Posts Tagged ‘zombie film’

28 Days Later (2002)

After waking from a long nap, there is always that feeling of disorientation as you try to get your bearings. This is especially difficult if things have changed drastically since you went to sleep. Meet Jim. He’s been in a coma for 28 days. In that time, the world has ended.

28 Days Later is a zombie horror film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. It stars Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston.

When a group of British animal liberation activists break into a lab to free some monkeys being used in medical research, they are warned that the monkeys are infected with a “rage virus” in the hopes of curing aggressive tendencies in humans. They don’t listen, and of course once they free one of the monkeys, one of the activists gets bitten, and hilarity ensues. Fast forward to 28 days later. Jim, a bicycle courier, awakens from a coma to discover that apparently London is completely devoid of human life, in one of the eeriest sequences in the whole movie. Then he discovers that, no, London is not abandoned – it’s populated by rage zombies. Yay. Fortunately the merry chase that ensues ends with Jim being rescued by a pair of uninfected survivors, Selena and Mark, who fill him in: the rage zombies are not dead, just really, really pissed off, and they try to kill anyone who isn’t infected. Trouble is, the rage virus spreads through bodily fluids, so a bite on even a bit of slobber getting in the wrong spot means that in a matter of seconds you’re one of them. Selena has hardened herself to this way of life, killing Mark without hesitation when he is cut in another fight with the Infected. It is not long, though, before they find another pocket of survivors, Frank and his teenage daughter Hannah, who offer them a place to stay and a glimmer of hope: a pre-recorded radio broadcast apparently being transmitted by an Army blockade in Manchester claiming to hold the solution to the Infection. Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Think it’ll be that easy? This is a zombie movie – of course it won’t. However, with dwindling supplies, the survivors have little choice but to investigate, and hope that they can survive the hordes of infected Rage zombies on the way…

I love zombie movies. They can be goofy and fun, or terrifying and claustrophobic, sometimes even within the same movie. 28 Days Later offered an interesting twist on the classic zombie – the living zombie, something previously explored by Romero’s original version of The Crazies but nearly forgotten until now. 28 Days Later crosses the living zombie with the fast zombie – something used extensively in the Return of the Living Dead series but since discarded until fairly recently with the Dawn of the Dead remake. This combination of zombie traits makes for a frenetic, terrifying take on the zombie movie. You don’t have time to react. You have to kill them or be torn apart. Infection takes seconds. And they absolutely hate you. The military subplot also reminds me a lot of the military subplot in Day of the Dead; the Army dudes have their own ideas about what constitutes a “solution” to the Infection, and once it is discovered you’re left with a general feeling of, “Well, we’re screwed now.” Because that’s what the military does in these movies: they take a bad situation and make it worse in the hopes of making it better.

The cast was tight and well-cast. Cillian Murphy works well here as disoriented coma patient Jim, the guy to whom the London situation must be explained by the others. He just wants to survive and get back to a normal life, and he is just as desperate and terrified as one would expect an uninfected human in a zombie apocalypse would be, but when he snaps – boy howdy. His woobie-ness goes away instantly, turning into a savagery that makes his later role in Red Eye look like Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Selena is another aspect of the zombie survivor, reluctant to make any human connections because she know that she might have to kill any allies without hesitation. Frank and Hannah comprise another aspect, the caregiver playing at normality to avoid traumatizing his young ward too much. And Major Henry West… you know, I’ve seen Christopher Eccleston in three roles so far, and only one of them, the Ninth Doctor, has been even remotely benevolent. I would call him Pragmatic Evil here.

Overall, 28 Days Later is a worthy addition to the zombie subgenre, effectively walking the line between subtlety and blind terror in its depiction of a once-bustling city given over almost completely to the Rage Virus. I highly recommend this one to all zombie fans.

Zombie Strippers! (2008)

04/12/2011 3 comments

They’ll dance for a fee, but devour you for free.

Apparently, some time ago director Jay Lee was challenged to come up with the most marketable movie title ever. The title he came up with was Zombie Strippers!, and the movie he wrote to go along with it is, er, about what you’d expect.

