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Review: Zombies of Mass Destruction

Posted by Cory Casciato On November - 20 - 2009
Zombies of Mass Destruction does not skimp on the blood.

Zombies of Mass Destruction does not skimp on the blood.

The tagline for Zombies of Mass Destruction is “A Political Zomedy” and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it. There are zombies. It is political, and a comedy. And it isn’t subtle — it telegraphs every one of its punches. But this is zombie film we’re talking here; subtlety is strictly optional.

The film is set in a small island town where an unfortunate zombie outbreak occurs. Caught up in this small-scale apocalypse are a young Iranian-American woman who’s abandoned her heritage to hang out with a cute rocker boy, her traditional father, her redneck neighbors, a gay couple trying to come out to a conservative parent, a fundamentalist preacher, the ultraconservative mayor and his liberal challenger. Do these sound a little stereotypical? They are, but again, it doesn’t matter all that much.

As the outbreak unfolds, things get worse and worse for the main characters as they face the prejudice and half-buried hostility of the small town stereotypes around them. Oh, and there are the zombies to deal with. And it’s mostly presented in that order — sociopolitical commentary first, zombie mayhem second. None of the political or social jabs are quiet or refined — this movie wears its politics on its sleeve and wields its commentary like a ten-pound hammer.

Arguably, this limits the audience. The degree to which you enjoy it is probably largely dependent on how much you agree with its positions. On the other hand, there’s plenty of splatter and broad phsyical comedy between the political jabs at post-9/11 America, so even a die-hard conservative could probably find something to enjoy here — supposing they didn’t walk out before they got to it.

Those points might sound like complaints, but really they are just observations. Ham-fisted sociopolitical commentary is endemic to the zombie genre and the stereotyped characters don’t really hurt the movie that much.  More of an issue is the generally weak acting. None of it is terrible, but it’s all a little dodgy. Add to that the fact that there’s very little chemistry between any of the actors and the results weigh the movie down a bit and keeps it from being as funny as it could be. It’s nothing terrible, but it is worth noting.

Apart from that the only real problem is that it all feels a little dated. If it had come in in 2003, this film’s political jabs would likely feel rapier sharp. In 2009, it’s a little out of step with the world. Not to say that the issues raised are not legitimate or aren’t still issues — it’s just that today, they’ve taken on different nuances that simply aren’t addressed here.

But make no mistake: there is plenty to enjoy. The zombies look good. There are some fine jokes and visual gags (weedwhacker vs. zombie, anyone?). The direction is good, things move along at a decent clip and the movie is well shot. It’s not amazing, but it’s a solid, well-executed movie. It may offer slight returns, but it’s still got enough to offer to put it in the top third of the genre’s offerings.

Zombies of Mass Destruction is showing as part of the Denver Film Festival. You can see it tonight, November 20 at 11:30 p.m. and tomorrow, November 21 at 10:30 p.m.

Zombies of Mass Destruction/US/2009

Review: The Revenant

Posted by Cory Casciato On November - 16 - 2009

revenant1Part zombie, part vampire and pretty much entirely awesome, The Revenant is the latest film of 2009 to contribute to making this one of the best years ever for zombie cinema. It’s the story of Bart, a typical guy with a girlfriend, a slacker best friend and the piss-poor luck to get shot to hell during a tour of duty in Iraq. Then, once his friends have had a chance to bury and mourn him, he has the (arguably) worse luck to be reanimated as a decomposing, blood-hungry member of the walking dead. From there, he seeks the aid of his best friend Joey and begins feeding on creeps and criminals, until the complications mount (as they invariably do) and things go awry for him, Joey and pretty much everyone they know.

As mentioned, Bart is a weird hybrid of zombie and vampire. His buddy uses the Internet to determine he’s a revenant — a spirit returned in corporeal form. He looks like a zombie (moldering, gross, awesome) and acts like a vampire (sleeps all day, drinks blood) but lacks most of the traditional vulnerabilities, as revealed in one hilarious scene. He’s also damn near impossible to kill — sunlight doesn’t do it, bullets are a joke and even some extreme measures result in little more than some unfortunate handicaps.

