Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nightmare City

Directed by Umberto Lenzi, 1980

It's our first foray back into zombie movie reviews since the grand excitement of Zombie Lurch! And we certainly couldn't have chosen a worse movie. Throughout much of the film I rooted for the zombies to murder the mewling protagonists. Then I realized how mediocre the zombies were, and my loyalties would switch. In the end, you'll wish everyone dead. Your wishes will not come true.

It's yet another of Italy's ubiquitous zombie films. This one has a nominally ecological slant. Blink and you'll miss it. Our hero is a shaggy-bearded, emotion-challenged journalist. Our shaggy hero's doctor wife wavers between hysteria-- always cured with a backhanded slap!-- and deep lessons couched in cliched speeches. Shaggy enjoys sadistic "plans" that show his wife who wears the pants in the family even if she does have a Ph.D. I did mention, did I not, that I longed for his death? Good.

Our villain is a goopy-eyed masked killer. His squads of funny-looking zombies leap, sprint, and wield tools in their unholy desire to suck some fake blood off your neck. In response to this gymnastic threat, humans scream and perish (if you're a woman, you perish with your breasts out). The dead do return as zombies, though I was terrifically disappointed that the spandex-clad choreographed television dance squad didn't return to terrify the countryside with homicidal jazz hands.

Zombie Explanation: Nominally ecological-- a radioactive spill creates zombies. Mankind has abused science and signed its own death warrant. Et cetera.

Contribution to the zombie canon: You're asking a lot of me here, but I'll venture to say the ecological lesson (though poorly scripted and obscured by bad filmmaking) is actually a fairly rare zombie origin. It is also notable inasmuch as I badly wanted to see the leads die.

Favorite moment: "Stay right here, and don't move until I tell you to." Worst plan ever.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween show - the Zombeatles

Yessiree, the Zombeatles decompose at the High Noon tonight. It's been a hard day's night of the living dead, and the Zombeatles just want to eat your hand. Moan on stage during Zombi-oke! Win a Dick Cheney pinata! Buy a cabaret singer, a zombie, or the 12 Mexican Wrestlers of a Apocalypz a drink! Email me for details of a glamorous way to get in for half-price.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Zombie Lurch: aftershocks

Thank you a thousand times, Madison, for a hilarious and beautiful event.

The number of participating zombies varies according to source-- I guessed 100, my friend Doug estimated 140, and the Isthmus reports approximately 200. I would have considered 20 zombies a success, so thanks to everyone for helping to exceed my expectations.

The range of makeup, costumes, vocal groaning enthusiasm, and clever protest signs was awe-inspiring. There was no way I could stay in character in the face of People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies, Show Me Your Brains (complete with Mardi Gras beads), Brains 3:16, and Support Proposition I-8U. There were many more brilliant slogans; look through the photo galleries for coverage.

Madison Metro and the MPD had expressed concern over our march; I'm happy to say that I didn't see one instance of a bus under zombie attack. The police did have to remove one or two zombies from the street when crossing against a traffic light, but it seemed respectfully done and none of us were arrested. It was a good group of zombies with which to protest.

One of the best moments had to be stumbling into the evangelicals with their signs and hymns. My main sick thrill, though, was seeing photographers perched on the stone dais in Library Mall and marching inexorably toward it for a takeover. Jacquelyn captured my enthusiasm here.

Certain weaknesses were made clear in practice; the next zombie walk will benefit from these lessons. More games. More speeches. More lurching. More noise. More fake blood.

Links (to be updated as more come in):

Isthmus Daily Page coverage with three photo galleries. Thanks for your enthusiasm, Kristian!
Dane101's coverage and photos, with exhaustive zombie knowledge, video, photos and links in a follow-up article.
Will's pictures and videos. He worked tirelessly to stay ahead of the chomp and find all manner of strategic positions from which to shoot.
My pictures.
Jacquelyn's photos.
Jane's gallery.
Dante's photos.
Teeka's photos.
John's photos.
Nic's photos. She was the second zombie I thought might get us killed (the first was the miner, whom the police removed from oncoming traffic). Dressed as a Badger fan, and yelling for Bucky as often as for brains, she rattled the giant screen upon which football fans watched the homecoming game. At that point I thought we might see an uprising. Peace ruled-- probably due to confusion. Man, Madison is so unprepared for zombie attack!
Angie's photos.
Jason's photos.
We've been Slashdotted, fulfilling a dream I've nurtured deep in my heart for years. Thanks to Dan for alerting me!
Did anyone catch Channel 27 or 15's coverage? Anyone have a recording? We were also covered before the event by the Wisconsin State Journal, the Capitol Times, the Isthmus, 105.5 WMMM, and 89.9 WORT. Check today's State Journal for more coverage. Let me know if I've missed a press account.

