Saturday, July 29, 2006

Zombie films sorted by year

High time I sorted the zombie movies I've seen by year of their release. I believe this tells a fascinating story about zombie culture and influence-- look, for instance, at the explosion of movies after Michael Jackson's Thriller video was released, and also at the number of movies coming out after 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead popularized zombies in mainstream cinema again.

Earliest films
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920
White Zombie 1932
Revolt of the Zombies 1936
King of the Zombies 1941

Carnival of Souls 1962
I Eat Your Skin 1964
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies 1964
Terror Creatures from the Grave 1965
The Plague of the Zombies 1966
Night of the Living Dead 1968

The Snake People 1971
The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave 1971
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things 1972
Messiah of Evil 1973
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie 1974
Shock Waves 1977
Dawn of the Dead 1978
Zombi 2 1979

Hell of the Living Dead 1980
Nightmare City 1980
The Children 1980
City of the Living Dead 1980
Evil Dead 1981
Zombie Lake 1981
The Beyond 1981
The House by the Cemetery 1981
Zeder 1983
Michael Jackson - Thriller (music video) 1983
Oasis of the Zombies 1983
Night of the Comet 1984
Hard Rock Zombies 1985
The Return of the Living Dead 1985
The Stuff 1985
Day of the Dead 1985
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Bad Taste 1987
Zombi 5 1987
Evil Dead 2 1987
Dead Heat 1988
Return of the Living Dead 2 1988
The Dead Next Door 1988
Zombi 3 1988
Zombi 4 1988
The Serpent and the Rainbow 1988
Chopper Chicks in Zombietown 1989

Night of the Living Dead 1990 1990
Nudist Colony of the Dead 1991
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 1991
Dead Alive/Braindead 1992
Army of Darkness 1992
My Boyfriend's Back 1993
Return of the Living Dead 3 1993
Cemetery Man 1994
I, Zombie 1998
Bio Zombie 1998
Ravenous 1999

Junk 2000
The Dead Hate the Living 2000
Meat Market 2000
Wild Zero 2000
Versus 2000
Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies 2001
Biker Zombies from Detroit 2001
Meat Market 2 2001
Resident Evil 2002
28 Days Later 2002
Undead 2003
Zombie Night 2003
Blood of the Beast 2003
House of the Dead 2003
Enter...Zombie King 2003
Peaches featuring Iggy Pop - Kick It (zombie music video directed by George Romero) 2004
Re-Penetrator 2004
Shaun of the Dead 2004
Zombie Honeymoon 2004
Vampires vs. Zombies 2004
Dead and Breakfast 2004
Dawn of the Dead 2004 2004
Choking Hazard 2004
Dead Meat 2004
Night of the Living Dorks 2004
Pot Zombies 2005
Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis 2005
The Stink of Flesh 2005
Zombiez 2005
Boy Eats Girl 2005
Day of the Dead 2: Contagium 2005
Hood of the Living Dead 2005
Mortuary 2005
House of the Dead 2 2005
Land of the Dead 2005
Slither 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006


Look, zombie pornography
Is the next big thing.

Hardcore with a heart!
Porn passion without a pulse!
(Like, literally.)

Dead girl on a slab.
Mad scientist above her.
Will they have sex? Yes.

A new limit, breached!
Blood and arousal entwine—
Add queasiness; shake.

Distasteful? Well, yes.
Fake blood for lube is unique,
Not appetizing.

False zombies, fake breasts
La petite morte and more mort
Gentlest of snuff films.

You don’t want blood there!
I cannot watch the whole thing.
Retreat; nausea.

Capsule reviews

  • Nudist Colony of the Dead: A campy musical along the lines of Cannibal: The Musical. Literally campy, actually, since it's set at a religious summer camp built atop a former nudist colony. Attacked by the church, the nudists committed mass suicide rather than see their land taken away. Now, they rise from the grave at the touch of a zealot's foot upon their property. Naked costumes, ethnic stereotypes, unexpectedly impressive gore effects, and charming musical numbers ensue.

  • Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies: Japanese horror American-style featuring a writhing mass of uniform-clad undead schoolgirls. Looks like a fantastic movie, but unfortunately I've only found it in Japanese. I'm sure it'll be worthy of a full review once I experience it aurally as well as visually.

  • Oasis of the Zombies: Nazi zombies lurk in a nominal oasis, enjoying their hobbies of snarling, occasional staggering, and waiting for attractive young adults to murder. Flashbacks tell the tale of wartime ambushes and star-crossed multicultural lovers. A character named Robert Blabbert elicits giggles.

  • Zombie Nightmare: This eighties clunker was immortalized on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I urge you to uncover that version. Voodoo brings a baseball bat-wielding dude back from the dead to avenge himself on his careless teenage murderers. Adam West is a corrupt detective on the case. Mike and the bots offer much-needed levity.

  • Carnival of Souls: While not technically a zombie film, this 1962 horror film nevertheless influenced a great many movies. In particular, the famous scene of ghouls emerging from the water directly inspired a similar scene in Romero's Land of the Dead. It's a good scene in a surprisingly good movie, and brings forth some life versus death concepts that zombie movies tend to explore. A horror classic.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hard Rock Zombies

Directed by Krishna Shah, 1984

Okay. Call your friends, get your casual drug of choice, make some food, and track down a copy of Hard Rock Zombies. I think it replaces Troll 2 as the #1 Bad Movie Night pick.