The Revenant plays out as part black-as-sin buddy comedy, part gore-fest and part action movie. There’s also an underdeveloped and slightly overwrought love story subplot and some pretty interesting (although also underdeveloped) exploration of the morality of the situation and its parallels to warfare. It’s well acted, nicely paced and well-written, with excellent dialog and a compelling story.

The film is the work of writer/director/producer D. Kerry Prior, whose only experience writing and directing is the 1996 obscurity Roadkill. Apart from that, he’s worked on the effects of several Phantasm movies, one of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, Bubba Ho-Tep and numerous other films. With that pedigree, it’s no surprise that the zombie makeup is fantastic, with lots of great wounds, copious amounts of blood and general grue.  What’s more surprising is how well the rest of the movie is executed — Prior is a talent to watch and probably won’t have much time for effects in the years to come as he’ll be too busy directing and writing.

There are some minor complaints to be made — it’s a bit long and several of the story threads seem to be abandoned without much thought — but these barely get in the way of the overall experience of the film. You’re not going to have much time to notice the blemishes while the film is cruising along at a 100 MPH, delivering great action sequences, brutal kills and snappy one-liners, and you’re not much going to care if not every thread of the plot is full developed by the time you get to the nice little twist ending. No, you’ll be too busy laughing at the hilarious dildo-voicebox scene, wincing at the beheadings and blood-vomit and generally having a great time at the movies.

Right now, The Revenant is making the festival rounds (I saw it as part of the Denver Film Festival) but if you aren’t lucky enough to have a festival with impeccable taste in genre film in your area, keep your fingers crossed for the wider theatrical release this film so richly deserves — or just keep an eye out for it on DVD. It’s definitely worth a look, even for zombie and/or vampire purists — after all, he’s a revenant. Regardless of name, he’s zombie enough to make the cut for me, in no small part because, frankly, I love this film.

The Revenant/US/2009

List: Worst Zombie Movies

Posted by Cory Casciato On November - 11 - 2009

worst

Among the nearly 200 zombie movies I have seen, there have been some truly atrocious films. Not just bad mind you — in a genre so filled with amateurish, low-and-no-budget entries, bad is commonplace. No, we are talking about the truly, spectacularly terrible — movies that are difficult, painful or even brain damaging to sit through. Which I have done, because when it comes to zombies, I watch them all from the opening credits to the end credits, no matter how much it hurts. And some of these hurt bad. So to save you the trouble — or to provide the masochists with fodder for their self-abuse — I present these, the ten worst zombie movies I have had the misfortune to sit through. I don’t necessarily claim these are the worst of all time, just the worst I have seen. God forbid that there are actually worse, but in all honesty, there probably are. And I’ll get around to watching those eventually, too…

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Denver does zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 29 - 2009
Zombies in love

Zombies in love

I’m proud to say that my hometown of Denver, Colorado is quite a zombie town. We just had our fourth annual zombie walk (more than 4,000 attendees, if reports are to be believed) and, the very same day, there was a zombies’ engagement party.

What? Zombies need love, too.

Well, it turned out the zombie engagement party was actually an art show, but since it was largely horror and zombie themed art, it was still awesome. And I got some fine photos of both the party and the zombie walk. You can see some of the best of them, including a video slideshow of the zombie walk, after the break.

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The zombies of Collapse

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 26 - 2009

COLLAPSEBOBsink1Meet Bob. Bob is a severed zombie head. In Collapse, the upcoming zombie apocalypse movie now filming in Iowa, main character Robert (Chris Mulkey of Saving Grace, Cloverfield, North Country, Radio) carries our little buddy “Bob” around with him. Find out more about Bob, and see six more images of the zombies of of Collapse, after the break.

