Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Zombie Movie Marathon Month 2009 wrap up

Posted by Cory Casciato On August - 13 - 2009

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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”

Review: Plants vs. Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On August - 7 - 2009


When the zombie apocalypse comes, the only thing standing between you and the ravenous hordes of undead is your skill in the garden.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s the message to be gleaned from the runaway hit Plants vs. Zombies, an addictive, amusing “casual” game that offers incredible depth and longevity for its $20 asking price. Combining a friendly, cartoonish aesthetic with some easy-to-learn, hard-to-master gameplay, the whole package comes together nicely and offers plenty of fun and a few nice laughs for fans of the walking dead..

The gameplay is a variation of the popular tower defense style of real-time strategy. In brief, the player’s home is on the left of the screen. The zombies start from the right, heading left. If they manage to cross the screen and get into the house, brains are eaten and the game is over. To stop them, the player has a wide variety of (cute) weapons in the forms of plants: sunflowers fuel the army, peashooters shoot peas, walnuts provide a barrier to temporarily halt the zombies’ advance, etc. There’s a wide variety of weapons and tools available to the player, to accommodate personal preferences and to deal with specific threats.

The single-player campaign is structured to ease players into the game and it does a fine job introducing the concepts, weapons and enemies at a pace that anyone can understand. In truth, veteran gamers who already understand the underlying mechanics of real-time strategy and tower-defense type games may find the pace a little slow except in the later campaign levels. Luckily, the games survival modes are much more challenging and should offer plenty of intensity even for hardcore gamers. In addition, a large number of mini-game variations on the basic gameplay are included, many of which incorporate elements of other popular games, from popular videogames such as Bejeweled to staples such as bowling. Fleshing this out are metagame mechanics that allow you to buy new plants and tools and raise plants for cash in a Zen garden. All told, the package is full of content and should keep gamers busy long enough to get their money’s worth, and then some.

The zombies take the popular conception of zombies – slow, shambling brain eaters – as a starting point and add variation from there. The full cast of undead comprises a wide variety of silliness, some based on pop culture zombie referents, such as the obviously “Thriller”-inspired zombies, others seemingly created for gameplay purposes such as football-player zombies, Zamboni-driving zombies and dolphin-riding zombies. If there’s a complain to be made, it’s that the choice to make the enemies zombies seems largely immaterial to the gameplay. Apart from a few exceptions – the “Thriller” zombies in particular – these enemies could have been anything – aliens, Bigfoot, monkeys, whatever. Still they are zombies, so it’s not much of an issue. The plants used to defend the homestead against the walking dead are cast in the same cutesy vein as the zombies, giving the whole game a light-hearted, fun feeling. All told, if you’re a videogame fan who likes zombies and likes cute, Plants vs. Zombies should be something of a dream come true.

Film Club Special: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 6 - 2009

BurialGround-filmclubWhen I heard that the Final Girl Film Club was doing Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror my heart filled with joy. I reviewed this movie as one of the first half-dozen posts on the site, then just last month, added thoughts in a reaction piece when I watched it as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month. So for Final Girl, I had to do something different, something more — so you get this, a few of my favorite things about the utterly insane Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror.