Zombie Strippers! is a B-grade zombie comedy written and directed by Jay Lee, and apparently inspired by Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros (… what?!). It stars Robert Englund, Jenna Jameson, Penny Drake, Roxy Saint, and Tito Ortiz

It is a dystopic near-future. How dystopic? George W. Bush is sitting his fourth term as president, alongside Vice President Arnold Schwartzenegger. The United States Congress has been disbanded. Public nudity has been outlawed. The United States is enbroiled in wars across about a third of the planet, and with more wars than they have soldiers to fight them, a secret laboratory has developed a virus to help keep the soldiers on their feet and still fighting even after death. The only trouble is that the virus completely destroys all higher brain functions of male infectees, turning them into mindless, flesh-hungry zombies. Female infectees (through a brief technobabble involving the X chromosome) retain their higher brain functions, turning them into intelligent, flesh-hungry zombies. They’re still working the kinks out, but don’t worry, the lab’s security is second to none, which of course means that there is a containment breach literally two minutes into the movie. An elite Z Squad of improbably good-looking soldiers (including a blonde woman in a bikini top and camo pants the whole time) are dispatched to neutralize the threat, only to discover that their intel on the zombies is slightly, uh, WRONG. In the resulting confusion, one of them named Birdflough (pronounced bird flu, in case you were wondering) is bitten, but escapes unnoticed to a building next door to the lab – which turns out to be an illegal strip club named Rhino, run by a germophobe named Ian Essco who has every reason not to call the authorities, even when Birdflough turns and bites the throat out of a dancer named Kat. Kat dies, but is reanimated by the virus and wants to dance. Essco, concerned about losing his star dancer but unconcerned by the fact that she still has a huge bite wound in her throat and blood all over, lets her. To his surprise, this new, uninhibited zombie stripper is a HUGE hit, and the other strippers find themselves losing customers to the revitalized Kat, and faced with a choice – become zombies to compete, or lose their jobs. The only real complication Essco sees is the zombie strippers’ tendency to eat their customers during private dances, turning them into mindless zombies, but no problem – stick them in the basement. Of course, it isn’t long before things reach critical mass, and the Z Squad is closing in looking for their infected squadmate…

Okay. It’s a movie entitled Zombie Strippers. If you’re looking for high art, go away. This movie has hot, frequently-naked women, the men who watch them strip, flesh-eating zombies, and Robert Englund. This is not even the sort of zombie film you watch for its deep social commentary, or because the zombie represent much of anything. It’s like Shaun of the Dead without all the deep philosophical discussion. There is blood. There is violence. There are bare tits. Sometimes all at once. There is no sex (THANK CHRIST) but there is an implied blowjob gone wrong (executed by a zombie stripper. You do the math), and many of the freshly zombified strippers don’t even bother to clean up before they go back on stage. The special effects are frequently decent but at times hilariously bad, but that’s okay because this movie doesn’t take itself very seriously anyway (see title).

That said, it does take great pains to set things up properly before hilarity ensues, knitting up any loose ends and plot holes with a conscientiousness that so often goes neglected in higher-budgeted films. Most of the girls are pretty hot (escept for matriarch Blavatsky, who seems to be channelling a drag queen’s impression of Natasha Fatale), and they make a token effort for character development by having the newcomer be a devout Christian who is only stripping to earn money for her Nana’s camcer treatment, and one of the more experienced girls reads and quotes the great philosophers. Robert Englund, whom horror buffs will recognize as the normal-looking guy under Freddy’s Krueger’s makeup, is twitchy and perverted and mind of annoying (his comeuppance is satisfying but REALLY GROSS), and Jenna Jameson should be familiar to those who will admit they watch porn as one of the staple actresses of that genre. Aside from those two, there are no big-name actors in this film that I could see, and nobody here would be seen in a production of Shakespeare anytime soon. This is a zombie movie. With strippers. Undead strippers. Like I said, if you pick up a movie like this looking for high arts, put it down and walk away. It’s just a fun romp with a kind of squicky twist on the zombie genre, but fans of the subgenre should have fun.

In the end, Zombie Strippers! was exactly what I expected it would be – mindless fun, exactly what a B-movie should be. Fans of zombie movies should enjoy it as long as they go in there with low expectations and just enjoy the ride. Good stupid fun, but skip the popcorn.

Survival of the Dead (2009)

02/14/2011 2 comments

How far would you go to keep some semblance of civilization in a world of the walking dead? How far would you go to save those who have become shambling, flesh-eating ghouls? How far would you go to prove to that other stubborn old bastard that your plan is right?

Survival of the Dead (full title: George Romero’s Survival of the Dead) is the sixth entry in George “God of the Zombies” Romero’s Dead series of zombie movies, following a group of American soldiers turned mercenaries briefly encountered by the heroes of Diary of the Dead and therefore considered a gaiden story to the latter. It stars Alan “Land of the Dead” van Sprang, Kenneth “Timecop” Walsh, Kathleen “CSI: NY” Munroe, Devon “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” Bostick, and Athena “Saw IV” Karkanis.

The movie starts by setting up the circumstances that led to Sergeant Crockett (van Sprang) and his squad robbing the heroes of Diary of the Dead, namely a failed raid and the reanimation of several members of the National Guard, which led to Our Intrepid Antiheroes going AWOL. Meanwhile, off the coast of Delaware, two Irish families residing on Plum Island are feuding over what is to be done with the shambling undead that roam the island. The O’Flynns, led by their patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Walsh), have gathered a posse to round up and destroy the zombies after learning that Muldoons, led by their patriarch Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), have been keeping their undead relatives “alive” and in some semblance of normality until a cure is found. A brief standoff ensues, ending only when Patrick agrees, on the urging of his daughter Janet, to be exiled from the island.