A (nameless?!) hair metal band (that actually plays corny synth-pop) is on the road trying to make it (maaaan). They're amusing enough...the drummer stands on his stool spinning his sticks most of the time, the sensitive frontman has a mullet + moustache combo to die for, and they like to spend their free time frolicking and practicing mime (really). However, after the show a young girl ominously warns them not to continue on their tour.

"The gig is waaaaack...the sound guy suuuuucks, and you won't get paiiiiid"

(not really)

In the hick town of Grand Guignol, they end up staying at a big old house with a family who is like the Addams Family meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With midgets. Hijinx ensue (both funny and "funny"), but after awhile the lo-fi production and the lack of any actual zombies begin to grate. That is, until about halfway through when the movie goes COMPLETELY OFF THE RAILS.

Okay, you guys. Are you ready? You can stop reading now if you don't want me to spoil Hard Rock Zombies for you. Okay. So the band's manager is having dinner with the creepy family (the band having already been murdered at this point, if I forgot to mention it). The patriarch is a 95-year old German dude who still bumps fuzzies with his wife ("And our freakish midget grandchildren want to watch? How could I say nein?!"). In the middle of dinner, the Nazi Alarm goes off, and he rips off his face Scooby Doo-style to reveal...yes, yes, HITLER. And, OMG you guys, not only is Hitler behind everything, but he is in cahoots with WEREWOLF EVA BRAUN.

Obviously the rockers cannot let this stand, so they come back from the grave to fight back. Even better, they are not sporting zombie make-up, but KISS MAKE-UP. Really.

I won't pore over the rest of the ridiculousness, but I can't let the ending go un-noted. How does one kill Hitler and his Nazi Zombies? YOU FUCKING GAS HIM IN HIS OWN GAS CHAMBER, THAT'S HOW. Yeah. They did it.

Zombie explanation: HITLER.

Favorite Zombie: That would have to be Phil Fondacaro's character. What's the only way to trump the zombie vs. shark scene from Zombi 2? MIDGET NAZI ZOMBIE VS. COW, THAT'S HOW.

Phil, I'm truly sorry that you had to be involved in this debacle. As Maddie put it, "I feel like this movie touched me in a bad place." Enjoy.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis

Directed by Ellory Elkayem, 2005

In a move of unprecedented economy, Ellory Elkayem (New Zealand-born director of Eight Legged Freaks) apparently added two sequels to the Return of the Living Dead series in one fell swoop. Same cast, filmed at the same time, in the same place (Romania). Different movies.

The first one, Necropolis, involves a gang of high school seniors trying to rescue their friend from an evil megacorporation that's (of course) building a zombie army to take over the world. One of the friends (of course) has a part-time job as a security guard at the corporate research facility, so a'infiltratin' we will go. Hackers meets the O.C. meets zombies, basically.

Let's not mince words -- this is a bad movie. It had so much potential: great special effects, good-looking shots, zombie bums played by Eastern Europeans, etc. However (just like the zombies themselves!) something went wrong and instead of a fun movie there is a soulless, shambling thing that takes too long to die.

My guess is that the director is trying to avoid horror movie cliches, to zag whenver you expect him to zig. Instead of creating any sort of tension, however, he sets up plot points and then tosses them away nonsensically. Pyromaniac baby brother who knows how to make bombs and then somehow infiltrates the research facility before the heroes do? Nope, he doesn't save the day, he just dies without ceremony. Orphaned kid finds out that his parents have been resurrected as Borg-like super soldiers? Nope, they don't help him out with the zombie invasion or do any super soldiering. Elkayem takes David Mamet's "if a gun is shown in the first act, it will be fired in the third" axiom and says, "What gun? There was a gun? Oh yeah, that fell out of dude's pocket in act two."

We watched this on the heels of Hood of the Dead, and the two are polar opposites. Hood has flow and tension and cares about its characters, and gets things done on a shoestring budget. This feels flat and rushed, with no stakes. I only wish that the Quiroz Bros. who did Hood had the money and cinematographic chops that went into Necropolis.

That said, we haven't tracked down the companion piece Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave To the Grave, and I'm actually interested in doing so. It sounds like a more fun plot (zombie-making drugs on a college campus!) and I hope Elkayem redeems himself.

Zombie explanation: The last few vats of Trioxin (the military-developed chemical referenced in earlier Return of the Living Dead movies), which somehow ended up at Chernobyl.

Gratuitous zombie movie in-joke: One of the girls is inexplicably nicknamed Romero. Groan.

Also, "Send more security guards!" but that one was pretty good.

Saving grace: The fake commercial that opens the movie is the best part ("Hybratech: not a single recorded zombie outbreak in ten years"). I would have ended the movie with a dude writing on a whiteboard:

"Days since a work-related zombie incident: 0"

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hood of the Living Dead

Written and directed by Ed and Jose Quiroz, 2005

Hood of the Living Dead had a lot to live up to even before the opening credits began. First, any play on "...of the living dead" invokes His Holiness Mr. Romero and instantly sets up a high standard to which many movies cannot afford to aspire. And second, my movie-watching companion professed doubt that any urban horror film would surpass the seminal Leprechaun In the Hood. Skeptical, we settled in to watch.

