Archive for Dead Set

Zombiethon

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by dcairns

Purely by chance, we watched George Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, Breck Eisner’s THE CRAZIES, and Ruben Fleischer’s ZOMBIELAND in a month. Not all in an evening or anything hardcore like that, mind you. Then, more recently, we watched the whole of Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead in a day. That was somewhat hardcore, I grant you.

The Romero is the most underrated of the three — we’ve come to a pretty pass when the master and originator of the zombie sub-genre is so marginalized! And yet this is a fun film, essentially a western with a lot of Irish actors and a lot of zombies. Acting honours in the no-star cast go to Kenneth Welsh as the roguish patriarch. A few awkward moments obtrude, and the CGI gore effects look cheap. Romero is in very relaxed form, like late Hawks, not trying to be earthshaking, just having fun. The movie really is a western, something like THE BIG COUNTRY, complete with a zombie on horseback. Romero still pulls amusing variations on his original 1968 premise, and here he delivers the finest closing shot of his entire career. Long may he reign!

THE CRAZIES isn’t absolutely strictly a zombie movie, in the same way that 28 DAYS LATER isn’t, but… you know it is, right? A remake of Romero’s 1973 shocker, it’s much more expensive, much slicker, and delivers copious shocks and considerable suspense. The performances are fine, with Brit-playing-yank Joe Anderson the man of the match. It provides the most spectacular version yet of a climax that served for both RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and PONTYPOOL, and probably needs to be retired. As Fiona said, it’s stylishly made and has lots of good scares, but lacks the skin-crawling creepiness of the seventies cult nasty.

Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s script does serve up some nice war-on-terror resonance, in keeping with the political tradition Romero’s always been part of (unlike the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, which doesn’t bother its pretty decomposing head about little things like meaning), and in the early stages I was impressed by the pace of the plot development and the intelligence of the characters, who figure out the whole situation and take sensible steps to contain the problem long before most real cops would, let alone the movie variety. It doesn’t do them any good. And unfortunately, as the crisis mounts, they seem to lose their wits and do stupid things like separating for no reason in locations which haven’t been secured.

What they need is a set of rules, like Jesse Eisenberg in ZOMBIELAND. You wouldn’t think there was room for another zom-rom-com after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use the zombie holocaust as mere bloodsoaked backdrop to a touching love story between a naive, nerdish virgin and a tough lady grifter. There’s actually a slight flavour of 1930s conman movies like BLONDE CRAZY here.

The cinematographer’s name is Michael Bondvillain, how cool is that? Oh, wait…

Also to be enjoyed — the titles, which use that interactive lettering thing that’s been spreading through cinema since the opening creds of PANIC ROOM, titles floating blimplike over Manhattan and casting their drifting shadows over the skyscrapers. Here, the artists’ names are scattered by falling zombies and their prey. This is a stylistic flourish driven by technology — had it been possible in the forties, Michael Powell would have had fun with the idea. In the sixties, Leone.

This is the first movie to explore the idea of zombie celebrities — expect more of this, someday. Romero introduced the incidental comedy of dead people still wearing the ridiculous gear they had on in life, back in DAWN OF THE DEAD — football players, Hari Krishna cultists, nuns (in fact, the nude girl in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is probably the first gesture in this direction), and ZOMBIELAND carries on the tradition with a zombie stripper, nipple-tassles spinning like rotor blades as she sprints bloodily after a victim, and a zombie father-and-son three-legged race could well be the greatest genre image of 2009.

Finally, The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont’s TV treatment of zombies, which delivers on suspense and gore and is compulsively watchable, as we discovered after five or so hours of viewing it. What it lacks is any new slant on the zombocalypse scenario, and any particularly novel or striking characters. The central perfs are all very good (as in THE CRAZIES, several Brits play Yanks), but nobody has the kind of soap-opera appeal of Hurley from Lost or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica: they’re all a bit standard-issue. And if they’re not going to be decorated with quirks, I’d like them to be properly deep, which they’re not either. Only Michael Rooker (known affectionately to us as “Henry Portrait”, which is an old League of Gentlemen joke) has an excess of unpleasant personality to balance the mindless hordes.

Good zombies, though! Probably the most impressive designs of all the shambling undead above, and very good suspense situations, deftly delivered by Darabont and his colleagues, including Ernest Dickerson. My favourite TV zombie holocaust is still this one, though.

Available for cheap in UK:

Dead Set [DVD] [2008]

Zombieland [DVD] [2009]

Zombieland [Blu-ray] [2009]

The Crazies [Blu-ray] [2010]

The Crazies [DVD] [2010]

Survival Of The Dead [DVD] [2009]

Survival Of The Dead [Blu-ray] [2009]

USA:

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead (Two-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition)

The Crazies [Blu-ray]

The Crazies

Zombieland

Zombieland [Blu-ray]

The Walking Dead: Season One

The Walking Dead: Season One [Blu-ray]

Davina of the Dead

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2008 by dcairns

Or, “Day Twenty-Eight in the Big Brother House…”

Or, “Diary Room of the Dead.”

