Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

List: 5 almost (or barely) zombie movies

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 17 - 2010

Is this a zombie movie?

I saw The Crazies this weekend. I liked it pretty well. It wasn’t a zombie movie. It did contain some very zombie-movie like themes and ideas, and the infected were somewhat zombie-like, but it wasn’t a zombie movie. Director Breck Eisner does a good job of explaining why in this interview. Here’s the key point, for my money:

They don’t lose their personalities and persona completely. It just lets loose this monster within and it does it differently with each person. That’s what makes it different from a zombie movie.

Now, arguably the same could be said about certain Romero works, especially Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, but even in those movies, the creatures were zombie first (eat the flesh of the living above all else), remaining persona second. The Crazies had some of its infected do nothing more than just mill about aimlessly, while others actively sought revenge on those they perceived to have wronged them. Some worked as a team, some drove cars — does that sound very zombie-like to you? Compare that to other “infected” movies that, to me at least, are zombie movies, such as 28 Days Later. The infected in 28DL act like zombies — they seek out and attack the uninfected. They have lost all vestige of their previous personality, mind or soul. They can’t open a door, much less drive a car or operate a firearm. That’s a zombie.

Time will tell whether Eisner’s The Crazies is considered a zombie movie or not, despite his explanations and intentions. Ultimately, it’s the film’s audience and history that decides how a film is classified (never forget, Romero never considered his creatures zombies until audiences classified them as such and he went with it!). And that definition can be fairly arbitrary. For reference, here’s a look at five movies that utilize zombie-like ideas and creatures, yet alter the zombie mythos in fundamental ways. Some are considered zombie films, some are not.

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Welcome to the zombie renaissance

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 3 - 2010
Photo by S.A. Young

It doesn’t get any better than this

There’s never been a better time for zombies — or, more to the point, for fans of zombies.

Everywhere you look, the zombie is making its mark. Not only do fans have a deep and varied back catalogue of great works to choose from, most of it easily available to anyone with the interest and a decent Internet connection, but the walking dead are the subject of of some of the best books, movies, video games and Internet sites being made. We are, at this very moment, living in the midst of the zombie renaissance.

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Undead Confusion: Zombie? Ghost? Both?

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 10 - 2010

Ghost zombies? Zombie ghosts? It's all very confusing...

Zombie or ghost: It should be simple. If it has a body, it’s a zombie. If it doesn’t, it’s a ghost. Or to put it another way, a soulless, living dead body is a zombie, while a disembodied spirit is a ghost. But no, filmmakers have to go and make it all confusing and ambiguous — usually in terrible, terrible films.

I can’t say for sure that’s a result of mixing/confusing the two very different undead creatures, but I will say this: chances are good if you don’t know quite what kind of movie you are making, it is going to suck. And if you aren’t really sure what kind of creature your movie features, then almost by definition you aren’t real sure what kind of movie you’re making, right? Here’s a look at a few of the movies that blur the line, in an effort to sort out whether we’re looking at a ghost-like zombie, a zombie-like ghost or some genuine hybrid.

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Left 4 Dead 2 wishlist vs. reality

Posted by Cory Casciato On September - 25 - 2009

l4d2

The day Left 4 Dead 2 was announced, I posted a wishlist of five things I wanted from the game. Now, in light of my recent post rounding up everything known about the game thus far, I thought it was a good time to look at my original list and see how well Valve succeeded in fulfilling my wishlist.