We were rewarded with a surprisingly sincere and good-hearted zombie film. Oh, certainly the budget is low, and of course the directors' amateurs friends populate the cast, but Hood of the Living Dead loves zombie cinema. Cheap? Yeah. But when it’s this cheap, you can clearly ee where LOVE holds it together.

Ricky works in a lab during the day and as a surrogate parent to his younger brother at night. He dreams of moving out of Oakland. Before this planned escape, however, his brother is shot to death in a drive-by. Ricky's keen scientific mind presents an option superior to CPR or 911: injections of his lab's experimental regenerative formula. Sadly, little bro wakes up in an ambulance as a bloodthirsty Oakland zombie! Chaos and mayhem! I think it's more economical to eat your enemies than take vengeance in a drive-by, but then again, I'm a poor judge of the complexities of urban life. (How poor a judge? In response to a gory scene involving four men, I opined "Ah-ha! White t-shirts on everyone so the blood shows up. Economical! I used the same technique in my own low-budget horror film." Jordan replied, "No, that's gang dress. White t-shirts were banned from New Orleans bars for a time as a result." Oh.)

A lot of the movie is set in someone's living room, so there's a great deal of hanging out and waiting for the zombies. But the characters are sympathetic and the movie is sincere-- it surpasses its budget in spirit.

Zombie explanation: When man plays God, zombies arise! Or, perhaps: Follow FDA-approved testing rules before human experimentation!

Contribution to the zombie canon: This is the first zombie movie I've seen with a drive-by shooting. As far as the actual zombies go, infection is spread with a bite as usual, but quite unusually head shots don't work-- it's heart shots that kill. Zombies have pulses, the absence of which proves true death. And these zombies make pretty cool jaguar-growl noises.

Gratuitous zombie movie in-joke: A mercenary named Romero. Groan.

Favorite zombie: Jaguar-noise little brother zombie, of course!

Zombie Honeymoon

Directed by David Gebroe, 2004

Zombie Honeymoon official website

Zombie Honeymoon is a surprisingly sweet love story that just happens to include a bit of zombie in it. Once the initial psychobilly furor calms down and it focuses on the young newlyweds, it's easy to overlook the husband's zombie bite and appreciate the psychology of relationships. In fact, as we watched we felt that zombies seemed inserted into the story as an analogy for something else. My theory was that the ongoing tension between a living wife and an undead husband echoed an abusive relationship. However, as bonus materials on the disc show, Zombie Honeymoon was made for the director's sister, whose husband died shortly after their wedding. This is probably why the movie captures the grieving process so uncannily. It's really touching.

Things I particularly liked:
  • The couple starts out vegetarian, which is always a nice counterpoint to cannibalism.
  • The first zombie's appearance is quite creepy. He slowly floats through the ocean waves, initially unidentifiable, finally rotten and threatening. We giggled and posited that a zombie had escaped from Shock Waves.
  • This is quite possibly the first time we've witnessed a feasting zombie protesting “it’s not what it looks like!”
  • Zombie movie shout-out: a video store clerk wears a Zombi 2 shirt.
  • The slow descent into zombification is compared to fatal illness in the film's IMDB write-up, but the inherent animosity of zombies clears the way for the survivor to wish guiltlessly for the zombie's death. It's a strange way to commemorate one's dead brother-in-law (even though his representative character is very sincere and truly wants to protect his wife from his appetite).

Zombie explanation: Just being bitten won't do it; these zombies have a specific life cycle. At the end of their feeding phase, as they start to rot beyond the ability to hunt, they vomit contagious zombie ooze into their victims' mouths. It's an odd viral tic, but after the crazed biology of the zombie-alien-things in Slither, I will never again complain about zombie biology.

Contribution to the zombie canon: The movie is an incredibly sincere and accurate depiction of zombie survivor psychology when losing a loved one, though the slow corruption differs from traditional films. This zombie knows what's happening to him and he's even able to hide it from his beloved wife for a while. Technically, there's also living-undead sex. There aren't a lot of zombie love stories (and I don't mean living love set against a backdrop of zombies as in Shaun of the Dead-- I mean the exploration of love in spite of zombiedom as in Cemetery Man, Day of the Dead 2, Night of the Living Dorks, Return of the Living Dead 2, and possibly RotLD), so I appreciate additions to the genre.

Favorite moment: Well, I got a little teary-eyed at the romantic candlelight dinner. I'm going to break my tradition of spoiling the hell out of these films because this one is worth seeing on multiple levels and I think you'd enjoy this moment unspoiled.

Favorite zombie: Why, the cute emo surfer husband zombie, of course. He loves his pretty wife and wants to make all their dreams come true. He's just so hungry.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Return of the Living Dead 2

1988, directed by Ken Wiederhorn

Ironic that a movie about brains should have so few. Did the Romero series-- each installation of which begins with complete knowledge of the prior film and builds upon that established world-- so thoroughly spoil me that I'm unable to appreciate sequels of another stripe? Perhaps it's not the fault of Return of the Living Dead part 2. The fault lies with me. I've seen too many zombie sequels that closely echo the original instead of creating new ideas.