  1. Plot? What plot? – There is essentially no plot in this movie. I guess technically it has a plot: Three couples and one fucked-up kid (see item 10) go visit an old coot for unspecified reasons, right after the old coot has unleashed some zombies, also for unspecified reasons. Mayhem ensues. That’s it. This is a good thing. Plot would only distract from the insanity.
  2. Gratuitous nudity – What’s an Italian zombie movie without gratuitous nudity? In this movie, the women all get naked within the first ten minutes. That helps clear up what kind of movie we’re watching, right away, in case there was any question.
  3. Bizarre soundtrack – The soundtrack is part lite-jazz stock music and part drug-fueled mindfuck on the dark side of the moon. I’d be willing to bet money the composer just got as high as he possibly could, fired up a borrowed synthesizer, hit “record” on the tape deck and started twisting knobs and hitting keys more or less at random. Clearly he was going for something like the Goblin score of Dawn of the Dead; just as clearly, he was far too incompetent to even approach such a thing. The results are strangely fitting to the rest of the movie, however.
  4. Random bear trap – In one scene, a couple is running from zombies. The woman steps into a bear trap that seems to just be set out for no damn reason. Are there a lot of wild bears in the Italian countryside? No one seems perturbed by the fact that a bear trap was just casually placed on the path of this country estate, right where you might step in it while running from zombies.
  5. Smart zombies – The zombies are smart enough to use weapons (pitchforks, scythes, other farming-implement type stuff mostly) and work together to use a battering ram to get at the tasty meats (i.e. our protagonists) barricaded inside the country estate. Later, they dress up as monks to lure the survivors into a trap. Oh, you wily zombies! Overall, they show themselves to be significantly smarter than anyone else in the movie.
  6. Stupid, yet incredibly dedicated staff – On the contrary, the staff seem quite stupid and preternaturally dedicated. Even once the hardcore dying begins, they still follow orders promptly, even when those orders put them directly in harm’s way. Why can’t you find help like that any more? Oh yeah, they all died off in situations like these, or they were so stupid they set themselves on fire cooking.
  7. The maid’s death scene – Speaking of those staff, the maid’s death scene is an all-time favorite. While she is trying to close the shutters, a zombie throws a spike at her and pins her wrist to the wall with it. While she struggles against this cruel fate, another zombie reaches up with a scythe and beheads her. Ah, cruel fate.
  8. Leslie’s death scene – My second favorite death is Leslie, who suffers the unfortunate fate of serving as the Fulci “eye-gouge” knock-off of the film. Okay, technically it’s a glass shard that goes into her temple, not a wood splinter in her eye, but I am pretty certain this had to do with the effects budget, not any attempt at originality, because every other element of this scene seems directly lifted from the splinter-in-the-eye setpiece in Fulci’s Zombie.
  9. Toasty Stuntman – They set a guy on fire by accident during the filming, but the director insisted they keep filming while the guy screamed for help because it was too good of an opportunity to miss. You only learn this by watching the special features, but if there were any doubt that this movie is insane from top to bottom, that should clear it up.
  10. Peter Bark as Michael, the creepiest “kid” ever – Hollywood and Japan love the creepy kids, but they don’t know creepy like the Italians know creepy. You want a creepy kid? Cast a 26-year-old dwarf in a bad hairpiece as the kid, dub his lines in a weird, affected voice, then give him an incest subplot where he lusts after his mother. And gets to third base with her, before he becomes a zombie and kills her by biting off her nipple. That’s fucking creepy. Why didn’t this guy appear in more movies? Or why I haven’t I seen them, anyway?

That’s it, my ten favorite things about Burial Ground. If you can read that list and not need to see this movie immediately, you are a far, far better person than I — or at least a far more balanced person.

You can access the Final Girl film club entries on this fine movie here.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/30/2009 – Sugar Hill

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 1 - 2009

sugarhill1The second annual Zombie Movie Marathon month is history, folks. It wrapped up with the 1974 blaxploitation-meets-zombie film Sugar Hill. At its heart, this is a very basic revenge story. A guy gets murdered by gangsters, his girlfriend goes after the gangsters for revenge. With zombies. In an interesting and rarely used twist, this movie really played up the voodoo angle, utilizing not just zombies but voodoo dolls and rituals, a voodoo-drum heavy soundtrack and a starring role for voodoo god/spirit Baron Samedi. Pretty sweet stuff.

I really enjoyed this depsite the corny overacting and simplistic plot. A big part of that enjoyment was due to the design and look of the zombies. They were covered in cobwebs, with weird, silver eyes and unwavering expressions. They were mostly silent, but a few of them let out a growl or hiss here and there if I recall correctly. I’m actually somewhat surprised no one has used that look since.

Apart from the great zombies it was pretty fun, and the lead actress Marki Bey, as Diana Hill/Sugar Hill, looked hot in her sweet ’70s jumpsuit. This was very much a ’70s film, especially in the dialogue and wardrobe. Overall the movie just screamed “period piece.” But a fun, if somewhat embarrassing, period to revisit. Oh, and it had a death by being dumped into a bunch of hungry pigs, a good fifteen years or so before Hannibal did the same thing.

So that is that! Over the coming days and weeks some more traditional reviews of some of these movies will trickle out, plus other non-ZMMM posts for a change of pace. Oh, and I will be doing some kind of wrap up post or posts soonish, as well. Hope you enjoyed the marathon as much as I did!

ZMMM Dailies: 6/29/2009 – Zombie Strippers

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 30 - 2009

ZombieStrippersWhat would you expect from a movie called Zombie Strippers that stars Jenna Jameson? Lots of fake tits: check. Sub-par acting and story: check. Ridiculous, ham-fisted attempts at humor, scatological and otherwise: check. So yes, it is pretty much what you’d expect. There was a surprisingly high amount of clumsy philosophizing and political subtext (can it be called subtext when they beat you over the head with it?), but it was all so poorly executed it didn’t really go anywhere or engage at all. And besides, anytime they did anything remotely clever, they ruined it with stupid racial humor thirty seconds later.