  1. Give us four more interesting characters – It’s too early to say that they’ve succeeded here, but things look good. The clips I’ve seen indicate that the spoken lines are well-voiced and indicate personality. Eurogamer called it “grand slam calibre backchat” in one preview. A Rock, Paper, Shotgun preview revealed that characters will develop over time and there will be plenty more back-and-forth chatter, thus improving one of the original game’s strengths. Also, I already love the gambler/con-man character Nick. Verdict: Looks like I get what I want, but only time will tell for sure.
  2. Give us more of the back story – An early IGN preview reported that the game starts in Savannah before the outbreak And an Ars Technica interview with writer Chet Falizskek quotes him as promising, “We’re telling the story of this world, we’re seeing how things fall apart, and a new way of interacting with the infection.” Verdict: Looks like another win. I’m sure I will be left with some questions, but I am equally sure I will have a  much better idea of how the world fell apart and why.
  3. Connect the dots a little better – I wanted to know how one campaign connected to the next — how I got from point A’s rescue to point B’s jeopardy.  And in numerous previews we have been promised an overarching narrative that connects all the campaigns and a sweet, zombie-infested hell-ride/roadtrip through the American Deep South. Verdict: Two words: Fuck. Yes.
  4. Don’t tamper too much with the bosses or add a bunch of new ones - I was concerned that a bunch of new, outlandish bosses, or wildly different behaviors for the old ones, would ruin the delicate suspension of disbelief of the background fiction. Well, there are new bosses. Three at least, and probably a fourth although it may come in downloadable content. And at least one, the Witch, has significant new behavior — wandering in daylight. Oh, and there are six so-called common uncommon: level specific infected that have some special trait such as fireproofing, given through what they were wearing when they went zombie. Verdict: Not all wishes can come true, obviously. But I have slowly warmed up to the idea of new bosses. I don’t know that thy are necessary, strictly speaking, but it doesn’t bother me the way it did before. Oh, and the common-uncommon are brilliant. Of course a dude wearing Kevlar when he gets infected is going to be a bulletproof zombie. Them’s the breaks! So I didn’t get what I want, but I am okay with what I am getting.
  5. Give us more, period – I wanted at least a “few more” campaigns. There will be five. I wanted all three modes (survival, co-op, versus) to be playable on all campaigns, out of box. They are. I wanted a new mode. There will be one, though it isn’t announced yet. And I wanted more guns, for variety’s sake — specifically, I asked for a “real” grenade and maybe a RPG. Well, neither of those has been announced (yet) but there is a grenade launcher, explosive and incendiary bullets, and more than 25 new weapons, including ten or more melee weapons. There are also some new accessories like adrenaline and ammo packs. Verdict: Yeah, they hit that one out of the park. The 25+ new weapons, the melee stuff, new ammo, new mode, all out of box? Thanks! Still would have liked another campaign or two. Oh well, there’s always DLC…

Final Verdict: Valve, did you read that post? Just kidding, most of my requests were not only straightforward but obvious. Still, I asked for a few specific things to improve on an already stellar formula and, for the most part, it looks like they will be delivering in spades. November 17 can’t come fast enough.

Zombie Movie Marathon Month 2009 wrap up

Posted by Cory Casciato On August - 13 - 2009
zmmm2009

Just a few of the movies I viewed

Hard to believe, but it was almost six weeks ago that I wrapped up my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month. At the time I promised a wrap-up report “soon.” I guess I meant “in about six weeks.” For those unfamiliar, the ZMMM is my annual tradition of watching thirty zombie movies in thirty days, at the rate of one a night. It happens in June, and, as mentioned, this is year two. Why do I do this? Because I really, really like zombie movies. There are other benefits a well, but essentially that’s what it boils down to.

Watching that many movies in such close proximity is interesting. It was the first such marathon that transformed me from zombie enthusiast to zombie fanatic – the existence of this website is essentially a direct result of that first marathon. This year, the results weren’t quite as dramatic – I couldn’t be much more of a fan than I already am – but it did refresh my love of the genre and put a solid dent in my ungodly pile of movies I need to watch.

I saw twenty-four new movies during the month, plus six I had seen before at some point. Almost half of them I watched with my teenage daughter, the rest I watched alone except for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, which I did as a public showing at a small bar/theater in town. The turnout was low, but those that made it appreciated the film – except for my girlfriend, who was thoroughly unimpressed (she is not a zombie fan).

Some oddball themes appeared. Early on, turgid melodrama was everywhere. I Walked with a Zombie, Zombie Honeymoon, even Dead Set were predicated on sudsy, schlocky relationship drama, and several other movies had some elements of it, too (even no-brainer action-fest Resident Evil!). During my Italian and Japanese mini-marathons, sleaze made a strong showing – and the Japanese are just as depraved as the Italians. One different thing, though – the Japanese really like to cast women as the heroine, Italians just like to torture them.

I realized that Resident Evil was actually pretty decent, for a popcorn zombie movie – compared to some of the dreck I sat through, it was fucking art (looking at you, Redneck Zombies and Hell of the Living Dead). Hell, watch enough zombie movies and simple competence at putting a movie together seems to be a rare gift. I added Shanks to my list of “too insane to be believed” zombie movies. I realized I need to buy a region-free DVD player so I can own Dead Set, which is awesome. And I only fell asleep during a movie once, after drinking a lot before watching Tokyo Zombie (re-watched it the next night, it was awesome). There were some pleasant surprises, such as the clever mockumentary American Zombie, and some not-so-pleasant (you do not want to watch Attack Girls Swim Team vs. the Undead with your kids. Trust me.). I learned that planning (as I did this year) results in a much better experience than not planning (last year). I added about six movies to my collection and am looking to add at least two or three more, if they are ever released domestically. Would I do it again? Hell yeah, next year. Feel free to join me. After the break, see the full list of movies I watched.