One military officer offers a cursory “not again” but no one else in RotLD2 acknowledges that RotLD occurred. A shame that the excellent set-up for a sequel in RotLD wasn't adopted. Instead, we have a retread of events and causes, this time enacted by kids. It is my opinion that child protagonists add very little and offer a cheap way to spark audience sympathies with a minimum of characterization.

Because we know the RotLD formula is in effect there's very little tension to build. This time is instead devoted to comedy-- an interesting choice that didn't quite work for me but one I respect anyway. Two extremely likeable lead characters from RotLD return here in completely different -- and far less likeable-- roles. There are even certain dialogue echoes for fans of the first movie.

The slapstick increases when the zombies appear. I have never been a fan of slapstick humor though I think I'm pretty open to genre experimentation. Oh, I don't hate the idea of zombies joyriding in a stolen army vehicle, but I'm highly critical of the gag's execution. If a late 1980s horror-comedy starring a shrill and constantly screaming cast excites you, I recommend this movie.

Oh-- it also has Dana Ashbrook, whom I love a little bit.

Zombie explanation: 245-Trioxin, a military chemical experiment.

Contribution to the zombie canon: It's a bit unusual to offer a child protagonist, and I did enjoy the way they set our hero up against his nemesis-, the zombified neighborhood bully. It's also an example of a straight zombie comedy (RotLD was highly comedic but maintained a genuine sense of terror as well). Finally, it shows the zombies consuming all the animals in a pet store, marking one of the few films in which zombies consume living flesh indiscriminately. (The original Night of the Living Dead was the first, and despite an undisturbed crocodile living among the zombies in Day of the Dead, I believe this is canon for Romero's films.)

Favorite moment: The zombie kid eating his mother's head was a moment of successful tension and humor. Bon appetit!

Favorite zombie: So closely does this sequel mirror its predecessor that the tar-monster emerges from a cannister again. I bet you thought he'd be my favorite, wouldn't you? Especially since he's portrayed by the same creepy mime as the first? But no; whether through costume, mime, or other factors, the shimmying shimmering horror isn't quite the same here (and is far too quickly dispatched by a child-- blasphemy!).

Instead, my favorite is the ravenous zombie boyfriend played by Thom Matthews, who was so charming in the original RotLD. Through logic, love, and overriding hunger for brains, he convinces his girlfriend to let him eat her brains. It's sweet, really. We've seen love between zombies before (Wild Zero), and between the dead and the living (Cemetery Man, Night of the Living Dorks, White Zombie), but aside from Cemetery Man I cannot think of another film that shows a lover offering him- or herself to a zombie out of love. And this is the kind of trivia for which I watch these movies.

Return of the Living Dead

1985, directed by Dan O'Bannon

Let us commence with a brief summation of why RotLD is among the finest zombie movies ever made.
  • It opens with this legend: “The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.” This begins the film with ABSOLUTE THRILL-POWER.
  • Tar-monster is one of the scariest zombies ever. He makes my Top Five list. They hired a mime to portray this tall, shimmying slime monster, and he moves as though his bones are liquified.
  • This is where the brains fetish started. Prior to this movie and its emphasis on human brains, zombies ate any part of humans they could reach. You’d be surprised how few films offer brains as a specific driving force, though it’s one thing everyone associates with zombies. All thanks to this little gem of a film. This significance cannot be underrated.
  • Relentless, inexorable, undefeatable evil. EVERYTHING dead returns to life—dissection specimens, butterflies pinned to boards. Zombie dogs! Zombie bugs! There is no escape. But most importantly, there is no shortcut to zombie destruction here. Decapitation, destroying the brain, cremation — these zombies don’t die.
  • Zombies can think, act, and speak, though they’d prefer to just dine. “Come in, dispatch. Send more paramedics,” might be the grandest zombie plan ever.
  • Linnea Quigley nude. A lot. There you go.
  • If you don’t want to watch the whole film, the credits roll over a selection of Greatest RotLD Moments, telling the story in brief, hilarious snippets! And it ends on a very meta question — please enjoy the irony!

This review must open with a personal story. I saw this movie at a slumber party around 1989. My twelve-year-old self was traumatized. It would be thirteen years before I watched another zombie film! Even then, I only watched 28 Days Later because I’m a Danny Boyle fan—and the zombie content inspired nasty nightmares. After several insomniac months I realized I had to confront this fear. I began to rent zombie movies in hopes of finding the initial movie — in particular, one scene—that had scared me so badly. By the time I rented Return of the Living Dead I’d seen enough good zombie movies to spark my enthusiasm. So sixteen years later I returned to this film with appreciation for the genre as well as the psychological satisfaction of confronting my primal zombie fear. Thanks, RotLD. You made me the self-styled zombie queen and scholar that I am today.