Favorite pictures at the moment:
Zombies gather in front of the state capitol. The Lurch begins!
One of two or three counter-protests. Another one. Sam's counter protest. (Anyone have better pictures of this sign?)
We even had spontaneous demonstrations of approval! This woman met us on the corner of State and Johnson, supported our cause, and disappeared.
We had a lot of kids marching, from babies to elementary school age!
A good shot of approaching zombies. Another good one.
I like my enthusiasm here.
For Matt Fraction: Zombys luv Pancake.
Zombies begin to invade the evangelicals' demonstration. Funny signs.
Storming Library Mall and climbing the dais.

Will there be a Zombie Lurch 2006? Possibly. But instead of coinciding with Halloween, imagine how much fun it would be to do this around Easter...

Saturday, October 22, 2005


In two and a half hours, Madison will experience its first zombie lurch! Word has been spreading fast and anything could happen (although we'll try not to get arrested). Pics and a post-lurch wrapup to come.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Shock Waves

Dir. Ken Wiederhorn, 1977

1) Y/(Peter Cushing + nazi zombies) = X. If Y = Shock Waves, solve for X.


Unfortunately, math has never been my strong suit, so it took me the entire movie to work this one out.

Apparently Herr Cushing was not only a commander in the Galactic Empire, but in the S.S. as well. During his years of service to the Reich, he commanded an elite group of aquatic zombie soldiers. He sunk their ship at the end of the war and exiled himself to the mansion on a nearby uninhabited tropical island (um). Naturally a handful of shipwrecked tourists lands on the island when the zombies decide to awaken.

Luckily for the humans, these goggle-wearing undead soldiers also happen to be the most ineffectual zombies I've ever seen. They're almost adorable like that. You see, they don't actually bite or infect people...they drown them. That's it. They wait in the water for someone to step on them, like big Aryan jellyfish. If they stumble upon someone in a house, they are compelled to drown them in the fishtank. If they were in a desert, they would probably give up and play cards.

Unfortunately for the humans, they are the WORST. PROTAGONISTS. EVER. I won't bore you with the details of their bumbles, but suffice it to say that at one point the heroine finds the nazi zombies' achilles heel -- all you have to do is take off their goggles and they die. Of course, she never tries this again or mentions it to anyone else. Why would she, really.

Zombie explanation: Ze Germans created them with SCIENCE, presumably inbetween searching for the Ark of the Covenant and trying to call up the demons of hell.

Contribution to the zombie conon: Zombies with a water fetish, apparently.

Favorite moment: Peter Cushing is great as the Nazi recluse (and I choose to read his concentration camp victim gauntness as irony), but he dies quickly and without aplomb.

The very first shot of one of the zombies shooting up out of the ocean is also the hotness, but it was all downhill after that.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Dead Next Door

Directed by J.R. Bookwalter, 1988 (released 2005)

Let's get the sensationalism out of the way: The Dead Next Door was funded by a mysterious figure dubbed "The Master Cylinder" in the credits. This was apparently Sam Raimi, who helped finance the film with Evil Dead 2 returns. The thrill of mysterious financing, as well as a healthy respect for DIY filmmaking (ask me about my own handmade gorefest, which according to rumor still airs each Halloween on Janesville, Wisconsin public television!) made this a must-see movie.

The Dead Next Door opens with obvious Raimi flair. Camerawork, editing, and direction all hint that the movie's crew hold Evil Dead close to their hearts. The gore gets going right away: the entirety of the movie's budget may have gone to zombie effects. I respect that. It had been at least three days since I'd seen a zombie film in the modern gorefest tradition, and I welcomed its creative deaths and excellent zombie makeup.

Our heroes are the Zombie Squad, one team of government-sanctioned hunters among many like them. The President has fallen to the zombie menace, but Washington is intact and devoted to obliterating the undead. As ever, dissension exists: pro-zombie protesters ("Let zombies walk! Let zombies walk!") march in front of the White House lawn. Later, zombies eat them. Poetic justice as comic relief? Lovely! The remainder of the plot involves a dead scientist's anti-zombie serum, an armed pro-zombie religious cult, and a brainwashed girl. Cops fall. Zombies munch. Serum is injected. Blood spatters.

I deeply admire the filmmaker's enthusiasm for horror, clearly and preciously expressed by characters named Raimi, Carpenter, Savini, and Romero. But my enthusiasm was gradually tried. It's an ambitious movie with too many unnecessary elements and a meandering final act.

Zombie explanation: Another movie opening with the zombie plague already well-established, which I love. I believe the dead scientist accidentally created them. Science zombies!

Contribution to the zombie canon: Even when decapitated or shot in the head, zombies don't die. That's a terrifying element I've only otherwise noted in Return of the Living Dead. Additionally, the inclusion of a half-human master zombie was an interesting touch but a trifle confusing. The final scene, in which the Zombie Squad becomes the Human Squad, is deliciously pessimistic.

