Friday, October 30, 2009

Return of the Undead Blog! Zombies, Pt.3!

Happy Halloween Eve my little Hell-o-weenies! (Hell-o-? Forget it, I'm committing) Welcome to the latest and final part of my zombie movie blogs!
This blog will focus on the Modern Age of zombie movies, as defined by me. I'm thinking this blog will have more movies to talk about, so I'll keep each movie a bit more brief.

Let's get to it!

Modern Age

As I said the other day, the line for Silver and Modern is a bit vague but I'm drawing the line between Day of the Dead and today's first movie, "Return of The Living Dead". Both films were released in 1985. Return is a lot of fun, it plays as though what happened in Night of The Living Dead was based actual events that were later suppressed by the government. The film was a way to "hide out in the open". Some of the zombies that were later contained were sealed in containers to be shipped to government facilities, but a few were lost. One is discovered and the zombie is released and starts to wreak havoc and quickly starts turning others into zombies. My favorite part of this movie is the effects, the first barrell zombie is outstanding! It looks like a zombie right out of an EC horror comic!
The reason that I list this as the turning point to Modern is that they really supe up the zombies in these movies (there were a few sequels, none as good as this). The zombies are essentially unstoppable, taking out the brain doesn't do anything and each part of the zombie is capable of moving on it's own if hacked off. That is a bit too much for me in terms of believability, but it's still a whole lot of fun to watch. The other notable thing is that, to my knowledge, this is the first time that zombies are shown searching for brains. This never comes up in any of Romero's movies and isn't in official zombie cannon anywhere I know of, yet it's become a staple of zombiedom. One other notable point is that you see the zombies being clever, if you've ever read Marvel Zombies, then I think you'd find the zombies familiar.

1985 was a banner year for the undead because "Re-Animator" also came out. Re-Animator tells the gory story of Herbert West, who has been cooking up a serum to return the dead to life. Unfortunately this never works out the way he wants it to and the dead are usually hopelessly insane and violent. This is another one for those of us that like cult movies and a healthy dose of gore.

Here's a quick one, "Night of The Creeps" from 1986. Outer space slugs take over your brain, turning you into a zombie. It's a campy cult movie that actively tried to be a "B" movie and poked fun at a few other genre's. I haven't seen it in ages, but I loved it as a kid.

With this next entry, we return a bit back to the classic zombie. I mentioned this movie in my first post. It's Wes Craven's 1988 "The Serpent and the Rainbow". It makes the claim to be based off actual events, but that's pretty damn loosely. This is about an ethnobotanist that's investigating Clairvius Narcisse a man that was documented proof of zombieism. Or what was considered an actual zombie. The poor guy was poisoned by a voodoo priest, he was left in a state very similar to death but not actual medical death. When the poison wears off, he's left brain damaged upon waking due to lack of oxygen and is now a "zombie".
So the movie is loosely based upon the book of the scientists experiences in Haiti. But it's got zombies and is a call back to the Golden Age, so I have included it.

Next we'll walk over to an adaptation of Stephen King's scariest book, 1989's "Pet Sematary". I imagine everyone knows the story here, the Pet Sematary is actually an old and spoiled Mic Mac Indian burial ground. The ground has turned sour over time and sends those buried in it back to the person who put them in the ground. Unfortunately they are now completely evil. This is another step away from the classic zombie, but not a step far away. The undead still return from the grave and seek the living, but it's usually only their loved ones that "reap what was sown".

In 1990, George Romero's long time special effect make-up guy Tom Savini directed a re-make of "Night of The Living Dead". He updated the movie while keeping it very faithful to the original. The make-up effects are outstanding and the zombies are all very creepy looking. The major difference, character-wise, is that Barbara is not so helpless in the re-make. Here she quickly decides to have a hand in her own survival and becomes a bad-ass instead of sitting on the couch in shock mumbling to herself like in the original. I really enjoy this movie, but it's still pretty low budget. I'd call it "B+" instead of a "B" movie :)

"28 Days Later", Released in 2002. Great movie. Despite popular belief, there are NO ZOMBIES IN THIS FILM. Moving along.

Also in 2002, "Resident Evil". An adaptation of the video game of the same name. The game is chock full of zombies and did a great job of introducing zombies to a new generation and I would say single handedly started the zombie renaissance we are currently in. The movie had one short scene involving some zombies and was mostly a reason for the director to have his hot model wife run around in skimpy clothes....not that I'm against that. But it's not much of a zombie movie, the game is much creepier.