RotLD is camp horror. Laughs outnumber screams. But laughing at these characters inspires goodwill faster than drama might so the audience’s sympathies are engaged early. I also genuinely like the older male characters; I could find myself getting a little teary-eyed at the slowly dying man who knows he’ll soon be a zombie and reverently removes his wedding ring before locking himself in the crematorium. Character stereotypes are saved for the young Brat Pack types, including a mohawked Molly Ringwald lookalike and poor Linnea Quigley, whose clothes keep falling off.

The scene that ripped my poor 12-year-old mind apart and placed within it zombie trauma timebombs that would go off 13 years later underscores the inexorable evil of these zombies. I think it’s also where the funny-scary nature of the movie turns into pure horror. Survivors trapped in a funeral home capture half a decomposing zombie. Strapping her to an embalming table, they proceed to interrogate her while her exposed spine leaks fluid across the metal. The pain of being dead, she moans, is only lessened by eating living brains. So there’s no hope and no escape, only swarms of fast, hungry zombies. It’s still a bit brain-bending, if you ask me; most other zombie interpretations offer some hope of killing individual zombies (destroying the head, usually), outwaiting the threat (28 Days Later), or even living in relative harmony with them (Shaun of the Dead).

How hopeless is the zombie plague in this movie? Headshots don’t work—a pickaxe through the skull only pins it to the floor. Decapitation? Now you have a headless zombie running around. Even sawing it into pieces won’t help; the pieces live on. Cremation destroys the body but releases the zombifying chemical into the air. Hiding doesn’t help… they can smell your brains.

Only solution? Nuclear bomb. Oh, silly U.S. Army. Didn’t we learn anything about releasing the chemicals into the air? Next up: Return of the Living Dead part 2!

Zombie explanation: Military chemical. The title, of course, implies a continuation of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Original bodies from that plague were stored in the basement of a medical supply company. Container failure releases the gas (and some zombies) into the doomed city of Louisville.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Indescribable! This is essential viewing for zombie fans. Here’s where the brain-eating concept of zombies begins.

Favorite moment: Some of the lines just kill me—“Rabid weasels.” “Send more cops.” “I can smell your brains.”

Favorite zombie: Tar monster is fantastic—he moves as though he has twice the joints of a living human, and all of them are double-jointed. Shining with slimy decay, he’s slightly more skeletal than zombielike but nevertheless terrifying.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


2003, directed by Michael Spierig

"When I was a kid, we fucking respected our parents, we didn’t fucking eat ‘em!"

Generally speaking, I do not enjoy alien zombie movies. Romero himself was one of the first to use this excuse for zombie contagion, but he quickly dropped it after Night of the Living Dead. The alien excuse might be gaining some power again—aliens themselves are still on a downward course from their prior movie villain popularity, but alien-zombies permit a mélange of cinematic styles and seem to usher in a more humorous movie. Both Undead and Slither, for instance, use them to great effect. For my part, I feel that both aliens and zombies encapsulate the perfect guilt-free Other. They’re both superb stand-ins for whatever enemy culture fears at the time. Using both in one movie seems like overkill.

Undead begins with flaming meteors, and so introduces the alien menace well before the zombies. When eviscerated by one of these meteors, a sweet little old lady gets right back up and adopts a policy of beheading drunks. So begins the blight on Berkeley, a tiny farming town somewhere in Australia. Added to the zombie threat are burning rain from apocalyptically clouded skies and alien beams that suck up life forms. Our lead characters — the newly crowned small town beauty queen, her pregnant vengeful rival, an asthmatic rookie cop and her hair-trigger partner, a few others — have a problem.

Within short order this motley group of survivors bands together in a distant farmhouse. (The classic deserted farm house besieged by zombies is a great setpiece for survivor psychology and gory hijinks, of course.) The house belongs to Marion, a bespurred John Wayne-like farm man whose talents are guns, survivalism, and zombie bisection with a triple-barreled rifle. Marion appears surprisingly Amish to my American eyes but that just makes the ensuing violence better. I like Marion. It’s so nice to see the joy of a character who’s known for a long time that the world will end and has spent his time preparing. "Aliens,” he says dourly. “We MUST fight them."

Marion has some of the best action scenes in any zombie film. And the action is deliciously clear and even occasionally presented in slow-motion so that we can follow every impossible move and spray of blood. It’s a welcome change from the prevailing ADD trend of blurred split-second shots that obscure the action. Also of note are the clear homages to Sam Raimi. The Evil Dead series is evident in framing, pacing, and the way the undead rise stiff-backed from the floor straight into a standing position.

Undead provides fantastic, hilarious zombie gore — fists that punch straight through heads, torsoless legs that walk around with their bloody spine sticking out, humans punching out zombie fish, and flesh peeling from faces. The effects are phenomenal, particularly when keeping in mind the film’s relatively low budget.

Zombie explanation: Aliens. Zombiedom comes and goes among Berkeley’s populace. The cure and infection are caught up in alien interference, but in a fantastic twist, the humans never figure that out. What they assumed was a life-saving gameplay instead brought about post-alien secondary infection and bam, we’ve got more zombies and a potential sequel. Love it.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Undead re-energizes the alien-zombie connection. It’s also one of the few movies in which there’s a cure for zombiedom. (Night of the Living Dorks comes to mind, as do various voodoo movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow and White Zombie.) And while this isn’t necessarily a contribution to zombie canon, I’d like to acknowledge it as one of the better homages to Sam Raimi’s style.

