Archive for Shaun of the Dead

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]

Advertisements

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…

When Lands the Saucer

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2008 by dcairns

Warm up the probulator!

I’m indebted to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for the title of this post. I think it comes from an old copy of The Demon, and it stuck in my mind because I thought it was amusing. (Apparently I’m wrong about the provenance — see comments section.) Any title that seeks grandeur by shuffling the words around (THE RIVER WILD) makes me think of that Dorothy Parker line about “The Play Terrible.”

Let’s be clear — DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is a B-picture. The opening credit, “Spartan Productions” is hilariously apt.

But D.G.F.M. doesn’t actually fit the “so-bad-it’s-good” paradigm, which is fortunate, because that’s become rather a boring formulation. In fact, bits of the film are genuinely excellent: there’s a really beautiful flying saucer, complete with spinning bit; a smashing robot; a sexy space girl in slinky dominatrix uniform; two more human women of interest to genre fans; and John Laurie, primarily known in Britain for his role in the sitcom Dad’s Army, but familiar to American cineastes for his appearnaces in THE EDGE OF THE WORLD and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP.

Indeed, considering it’s a sci-fi thriller, there’s more than a whiff of situation comedy about DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS. More on this aspect later.

The bad bits of the film — the lethargic, stay-at-home plot, the indecisive villainess who should be driving the story but keeps dithering, leading man Hugh McDermott’s hideous face — are pretty bad, and sometimes annoying. The combination of good and bad elements is sort of enjoyable and exciting. You never know whether you’re going to be tickled or stabbed, entertainmentwise. It’s like a night out in Glasgow.

The “action” unfolds at a guest house in the Scottish highlands, host to more drama than is typically the case with such establishments, in my experience. A glamorous London fashion model fleeing a doomed relationship is already in residence — this is Hazel Court in her second fantasy film (she’d already done THE GHOST SHIP for Vernon Sewell two years earlier). Then a convicted wife-murderer, escaped from prison, arrives and is sheltered by barmaid Adrienne Corri (another horror/sci-fi regular, best known for being denuded by droogs in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, an Edinburgh-born Scots-Italian beauty who also worked for Preminger, Lean, Renoir…). Challenged to explain why this traveller has no money, she improvises a tale about him bending over to try and catch a salmon, then straightening up to find his wallet gone. The old “fish thief” story — very convincing.

Already we have the tea-obsessed housekeeper and her drunkard husband (John Laurie, natch) and a young nephew from London. Soon, a car-sharing Irish astrophycisist and American journalist turn up. It’s quite a houseful even before the alien invasion begins.

Prof. Hennessey tries to warm his hands on a spaceship.

The American is actually another Edinburgh-born actor, Hugh McDermott, but his accent seems to have taken a transatlantic turn. I have the same trouble myself, actually. Too many Marvel comics as a kid.

Then the saucer lands. And this is the off-season!

Our space vixen informs the residents that she’s come to pilfer our men, replacing the ones who were nuked in the Big Martian Sex War. She does this while ceaselessly, pointlessly walking up and down, like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, which is mildly freaky and kind of effective. Then she tells them they’re surrounded by an invisible barrier and can’t escape — the scientist tries and comes back with a gashed forehead, having walked into it. “I believe what my brain tells me to believe,” he cries, on more than one occasion. He should stop listening, his brain is a fool.

The humes act up, so Mars-Gal shows them her robot, and it’s a beauty. It wantonly discomouferates things, like Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, three years earlier. One of those coincidences, I expect. Fiona and I were delighted by the robots design, pure Japanese tin toy. And his impressive HEFT. “That terrible robot!” cries Corri. “He’s not, he’s smashing!” shouted Fiona back at her.

The Martian, Nyah, is Patricia Laffan, who played Poppaea in QUO VADIS?, so this may have seemed a bit of a come-down, but she throws herself into it with more sneering superiority than anybody’s ever seen. This is the role she’ll be remembered for. Did she have an inkling of this as she slunk around the tiny set in her erotic space-wear? She’s first seen evaporating a balding wee man, a stereotypical “little worm”, in fact, the image of the masochistic bank manager of suburban sexual legend. She’s also reminiscent of another space-domme, the legendary Supreme Commander Servalan from the B.B.C.’s fondly-remembered but slightly crap Blake’s Seven. Interestingly, Servalan was played by another ex-Hammer glamour queen, the unconventionally beautiful Jacqueline Pearce (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE REPTILE). Pearce is still unconventionally beautiful and still acts, while also working in a monkey sanctuary.

Anyway, returning to the monkey sanctuary that is DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS: I felt that Nyah’s power is considerably diminished by her inability to make up her mind. It may be a Martian’s prerogative, but it doesn’t help the dramatic arc…

Prof. Hennessey tries to warm his hands on a spaceship. Again.

Basically, the dramatic part of the story all unfolds while the saucer is being repaired by “Charlie” the robot. (Not a very Martian name, I’d have thought, although maybe it’s actually spelled “Chaghrrl-A” or something.) During the course of this little pit-stop, Nyah first freezes Corri, then un-freezes her, hypnotises the murderer and makes him go all murderous (doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, but still), abducts the small boy, then releases him, takes the scientist aboard her ship for a little tour, allowing him to gather intelligence to use against them, then announces that she will take one of the men as a guide to help her find her way around London. This conjures amusing images of her quietly landing in Camden Town and wandering the streets in her space garb, unnoticed by the general populace.

The film then allows the characters time to furiously debate who should make the supreme sacrifice by going with Nyah and attempting to sabotage her saucer in mid-flight. But this is a pointless scene, since Nyah has just told them SHE will be making the choice. It’s downright weird, this.

Predictably, Bobby Murderer gets selected so he can redeem himself and the Earth is saved and the landlady gets the kettle on. Suddenly I got the feeling I’d been watching A Very Special Episode of Father Ted. The scientist looks a bit like an older Ted. There’s the dissolute drunkard. And the tea-obsessed housekeeper. Admittedly, there are more babes and spacecraft than usual…

“Now I think we all REALLY need a cup of tea!”

The film is also a fine entry in the gather-in-the-pub-as-the-world-ends school of science fiction, a substrain unique to Britain. See also SHAUN OF THE DEAD, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, and several of the QUATERMASS films. See them before you see this, actually. But see this anyway.

Shadowplay would like to thank Huckleberry Hound for the word “discomouferate”.