Favorite moment: Singing zombie. Zombies as the basis of a religion.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Directed by Robert Wiene, 1920

I wonder if the nightmare set designs of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would work in modern cinema. More than the ghoulish makeup, melodramatic expressions of terror, and twist ending, the backdrops contributed to an effective sense of horror. I suspect they work best in the harsh shadows of black and white.

Caligari is considered one of the first horror movies ever filmed. Its zombie background is a little less certain, but I consider it an adequate early iteration of the genre. Instead of the living dead we find a carnival somnambulist, with a maddened asylum director filling in as zombie master. A series of murders ensues in a geometrically impossible town of slanted shacks and askew foundations. Since I love unreliable narrators, I appreciated the distinctive bookends that cast doubt on the main story. For impatient audiences who find it difficult to adapt to the slow pace of a 1920s silent film, a hint: you'll miss a few overwrought gestures if you watch it in fast-forward, but you won't miss a panel of dialogue.

Zombie explanation: A somnambulist falls under the care of the asylum director, who obsesses over a medieval tale of somnambulistic murder. The director moonlights as a carnival barker and sends poor, sleeping, balletic Cesare out on pointless homicide sprees.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Except for his surprising grace and a preference for porridge over human flesh, the somnambulist is a zombie in appearance, purpose, and deed. Caligari is a very early contribution to a monster that would later evolve into zombies.

Favorite moment: Every beautiful set-- the leaning hut, the icicle cell, the sharp-angled wall. I was astounded by a scene in the name Caligari appears at odd angles, written over the scene behind it. Not only was it perfectly evocative of the identity transformation occurring on screen, it was an unexpected effect for such an old film.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wild Zero

Dir. Tetsuro "Director Wolf" Takeuchi, 2000

The Ramones + Night of the Living Dead + hyped-up manga aesthetics = WILD ZERO.

Japanese band Guitar Wolf (which it turns out is also the name of the main dude, backed by the bazooka-wielding rhythm section of Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf) stars in this zombie rock opera. Essentially, meteor strikes and wikkid UFO's cause an epidemic of zombies all over the globe, the only cure for which is MORE RAWK. And cock.

On the side of the good guys:

--Guitar Wolf himself, who comes to the aid of a young fan (Ace) who demonstrates a passionate committment ot the art of rocking. In fact, Mr. Wolf gives him a whistle to blow whenever he's in trouble ("You know how to whistle kid, don'tcha?" etc.)

--Ace, who comes to the aid of a young lass/lad (Tobio) who demonstrates an ability to faint at will.

--Hanako and Toshi, punk rockers in love until death and beyond.

And the bad guys:

--The never-seen Aliens.

--The Zmobies.

--A bad-ass female arms dealer who keeps a gun by her shower and is only out for herself.

--A gangster who used to manage Guitar Wolf and looks great in his trademark short shorts. At one point I thought he was redeemed when he randomly started shooting the UFO's with bolts from his eyes, but apparently this was not good enough for GW.

Moral: "Love and rock n' roll have no boundaries, nationalities, or genders!"

Contribution to the zombie canon: Zombies in love!

Favorite moment: Guitar Wolf's microphone shoots fucking fire whenever he's singing!

Okay, it's a pretty ridiculous and semi-sensical movie, but good fun. I wonder if Romero likes J-rock?

Messiah of Evil / Dead People

Directed by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz, 1973

Messiah of Evil is so redolent of early American horror stories-- say Hawthorne, James, or Warner-- that I was surprised to realize that it took place in a California beach town. Transplant it to England, thank Lovecraft in the credits, and you'd have a very serviceable adaptation of various ninetheenth-century short stories.

Arletty arrives in ominous Point Dune to find her artist father, whose communications have been increasingly fragmented. During her search she meets up with a mod playboy and his mismatched harem. The gradually diminishing group realizes that the hundred year-old legends about Point Dune's innate evil endanger not only Arletty's father, but their own lives.

The movie hints at werewolves, vampires, and zombies. I found it initially disorienting. In retrospect, the mutable nature of monstrosity works well-- while lulled into expectation of certain horror conventions, the audience nevertheless can't anticipate the townspeople's nature. I was also pleased if puzzled at some of the grotesque imagery: corpses with slit throats in a pick-up truck, moon-dazzled townspeople who stare peacefully at the sky, a chomp of bloody zombies enjoying a raw meat buffet in the meat aisle of an otherwise pristine grocery store.

Zombie explanation: Black magic resulting from a preacher who survived the Donner party, afterward turning to a life of Satanism and cannibalism. Every hundred years he returns to spread his new religion. It's decidedly unclear whether zombies can turn other people into the undead or whether proximity to the evil town and its blood-red moon are sufficient.

Contribution to the zombie canon: The finest movie theater scene in horror cinema! Bored by the empty town, a young visitor decides to see the only movie in town. A few others are already in the theater and it's unclear who's more eerie: the people staring dully ahead or the single person who turns to look at her. Over the course of the movie we see more townsfolk enter one by one. Soon the previously empty cinema is full of malevolent zombies-- and the audience waits for the young girl to turn around.