Ok, now we're venturing into controversy territory. Zack Snyder's 2004 re-make of "Dawn of The Dead". I actually signed an online petition against this. It's sacrilege! It's blasphemous! It was a big goddamn hit. It introduced us to the sprinting zombies, I'm still not crazy about this. Zombies are dead. They're rotting. They're not coordinated enough to run. Ok, I'll give you maybe right at first, but not all the time. Well, love em or hate em. Snyder gave em to us, no doubt also confusing the infected from 28 Days Later for the living dead. From now on, I'm coining the term "Snyderian" for fast zombies. You read it here first folks.
Ok, well, back to the movie a bit. I decided to give it a shot and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't great, but it was actually pretty good. Snyder did some interesting things here and has gone on to continue to make some interesting things. I don't think Dawn needed a remake, you can't perfect perfection after all, but he did make an entertaining movie.

I think I'll finish my list up with this, Edgar Wright's "Shaun of The Dead", also released in 2004. This movie is fantastic and belongs on the list at the bottom only because (well aside from chronology) to truly enjoy it you have to have seen a few of the movies already on the list. I'm not saying you won't enjoy it otherwise, but you'll get a fuller understanding of what Wright was paying tribute to. They got everything right, it's damn funny, it's character driven, chock full of character development and the zombies are SLOW. There is nothing I don't like about this movie. Highly recommended.

Oh ok, a few more notes.

"Land of The Dead" (2005) Romero's return to his zombies. This time he shows us society attempting to build itself back up, but the zombies are still evolving. People are still too busy fighting among themselves to pay attention to what's happening in the world. It's pretty good, very gory and has some great scenes.

"I Am Legend" (2007) In the book, they were vampires. In the movie they were mutants, but looked vaguely like zombies and people refer to them as such. NOT ZOMBIES.

"Planet Terror" (2007) Part of the Grind House double feature, this was Robert Rodriguez's tribute to "B" movies. Hilarious and expertly crafted to be as cheezy as possible. A lot of fun. Does contain zombies!

"Diary of The Dead" (2007) Romero's most recent take on zombies, I haven't seen it yet. I have heard nothing good about it, unfortunately.

"Dead Snow" (2009) A Norwegian take on Nazi Zombies. I haven't seen it yet, but it's got some good reviews.

I think that just about covers it. Let me know what you think and if you think I missed anything.

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zombies, Zombies, Everywhere! Pt.2

Today I continue on my review/list of movies I deem important to the Zombie genre. In the last post I talked about what I felt were the "Golden Age" movies, White Zombie, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Plague of the Zombies.

These movies all focused on the classic and well, true definition of a zombie, an undead slave. With the next few movies zombies have shaken off the shackles and are taking things into their own hands...namely your brains.

Silver Age

This next movie is THE zombie movie. Before this, as I stated above, zombies were always portrayed as slaves. Here they are horror, they are the embodiment of our fears of death, always slowly on our heels, relentless and unforgiving.
In 1968 George Romero gave us, "Night of The Living Dead". It was a small independent film that came out in black and white when most other movies had made the switch to color. It was not received well, critics panned it but it did find a cult following. Today it has been placed in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a film deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important".
There was no artistic choice in the movie being shot in B&W, Romero chose it because that's all he could afford. Many of the choices in the movie were not done for artistic purposes, the most obvious being that the main character is black. There is never any mention of his race or any indication that anyone thinks anything odd about his skin color. This was a bit of a big deal in 1968. Romero has said he chose Duayne Jones to play Ben only because he "gave the best audition". He had no intention to comment on race relations in the movie, although it is quite subversive.
This is also the first film to show the dead seeking the flesh of the living. Romero has mixed the classic zombie with a good hand full of ghoul and created an entirely new monster. The undead are not angry, they are not insane, they are simply instinct. They represent what we fear most, death, and are out to take what we have and that they do not, life.
This movie set the standards for decades to come.

Coincidentally, one decade later in 1978, Romero gave us the sequel "Dawn of The Dead". This movie has no direct relation to any character from the first movie, which is understandable if you've ever seen Night. This takes place an unspecified time later, my guess is days, despite the obvious 10 year lag, society is still trying to hold together but it's all falling apart anyway. A few people find themselves together and head out of the city in a helicopter. They land on the roof of a shopping mall to rest and resupply when they realize that they could live like kings if they can clear out the zombies. This has fueled the minds of many a zombie enthusiast. What's the best place to hole up in and defend? Everyone has an opinion of this, some people spend maybe a bit too much time thinking about it...but then again, maybe they'll be the ones who survive the next major disaster because they've been planning. Think about that those of you who laugh!
*ahem* Anyway, this is my personal favorite zombie movie, there's so much to love. There are some very clear messages in it, yet it never takes itself too seriously. It's gory and it's funny and I think it set a standard for movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. This and Night are MUST SEE'S if you have never seen them. Period.