Three weeks later, the National Guard deserters are joined by a teen identified only as Boy (Bostick), who informs them of a video recorded by Patrick O’Flynn telling survivors of Plum Island, offering it up as a safe haven from the zombie menace. They soon learn that Patrick wants all their supplies as payment, and a shootout ensues between the soldiers and the O’Flynns. In the confusion, Crockett has one of his men commandeer a ferry to get them to Plum Island. The barge secured, Crockett’s men board, and Patrick, the last surviving O’Flynn, jumps aboard as well, remaining only by virtue of a shaky truce as the remaining zombies aboard are dispatched. Patrick tells them that he sent hopeful refugees over to Plum Island mainly to piss off Muldoon and to trigger his distrust of strangers, but upon reaching the island in a small dinghy, the soldiers learn that Muldoon has been putting them to a more grotesque use. Believing that the zombies can be taught to accept a nonhuman food source, Muldoon shot any living refugees and kept the ones who arrived as zombies, chaining them up in a dark parody of normal life. O’Flynn is disgusted by this, and determined to prove that the zombies cannot be redeemed. In the end, the military refugees find themselves caught between the two sides of an Irish feud that threatens all their lives.

Okay, first off, let’s get one thing out of the way: This is a zombie movie. As such, a few things are to be expected: dead dudes shambling around trying to eat the living, infighting between factions, infighting within factions, and lots of blood and gore in at least the last third. If none of these appeal to you, just walk away. Another strike against this movie is the fact that it is the sixth in the Dead series. It’s really hard to keep a franchise fresh this far in, especially one that started in 1967. It tries to be a meaningful commentary about letting go of one’s loved ones or setting aside petty feuds in the face of mor important problems like an outbreak of flesh-eating undead, and in this it mostly fails. I’m sorry, but DEAD DUDES EATING THE LIVING ARE VERY HARD TO MAKE SOCIALLY RELEVANT THESE DAYS. HOWEVER, dead dudes are still dead dudes, and dead dudes that eat the living are still a very patient menace. It can wait all day. It can wait all week. It can wait until you run out of supplies and have to go out and get more. It can wait until you kill each other out of frustration.

The zombie makeup was decently well-done (and really, it’s hard as hell to mess up zombie makeup anymore), but the conspicuous CGI on some of the zombie kills turned gore into laughably bad video game graphics. The money shot* during the climax was nice and gory, with seven zombies dogpiling on a single victim and turning him into dogfood. However, the acting talents of the human leads seemed phoned in at times, with only the final shot giving the audience any real sense of bleakness after the denouement.

In conclusion, if you like zombie movies, see this one only for the sake of completeness, but I would not consider it anything like a must-see. Rent it if your usual zombie fare isn’t available, or see it if it happens to be on cable, but don’t make any special effort to find it.

*money shot: in the context of zombie movies, the scene where a victim is graphically torn apart and devoured by a mob of zombies onscreen. Usually saved for the climactic battle of living vs. dead.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

02/08/2011 1 comment

Some believe that a zombie movie should be philosophical, offering some form of deep social commentary on the state of humanity, how we treat our fellow man, consumerism, the evils of this or that common social ill. Others believe that a zombie movie should be terrifying, menacing us with the creeping horror that is our own animated dead, tirelessly pursuing us with the simple goal of eating our flesh.

Then there’s these guys.

Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy (technically, a zom-rom-com) directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon “Hot Fuzz” Pegg (who also co-wrote), Nick “Hot Fuzz” Frost, Kate “This Little Life” Ashfield, Lucy “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” Davis, Dylan “Run, Fatboy, Run” Moran, Peter “Run, Fatboy, Run” Serafinowicz, and Bill “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Nighy.

Shaun (Pegg) is a loser. He fails in his career (a sales manager who gets no respect from his co-workers), his home life (his housemate Pete (Serafinowicz) is annoyed by Simon’s best friend Ed (Frost) living on their couch and selling marijuana), his family life (his relationship with his stepfather (Nighy) is… rocky at best), and his love life (his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) is sick of going to the Winchester pub every night, and wants to do something – anything – with Shaun that doesn’t involve dragging Ed along). After yet another romantic failure (forgetting to reserve a table at a posh restaurant for a romantic couples’ evening like he promised Liz he would), Shaun’s life seems to be falling apart. With all these personal problems hanging over his head, he doesn’t even notice the zombie apocalypse happening around him for a full half day.