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Vampires Suck; or, Richard Corliss knows nothing about zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On August - 10 - 2009

corlissSo, Time movie critic Richard Corliss, in a review of Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, decided to take the opportunity to expound on why vampires are better than zombies as a lead in to his review. Why he felt the need to defame the good zombie name, I am not sure, but what he ended up proving is a) he knows basically nothing about zombies, b) he has little idea what is actually scary in a movie and c) zombies are infinitely better than vampires, by the very criteria he has selected.

Corliss starts out with this tepid intro: “You’ve heard the propaganda: Zombies Are the New Vampires. Once relegated to back-list B movies like I Walked With a Zombie and Night of the Living Dead, those slow-moving, post-mortem drudges of West African mythic origin are now the hot horror creature.”

Okay, Corliss. I Walked with a Zombie may have been a B-picture, but it’s since been validated as something of a classic. And Night of the Living Dead? Not only was it not a B-movie (it was an early indie, to be accurate, created entirely outside of Hollywood) you’re also talking about what is almost universally recognized as the second most important and influential horror movie ever (second only to Psycho). Not an auspicious start to your argument.

From there, he offers what he seems to believe is an argument for the vampire’s primacy, but ends up being merely a list of reasons that vampires, well … suck. Here’s the relevant material:

Zombies are what we feel like at our worst: slogging through a winter workday, standing in a long line at airport security, waking up with a hangover. Vampires speak to the romantic in us, to our need for human contact, teeth to neck. They embody everything erotic about the predatory impulse. Vampires glide through the night and, instead of breaking down your door like an angry zombie mob, they glide into your bedroom for a late-night tryst. They don’t rip a victim’s limbs off; they leave two decorous little puncture marks on the neck or breast. But once they get into your system, you’re theirs forever — unlike a zombie, whom you can escape just by walking briskly in the opposite direction. Vampires have savoir-faire and star quality; a vampire is Johnny Depp, a zombie John C. Reilly. And they’re always impeccably dressed. What do zombies wear? Rags! Not to sound elitist, but zombies are just rabble. Vampires always have been, always will be, the aristocrats of monsters.

See, that’s exactly why vampires, as typically portrayed, aren’t fucking scary. That’s not a nightmare, that’s a thirteen-year-old girl’s wet dream. Sexuality as reduced to “decorous little puncture marks on the neck or breast.” That’s not horror. That’s the kind of sanitized bullshit that makes garbage like Twilight so popular. It’s that kind of “ooh, sexy” approach that has stripped the vampire of its power to scare and turned it into a BDSM-lite fetish symbol for the pubescent set.

His other points are equally ridiculous. If you think you can escape a zombie mob by “walking briskly in the opposite direction” you not only haven’t seen a zombie movie in about ten years, but you didn’t pay a lot of attention to the ones you did watch (p.s. hope you have a better plan than that for when the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs, Corliss. Maybe your vampire buddies can help you out…). And what does he offer as an example of the embodiment of vampire? Johnny fucking Depp? So not scary, unless you suffer severe gay panic when you see an exceptionally pretty man. On the other hand, the image he chooses as a zombie representative, viewed in the proper context is actually pretty horrific. Picture a dead-eyed, hungry looking John C. Reilly, dressed in rags, missing a limb and dripping blood and viscera from his mouth — now that’s a fucking nightmare.

Read the whole article: Thirst: Why Vampires Beat Zombies”

Five steps to a better Left 4 Dead 2

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 1 - 2009

left4dead2Today at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, Left 4 Dead 2 was announced and I couldn’t be more excited. The sequel to the blockbuster zombie apocalypse trainer of 2008 will be here November 17, 2009, according to the just-released teaser trailer. And to celebrate its announcement, I’m going to share five things I’d like to see in the second iteration of this incredible game. Unlike the similarly themed five suggestions for Dead Rising 2, which suggested necessary fixes, this is more of a wish list — there’s nothing that really needed fixing in the original.

