly to the styles birthed from videogames and cinema mating. And I certainly respect an editing choice that doubles the length of your action sequences without additional fight choreography. But this didn't gel for me. I wanted the irony and spirit of Series 7 with the dire psychology of Battle Royale, and neither is in Doomed.

There's a zombie movie tradition you'll see in films from about 1960-1988 in which zombie hordes-- usually on an island-- dress identically. It's a cheap way to reuse extras and costumes. I've never been a fan, because when you depersonalize the zombie that much it might as well be a robot, alien, or other impersonal enemy. Beyond the budgetary rationale I've always suspected that homogenous zombie hordes arise from xenophobia as well, as in the 1930s and 1940s movies with black or foreign zombies threatening white heroes. Romero reclaimed this tendency to a gloriously buffoonish extreme: the costumes on his zombie hordes (ballerinas, clowns, cops, Hare Krishnas, doctors, cheerleaders, the spectrum of humanity) imply defeated individuality. And that's a horrifying prospect. Acknowledging that each flesh-eating creature was once a human being is a crucial element to zombies. I'm rarely moved by films that use them en masse.

But this movie does. Picture, if you will, a lovely tropical island (named Isla de Romero) upon which teams of reality show contestants (formerly criminals, I gather) are deposited. Money is at stake. Very shortly, so are their lives. Years ago on the island a military super soldier test failed and the island was nuked. The undead test remnants hunt our contestants. Like a videogame, caches of weapons and water are hidden at convenient intervals. Also like a videogame, entering a dangerous setting was signaled by the distant growl of generic zombie which would grow louder as combat neared. Pick any team to root for; all are equally descipable and portrayed by equally amateur performers. Teamwork and criminality alike are rewarded by death with no apparent purpose behind the characters chosen to grace the screen for longer than the others. In the end, I gleaned no lesson for or against reality television, its participants, or any individual character's choices. Perhaps I was meant to root for the nameless zombie hordes.

Zombie explanation: A super soldier program, insufficiently destroyed by nuclear bomb decades before, now cultivated for reality television/prisoner execution.

Contribution to the zombie canon: One more baby step in the direction of games and movies coming together to destroy everything good about each other.

Favorite moment: I felt pretty sure I knew who the heroine was. Then she died meaninglessly. I always appreciate a bit of misdirection, particularly when I'm feeling smug about a movie's transparency.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Directed by Andrew Currie, 2006

Yes, yes, I know this opened in Canada a year ago or more. As you Canadian zombie enthusiasts of my acquaintance dressed for premieres and traded excited reviews, I watched jealously and awaited the day Fido would arrive in a nearby theater or mailbox.

Sundance beat Netflix, as it turns out, and I got to watch it in a clean new theater while noshing on pomegranate gummy pandas and Perrier. Hands down, Sundance was the nicest location from which I have ever watched a zombie film. It suited the movie — both Sundance Cinemas and Fido hide a typically grubby subject under a relentlessly clean and upbeat facade.

Fido presupposes a clean-scrubbed 1950s small town built on the back of post-war industry. The war was against zombies, and the industry is ZomCon. ZomCon's perimeter fences permit an idyllic lifestyle safe from the zombie wastelands. Their collars suppress flesh-eating instincts so zombies can be set to menial labor. And their military controls law and media. It's 1984 in 1954.

Billy Connolly (who isn't exactly restrained, but stuck without dialogue nevertheless seems underused) is the eponymous Fido, a zombie house servant to the socially self-conscious Robinsons. He slowly supercedes the head of the household, standing in passively but admirably as husband and father. Interspersed with the lukewarm lessons on family, of course, are occasional zombie rampages that bring ZomCon's attention to the Robinsons. This rare violence is gently comic. The movie wants to inspire laughter, not nausea.