Favorite moment: The excellent cinema scene. The painted bedroom. The zombie attack in a bright, clean, well-stocked grocery store with cheery grocery store music.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Serpent and the Rainbow

Dir. Wes Craven, 1988
Aka, "Lone Star vs. the Zombie Lords of Haiti"

Fresh off his big break in "Spaceballs", Bill Pullman stars in this "based on a true story!" adaptation by horror maven Craven. Pullman's character goes to Haiti on the dime of a pharmaceutical company, in search of a new type of anaesthetic ("Zombinol", another character later cracks). Naturally, he gets more than he bargained for. Like zombies. And a corrupt political regime. And scrotum-nailing.

Though it devolves into a silly "better blow the rest of our effects budget" ending, this movie has a lot to offer. Inasmuch as a movie about voodoo can refrain from exoticising its subject, it does. For one thing, it feels like they filmed Pullman wandering around in Haiti amongst real buildings and real people. The film is also set against the backdrop of the last days of the Duvalier regime, and some intercut news clips help the naturalistic vibe even more.

More importantly, for a Hollywood zombie movie it avoids depicting the Haitian voodoo practioners as primitive or unilaterally evil (unlike many "jungle cannibals" zomploitation films of the previous decade). Instead, Craven politicizes the bad guys in this film. Voudon is presented first as an accepted and respected religion -- it's not simply zombies or folksy magicians who are the problem, it's police chief Peytraud and the government who are running things. Zombies are just one means of control.

Zombie explanation: A special powder that can both revive the dead (and keep them under the control of the reviver) and place the living into a catatonic state. The victim has all of his or her thoughts and senses, but appears clinically dead. This evokes a heap of plague-era imagery as the living victims are often buried alive, unable to do anything about it. The zombies in "The Serpent and the Rainbow" are not malicious nor do they hunger for flesh (in fact, one of them is quite a nice guy). They are however in the thrall of the non-zombie zombie master.

Favorite moment: A few stand out. The "buried alive" scene is fantastic, and I'm convinced that Tarantino was inspired by its black screen + creepy audio for Kill Bill vol. 2. The dinner scene with the zombie hands coming out of the soup is pretty great as well, but not quite so great as the zombie near the end who pulls off his own head and throws it at Pullman.

One final note: I really enjoyed the soundtrack. While a couple tracks sound like U.S. session musicians playing drums with 80s synths over the top, there's a lot of really fantastic Afro-Cuban drumming in this movie. It makes me want to check out one of these Soul Jazz records.

Land of the Dead

Directed by George Romero, 2005

(This review and related discussion were written a few months ago on my LiveJournal, and have been adapted for the Zomploitation archive.)

The movie was mediocre as movies go, but I'm full of love for the undead. Romero keeps changing the basic tenants of zombiedom, which means the genre is actually evolving. This is as important as when vampires shifted from grotesque carrion feeders to attractive seducers. This means our horror archetypes are shifting, which is fascinating to me. But more importantly—and along the lines of why you should care—is that this kind of cultural change affects more than cinema.

This is hardly the first film to use zombies as political metaphor (the Nazi zombies of Zombie Lake are a pretty obvious political statement, and racial conflict is always as issue in films like Serpent and the Rainbow and Zombi 2) but it's the most overt class war film I've seen yet. Other reviewers have already pointed this out, but I’ll restate it because I love it: even when humans settle into a typical upper/lower class structure, zombies will always permit the lowest classes to feel superior. Zombies create a natural middle class, which is not a standard component of post-apocalyptic societies.

Zombie explanation: I believe that one of Romero's most clever ideas was to remove the importance of origin. His last three Dead films have begun in a world already overrun. This permits room for characterization, broader storytelling, and a social scope generally unknown in zombie movies.

Contribution to the zombie canon:Naturally, I'm delighted in the continuing evolution of zombies first hinted at in Day of the Dead. It goes against one of the basic reasons zombies are scary. Instead of a mindless automaton obedient only to primal human instincts of rage and hunger, these zombies are forming packs and solving simple problems. (And yes, attacking the human city is only a series of smaller problems to be solved; only one zombie needed to be cognizant of the larger goal.) Any species evolves based on its ability to eat and reproduce. Zombies do both in one messy act (though their control of zombie reproduction is shoddy at best). When feeding is at stake, they evolve. I admit that this isn’t my favorite zombie theory but it’s fun to play with. Besides, Romero is the acknowledged master of the genre and therefore can do whatever he wants to do with zombies.

Favorite moment: Just when you think you've seen every physical zombie mutation, Romero and Savini invent something utterly new and terrifying like the head-flip zombie.