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Fort Zombie Q&A

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 21 - 2009

FZ_logo

The upcoming game Fort Zombie seems to fill a niche that’s been neglected for far too long — the zombie survival RPG/strategy game. In Fort Zombie, you play the part of a survivor of the zombie apocalypse who’s decided it’s time to stop running and time to pick a spot, gather supplies, team up with other survivors and try to hold off the hungry dead. Considering that fortifying a holdout and defending it from the undead horde is such a key element of almost every apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s all but inconceivable that it’s taken so long for such a game to come to fruition. The world may never know why its taken so long for such a game to come to pass, but the wait is almost over and we’ve got an exclusive Q&A with some of the creators, including producer Chris Stewart, lead designer Martin Cirulis and writer Arinn Dembo. And for the visually minded, there are a couple of screenshots mixed in there, too.

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Collapse pics and info

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 13 - 2009

COLLASPE logoJust got a batch of shots and some info direct from the set of Collapse, a zombie movie filming in Iowa. It looks to be a family drama about a man trying to provide for the family in the face of the zombie apocalypse. Here’s the official synopsis I received:

Chris Mulkey (Saving Grace, Cloverfield, North Country, Radio) stars as Robert Morgan, a farmer struggling to make ends meet. When zombies invade, Roger must protect his wife Molly, played by Karen Landry (Six Feet Under, St. Elsewhere) and his son Will. Roger fortifies his home, but as supplies dwindle, he is forced to fight his way through the small town of Plains Falls.

None of the images they sent had any zombies in them, but I know if there’s anything zombie fans like almost as much as zombies, it’s guns. And we have guns:

Collaspe rogers guns

Roger likes guns.

After the break, more images and additional info…
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Review: Zombieland

Posted by Cory Casciato On October - 2 - 2009

zombielandThe hype for Zombieland has been, at times, overwhelming. As a defensive mechanism, I’ve maintained what I consider to be a healthy skepticism. But I have to say, now that I have seen the movie, the hype was largely justified. By the time the opening credits rolled, I had little reason to doubt that this is a fine zombie film.

Now, make no mistake, many a hardcore zombie fan will find reason to hate this movie. These are fast zombies, for one thing. I know that’s enough to earn a “how about no?” from plenty of people. Possibly worse, in many eyes, is these zombies are probably closest to 28 Days Later zombies. That is to say, there’s no reason to think they died and reanimated. Technically speaking, these are just very sick people with an appetite for eating their former friends, not reanimated corpses. Over that? Okay, this is also not a film with a heavy — or any, really — social commentary. It’s just not. It’s an action-movie buddy comedy with zombies. If you haven’t swallowed your tongue in apoplectic horror yet, read on. It’s smooth sailing from here.

Zombieland is the story of four people thrown together by unlikely circumstance — the zombie apocalypse. That’s pretty standard fare for any buddy pic, and especially familiar to zombie fans. But the chemistry between the four, especially main leads Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, is enough to make it work. The foursome, after some intitial hijinx, are headed for Pacific Playland (read: Disneyland), an amusement park rumored to be free of the zombie scourge. That’s it. That’s the story. Now twists, no turns, no fanfare.

Okay, there are a couple of subplots (Eisenberg falls for the older girl, there’s a hilarious interlude with a famous actor I’d hate to spoil) but the point is, this is all very straightforward, by the numbers, action-oriented zombie stuff. But it works, in part becasue director Ruben Fleischer does an excellent job of keeping things moving as he puts the characters throughout their paces. That, and there are some really great effects, inspired musical cues, clever jokes and utterly awesome zombie kills and set pieces. It does slow down a tiny bt in the middle, but by the time you notice it, things have revved back into high gear and you’re headed for the climax full steam ahead, so it’s no big issue.