A year later than Dawn of the dead came Lucio Fulci's 1979 "Zombie", or as it was known internationally, "Zombi 2", an unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead. The movie is notable for, well, pretending to be a Romero movie and it's gore. In the first 10 minutes of the movie a zombie fights a damn shark! How awesome is that?! It sets a high mark that the rest of the movie doesn't quite stand up to, I found it a bit of a chore to watch although not unenjoyable. If you like gore, this is a good one for it. Recommended only for hard-core zombie or gore enthusiasts.

Things get a bit trickier from here on out, so I think I'll go with one more before calling it the end of the Silver Age. This final movie is, yet again, from George Romero. It's important for one thing, arguably, but as there were no other significant movies I could pick out in the years between, I'm moving on to this. Romero's part 3, "Day of The Dead" made in 1985. Day picks up much like Dawn, new characters and a new location. This time we're following some soldiers that are holding an army base with a few civilians and a doctor that's experimenting on the zombies. The one thing I find important in the movie is the zombie, Bub. The nutzo doctor has been able to train Bub to do certain things like salute the soldiers. He is proving that there is still some humanity locked away in the undead brains, he is hoping to be able to control them some how, but the soldiers, who are a bunch of dicks, are horrified and have other plans for survival. If you are a fan of the last two movies, I'd recommend this one, but it's much slower than the others and it is not quite as rewarding to watch. It is important for the overall evolution of the undead through Romero's movies. Aside from that, well, I'll just say I've seen this one a few times, compared to the dozen times I've seen the other two each.

With that, I'll leave the Silver Age of zombie movies and we switch to the Modern Age. The tricky part is that the next movie also came out in 1985, yet planted the seeds for what is becoming the "norm" for zombies. See you in a few days my delightful decomposing disciples!

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Honor of My Most Favoritest of Holidays, I present ZOMBIES!

Greetings gluttonous ghoulies! As promised, I have a new blog, or series really, about Zombie movies! This is in no way an official list, as I scanned the Wiki for movies I wasn't remembering, I saw about a thousand movies I haven't actually seen. ...probably for the best because zombies don't generally get a large budget thrown at em. But there are a few notable exceptions.

I'd like to start the week off with what I'm calling "Golden Age" Zombie movies, Wednesday will focus on "Silver Age" and we'll end the week in the "Modern Age".

I am going to skip posting pics with these posts, since Blogger makes it frustratingly hard to add more than one or two, but I will include links to the Wiki page for the movies in case anyone is interested in learning more about them.

Golden Age

For the fist film, I am choosing, as it would be logical, the first recognized zombie movie. "White Zombie", starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Victor Halperin in 1932. It was an independent movie at the time and came out about a year after Lugosi's hit, Dracula. White Zombie wasn't a big critical hit, but it did do well enough that they made a sequel, which I have not seen.
I enjoyed this movie, it's very moody and atmospheric and Lugosi is usually fun to watch. The zombies in the movie are probably the closest to "real" zombies as you are going to find, maybe with the exception of "Serpent and the Rainbow" but that's for another blog. These zombies are true walking undead which do the bidding of their master, who as you can probably guess is played by Lugosi.
This is probably skipable unless you are a zombie completest or love Universal's classic horror movies, otherwise I think most folks would be a bit bored with it.

I can't help but pick this movie as my number two, it's a classic but not in the way the director had attempted. "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is famous for being horrible. It was directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. in 1959. I think the reason that this and Wood's other movies are so popular is that you really get the impression that Wood thought he was making a modern masterpiece. His eagerness to tell you the story shows as much as the strings and cheap sets do. I love this movie, it's just so much fun to watch, but it's probably best viewed with a group!
The zombies in this are closer to the classic zombie, but still retain their origins, meaning they are walking corpses who do their master's bidding, except in this case the masters are from outer space.
This movie is also notable for containing the very last footage that was shot of Bela Lugosi, the brief clip was shot by Wood for another movie but was edited in as a selling point. If you have ever seen "Ed Wood" by Tim Burton, then you'd know the story. That's also a fantastic movie, but not on topic, so we move on.