Additional commentary:
Jordan: Also, maybe the reason that Riley let the zombies go free at the end is that their society is so more obviously egalaterian than that of the humans. Big Daddy was a zombie PATRIOT - he was working for the good of his flock as much as for vengeance or delicious human flesh. Kaufman, on the other hand, was engaging in economic cannibalism.

Madolan: Once again you prove yourself a clever and incisive zombie theorist. You’ve hit upon an explanation that solves that “happy ending” problem. Recognizing and respecting Big Daddy’s protective instincts was very much in Riley’s character, even if abetting his vengeance wasn’t. But in the end it’s the Cholos and Kaufmans and Big Daddys that matter in this kind of movie; the Rileys and Slacks are largely unnecessary. That kind of bothers me, actually. In Day of the Dead, the lead characters were significant. Theirs were the experiences you empathized with, and their personalities informed their zombie interactions. These guys were action hero stock characters.

Jordan: If I wanted to be very generous to this movie, I would say that perhaps this is intentional. Both Day and Dawn had great lead characters whose strengths were optimism and empathy. In LotD on the other hand, all of the human characters were basically unlikeable or ciphers. Maybe this is the point, since it's basically about "the world moving on" and zombie culture winning out?

Madolan: You're a genius. That's a great excuse in context of greater zombie meaning, though I still think Riley and Charlie were pretty generic. It's almost always more interesting to explore the depraved and wicked characters. Even Cholo's opportunism was more compelling than Riley's optimism, and frankly makes more sense.

You know, I'm gonna go ahead and disagree with you about zombies winning. I'll point to Mulligan and the underground resistance as evidence that the political message was really anti-capitalism and instead hints at socialism as the key to a new civilization.

...Of course, the only true socialist society would have to be a society of zombies. And the LotD zombies were clearly moving toward a respectful meritocracy instead.

Jordan: Brilliant. Perhaps the zombies and the resistance will be able to coexist peacefully? Or maybe the resistance will undergo zombie transformation voluntarily in order to foster a socialist peace?

Madolan: I know that’s what the movie implied, but I can’t justify—- even in the context of zombie movies—- a peaceful coexistence between two groups with an inherent and inescapable predator-prey relationship. Of course, I also accept zombie evolution on a personal level (i.e. Bub in Day) but not so much on a widespread level (i.e. Land). Sure, Bub and Big Daddy can remember how to shoot a gun. But however many neurons they convince to fire, they’re only going to disintegrate later. I suppose I admit to preferring zombies that eventually wear down and starve to death as in 28 Days Later, or rot away beyond the capacity to threaten humans, like in Walking Dead. I’d prefer to think that the unexpected organization of the zombie horde was simply a one-time reaction to the massacre. Vengeance achieved, they’ll go back to shuffling through town (and, most importantly, the zombie brass band will be reformed).

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Directed by Jorge Grau, 1974

"I hope you get very scared and suffer profoundly," says the director.

What a lovely way to welcome someone to your movie.

We didn't suffer, though that's no reflection on the movie's excellent pacing and minimal yet painstaking gore effects. We didn't suffer because we're inured to fear. But we also didn't suffer because this is a good movie.

George and Edna, two beautiful people cursed with ungainly names, are thrown together by chance and wind up in the beautiful English countryside during a zombie outbreak. Their unfortunate connection to death by zombie (blamed on Edna's junkie sister) means that they fight not only the undead but also the establishment in the form of a bitter, straightlaced police sergeant. Our heroes' endeavor to fight the zombie menace is nearly eclipsed by the danger of a cop with a grudge.

Zombie explanation: Ultrasonic radiation waves, designed for agricultural use.

Contribution to the zombie canon: The earliest example of zombie babies (which would later appear in 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake) and zombiedom as a result of extreme rage (which popped up in 28 Days Later).

Moral: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a good old-fashioned ecological warning: the ills done in the name of "progress" may doom us all.

Favorite moment: Both genders having their breasts ripped off. Homicidal infants. And escape by towel!

Zombie Lake (Le lac des morts vivants)

Dir. Jean Rollin, 1981

Another $5 zombie find! This has the distinction of being the only French zombie movie we've come across so far. Fittingly, what it lacks in quality, it endeavors to make up for in nudity.

Basically, during WWII some French villagers killed some Nazis (I hate those guys), one of whom who was having a tender affair with a villagerette, and threw them in the lake. Years later, these soldiers stumble out of the lake and start biting people. As far as I can tell, this is triggered by nubile young French women skinny-dipping in the lake. Skinny-dip, attack, leave lake, eat, return to lake, and then the cycle repeats.

The movie does not have a clear protagonist, but the main emotional arc follows the "good" Nazi zombie who is reunited with his half-Villager/half-Nazi daughter. He even goes so far as to fight OTHER ZOMBIES to protect her, until he is compelled to rejoin his unit to attack more skinny-dippers. Even though the girl loves her Nazi zombie daddy fearlessly and unconditionally, she lures him with a bucket of fresh blood to the flamethrowers anyway. Fin.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Honestly? Vaginas. Specifically, lots of gratuitous shots of the submerged vaginas of a French volleyball team. Well, and the zombie parentage issue. When we first put this movie on in the background of a party, we thought that there was a Frankenstein's Monster or possibly even a Lolita-ish relationship between the zombie and the young girl, but upon rewatching it turned out to be strictly blood related (har).

