Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

ZMMM Dailies: 6/4/2009

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 5 - 2009

childrenshouldnt8Ooh, boy. The best thing about Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is definitely the name. The second best part is Alan Ormsby’s facial hair and the whole cast’s clothes — as ridiculous as today’s hipsters look, they have nothing on the hippies of the early ’70s. This movie spent almost an hour futzing around before finally delivering zombies, and the zombies were pretty sorry when they finally arrived. I did learn a few things: zombies are smarter than hippies; at least some zombies can sail a boat; jobs in the theater were really hard to come by in 1972 (Ormsby gets the others to go along with his grave-robbing/dead-raising shenanigans by threatening to fire them from his theater troupe). I actually think this could be remade into a decent movie, but Hollywood would rather remake movies that were decent the first time around into shit than remake something shitty into something decent. What’s up with that?

Tomorrow night, the William Castle/Marcel Marceau zombie/mime movie Shanks. And no, I am so not even kidding.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/3/2009

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 4 - 2009

iwalkedwithazombie1Tonight’s entry I Walked With a Zombie was definitely not your average zombie flick. The 1943 movie had more in common with soapy, old-timey tear-jerking love stories – two brothers in a love triangle and the tragedy that ensues. Nonetheless, this is an inarguably good, perhaps even great movie. Sure, it’s dated and a little low on action — really, not a whole lot happens — but it looked good, the actors could actually act and the guy behind the camera really knew what he was doing. More interesting than entertaining, it’s nevertheless worth seeing. Plus, Roky Erickson wrote a song about it, which is reason enough to see it in my book.

Since IWWaZ was so short (a mere 68 minutes — amazing that that used to be long enough for a feature film!) I followed it with the humorous Danger! 50,000 Zombies! short (27 minutes), which starred Nick Frost and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame. Pretty funny stuff, a lighthearted look at classic zombie tropes — a lot of it seemed lifted nearly straight out of Max Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide — with added homoeroticism. Up tomorrow is the cleverly titled Alan Ormsby classic Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/2/2009

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 3 - 2009
Brigitte Lahaie: By far the best part of Grapes of Death

Brigitte Lahaie: By far the best part of Grapes of Death

Night two of the second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month brought us the mediocre Grapes of Death. Seems the French just can’t give good zombie. They can, however, give great hot French girl, as this film proves via the presence of Brigitte Lahaie. Wowza. Something special here, folks. And for the people who keep finding my website via variations on the search term “gratuitous nudity,” you’ll be glad to know that Grapes of Death is all about the gratuitous nudity — including a nice nude scene with Lahaie, which almost justifies this movie’s existence.

This film is basically a protracted chase scene broken up with gratuitous nudity and cheesy gore effects. Snore. Still, it’s arguably an important developmental zombie flick, and it is far better than director Jean Rollin’s other zombie flick, the execrable Zombie Lake. Still, it’s not good. I paired my mediocre French zombie flick with a mediocre French wine, so at least I got a decent buzz out of the deal. I’ll have a full review up in a few days (and a splitting headache tomorrow) most likely. Next up is our June 3 installment, I Walked with a Zombie, an American film, but directed by a French guy.

Review: Dead Set

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 2 - 2009

divina-deadsetc4The zombie apocalypse comes to reality TV in the BBC miniseries Dead Set. The premise is that the cast of reality show Big Brother, locked away in a house isolated from the outside world, are among the few survivors of a plague of flesh-eating zombies. They don’t even quite realize what is up – they think the producers are “testing” them – until one of the remaining crew gets into the house, followed shortly by one of the zombies. From there, the story follows a fairly predictable – or classic, if one prefers – curve as some are bit, a supply run is undertaken, more survivors make their way to the compound and finally, things unravel spectacularly.

Haters of speedy zombies might want to tune this one out – these bastards can move. The show gets credit, though, for not setting the characters into a situation where this speed would make escape impossible without cheap editing tricks as many fast-zombie films do. There are no scenes  where they’re surrounded … then cut, and they’re a few steps ahead all of the sudden, for example. The zombies look great, with creepy, white-irised eyes and lots of apparent wounds – everything from torn flesh to missing limbs.

The show uses a lot of cuts and angles to keep the gore from being too excessive for mainstream consumption but considering that this was on TV (pay TV, if I understand correctly, but still) the gore factor is remarkably high. It comparable, gore-wise, to something like Dexter in the U.S. – plenty of grue, but not so much as to classify it as a truly gory show for those that revel in such.