  1. Give us four more interesting characters – One of the great strengths of the original was its excellent and iconic characters. They weren’t all equally well conceived (frankly, old-timer Bill was hands-down cooler than the rest) but all were definitely a lot more realistic and engaging than your average game character. Without these personalities, Left 4 Dead would have still been the same kick-ass killfest it was, but it would have lost half its charm. Giving us four more great characters to root for will go a long way toward ensuring the new game is as good as the first.
  2. Give us more of the back story – Another of the great strengths of the first game was the back story, delivered largely through innovative storytelling devices such as messages scrawled on walls and the details of the settings themselves. Give us more, and give it to us the same way (no cutscenes, please!). Word is one of the new characters is a cable news reporter — why not have her drop a few words about what she saw before all hell broke loose as part of the in-game chatter during quiet moments? And I think we’re all wondering how the boss infected get that way…
  3. Connect the dots a little better – As far as I could discern, there was little or no connection between the campaigns in the original. Without any sort of narrative arc the game seemed like a series of unconnected incidents that left me wondering, “Why do these people keep leaving the safety they reach at the end of each level?” I’m sure you can think of some reason and some clever, in-game way of giving it to us (radios maybe?).
  4. Don’t tamper too much with the bosses or add a bunch of new ones – I think the boss infected are just fine as they are. I’m curious how they got that way (see item 2) but I don’t want to see four new bosses in this game, with no explanation given as to how they appear. That is going to push it in the direction of the Resident Evil franchise, where the various letter viruses (T-virus, G-Virus, whatever) can create any kind of googley-eyed demon the developers dream up without breaking a sweat. It makes the whole thing too video game-y (yes, I know it is a video game, don’t be pedantic) and unbelievable to be fun.
  5. Give us more, period – Arguably the one real flaw in the original is the small number of campaigns (four) and limited gun loadout. Given that the engine is already tuned to perfection, would it be too much to ask for to give us a few more campaigns, an extra mode of some kind (at least give us Survival mode from day one) and maybe a couple of extra weapons, simply for variety’s sake? A real grenade, for example, and maybe an RPG that’s hidden near the end of each campaign, for the end game, would be frigging sweet.

That’s it! Readers, I’d love to hear your ideas for what you want to see in the next one, or what you think of mine. And don’t forget, you can see the teaser here if you haven’t already (embed screwed the site up, sorry!).

Swine flu or zombie apocalypse?

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 28 - 2009

biohazardzThe ongoing swine flu outbreak in Mexico naturally has the zombie aware wondering if this could be the first step in the inevitable zombie apocalypse. It’s got some classic hallmarks: sudden development, high death rate, government entreaties not to panic, those biohazard-y looking dust masks. So is it time to head to your secure location, board up the windows and start sharpening your machete? Not quite yet.

It’s important to remember that, as of yet, there haven’t even been any rumors of swine-flu fatalities getting up to walk around. There also haven’t been any rumors of attacks on health care workers, family of the afflicted or anyone else. Hell, they only just verified it could pass from person to person. So apart from the elements of a new, highly contagious, still-mutating sickness and visual element of biohazard masks, this isn’t looking particularly zombiesque.

Still, it’s a good thing that the zombie community is watching these developments closely. If this does turn out to be the first outbreak of the zombie virus, we won’t be caught unaware. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a good test run of our monitoring systems and a chance to look hard at our contingency plans. And, if it turns out to be a more mundane apocalypse, like a garden-variety flu pandemic, the close monitoring of the news for signs of walking dead should still impart some practical knowledge sure to be of use.

So for now, keep monitoring the news but don’t shoot the staggering, sunken-eyed, pale dude on your lawn just yet. Look for zombie-indicating new developments – warnings to isolate the infected or dead should be considered suspicious, while instructions to decapitate or burn them should be considered an undead giveaway. Reports of riots, sudden outbreaks of bitey behavior or high spikes in murder rates near infected areas are all high-probability danger signs as well. And get your bug-out bag ready if it isn’t already. It can’t hurt to be ready to head for the hills when you see the first zombies instead of stopping to pick up that last box of granola bars and an extra fire axe, right?

Jacques Derrida on zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 27 - 2009

200px-jacquesderridaOne of my good friends who shares some of my love for the walking dead and is far, far more educated than I am sent me a short piece by Jacques Derrida on zombies. Derrida is a fancy-pants French philosopher and the father of deconstruction (yeah, I have no idea either). Here’s his take on the zombie:

Zombies are cinematic inscriptions of the failure of the “life/death” opposition. They show where classificatory order breaks down: they mark the limits of order. Like all undecidables, zombies infect the oppositions grouped around them. These ought to establish stable, clear and permanent categories. But what happens to “white/black”, “master/servant” and “civilized/primitives” when white colonialists can also be the zombie slaves of black power? Can “white science/black magic” remain untroubled, if what sometimes works against a zombie is white magic, the Christian religion, the power of love or superior morality? How certain is the opposition “inside/outside”, if the zombie’s internal soul is extracted and an internal force becomes its inside? Is there any security in opposing “masculine” to “feminine” and “good” to “evil” when the zombie is desexualized and has no power of decision?