When he does notice, Shaun realizes he has to man up and save the day. Why him? First of all, he’s the hero, and second of all, the only other protagonist nearby is Ed. Think Ed will save the day? Didn’t think so. A plan is hatched that will allow Shaun to pick up Liz from her friends’ flat, rescue his parents from certain doom, reconcile with his stepdad, redeem himself with Liz, and all hole up at the Winchester until the whole thing blows over. Sounds simple? Of course it does. Think it will go off without a hitch? Of course it won’t.

Shaun of the Dead is a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie apocalypse movie, acknowledging once and for all how hard it is to make a scary zombie movie anymore by simply not trying. The humor is subtle and dry, with a lot of missed important events happening in the background while the oblivious main characters go about their business, and piles of shout-outs and nods to previous zombie movies. Shaun and Ed are unapologetic losers, in sharp contrast to the instant competancy many zombie movie heroes scratch up, and they spend a lot of the movie just trying to get back to the baseline loserhood that they call normal.

The zombies, of course, are the classic Romero “slow zombies”, staggering and shambling patiently towards you with the goal of eating your flesh, though they do show signs of remaining humanity (at one end of the spectrum, they can be fooled by the living heroes pretending to be zombies, while on the other, they mindlessly go about their daily habits in the tradition of most of the Romero zombies and occasionally seem to have dim memories of how things “should” be). The zombie gore can be hilariously jarring when compared with the tone of the rest of the movie, but the whole thing works as an affectionate parody of the whole genre.

So, if you like zombie movies but are sick of the ones that take themselves too damn seriously, pick up Shaun of the Dead. It’s quirky, shambling, flesh-eating fun.

The Crazies (2010)

02/02/2011 2 comments

Things to be scared of in a horror movie:

  • Dolls
  • Clowns
  • Power tools
  • Your house
  • Cars
  • Dead people

Now, thanks to George Romero, the master of the modern zombie movie, we can add one more item to this list: Your friends and neighbors.

The Crazies is the 2010 remake of the George Romero science fiction horror film of the same name about a town that becomes infected with the “trixie” virus, designed by the military to destabilize the population by turning them psychotic and murderous. It stars Timothy “Scream 2” Olyphant, Radha “Pitch Black” Mitchell, Joe “I am not Kurt Cobain” Anderson, Danielle “Mr. Brooks” Panabaker, Preston “Dexter” Bailey, John “Armageddon” Aylward, and Larry “Pinocchio’s Revenge” Cedar.

It starts fairly simply. In Ogden County, the local sheriff, David (Olyphant), is watching a baseball game when his deputy, Russell (Anderson), spots Rory Hamill, a local resident and town drunk, walking into the field bearing a shotgun. David confronts Rory, but is forced to shoot him. David and his wife Judy (Mitchell) start to notice strange behavior in the other residents, usually some variation of staring blankly into space and repeating a phrase or sentence, but eventually escalating into violence, as with a local farmer who locks his wife and son in a closet and torches their house. When David and Russell investigate a local’s story about a plane crashing in a nearby swamp, they soon discover that whatever the cause is, it is likely military, and their worst fears are proven true when the military moves in to quarantine the town. Now, caught between the military and his own neighbors turned psychotic, David tries to get himself and Judy out of what is quickly turning into a Crazy-infested warzone.

There is a certain level of low-grade terror in the idea that your neighbors and family – people that you’ve known your entire life – could suddenly snap out and go on a rampage. Add to this the threat of a disease that anyone can catch, plus the fact that it was deliberately created by the military (another group we are taught to trust) as a weapon, and you’ve got some high octane paranoia fuel. On the bright side, the military are swiftly taking responsibility for the outbreaks, but on the dark side this means (like it usually does) eliminating absolutely everyone in the area. How do you escape? How can you tell healthy friends from infected Crazies? Add to this the fact that a loved one has been unfairly marked as infected, and you get a pretty nerve-wracking little horror movie.

The acting was… decent. While zombie movies are not known for attracting Grade-A acting talent, I think the cast did well with the material they were given. I haven’t seen the original (but plan to), so I can’t compare whether the remake was an improvement or not. The makeup effects were well-done as well, having been developed with real-life diseases in mind, with the ultimate goal of making it look “real”, like something that you could actually catch from the Crazies. The final result combined elements of rabies, tetanus, and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The makeup studio used, Almost Human, previously did work in films like Quarantine, Franken Fish, and Prom Night, and aimed for a “hyper alive” look rather than the listless tenacity of traditional walking dead.

As zombie movies go, The Crazies took a traditional concept and sent it in the direction only recently being explored by filmmakers: the non-undead rage zombie. As a contribution to this subtype, it doesn’t add anything new, but it does well enough for what it is. I would rent this again in a heartbeat.