Saturday, May 02, 2009

Capsule reviews: the lowest of low budgets

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All You Need is Brains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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