Favorite moment: Scalded by the stinging rain, our band of misfit heroes strip off their burning clothes. As they march into an abandoned store naked or in their underwear, they perfectly embody the helpless, delicious zombie buffet that everyone else has fallen prey to. And for favorite gory moment, the defaced zombie wins. *shudder*

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Night of the Living Dorks

Original title: Die Nacht der lebenden Loser. Directed by Mathias Dinter, 2004.

The annual Wisconsin Film Festival afforded us the opportunity to see this German gem in a theater full of zombie and film (and zombie film) fans. No comedy fails to benefit from a full theater-- especially one that serves alcohol. Bearing in mind that the raucous laughter of 200 people may have ennobled this movie beyond its worth, let's dive in.

Night of the Living Dorks is, at heart, a high school film. I hate high school films. Their empty stereotypes, their comedic injustices perpetrated against my cinematic avatars, their formulaic plots and facile resolutions... we hates them, precious. But (you knew there was a but coming, right?) the movie uses all of these expectations to great advantage. Zombie comedies already rely upon genre conventions; the addition of another genre's conventions only adds spice. Setting up social cliques doesn't give me Vietnam-style high school flashbacks when I know that zombies will rip through the popular kids by the second act.

This is a tight, fast, clever movie. And it's the little touches that make it. The zombifying agent-- cremated zombie remains-- are transported from Haiti to Germany via eBay. Our three hero-nerd-zombies attend Friedrich Nietzsche Gymnasium. As soon as they suspect that they might be fearsome flesh eaters, they watch Romero's Day of the Dead and celebrate by shouting "We're so the undead!" A zombie on meth crashes a house party and dances Thriller by the pool. Body parts like ears and testicles fall off and have to be stapled back on. Each of these things is awesome unto itself. Together, they create the feel-good zombie movie of the year. (That year apparently being 2004.)

There are some ludicrous suppositions in this film, but they spring from the high school formula. The general opinion of goths, for instance, and the vacationing parents cliche grate a little. But really, zombies aren't often placed in a strictly adolescent context. This novelty alongside the humor and craftmanship assisted my willing suspension of disbelief.

Zombie explanation: Voodoo-- marginally. The goth kids' graveyard ritual happens to involve real Haitian zombie ashes, and the nerd trio is accidentally doused. Then they die. Then they come back. As zombies. And continue going to class as usual.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Besides serving as a worthy heir to Shaun of the Dead in terms of zombie comedy, Night of the Living Dorks combines zombies with typical high school clique film conventions. Awkward adolescent hilarity ensues! Also gore!

Favorite moment: The wicked zombie and his insatiable appetite for flesh and vengeance appealed to me.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Zombi 3

Directed by Lucio Fulci, 1988

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my fiftieth zombie film! I haven’t blogged more than 20 yet, but my tasty brains are decisively marinated in zombie cinema juices. Grr! Argh! Brains!

Taking a tip from Return of the Living Dead (I claim theft—RotLD was released in 1985, Zombi 3 in 1988) the zombie menace here starts when the cremated remains of a zombie—here, a science experiment gone wrong—spreads through the air. This results in zombification of any living things, as we see when Fulci invokes Hitchcock in a Birds homage. Young people flee the birds and, soon enough, people by hiding out in an abandoned hotel (with a convenient box of guns). IMDB and the DVD case inform me that terrorists, not cremation, release the zombie toxin into the air, but that’s not what occurs onscreen.

Fulci is a problem. In 1979 he filmed a so-called sequel to Night of the Living Dead called Zombi 2. It was pretty good for its kind, and features the classic underwater zombie versus shark scene as well as memorably groundbreaking gore. Apparently this lent him such status among horror fans that he had a license to remake permutations of his movie over and over again. Most of his films share a similar plodding pace, whining women, and excessive gore marked by mutilations and eyeball damage. The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery, and Zombi 2 are all a little homogenous for my tastes, though I respect Fulci’s contribution to the cause we both love. Zombi 3 is slightly faster-paced and features a band of survivors—key differences from his earlier films which make me think the American slasher genre affected his filmmaking by 1988.

The effects are good, the gore is sufficient, and the zombies are hungry. It’s a Fulci zombie film.

Zombie explanation: A military-sponsored science experiment goes bad. Upon cremating the captured zombie corpses, the virus gets into the air. Containment proves impossible and bloody mayhem ensues.

Contribution to the zombie canon: A return to my favorite premise: infectious zombies want to eat you. These zombies can be killed by conventional means, not only the traditional blow to the head, and their infection is so virulent that even casual contact may infect you. Certain aspects of the film seem to draw upon The Stand and Return of the Living Dead.

Favorite moment: A pretty girl is zombie-pushed into a pool of stagnant water. Leaping to the rescue, her potential paramour pulls her out of the water—only to see that her legs have been chewed off in the short time she was underwater. Pretty girl goes crazy and attacks him zombie-style!