Charlie Brooker’s zombie TV show Dead Set is billed as a drama, which puzzled me when I heard the concept, especially given Brooker’s track record as a humorist. It’s basically a British zombie apocalypse movie centred around the reality TV show Big Brother, and I worried that it followed too soon on the heels of SHAUN OF THE DEAD to succeed as a comedy, while having an in-built satiric point that would prevent it from functioning as serious horror. If the besieged humans are in the Big Brother house, then the slavering hordes outside must be us, the viewing public, right?

I was also somewhat wary of using Big Brother at all, for any reason. I regard reality TV much as the butler in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS regards poverty: “It is to be avoided, even for purposes of research. it is to be shunned.” Even by talking about Brooker’s show about Big Brother I feel uncomfortably close to providing the oxygen of publicity to something that should really by locked in a vault and allowed to quietly asphyxiate in the dark.

This, after all, is a show that began life in Holland with a first run that drove the least popular contestant to suicide. For future series, a psychiatrist was employed to prevent anyone suffering fatal emotional damage — anything less than fatal being not only OK but essential to retaining viewing figures. This touching faith in psychiatry was somewhat dented when contestant Shahbaz Chauhdry suffered an emotional meltdown live on air, proving to be exactly the kind of vulnerable character the show had pledged to avoid exploiting. In reality, anyone volunteering to appear should be regarded with some clinical suspicion.

(I met Shahbaz at a party in Glasgow, years ago. And was snogged by him. He was going around kissing all the straight-looking men. I guess I qualify as straight-looking, by virtue of my sartorial incompetence. His fun-loving full-on attitude masked insecurity and and a need to provoke those around him, which the BB headshrinkers were no more able to spot than I was.)

Brooker has a long history with BB, having reviewed it extensively in his other job as TV critic. He’s obviously fascinated by it, repelled and attracted in equal measure. And when you gaze into the abyss of reality television…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQjq639WPiU

(Can’t embed it, but you can follow the link.)

But the show is good. It is funny, and it is effective as drama. I’m rarely scared by zombie films, although Romero has successfully pulled the odd “Boo!” on me. But I find them compelling as tales of survival (or its opposite) and as visceral meditations on decay and dismemberment and all the ills that flesh is heir to. Brooker’s zombiethon does all this, and avoids too many comparisons to SHAUN by going with the oft-disparaged fast-moving zombies of the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, and 28 DAYS LATER and its sequel. One sequence, a prolonged chase in which the undead pursuer shows no signs of ever being likely to tire, actually makes this conceit interesting for the first time.

We also get a wheelchair zombie, which I believe to be first. And a vivid demonstration of the fact that many disabled toilets are way too narrow for wheelchair users, alive or dead, to actually use.

Visual style, courtesy of director Yann Demange (can this be a real person?) is dark and very shaky, with occasional moments of more classical framing. While this looked likely to be distracting/annoying at first, it turned out to be easy to get used to, and basically worked for the show. A few moments devolved into incoherence, and this look is never going to be my favourite visual style, but it was well enough done. The half-hour episodes feel a little short to allow us to get into the story, but I’m looking forward to the feature-length episode next week. Not sure if it’s a compendium or a standalone or what, but I reckon it should work better.

Stop press — have now watched the compendium episode, which ran the whole series together and actually worked better than the episodic approach. The apocalyptic ending is probably the most blood-soaked drama ever made for TV, and outside of BRAIN DEAD one of the goriest things of any kind ever. And where Peter Jackson’s antipodean splatterthon gaily splashed on the crimson, this show ventures further into the abject with dark, grimy and squalid zombies that you can practical smell through the screen. The show more than justifies its billing as drama by moving outwith the comedy comfort zone of even the most hardened Mansonite, into a vaguely depressing, nihilistic Nookie Hut of despair.

The cast of fleshbags dangled before the snapping jaws of the unwashed provokes an engaging mix of sympathy, amusement and horror. What’s quite touching is how some of the housemate characters start to emerge from their jerry-built media personae and reveal actual human traits and feelings, prior to their dismemberment and consumption by the undead hordes, of course. This is not true of fictional BB producer Patrick Goad, played with gotch-gutted aplomb by Andy Nyman, whose furiously articulate hatefulness marks him out as a sort of Brooker self-portrait gone very rotten, and whose belching, pissing and shitting (his attack of diarrhoea during a zombie attack by BB host Davina McCall may qualify as the most horrific moment in any zombie movie) drives home the show’s Albigensian horror at our physical being.

Davina, playing herself along with various former housemates (including Brooker’s unlikely chum Aisleyne Horgan Wallace), makes an effective man-eater. Davina, who may for all I know be a charming person in real life, always struck me as a weirdly aggressive and mean personality as presenter, so I tend to avoid her. The addition of zombie contact lenses does nothing to soften her mad staring eyes.

The rest of the performances are convincing and even affecting, with Ray Winstone’s female mini-me Jaime very strong in the lead, the actor Kevin Eldon making good use of the queasy alarm he displayed in Chris Morris’ seminal series Jam, and everybody else generally putting DIARY OF THE DEAD to shame as far as horreur-verité goes.

What’s grimly effective about the show is how it plays to our contempt for the braying masses who uncritically eat up reality TV (it may play differently to those masses, I don’t know) but then carries the joke too far, so that laughter not only dies in the throat, but resurrects to go on a decomposing rampage.

Big Brother is watching you…you…you…

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