Archive for Dawn of the Dead


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…

Fog. Fog. Fog.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2008 by dcairns

We went to see THE MIST. When we came out, it was slightly misty. Uncanny.

I get the impression this film came out ages ago in the States, but here it’s just opened, and was only showing at 5.15pm on one screen in Edinburgh. Not a big hit Stateside, presumably. Why that should mean it shouldn’t get a big release here is puzzling to me, since possibly what stopped it working on its home turf is its politics, and political perceptions are different here.

But what ARE the politics of the film, a Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King short story? Well, it certainly has things to say about crazy religious zealots (a favourite King bugbear). I don’t disagree with King’s assessment of God-bothering wingnuts, but it’s a little depressing that he always writes them the same way. Marcia Gay Harden in THE MIST is almost exactly the same character as Kathy Bates in MISERY and Piper Laurie in CARRIE. And they do always seem to be women.

“Another failed attempt to make Christians look bad” says somebody on the IMDb. I dunno, I thought they  looked pretty bad, the ones in the movie. I suspect that if you’re a Christian and you think this movie is about you, it is.

The drama of the film is divided in an interesting way. As the titular dry ice descends on King’s usual community of Castle Rock, a disparate crowd of shoppers shelter in a supermarket (if it were Britain, they would doubtless head for the pub, as in nearly every U.K. apocalypse movie, but Americans have a tendency to gravitate to larger outlets, as in DAWN OF THE DEAD), struggling to fend off the savage alien ecosystem that lives in the fog.

While all the action sequences revolve around battling the extra-dimensional creepy-crawlies (C.G.I. tentacles and skull-faced insects etc), much of the drama comes from the conflicts among the humans, with Harden’s crazy bat forming her own doomsday cult with tendencies towards human sacrifice.

The movie stumbles in a couple of ways with this approach. Firstly, it sacrifices the atmospheric chills of fog-blind panic for sheer monster-osity. There’s no “unseen” in this film, the beasties are all over the screen, FLAUNTING THEMSELVES. Secondly, it robs the cult of screen time and the chance to build convincingly.

Still, most of this is entertaining. The bugs are genuinely horrible, even more so than the excessively nasty critters in Jackson’s KING KONG (advice: better to get killed by the BIG ones, it’s much quicker) and there are some good actors at work. Thomas Jane does OK with the boring hero part, and the wonderful Toby Jones (son of the beyond-wonderful Freddie) gets to be an action star. Which has to be good. There aren’t many short action stars with outsized baby foreheads. Bruce Willis need no longer be lonesome.

Oh, and it’s always terrific to see the authoritative and adorable Frances Sternhagen.

The characters are a bit stupider than necessary, I have to say. Trapped in a building with a glass front, they set about sandbagging it with doggie chow sacks, rather than simply withdrawing to the loading bay with a lot of provisions. They have three army guys from the military base where the problem started, but it takes ages before anybody thinks of asking them what happened. And so it goes.

Darabont starts in his usual staid fashion, then adopts a Battlestar Galactica kind of shaky-cam crash-zoom approach when the biting starts, which didn’t really work for me. If you’re trying to simulate documentary roughness, it should be consistent. In reality, it’s almost as hard for a camera operator to smoothly follow somebody going to the fridge to get some Weightwatchers Carrot and Swede Mash as it is to follow somebody fighting an alien pterodactyl in Walmart. And I can say that with total authority, because I’m a strange, strange man.

Oh yes, politics. The other area where these surface is the disputes amongst the survivors. There’s some pithy barroom (or supermarket) philosophy here: “As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put two of us in a room, we pick sides, and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. That’s why we invented politics and religion,” opines Toby. And as always with monster movies, its tempting to read this one as a metaphor for Our Present Mess. “We’ve got to cut and run!” declares Jane.

But things are pretty complicated. The monsters are explained, rather lamely, as the results of a military experiment in extra-dimensional jiggery-pokery (what I’d call a video game explanation). So military intervention got us into this. But then at the end —


— the army take care of the problem. And the hero would appear to have been wrong in giving up hope. If this IS a metaphor for the Iraq war, the message would seem to be “Trust in the military, they will take care of these inhuman bad guys if we STAY THE COURSE!”

I sort of think Darabont probably didn’t intend that message, although I don’t know much about his views. Which would make it a failed ending, I think, although I did respect its very un-Hollywood negativity. It’s an ending that may well follow you around for a bit, bothering you, whether you like it or not.

“I regret nothing!”


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