Favorite moment: Either the underwater shot of the Nazi zombies that is the most obvious and pity-inducingly low budget "swimming pool" one I've ever seen, or, you know, vaginas.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Directed by Emilio Miraglia, 1971

To discuss this movie in terms of zombies is to inevitably spoil it. Apologies in advance.

Ladies and gentlemen, our hero: a psychotic nobleman who tortures and kills redheads. We waited in vain for Evelyn to exact revenge upon him, in the interim swallowing such red herrings as an ostensibly wheelchair-bound woman who ambulates perfectly well in the moments before her death, a stripper's disappearing corpse, and any hope that justice might befall the murderous protagonist. To our grave disappointment (*chortle*) there was only one zombie, and after approximately two minutes of spookiness she took off her rubber zombie mask "like a Scooby-Doo villain," noted Jordan. No zombies. No vengeance. No more to say.

Zombie explanation: Conspiracy masquerading as mystical vengeance.

Contribution to the zombie canon: If you package it with other zombie movies, does that make it a zombie movie? I'll reach for meaning: the living can appropriately pass as the dead. But Shaun of the Dead did it far better.

Favorite moment: 1971 hair styles.

Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)

Directed by Michele Soavi, 1994

In our pursuit of zombie scholarship, we see a great many awful films. We watch not only the offensively bad but also the hopelessly redundant. Our reviews of such movies focus on their contribution (if any) to the genre; we do not attempt to consider it as a movie, only as a zombie movie. So forgive my awkwardness as I try to review a film that not only adds to the zombie canon, but is a legitimately good movie on its own merits.

The cemetery man in question is Francesco Dellamorte, the nihilistic attendant of a picturesque Italian graveyard where, three days after burial, certain corpses reanimate. In a refreshing change of pace the movie opens more or less in media res. We don't need to know how or why the zombies originated. Dellamorte is jaded and weary of burying, shooting, and reburying the dead. The living-- in particular, a beautiful widow-- frighten him far more than zombies.

The movie was based on a novel (some say a comic book) and Dellamorte's adventures do follow a comic-like structure. The story veers away from the cemetery too often to classify as a straight zombie tale, ending with absurdist philosophy that shares as much in common with Fellini as with Fulci. It's a beautiful movie in appearance and execution. I have been recommending this movie far longer than I've been a zombie scholar.

Zombie explanation: Unrevealed in the film; the director says that the roots of the cemetery brought the dead back to life. I appreciate a movie that doesn't focus on its monsters' origins.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Love between the dead and the living. There are three distinct love stories that demonstrate love so strong that neither burial nor infernal appetite can destroy it. (Decomposition, though, seems a pretty effective end.)

Favorite moment: Little touches like the dead husband's face on his gravestone, the veiled kiss in the ossuary, the spinning camera as his lover leaves him.

Dead Heat

Directed by Mark Goldblatt, 1988

Every zombie pun that had been invented by 1988 receives Joe Piscopo's loving touch. It's pretty awesome, if you like pain.

I was thrilled to finally locate this movie, as I felt that Dawn of the Dead only scratched the surface of the cop/buddy/zombie genre possibilities. And it's a comedy, too! To summarize, Roger and Doug are partners. Zombie crooks lead them to investigate an ominous chemical company where Roger is killed and, of course, resurrected. He has 10 hours to find the bad guys until decomposition really kills him. The rest of the movie is full of puns, perms, guns, and shoulder pads.

Zombie explanation: A manmade zombie machine intended for the rich, who would pursue even more wealth in their resurrected bodies.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Few movies use zombies as a force of good as well as evil. Dead Heat offers the unpopular (but very Judeo-Christian) theory that you will be no better dead than you were alive. I enjoyed watching good zombies fight bad zombies.

Another cool addition to the zombie canon is my favorite moment of the movie. A villainous butcher shop owner turns on the Resurrection Machine to make his escape, and our heroes fight all manner of undead flesh. Zombies are a traditionally human menace. Zombie animals are a welcome diversion from that grim rule of zombie film.

Favorite moment: Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo battling a reanimated butcher shop: fish, ducks, chicken, and a massive butchered cow walking on bloody stumps. It's both hilarious and unexpectedly creepy.

Terror Creatures From the Grave (Cinque tombe per un medium)

Directed by Massimo Pupillo, 1965

This slow-paced, black and white 1965 movie plays like a 1930s horror camp classic, complete with superstitious villagers, titillating bathtub teases, and candelabras throwing enormous shadows across castle walls. It takes itself seriously, which is a bit of a shame. Drama this lurid needs a sense of humor.