Favorite zombie: The hungry self-propelled refrigerator head. Second place: legless pool girl zombie. Third place: DJ zombie.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Snake People

Directed by Juan Ibáñez, 1971

Not only does the film open in color (a pleasant surprise, as I’ve been reviewing black and white zombie movies lately) but it opens with a diabolically cackling voodoo dwarf. I am ready for this ride. Filmed around 1968, it has a fabulously mod opening credit sequence. Swinging!

The Snake People takes place on yet another island where the natives have discovered the secret of corpse reanimation. Sex zombies are popular here—“docile native girls” giving into their “primal urges”, as we’re told. This fleet of nubile girls kisses and chomps their way through meddling policemen. Flesh eating in an early zombie film! Yay! One of them even looks a little green-gray in color, acknowledging decomposition and the eventual gore of zombies; otherwise the zombies are perfectly humanlike.

On the side of the angels (the mongoose people?) are a hard-drinking handsome cop, a French policeman determined to bring law and order to this zombie-lovin’ island, and a beautiful temperance activist visiting her island-dwelling uncle (a barely recognizable Boris Karloff, near the end of his career). On the side of the zombies is, of course, Boris Karloff. (When zombies come from non-white populations, a white man inevitably bridges the two races to exacerbate the zombie menace. To identify the villain in these films, just pick the white man who loves the island and its people. He who champions racial tolerance and cultural empathy is always the zombie freak.)

Zombie explanation: Voodoo. Again.

Contribution to the zombie canon: I’m having a hard time sifting a lesson out of this film. I liked the evil snake woman’s hips, I guess. Extended musical scenes were still reasonably common at the time, and the extended native dance ceremony is a too-familiar sight in these voodoo zombie movies. But I’d watch it again for her hips.

Favorite moment: Cranky old Boris, looking like KFC’s Colonel, chasing a co-conspirator around a table with his cane.

Lessons learned: There are ALWAYS drums on the island.

Revolt of the Zombies

Directed by Victor Halperin, 1936

All right! I’m pretty stoked that Revolt of the Zombies offers Asian zombies instead of the clichéd Caribbean islander zombies. What’s more, I find their verbiage fascinating: the word zombie is freely interchanged with robot. These robot zombies built Angkor Wat, and now the Allies want the secret of making zombies for military purposes. An armed squad of Cambodian zombies demonstrates their usefulness in war; though not physically different from live men they are nevertheless impervious to bullets or fear.

Seeking the zombie process in Angkor Wat, a couple of people fall in love, someone else goes mad from jealousy, and some others die. The zombies do indeed revolt but their zombifying spell has been broken by then, making it less a revolt of zombies and more a revolt of really angry ex-zombies.

Zombie explanation: An “Oriental ceremony” centered around zombifying smoke. The eventual zombie master creates armies of live robots for love of a woman.

Contribution to the zombie canon: While it still falls under the early 20th century problem of using zombies to inflame racial insensitivity, I appreciate the unusual choice of Asian zombies. The verbal association of zombie and robot is pretty hip, too—if only they were also monkey ninja pirates!

Favorite moment: The overused image of Bela Lugosi’s eyes, stolen from White Zombie.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I Eat Your Skin

The movie opens with an island ritual: after much lithe dancing and bikini-titillating, a lovely native faces the sacrificial sword. About that time I had the revelation that’s escaped me over the past few decades-old zombie films:

Until George Romero, zombies in cinema seem to have stood for a racial “other”. As a modern zombie fan I’m accustomed to the inclusiveness of zombies—your neighbors, friends, and family were as equally likely to fall prey to the zombie plague as any stranger. Zombies are us. In these old movies, most of which offer voodoo as the zombie origin, zombies are the fearsome, incomprehensible them. I’m no longer surprised—but still a little sad—that this dovetails with racial fear. Zombie origins aren’t as noble as I thought when I started this mass consumption of zombie cinema.

I Eat Your Skin’s zombies are bug-eyed murderers who enjoy machete decapitations. The group of white victims includes a ludicrously nasal trophy wife, a cancer researcher, a lothario author, and a random guy with Kyle McLachlan’s chin. Thrown together on Voodoo Island, a struggle for life and gasoline ensues! Wacky. Apparently the natives require a young, blonde virgin for their rites—kinky, eh? The last black and white zombie movie I watched was King of the Zombies, and they sure have upped the sex content since 1941! In fact, now the voodoo king is singing and shaking his muscular loin-clothed body and I am digging the equality of cheesecake in this movie!

Zombie explanation: Voodoo seems to be the initial cause, but a surprise twist shows that a mad scientist created them with irradiated snake venom! That’s pretty rare—set up the blacks as villains but reveal whites as the true evil.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Zombies of this era were still evolving into what we now take for granted. These reanimated walking dead threaten the living, but there were a few distinctions. First, there was rarely any eating of flesh. Second, zombies generally formed groups that worked together to serve a master.

Favorite moment: A zombie carries a big box labeled ‘EXPLOSIVES.” Zombies be blowin’ shit up!

Moral lessons: There are ALWAYS drums on the island.

Friday, March 10, 2006

King of the Zombies

Directed by Jean Yarbrough, 1941


Despite its WWII undercover operative framework, King of the Zombies is centered upon and carried by the hijinks and humor of its uncomfortably racist comedic relief. I haven't seen an eye-rolling, shuffling minstrel performance like this since Spike Lee's Bamboozled. This film has not aged well.