The story, for what it is worth, concerns a plot to release a zombifying agent by a corrupt defense contractor (see, I told you: poorly executed political subtext!). After the marines clean up the first outbreak, one of them gets bit and wanders into a strip club, where he bites a stripper. Who becomes a super-zombie stripper. And eats patrons, but the owner doesn’t care because she is making mad loot for the club (okay, that part is pretty realistic). Then she converts more of her stripper friends, and other are conflicted about whether to join or stay individual. And a lot more people get eaten. Then the marines return and clean it all up. The end!

I didn’t hate this but I sure didn’t care for it either. I have seen far worse, though. The nudity was meh, because giant silicone stripper tits don’t do it for me. The zombie makeup was all right, but nothing special (pale complexion, sunken eyes, more animalistic appearance the longer they are dead). The gore was decent, but too much of it was this weird trend I’ve noticed lately of “stringy gore” — like everything inside anybody is just lots of gooey twine. It’s weird. Any doctors or coroners reading who want to chime in? Would what’s inside of me look like a bunch of bloody strings tangled together and knotted up if it was pulled out in violent handfuls?

Hard to believe but the end is nigh! The final entry is the blaxploitation/zombie classic Sugar Hill.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/28/2009 – Messiah of Evil

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 29 - 2009

messiahofevilI didn’t get much out of Messiah of Evil. It was, as I feared, deadly slow. It did have a somewhat dreamlike atmosphere and a couple of effective scenes, but there definitely was not enough movie in this movie. I think the most enjoyable aspect was something akin to what I got from Mutant — the bad, late-night, horror-movie feeling. This was the kind of movie that used to come on cheap cable or weird local channels at ungodly hours.

It’s a story about a girl, Arletty, looking for her missing artist father in a town that is slowly becoming all zombie (the alternate title for this is Dead People). It’s not clear what is causing this, but anyone in town is vulnerable. These zombies look pale, can’t feel pain, have a tendency to bleed from the eyes, eat raw meat of pretty much any type (people included, naturally) and are apparently waiting for a “dark stranger” to come and lead them (I guess that is the messiah of evil in the title?). Yeah, he never really affects the story anyway. She’s “assisted” in this quest by a swinging threesome led by a guy named Thom. They basically never figure anything out, but his two girlfriends get killed and Arletty starts becoming a zombie (in one scene, she pukes up a bunch of bugs and lizards, which is pretty cool, if totally nonsensical). Then Arletty and Thom try to escape the zombies by swimming out to sea and Arletty ends up in a crazy house. The end!

Wait, what? Yeah, that was it. Pretty pointless. The best scenes are of Thom’s girlfriends getting murdered, especially the younger one in the theater. The opening is kind of cool, too, although barely connected to the actual movie. This felt like it could have been something, but it just never got there. You can see for yourself if you like, since the film is in the public domain.

Download Dead People from the Internet Archive.

Next up is Zombie Strippers with Jenna Jameson. Are my expectations incredibly low? You bet they are!

ZMMM Dailies: 6/27/2009 – Enter… Zombie King

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 28 - 2009

enterzombieking_ulyssesThere was a certain amount of fun to be had with Enter… Zombie King. I mean, Mexican-style masked wrestlers against zombies — and the Zombie King, naturally — in a  Saturday-morning-superhero-cartoon style story with lots of gratuitous nudity certainly seems like a can’t-miss proposition on many levels, doesn’t it? And it is, to a degree. It’s the kind of movie that can almost get by on charm alone. The problem is, it pretty much has to. The story is basically there as an excuse for masked-wrestling shenanigans. The zombies seem to have been chosen strictly for “cool monster” points. And even at 76 minutes, it seemed a little drawn out.

Maybe if I liked wrestling more or knew more about the culture, I’d have gotten more out of it — there was a lot of wrestling, but not a lot on the zombies. In truth, the zombies were kind of lame — eat flesh, pallid complexion, yadda yadda. They could be domesticated, but that was neither explained nor explored, so it didn’t do much for me. Still, with lots of psychobilly and surf punk tunes, some topless hot girls (and one brief, sort of hard to see full nude), decent pacing and amusing superhero/wrestlers it’s hard to complain too much. A light, frothy slight excuse for a movie, but certainly not a terrible one.

