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.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Quick and the Undead

Directed by Gerald Nott, 2006

Oh my God; it's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with zombies. To my knowledge (which is extensive though admittedly imperfect) this is the first film to transplant zombies into the Wild West. The Quick and the Undead benefits from this additional genre, as it effectively cannibalizes (pun intended) horror, comedy, and westerns.

In fact, fans of westerns will probably get more out of this than I did with my limited exposure. I identified character analogues of Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes right away but I'm sure I missed plenty of cinematic homages. Everyone's familiar with the showdown trope, though, and it's particularly delicious when mapped onto horror: the zombies won't voluntarily come out and fight you in the middle of town, so you might have to lay a trail of dismembered body parts before you can start shooting. Cool.

The familiar storyline takes a right turn soon enough, and comes down to two groups of zombie bounty hunters. Their career depends upon compensation for zombies' index fingers, and there are a few ways to maximize your payout. You can steal a bag of fingers from your rival, for starters. And the bad guy's thought of some even juicier methods.

The director's style reminds me a bit of David Twohy's Pitch Black. Jump cuts add a feeling of action to something as simple as a walking scene. As the landscape holds still and the raiding party jumpcuts their way along it the audience is reminded of the permanence of the land compared with the transience of humanity, especially when a virus has made most of humanity into zombies for the past 85 years. The look and feel of the movie is so vital that I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this before-- seems like this could have been given an effective marketing push due to its original mix of genres. It might be too vital an editing style-- but I've seen a dozen low-budget zombie films with interminably overlong timing and I'm favorably disposed toward the MTV style at this point.

Zombie explanation: Virus.

Contribution to the zombie canon: Introduction to a good old-fashioned western.

Favorite zombie: The bloated, bald, pale zombie in the early shootout. Something about all those folds of flesh makes for a scary zombie-- there's a big fat zombie in Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake that scares me, and there's Henrietta in Evil Dead 2, too. It probably all comes back to Tor Johnson.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hide and Creep

Directed by Chuck Hartsell and Chance Shirley, 2004

Before the opening credits were over I was laughing out loud. "Evil Dead's not a zombie movie. No it isn't. It's Kanderian demons that take over the living." "Oh, you want an American zombie movie? There are only about three good American zombie movies, and Romero made those." Oh, Hide and Creep. You know me from tip to toe.

The humor continues in this good-natured Alabama piece about a small town and its archetypal residents battling the zombie menace. Southern rednecks and zombies are both inherently funny, and the film cleverly goes for comedy over horror.

The zombie makeup is pretty rudimentary, but so affable was the script that I didn't mind a bit. Apparent budgetary constraints mean violence is implied through clever cut shots and gore is minimal, but the camera tricks are nicely timed and it doesn't come across as particularly cheap. The makers of Hide and Creep acknowledge their limits and work so well within them that the end product is perfectly charming. This movie reminded me that indie zombie films can be a pleasure to watch.

Zombie explanation: Aliens! Or possibly Communist China. It's really not particularly important-- like Romero's films, Hide and Creep knows the meat of the movie isn't in the "how," it's in the "what now?"

Contribution to the zombie canon: Low-budget zombie comedy that works! Small town caricatures dealing with the undead is not a new scenario in zombie cinema, but it rarely fails to be entertaining. I would also like to note for the record that there was arguably more male nudity than female.

Gratuitous zombie movie in-joke: The discussion of zombie films (parts of which I quoted above). A VCR used as a zombie-bashing weapon falls to the ground and spits out a copy of Night of the Living Dead. A lead character is named Barbara.

Favorite zombie: Naked stripper zombies, who made making out and consuming one another indistinguishable.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

RSS vomited.

Blogger moved to a new platform and updating the blog spit out the entire RSS feed all over again. If the site could apologize I'm sure it would.

New zombie movie reviews and information coming soon.