Terror Creatures From the Grave is primarily a story of mystical revenge from beyond the grave. The medieval plague victims called from their mass grave to terrorize a village are only glimped as decayed or mummified hands, which offers an interesting subtlety to a film that doesn't otherwise shy away from gore. I suspect budgetary concerns, personally.

Zombie explanation: Black magic; vengeance.

Contribution to the zombie canon: As in many early zombie films, the zombie identity isn't yet fixed. The modern zombie is partially an epidemiological horror as the plague of undeath spreads unchecked. Terror Creatures From the Grave's zombies carry another kind of plague: bubonic. This infection would be redundant in today's zombie films, but here it provides a great look at how zombies evolved through early horror.

Favorite moment: A trophy case of mummified hands, severed from plague carriers who viciously infected the town's only water supply, begin to wiggle as the clock strikes midnight.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating

Full title: Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D

Dir. "Lowell Mason", 1991

This is Night of the Living Dead with the audio re-dubbed, plus some silly-ass "bonus" scenes. It's sub-MST3k at best, but it has a couple moments.

The best thing about this movie is what it says about the source material. While it's true that having your work parodied does not automatically mean that it's a classic (again, see MST3k), I actually saw this before I saw Night of the Living Dead and it didn't ruin it for me. That is, it's a better movie to actually enjoy than it to make fun of.

Favorite moment: "I'm gonna wiggle a board. This one'll do. Bulabulabulablablubula." This had us ROLLING for some reason, and it DID ruin that particular scene in the original for me, forever after.

Hell of the Living Dead

Dir. Bruno Mattei, 1980

This is a bad movie. Bad, but not unwatchable. It follows a group of loutish soldiers and the two journalists they've picked up through the jungles of New Guinea on their mission to do...something. They shoot a lot of zombies, drive a jeep, and establish their patriarchal relationship with the primitive tribesmen through a bit of "nude anthropology". It's not exactly original, but it moves through it's video game-like structure (i.e. the jungle level, the house level, the factory level) at a pretty decent clip.

Today, Bruno could probably defend some of his moves under the post-sampling/mashup aesthetic, for example the preponderance of National Geographic-style footage that he clumsily cut in and the fact that he outright jacked the music that Italian synth-prog band Goblin did for Romero's movies for his soundtrack. His directorial pseudonym is "Victor Dawn", and the even the soldiers' uniforms are identical to those of the cops in Dawn of the Dead.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Mattei frames the film with some explication of the zombies' origin, and it's actually pretty good. Instead of the zombies being the result of the dark-skinned natives' hoodoo (as seems to be standard for Fulci and many other jungle-cannibal-zombie-holocaust movies of the 70s), it turns out that they were created by the Western military-industrial complex to depopulate the Third World and presumably free up their resources for the taking. Cue cuts to hilarious U.N. scenes during the climactic carnage.

Favorite moment: Aside from the nude anthropology and bad English-over-Italian dubbing, I liked the dvd interview with Bruno Mattei (titled "Hell Rats of the Living Dead", of course). It just goes to show you that a hack who has the distinguishedness of age, a nice suit, a melodic Italian accent is still a hack. However, though he opens with the statement that all fifty or so of his films are his children, he ends by admitting that he doesn't really like his movies anyway...though he can see why Quentin Tarantino does.

Zombie movies we have yet to acquire

Please recommend any we've overlooked, or get in touch if you might be able to lend us a copy of an obscure movie.

Night of the Creeps
Oh, No! Zombies!!!
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Rise of the Undead
Shatter Dead
Sugar Hill
Video Dead
Zombie Flesh Eater
Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras

Zombie movie checklist

The dedicated faculty and adjuncts of Zomploitation have studied the following zombie movies:

All You Need is Brains
American Zombie
Automaton Transfusion
Awaken the Dead
Bad Taste
Beneath the Surface
The Beyond
Biker Zombies from Detroit
Bio Zombie
Black Demons
Blood of the Beast
Bone Sickness
Bowery at Midnight
Boy Eats Girl
Brain Dead
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Reviewed 10-6-05)
Carnival of Souls (Reviewed 6-12-06)
Cemetery Man (Reviewed 10-1-05)
The Children
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
Choking Hazard
Chopper Chicks in Zombietown
City of Rott
City of the Living Dead
The Crazies
The Crazies (2010)
Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead 2004
Day of the Dead (Reviewed 3-7-06)
Day of the Dead 2008
Day of the Dead 2: Contagium
Day X
Days of Darkness
Dead Alive/Braindead
Dead and Breakfast
Dead and Deader
The Dead Hate the Living
Dead Heat (Reviewed 10-1-05)
Dead Meat
Dead Moon Rising
The Dead Next Door (Reviewed 10-6-05)
Dead Noon
The Dead One (Blood of the Zombie)
Dead Snow
Dead Summer
Death Metal Zombies
Diary of the Dead
Die and Let Live (Reviewed 5-2-09)
Die You Zombie Bastards!
Document of the Dead
Don't Watch This
Dorm of the Dead
Electric Zombies
Enter...Zombie King
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead
Evil (To Kako)
Feeding the Masses (Reviewed 3-4-07)
Fido (Reviewed 9-27-07)
Flesh for the Beast
Flesh Freaks
Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane
Forest of the Dead
The Forever Dead (Reviewed 5-2-09)
Gangs of the Dead
Garden of the Dead
Ghost Lake
The Ghouls (Reviewed 5-2-09)
The Grapes of Death (Reviewed 3-4-07)
Graveyard (Reviewed 5-2-09)
Graveyard Alive
Hard Rock Zombies (Reviewed 6-9-06)
Hell of the Living Dead (Reviewed 9-29-05)
Hell's Ground/Zibahkhana
Hide and Creep (Reviewed 1-15-07)
Hood of the Living Dead (Reviewed 6-4-06)
Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels (Reviewed 3-4-07)
The House by the Cemetery
House of the Dead
House of the Dead 2
I Eat Your Skin (Reviewed 3-11-06)
I Walked with a Zombie
I Was a Zombie for the FBI
I, Zombie
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies
Island of the Dead
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
Killing Spree
King of the Zombies (Reviewed 3-10-06)
Land of the Dead (Reviewed 10-2-05)
The Laughing Dead
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Reviewed 10-2-05)
Living a Zombie Dream
Living Dead Girl
The Mad
Mansion of the Living Dead
Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead
Masters of Horror: Homecoming
Meat Market
Meat Market 2
Messiah of Evil (Reviewed 10-3-05)
Michael Jackson - Thriller (music video)
Motocross Zombies from Hell
Mulva, Zombie Ass Kicker
My Dead Girlfriend
My Boyfriend's Back
Necropolis Awakened
The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave (Reviewed 10-1-05)
Night of the Comet
Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D (Reviewed 9-29-05)
Night of the Dead / Leben Tod (Reviewed 5-2-09)
Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead 1990
Night of the Living Dead 3D
Night of the Living Dorks (Reviewed 4-7-06)
Nightmare City (Reviewed 11-3-05)
Nudist Colony of the Dead (Reviewed 6-12-06)
Oasis of the Zombies (Reviewed 6-12-06)
Orgy of the Dead
Otto, or Up with Dead People
Peaches featuring Iggy Pop - Kick It (zombie music video directed by George Romero)
Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone
The Plague of the Zombies
Planet Terror
Platoon of the Dead
Porn of the Dead
Pot Zombies
The Quick and the Undead (Reviewed 1-27-06)
Rabid Grannies (Les Memes Cannibales)
Raiders of the Damned
Raiders of the Living Dead (Reviewed 3-4-07)
Redneck Zombies
Re-Penetrator (Reviewed 6-12-06)
Resident Evil
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Resident Evil: Extinction
The Return of the Living Dead (Reviewed 5-21-06)
Return of the Living Dead 2 (Reviewed 5-21-06)
Return of the Living Dead 3
Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (Reviewed 6-8-06)
Return of the Living Dead 5
Revenge of the Living Dead Girls
Revolt of the Zombies (Reviewed 3-12-06)
Rise of the Undead
Rome Against Rome
SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Severed: Forest of the Undead
Sexy Nights of the Living Dead
Shaun of the Dead
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
Shadow: Dead Riot (Reviewed 3-4-07)
Shadow of the Dead
Shatter Dead
Shock Waves (Reviewed 10-9-05)
The Signal
The Snake People (Reviewed 3-12-06)
Song of the Dead
Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies (Reviewed 6-12-06)
The Stink of Flesh
Survival of the Dead
Teenage Zombies
Terror Creatures from the Grave (Reviewed 10-1-05)
They Came Back/Les Revenants
28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
Undead (Reviewed 4-9-06)
Undead or Alive
Vampires vs. Zombies
Vengeance of the Zombies
The Veil
The Video Dead
White Zombie
Wicked Little Things
Wild Zero (Reviewed 10-3-05)
Wiseguys Vs. Zombies
Zombi 2
Zombi 3 (Reviewed 3-13-06)
Zombi 4 (Liveblogged 3-17-06 on the Engine, now defunct.)
Zombi 5
Zombie Aftermath
Zombie Campout
Zombie Death House
Zombie Honeymoon (Reviewed 6-4-06)
Zombie Island Massacre
Zombie Lake (Reviewed 10-1-05)
Zombie Night
Zombie Nightmare (Reviewed 6-12-06)
Zombie Planet
Zombie Strippers
Zombie Town
Zombie Wars
Zombies Anonymous/Last Rites of the Dead
Zombies Gone Wild
Zombies of Sugar Hill
Zombiez (Reviewed 3-4-07)