The zombie is therefore fascinating and also horrific. It poisons systems of order, and like all undecidables, ought to be returned to order. In zombie movies, this return to order is difficult. For a classic satisfying ending, the troubled element has to be removed, perhaps by killing it. But zombies are already dead (while alive) you can’t kill a zombie, you have to resolve it. It has to be “killed” categorically, by removing its undecidability. A magic agent or superior power will have to decide the zombie, returning it to one side of the opposition or the to the. It has to become a proper corpse or a true living being. There are other endings, less final. The zombie might be ineradicable, they might return. Perhaps undecideability is always with us. If not figured in the zombie, then something else: ghosts, golems or vampires, between life and death

Found in Introducing Derrida by Jeff Collins. See, even fancy smart dudes love zombies.

Five steps to a better Dead Rising 2

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 23 - 2009

deadrising2The original Dead Rising was probably my favorite zombie game ever (admittedly, Left 4 Dead is rapidly gaining on it…) and one of my favorite games, period. I put it back in the ol’ 360 again recently to try and relive the magic and realized that the game had some problems. I’d been able to overlook them on my first playthrough, so smitten was I by the awesome way it recreated the zombie apocalypse, but they stopped me from spending any serious time on the second go-round. If those problems were to be resolved, say in some sort of sequel, like the one I wrote about yesterday (no link, just hit the previous post button there at the top) … well, then we’d have something special.  The developers have gone on record saying that the goal of getting 6,000 zombies onscreen at once is the number one priority. Sorry, but that is horse shit. A lack of zombies onscreen at once was not one of the first game’s flaws. Here’s what you do need to fix/tweak/add/focus on to make Dead Rising 2 the single best zombie game ever. I’m going to waive my regular consultancy fee, developers, just get this right.

  1. Better controls – I convinced myself the controls were fine, considering the game was really an RPG masquerading as an action game, but let’s face it; they are clunky as hell, like almost as bad as old-school Resident Evil clunky. Play a few third-person games like Grand Theft Auto IV and try to give us controls at least as smooth and intuitive. Oh, and allowing us to configure the control scheme would be great too.
  2. A sane save system – I get that the developers were trying to enforce a certain style of play with the jacked-up save system of the first game. I really get that. Hell, I even overlooked it and argued it was justified at one point (my enthusiasm was mighty). Fine, you tried to achieve something, but it failed. Really it just irritated players and made a second playthrough seem more like a chore than fun. At very least, try something new … better yet, just give it a save-anywhere system and throw in an achievement for playing through the “proper” way.
  3. Additional modes – When I got the real game after playing the hell out of the demo I was slightly disappointed. The focus shifted from wholesale zombie slaughter to more concrete, RPG-type goals. I got over it, but there’s something to be said for the simple pleasure of running around and chopping off heads. Why doesn’t a game that makes that so much fun reward you for it? The addition of a simple arcade mode (kill as many zombies as possible in a given time frame) with leaderboards would have meant me popping the game in daily for the past year or more to try for a higher score. And it can’t be hard to add something like that. If you can figure out some sort of strategic mode where I can gather supplies and test my zombie apocalypse plans, that would be great too. The existing survival modes are cool, but the focus on long-term survival and lack of save within them limits their playability. It’s rare I can sit in front of the TV for four or five hours at a stretch… Or hell, surprise me with a mode I haven’t even dreamed of yet.
  4. Jettison the punishingly difficult and conceptually questionable boss fights – The boss fights in the original were just ridiculous, especially the final confrontation with the nigh-indestructible brawler. I know, video games have boss battles, right? But do they have to? And if they do, do they have to be so difficult that completing them brings not a sense of accomplishment but simply sweet relief that the ordeal is over at last? Jettison the boss battles in favor of something innovative, or at the very least give us believable boss fights that don’t make us destroy controllers.
  5. Multiplayer – A co-op mode would have extended the life of this game almost infinitely. This is critical. This should be your top priority, not that 6,000 zombies shit.

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