How weird is it that I had two zombie-wrestling movies back to back? These are the kinds of coincidences and connections you notice when you watch thirty zombie movies in a thirty day span. I certainly didn’t plan it that way. Another weird thing is the only other Canadian zombie movie I’ve seen, Meat Market, also had a masked Mexican wrestler character. Coincidence, or are our north of the border friends really so into our south of the border friends’ wrestling culture?

The next entry takes us back to 1973 for the reportedly atmospheric (which might just mean slow) zombie chiller Messiah of Evil.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/26/2009 – Japanese Double Feature

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 27 - 2009

JUNKCompared to last night’s debacle, things went great tonight. My new copy of JUNK worked flawlessly, delivering a great movie that only made me more angry/sad that my own copy is DOA. Fuck. But yeah, JUNK was just fantastic. I didn’t notice the first time around how like the Italian zombie movies it is, probably in large part because I had seen far fewer Italian zombie movies at that point. While it does have a very Japanese sensibility, the look, gore and plot of it were very reminiscent of the spaghetti dead — which is a good thing. Lots of gore, very Dawn of the Dead Romero-looking zombies, visual and audio references to everything from Re-Animator, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and Return of the Living Dead (or perhaps Zombie 3) to Terminator 2 and Aliens. It seems like a very influential zombie movie in terms of later Japanese works, which is also a good thing.

If you don’t know the plot, JUNK concerns the intersection of some amateur jewel thieves, their double-crossing Yakuza fence and a U.S. military experiment in reanimating the dead. That’s pretty much it — just throw those elements together and away we go. It had two opposing strong female leads — one of the jewel thieves repping the living, and a super-zombie hottie (yeah, I said it — she runs around naked for a good chunk of the movie and looks good, just kind of pale) who leads up the animate dead. Very feminist, until they kind of throw that out at the end and the jewel thief accepts a traditionally subservient role to get with her man. Lame. But not lame enough to reduce the awesomeness of the movie. It’s a real shame this is out of print. Needs a special edition NOW.

tokyozombie1In a stroke of good fortune, Tokyo Zombie was also awesome, albeit in a totally different way. A movie about two factory workers who live to practice jujitsu and the zombie apocalypse that befalls them, TZ is absolutely absurd from beginning to end. It’s full of slapstick and Three Stooges-style physical humor, takes numerous insane and unexpected plot turns, delivers clever, if not particularly subtle, jokes aplenty and was generally enjoyable. It was also nicely produced, shot and acted, so it looked good and went down easy.

It’s definitely one of the more light hearted and strange zombie movies of not just Japan week, but of my zombie experiences. I can recommend it highly, but I suspect not everyone will agree with me — I happen to really enjoy the Japanese sense of humor and approach to storytelling, which isn’t necessarily a common thing.But if you like manga (this is based on one), anime or similar Japanese pursuits, this might be right up your alley.

So that is it for Japan. We return to mostly themeless meanderings acorss the zombie landscape, although I chose our next entry, Enter Zombie King, because of its Lucha Libre connection, as a nod to a friend of mine who’s doing a lucha thing the same night. Good luck with your event, Sid!

ZMMM Dailies: 6/25/2009 – FAIL!

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 26 - 2009

junkfailIt wouldn’t be a marathon without at least one epic fail. Last year, we had one where our “zombie” movie had no zombies – Rise of the Dead, if you’re curious, a bad ghost/reincarnation movie with no zombies despite the lying bastard of a cover and name! — and we had to return it and ended up watching an Asylum rip off of I Am Legend (called I Am Omega) instead. Last night, I got my epic fail when my JUNK disc turned out to be totally bunk.

I bought the DVD about a year ago but hadn’t had a chance to watch it. Turns out, it’s useless — none of the players I tried it in, including a PC DVD drive, even registered it as being present in the drive. Of course, I also got a late start last night (it was almost midnight when I got home from a quasi-work engagement) and I was suffering the effects of about $12-$15 worth of $3 pints of beer. So by the time I gave up screwing with the JUNK disc and checking to see if I could watch it online anywhere and put in Tokyo Zombie, I was on my last legs. Not surprisingly, I passed out in front of it after about twenty minutes. D’oh!

So tonight, after securing a copy of JUNK from a friend (it’s good to have friends almost as obsessive about zombies as you are!), I will be watching a double feature of JUNK and Tokyo Zombie to make up for it. Should be awesome — I am staying sober to minimize the possibility of passing out.




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