Call it shallow, call it slick, whatever. It’s fun and that’s the bottom line. I don’t know that this moves the zombie genre forward. But I do know that it could easily introduce zombies to a whole generation of fans that haven’t ever paid much attention to our walking dead frenemies. I’ve said many times before that Shaun of the Dead is an excellent “gateway drug” zombie movie. In all honesty, this may be even better for the purpose of introducing newcomers to the living dead. It doesn’t have the same kind of reverent, deeply rooted respect for the genre that Shaun displayed, but it’s not really any worse for lacking that. And just as Shaun was a deeply British movie, this movie 100 percent all-American. It may lack depth and substance but it more than makes up for that in sheer awesome. If you have doubts, let them be banished. Zombieland is a kickass good time and you should absolutely go see it.

Edit: Added a clause to clarify comparison to Shaun of the Dead.

Zombieland/US/2009

List: Most Wanted Zombie Directors

Posted by Cory Casciato On September - 30 - 2009
Mr. Director? The zombies are ready for their closeup

Mr. Director? The zombies are ready for their closeup

Romero. Fulci. Jackson. O’Bannon. Wright. These are all hallowed names among zombie directors, and fine directors in their own right. But despite loving the zombie above and beyond all other film genres, I do watch other kinds of movies. And while I watch them, sometimes I can’t help but notice, “Damn, this director is great.” And then, loving the zombie the way I do, I can’t help but think, “What if these guys made a zombie movie? “ I’m talking about people who have never made a zombie movie – not people who should make another (that’s another list…) Here’s my list of the top ten directors I’d like to see shoot the zombie – with a camera that is. When the apocalypse comes, we’ll all be shooting the bastards in the traditional, bullet-y way. (Photo above by flickr user lebovox; original photo here.)

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Left 4 Dead 2: What we know so far

Posted by Cory Casciato On September - 23 - 2009

l4d2It’s been more than three months since Left 4 Dead 2 was announced at E3 and it’s less than two months now until we get it in our hot, little, zombie-killing hands. Since its announcement, Valve has given us a ton of info about the game — a little here, a little there. To make things easier on you, I’ve gone through and compiled all of the available info into one place. And that place is this site, so without further ado, here it is: everything we know so far about Left 4 Dead 2.

Overview: Like most sequels, it hits the “bigger, better, more” target. It will have five campaigns to the original’s four. This time it’s set in the South and we get four all-new characters (more on them below). The three gameplay modes of the original — co-op, versus and survival — will be present, as well as a fourth, yet-to-be revealed mode. Additional new touches include dynamic weather, the addition of daylight fights – and a more aggressive, agitated horde during those daylight fights — and, perhaps best of all, a much more realistic and gruesome damage model. So we’ll get severed limbs, shredded torsos, decapitations and all the other good stuff a proper zombie game should have.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is the improved AI Director. Valve are promising it will not only be smarter, but also able to do plenty of new things, such as changing the layout of a level to make it more or less difficult depending on the players’ skill and the aforementioned dynamic weather. It will also reward players who explore levels and take the longer, more difficult routes with perks such as special ammo. The original game’s “crescendo events” have been tweaked, too. Now, some of them happen on the move — so backing into a corner is no longer a viable strategy. Back to the drawing board…

Some of the original bosses are being tweaked. Most of these are minor and/or transparent, such as a different costume for the Hunter (turns out, it’s too hot for a hoodie in the South). The most significant of these is the new Witch behavior — during those daylight levels, she’ll be wandering around all agitated-like instead of sitting and crying, so slipping by her gets a little harder. Not to mention, now she can sneak up on you…

The story is getting beefed up this time around. It starts in Savannah, Georgia and ends up in New Orleans and this time we get a better idea of how the survivors get from one place to another — it should be a zombie-infested road trip through the deep South. Valve aims to tell the story of the characters and the world this time — so we should have a much better idea of exactly how things got so fucked up. We also get to see some of how it starts: the initial level, Savannah, is set before the zombie infection hits…

New Stuff: Okay, on to the new stuff. I know it’s what you’ve all been waiting for anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

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