This next description is going to be brief, because I have only seen the movie once and it was probably over 10 years ago. This movies is the Hammer Horror Studios', "Plague of The Zombies" from 1966. It's notable for being, I believe, the only zombie movie that Hammer Film Productions made and they did it well enough that much of the imagery in the movie has influenced many later zombie movies. If I remember correctly this was the first movie to show the dead rising from their graves! It continues with classic idea of zombies as slaves toiling away for their masters.

With that, I will leave you for today. The next movie is a big leap forward in how we view zombies and is one of my all time favorites. It also is the transition into the Silver Age...see you soon my repulsive readers!

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Second Thought...and a review!

Well, I have been putting this off and since Elise made a blog post on her site about the same thing and did such a good job it, I'm just going to refer you to her posts to read about the museums we visited while in London. We couldn't take many photos, so there's not a whole lot to share. I could type something up, but visiting a museum is really a visual thing, so I decided to spare you (and myself) long descriptions. So please read if you haven't:

Next up, I wanted to share a short movie review with you. Last night, I went with Dover, Medford and Stoneham to see Zombieland. At first, Dover and I weren't all that excited about the movie. It's a zombie comedy and had a lot of potential for suck. After a few reviews we started to change our tune, it sounded like it was actually pretty good. Then Stoneham and Medford caught it and enjoyed it so much they demanded that we go see it with them!

I have to say, the movie was pretty damn fun. The characters were interesting, there wasn't a lot of back story, but you really didn't need it. We've all seen the rise of the zombie and the fall of civilization in all the other zombie movies so we understand that part. The movie gives you just enough to get an understanding of the character's personalities, then gets to the plot and plenty of zombie slaughter. The zombie kills are all pretty creative and some have to be seen to be believed.

The thing I liked the most about the movie were that the characters all avoided the basic horror movies mistakes, thanks to the main character's insistence on living by "The Rules", for example. #1, Cardio. You can't outrun a zombie or a group of them if you are out of shape. The rules definitely save everyone's lives throughout the movie and keep the movie from falling into the same old shit we've all seen before. Even the few times where you saw the joke coming a mile away, I didn't care because I was looking forward to seeing it!

So all in all. It was a ton of fun, I absolutely recommend it.

My one complaint might be that the zombies were less zombie-like than I'd prefer. They were much more a cross of "fast" zombies and the infected in 28 Days Later. I personally prefer the classic slow zombie to the newfangled runnin' ones, but I was able to put that all aside and enjoy them being destroyed and messed with throughout the movie.

Finally, I have one announcement. While having so much fun at the movie and thinking about it for this review, I decided to put together a blog about my favorite zombie movies. So next week, I'll break it up over a few days and present to you a review of a ton of flicks from what I'm going to term the Golden, Silver and Modern age of zombie movies. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Holiday in Londonia!

(You expected a Clash reference for the title, didn't you?)

Hello! We're freshly back from a short vacation to the lovely megalopolis that was London! The trip was great, but far too short. I can't believe I have to go back to freaking work already! Oh well, I have to pay off the bills I racked up while there, so you gotta do what you gotta do.

I'm planning on stretching the trip out to a few blog posts, which shouldn't be too hard, since we did quite a lot in the 4.5 days we were there. Yet there are still so many things we'd like to see that we've already talked about a second trip in 3-4 years.

For my first post, I thought I'd mix the U.S. and the U.K. a bit. In my internet searching for fun things to do while in the city I came upon a few familiar names. It turns out that London's got a few statues of American presidents and one historic building where a founding father lived while ambassador.

First up, within the first day or two of us wandering around sight seeing, we ran into a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Parliament Square! This we we had not expected to see.

I guess the statue is a replica of one in Chicago, which was presented to England to commemorate 100 years of peace between the US and the UK. There is no plaque mentioning this, so I had to look that up when we got home.

The next statue I had read about, but didn't expect to find quite so easily! This turned out to be right outside the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square.

This statue of George Washington was presented as another gift to England about a year after the Lincoln statue. The people of Virginia decided that Britain could use a statue of the guy that helped defeat them in 1776, but since they knew that Washington had refused to ever set foot on British soil again they shipped dirt from Virginia to stand the statue in, so technically I'm standing on good ol' American soil as this pic was taken.

Finally, and since we found the first two so easily I insisted on finding Ben Franklin's house. It turned out this was also very close by and was only a couple of block away from Trafalgar Sq.

I knew that Franklin was an ambassador to the US in London for a good while. From what I remember he was well liked by the people and kept up his reputation for being a ladies man while there. The house had a tour, but we didn't feel like paying for it, so we settled for a pic of the spot to complete our trifecta of American leaders/founders.

Next time, museums!