Archive for Dawn of the Dead

Thing I Read off the Screen in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: In Search of Meaning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by dcairns



When Spanish director Jorge Grau decided, for reasons not known to me, to set a film in England, he chose for a hero a motorcycle-riding gallery owner and, with Martin-Amis-like playful obviousness, named him George. George Meaning.

THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), or LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE — the Spanish title translates, with equal cheekiness, as DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, opens with an ecological montage, interrupted by a naked chick streaking (it was the seventies — the British news was all a-jiggle with public displays of nudity), studiously ignored by all the drivers in their cars, captured TRAFIC-style with a documentary long lens — the film’s seriousness and flippancy are set out clearly from the start.

Though we’re in England, the cast are all dubbed. Arthur Kennedy, an unlikely Scotland Yard detective, MAY be doing his own voice with a lively if loose Irish brogue, but he’s still a bit out of sync, Whoever voiced Cristina Galbo has either decided, or been forced by circumstance, to play her in the style of a very poor dubbing artist. But the guy doing George Meaning (Italian-British actor Ray Lovelock), has made the bold choice of adopting a nasal Estuary twang reminiscent of a camp Ken Livingstone, to striking and hilarious effect.



Like DEATHLINE, the movie makes much of the mutual resentment between the middle-aged detective and the hippyish leading man. While the earlier film’s David Ladd — whom I only just realized is the son of Alan Ladd, holds his own ably in sparring with Donald Pleasence’s congested copper Calhoun, he lacks that ineffable quality of INTEREST which makes a star. Ray Lovelock doesn’t really have it either, but in combination with his anonymous voice artist, he attains it. The sexy-Jesus looks and the deglamorizing whine make an electric combo.

(It seems like a case of the voice actor simply taking the piss, as does the MANCHESTER MORGUE moniker — the movie never visits Manchester Morgue, though it hints it might.)


Lovelock/Meaning is introduced, via a meet-cute with Galbo, as a really obnoxious creep, (“You look like an Edna,” surely merits a slap, except that Edna is her character’s name so maybe she sees it as a compliment?) but he’s at least smart — he figures out the convoluted causes and half-life-cycle of the zombie plague in about ten minutes, whereas Detective Kennedy is still working on the belief that heroin gives you the strength of ten and can cause a woman to run mad and cave in her husband’s torso. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong there.



Grau builds on the movie science of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and anticipates DAWN OF THE DEAD’s gory dismemberments. Like the first Romero (and unlike the sequels) the film offers a pseudo-science explanation for the dead rising, but by comparing the mishap to the recent DDT scandal, it connects more with something like SCANNERS, which tied its futuristic premise to recent real-life events (the unexpected side-effects of Thalydomide).

The ecological and anti-authority angles are clear enough, as is a gloomy portrayal of British society in general — the Old Owl Hotel is an uninviting shithole, despite the presence of an actual old owl.



In other respects, the film’s attitudes are more elusive. Why is Meaning so mean? And why is the movie? A hotel receptionist has her breast torn off, but it seems to be done in the spirit of all’s-fair-in-love-and-zombie-apocalypse, rather than as misogynistic exploitation movie sadism. Here, and in the casual inclusion of a child with Down’s syndrome as bystander to the drama, Grau’s meaning, as well as his Meaning, is tantalizingly ambiguous.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2010 by dcairns

I think it’s interesting — no, not interesting, what’s the word? — goofy — that while the better-than-expected but not-great remake of George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD was directed by someone called Zack Snyder, the similarly above-expectations but below-sensational remake of George Romero’s THE CRAZIES is directed by someone called Breck Eisner.

(The heavily Romero-inflected ZOMBIELAND was helmed by Ruben Fleischer, which sounds a bit too much like an actual name but almost fits the pattern.)

Presumably, for the inevitable remakes of MONKEY SHINES, MARTIN, CREEPSHOW and THE DARK HALF, young directors-to-be are currently changing their names to Jerk Steiner, Rock Visser, Prick Meister and Stork Ulcer. And for the re-remakes of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD et al, we will need reinforcements with names like Conk Ryder, Muck Pfister, Glock Pisser…

Meanwhile, George A Romero, without whom none of this mini-industry could exist, is still George A Romero. But maybe that’s a mistake? For his forthcoming SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, isn’t there evidence aplenty that audiences would prefer to see a film by someone called Frisk Weezer or Spank Wicker? More market research is called for.

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…

(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…