The squeaky-clean setting is the movie's running gag and greatest strength. In a culture that emphasizes respect for one's elders, obedience, and etiquette above all else, a general mistrust of the elderly (who could die at any moment and come back as zombies) is pretty effective. In this world only the elite can afford funerals to ensure they don't return as docile undead laborers. I love the details that went into demonstrating this economic structure. It's one of the most thoughtful post-zombie societies I've seen in any movie.

It's a rare zombie movie that doesn't require suspension of disbelief. Even the best of them-- Dawn of the Dead, for example-- get to the part with the pie fight, you know? Enjoying Fido demands that you make peace with a hefty dose of senselessness. Do not ask why a healthy eleven-year-old cannot climb a fence. Do not question the wonky zombie collar. Events are frequently more improbable than the setting. But because it's such a stylized setting, these improbabilities rank closer to charming than irritating.

Oh, and Carrie-Anne Moss is absolutely radiant.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Fido is a pleasant continuation of the zombie romantic comedy (zomromcom) subgenre made famous by Shaun of the Dead, and it calls to mind that and other cinematic predecessors. The idea of a fantasyland fenced away from zombies was done very well in Land of the Dead, whose denizens also allowed authoritarian abuse in order to maintain an illusion of safety. Setting zombies to work was raised in Shaun of the Dead. And during an invasion of wild zombies, the mindless flood reminded me of some of Romero's notable zombie swarms, particularly Day of the Dead-- though, sadly, without the costumes that made those so funny and disturbing. And zombie-human love has popped up in several movies, most notably Zombie Honeymoon.

Favorite moment: "Helen! Propriety."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Capsule reviews

  • Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels: There is a level of camp that goes beyond groans and eyerolling straight into actual physical pain, and this movie finds that level and then descends further. A new waxing parlor menaces a small town and turns good townspeople into "ravenous, hairless, horndog zombies." No people eating or rotting undead in this one, but there are plenty of farm animal sound effects and shrieking scenery chewing.

  • The Grapes of Death: A lovely young woman runs screaming through gorgeous, misty French countryside for most of the film. Experimental pesticides have infected local wine production, and anyone drinking the tainted alcohol (and in France, that's everyone) zombifies violently. It's a slow movie, with atypical and occasionally conflicting zombie behavior. The plot, though, is among my favorites (besides zombies, another of my passionate hobbies is wine appreciation).

  • Feeding the Masses: This is a bad, bad movie. I'm going to tell you some things it does well, but please don't forget that it's fundamentally a painful film. Now, when communication majors make a zombie movie, it's natural that they'll be curious about how an undead epidemic affects the news media. Some of the exploration here is interesting-- if being in the right place at the right time could launch Diane Swayer and Ted Koppel, then ambitious young newscasters will quite understandably risk their lives to report from the center of the zombie outbreak. There's also a creepy little strip club scene in which a young soldier conflates his lust for a girl with lust for killing-- it's not a well done scene, but the concept is sound.

  • Raiders of the Living Dead: There was a kid who made a death laser. There were some cars and an island. It hurt. It hurt so bad.

  • Zombiez: Billed as an urban zombie film, I felt cheated by how much of it took place in the woods. Sometimes there was a factory, though. I don't know how the zombies were made, or why they attacked people with sickles and butcher knives, or why the lead character thought she'd find her husband in the forest when he'd been abducted from their city apartment, or who that big bad guy was she tussled with at the end. I do know that if asked to recommend a zombie movie that (more or less) thoughtfully evokes likely issues of zombie infection in America's inner cities, I'm going to name Hood of the Living Dead.

  • Shadow: Dead Riot: It's always a pleasure to see Tony Todd do his thing. He plays Shadow, a sort of necromancer whose execution in prison was merely the prelude to his zombie-based invasion decades later, when a tough girl with a mysterious connection to Shadow is sentenced to the same prison. Did I mention it's a women's prison now? Yep: Tony Todd, zombies, women's prison, even a zombie baby. You already know if you're gonna like this or not.