Opinionated Nonsense and Ramblings About Theatre, Film, TV, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Politics and LGBT Issues - Among Other Things...
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
My Favorite Zombie Movies
Every film genre has its subcatagories, though none seems to have as many as the horror movie. There are ghost movies, monster movies, slasher movies, J-horror movies, Italian giallo movies, torture-porn movies, pyschological horror movies and my favorite, zombie movies.
Zombies have been around for a long time and are actually part of Haitian Voodoo traidtion. A haungin (Voodoo priest) uses his juju (magic powers) to create a zombie slave out of his intended victim, first by simulating the victim's death and then enslaving the "dead" person, all through the use of powerful drugs derived from native plants. These zombies are actually living persons, though they appear for all intents and purposes, to be the "living dead," as seen in my first entry:
Producer Val Lewton, best known for the atmospheric and chilling original version of Cat People, made this serious zombie movie about a nurse sent to care for the mysterioously ill wife of sugar plantation owner. Creepy and quiet, I Walked with a Zombie has nothing to do with flesh-eating corpses and everything to do with tension and mood. The script by Curt Siodmak (The Wolfman) is smart and clever, but it's director Jacques Tournier's use of lighting and sound effects that make this one creepy little movie. of At just 69 minutes long, it's well worth a look see.
Horror maven Wes Craven made this nifty thriller, inspired by the true story of a doctor (Bill Pullman) who travels to Haiti in search of the infamous zombie drug, intent on finding a new type of anesthetic. He soon finds himself drawn into the political intrigue of the infamously unstable country and runs afoul of the local haungin (Zakes Mokae), who ends up turning the doctor into a zombie, himself. Weird and claustrophobic, it also has nothing to do with flesh-eating corpses, and everything to do with psychological torture and Haitian Voodoo mysticism. "Don't bury me... I'm not dead!"
Pittsburgh has never been the same, since indie filmmaker George Romero made his classic film there, turning the zombie genre on its ear and redefining the modern horror film. Night of the Living Dead was shocking not just for its graphic depictions of cannibalism, but for its pointed social commentary about racism. Spawning 5 Romero-helmed sequels (Romero's ...of the Dead is currently in pre-production) and countless imitators and re-makes, Night of the Living Dead is undoubtedly the grand-daddy of the modern zombie movie (and the inspiration for an entire subculture of zombie wannabes).
Ten years after the original, Romero made an even better film with the sequel, Dawn of the Dead. I borrowed my father's car and headed over to the local midnight show alone, because my friends were all too afraid to go with me. Before the movie started, the theater manager came out to address the crowd of mostly twenty-something stoners and horror geeks who had turned out to pack the dollar theater (which was charging full price for this engagement), warning us that the movie was upsetting and made people want to smoke (!?), which was expressly forbidden. Of course, as soon as the lights went down, at least a dozen joints were lit and passed around. But all of us soon forgot about our buzz and got down to watching this horrific and fascinating comment on mindless consumerism. With startlingly real special effects courtesy of mad-genius Tom Savini (who has a cameo as a biker), Dawn of the Dead is intense, frightening and even funny and is undoubtedly Romero's best entry in the series.
Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) remade Romero's classic in 2004, eschewing social commentary for balls-out horror in the story of a group of zombie holocaust survivors who hole up in a local shopping mall. Hardly subtle, Snyder's version features Sarah Polly, Ving Rhames, Matt :Max Headroom" Frewer and cameos by Savini and the original's star, Ken Foree. Violent freaky and very gory, it's one of the few movie remakes I like almost as much as the orignal.
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."
Director Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson) started his career making horror movies in his native New Zealand. Released as Braindead in the rest of the world, Dead Alive is quite simply the most outrageous horror movie ever made. When nerdy simp Lionel takes local hotiie Paquita on a date to the zoo, they are followed by Lionel's overbearing mum, Vera. In short time, Vera is bitten by a 'Sumatran Rat-Monkey' and soon dies from a mysterious infection which brings her back to life as a flesh-hungry zombie. Despite Lionel's best efforts to control her, Vera son infects several others and a zombie plague is quickly underway. I've written about this movie several times (and probably will again), but it is always worth talking about, if only for what must have thousands of gallons of fake blood spilled in its making. Hilarious and supremely gross, Dead Alive is just brilliant. "Your mother ate my dog!"
28 Days Later (2002)
Director Danny Boyle (Train Spotting, Slumdog Millionaire) reinvented teh zombie genre again with this British entry which introduced both baby-faced Cillian Murphy and the concept of fast zombies. Technically, the creatures in Boyle's apocalyptic thriller aren't zombies, just folks infected with a virus called Rage (released by a bunch of do-gooder animal rights activists when they attempt to free lab monkeys). A simply chilling view of science gone wrong.
Director Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg are responsible for this screamingly funny entry into the genre. Shaun lives a life of dreary repetiveness, moving through his day barely acknowledging the world around him. He and his mates end up every night at the same pub and his girlfriend is ready to dump him for his inability to grow up. When the zombie plague hits, Shaun barely notices the changes, but those changes end up changing his life (and those of his friends and family) forever - and for the better. Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean:Dead Man's Chest; Love, Actually), Nick Frost and Kate Ashfield head up the talented and very funny cast. In an homage to Romero, Frost screams "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" into the phone to Shaun's mum. Sadly, I was the only person in the theater who laughed at that one.
Carrie Ann Moss (The Matrix), Dylan Baker (Spiderman) and Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints) head up the cast of Canadian director Andrrew Currie's satire of zombies, 1950's television and a megacorporate greed. Using modern technology, zombies have been turned into domestic servants, performing tasks most humans would find humiliating. When Timmy's family finally get their own zombie (Connolly), Timmy names him 'Fido" and the fun begins. Dead-on hilarious, Fido deserves to be seen by both Lassie and zombie fans, alike. "What's wrong boy? Is Timmy in trouble?"
Another entry from New Zealand, Black Sheep isn't technically a zombie movie, though it certainly has all the earmarkings of, and owes a load of debt to, the genre. An overly ambitious sheep farmer attempts to breed the perfect sheep and hires a crazed geneticist (is there any other kind?) to help him. When do-gooder animal rights activists (damn them and their PETA-loving ways!) attempt to expose what's happening on the farm, tehy release a mutant sheep embryo which results in a plague of man-eating sheep, whose surviving victims soon find themselves becoming - for lack of a better term - weresheep. Crazy, gruesome and laugh-out-loud funny, Black Sheep also features an inevitable and hilarious take on the "shepherd's relief" scenario. If you've never seen this Kiwi gem from writer/director Jonathan King, do yourself a favor and get to Blockbuster.
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