A plane goes down on an uncharted island. The plane's passengers-- a bland gentleman, his valet (the comedic role), and the pilot are welcomed by a wealthy recluse who claims to have escaped Austria on the eve of the war. The man's wife acts suspiciously hypnotized and floats through the house posing dramatically above our sleeping heroes. The guy is, of course, evil, which means you have Jews standing in for evil and blacks standing in as comedy relief. This movie made me feel dirty.

Ruling over the mansion's kitchen are a maiden and crone set who introduce the bumbling valet to zombies, which apparently infest the mansion like mice. Of note is that only the blacks see or acknowledge zombies until over midway through the film, and all the zombies are black. This film didn't even know it was dealing with racial issues.

Zombie explanation: A combination of white hypnotism and black voodoo. Very odd. It also appears to be reversible, though there's no built-in medical explanation as in Serpent and the Rainbow.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Thus far, the most racist zombie movie I've watched. It's also one of the earliest films in which the word "zombie" is spoken freely. This was surprisingly rare in early zombie films.

Favorite moment: The zombies come when you clap! "Oh, drat! I only meant to turn on the light with the Clapper (tm) but I seem to have called forth the kitchen zombies!"

Favorite zombie: The guy dressed like your gradndpa when he goes golfing.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Day of the Dead

Directed by George Romero, 1985

To balance out the almost lascivious gore that accompanies most zombie movies, the best films offer a healthy dose of characterization. I find that a strong component of survivor psychology is a facet of the best films. And yes, Day of the Dead ranks among the best zombie films. It is in fact my favorite.

This is the third and least commercially successful of Romero's classic zombie trilogy (which became a quartet with 2005's Land of the Dead, reviewed elsewhere on this site). It's soaked in a distinctively eighties ethos: you will smirk at zombies in shoulder pads and feathered hair. That's part of Romero's glorious investment in modern zombie culture, though-- Night of the Living Dead delineated 1960s invasion psychology, Dawn of the Dead encapsulated the 1970s, and Day deftly handles the Cold War-frightened 1980s.

Zombies have overrun the country. In an underground zombieproof bunker, a small regiment lives uneasily with an even smaller scientific team. The scientists study the reasons, means, and possible cures for the zombie plague; the army men acquire zombie specimens for experimentation. As zombies, stress, and claustrophobia shred the group, our scientist heroine Sarah shifts from seeking a cure to staying alive. And not in the awesome disco way, either.

This movie has a lot of talking. A great deal of talking. So much talking! People talk, and then they yell, and sometimes someone has a breakdown or shoots a zombie. Then they talk again. If the discussions were of a less intense nature this might be a dull movie, but I find the unraveling psychology of a small band of survivors absolutely riveting. Now, right in the opening scenes, Romero establishes Sarah as something of an unsympathetic bitch, and the movie never loses sight of her less savory traits. Some of the people who do the worst things are the most pitiable. Even a character who clearly exists to be killed is given a good dose of screen time so that you legitimately regret his death. Character development in this movie is on par with the more famous, better-loved Dawn of the Dead.

Yet Romero does not withhold his trademark zombie gore. A zombie handed a razor blade starts to shave his own face off in a show of residual memory. Visitors to the mad scientist's lab run into a preserved zombie baby (making this the first movie, I think, to address fetal zombieism-- a record I previously thought held by 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake). Shovels go through faces and tongues fall out of throats and arms are hacked off and entrails, as ever, are pulled from screaming victims. Huzzah.

Zombie explanation: Not applicable. Only Romero's first zombie film hinted at a cause. I vastly prefer the in media res approach of his subsequent films. Besides, the futile search for cause and cure fuels this film and adds to the sense of desperation. You don't watch Romero films for a cause-- you watch for the gruesome effects and apocalypse psychology.

Contribution to the zombie canon: It's Romero; that almost says it all. But as I mentioned above, the psychological components are crucial to the movie's longevity and to post-disaster movies in general. Additionally, it raises some chilling parent-child concepts, as the increasingly insane Dr. Logan adopts shifting paternal and childish roles with Bub and other zombies. Also fun are the cultural tidbits with which science pummels zombies: Stephen King novels and Beethoven, apparently.

If you're watching this movie in light of later zombie efforts, note some mild similarities between this and 28 Days Later-- particularly the mad military commander, dark tunnel zombies, and the importance of post-apocalyptic sedation.

Favorite moment: Any moment with Bub. His instinctive salute in particular.

Favorite zombie: Bub the sentient zombie! Bub is such a sweetheart. But Dr. Tongue is a fan favorite and a brilliantly designed zombie: clearly someone who was shot in the face, the lower half of his face is gone and his slick red tongue falls out through his throat as you watch him decompose. Look for Dr. Tongue in the opening abandoned city scene. The final zombie invasion of the movie is a blast; watch for the following zombies and more: football player, clown, army men, bride, groom, a man in apron and dishwasher gloves, fisherman, ballerina, chef, surgeon, fortune teller, and tennis player.

Lessons learned: Wherever it is you think you escaped to, know this: there are already zombies behind you.