The creators clearly know and love their zombie lore. There’s at least one direct nod to each of George A. Romero’s first three zombie movies, including direct quotes from Night of the Living Dead (“They’re coming to get you Barbara”), parallel dialog from Dawn of the Dead (a character suggests the zombies are attracted to the studio where they’re holed up by some sort of “primitive intuition” and opines that the place used to be “like a church to them”) and a visual quote and parallel dialog from Day of the Dead where an obnoxious character gets torn apart by a mob of zombies while spouting curses at them the whole time. It’s not just Romero, either – at one point a character says another has “a face like a Manchester morgue” (clearly a reference to The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie).

They fail, however, at putting across a message as well as Romero or even Let Sleeping Corpses Lie – those films are admittedly heavy handed, but clear in what they have to say. Apart from the very obvious and zombie-film standard message inherent in the fact that it’s the failure to work together that causes nearly all of the problems for the survivors, this seems to be vaguely condescending toward and condemnatory of the reality-TV generation and surveillance state, but what the exact message is – if any – is unclear. It would have added depth to the proceedings if made a little clearer – or streamlined it if jettisoned all together. It’s also entirely possible that the difficulty in transmission stems from subtle but deep differences between British and American culture that leave me somewhat in the dark as to some of the targets here.

Despite that minor quibble, the writing, direction and acting are all up to the task – Jaime Winborn is particularly good as Kelly, and Andy Nyman turns in an impressive, scenery-chewing performance in the role of the bastard lead producer, Patrick. The only real complaint is the pacing is a bit off – things start off slow before catching stride, then drag a bit in the third and fourth episodes and seem a bit rushed in the fifth and final episode. Still, considering how well the creepiness, jump scares, drama and laughs all work overall, this is a minor issue. Falling short of greatness, Dead Set has to settle for being very good – but in a genre as heavily weighted to the terrible end of the scale as zombie film is, very good is high praise, indeed.

Dead Set/U.K./2008 – Made for TV

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!).

Preliminary movie list for Zombie Movie Marathon Month

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 22 - 2009

zombiefulciJune is almost upon us and that means it is time for me to get serious about finishing the list of movies for the June Zombie Movie Marathon Month festival. I had hoped to have the entire list done by now but for a variety of reasons — scheduling conflicts, inability to confirm that movies will be available, indecision — I haven’t been able to do so. I have come up with a preliminary list of definite movies to watch (although not the when, for the most part), a couple of themes to explore and a handful of “maybes.” Now I am taking commentary from you fine readers. Help me decide!

My two themes are five days each of Italy and Japan. Italy has proven to be the easier of these, and comprises most of my “definite” list. Japan is a little trickier and I may put it to a vote next week (about time I used that poll for something, anyway). Apart from that there are a few seminal films that I have managed to not see yet and a few my daughter has managed to not see yet and those comprise the rest of what is definite.

Here’s what I have nailed down, some with commentary:

  • Zombie (30th anniversary! I’m doing a free showing of this)
  • Nightmare City
  • Hell of the Living Dead
  • Zombie 3 (Because Lucio Fulci worked on it briefly)
  • Burial Grounds: Nights of Terror
  • Versus
  • Tokyo Zombie
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space
  • Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
  • Return of the Living Dead (daughter has never seen it!)

Here’s the stuff I am considering, but haven’t settled on:

  • Dead Set (okay, it’s a TV miniseries, but still a moving picture show)
  • American Zombie
  • Mutant
  • I Walked with a Zombie
  • Messiah of Evil
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Haven’t seen this in years, like since it was fairly new)
  • Pet Sematary (ditto)
  • Onechanbara
  • Grapes of Death
  • Zombie Honeymoon

Okay, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’ve got ten nailed down, ten strong possibilities and a whole, long list of other stuff that I haven’t decided on. Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

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.

Cataloging the Dead: Romero Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 13 - 2009

flyboyzombiedod

Appear in: Night of the Living Dead; Dawn of the Dead; Day of the Dead; Land of the Dead; Diary of the Dead also, the Tom Savini directed Night of the Living Dead remake (1990) but not any other remakes as of current date.

Cause: Unknown (radiation from Venusian space probe is one hypothesized cause, but never tested).

Diet: Human flesh (eats only a small portion of the body, estimated at around five percent in Dawn of the Dead). Occasionally observed eating other animals (bugs, etc.).

Circumstances for creation: All dead bodies rise to become zombies. Zombie bites are invariably fatal, usually within 24 hours of being bitten. No known way to prevent reanimation short of destroying the brain.

Behavior: Slow moving. Easily distracted, such as by fireworks. Capable of learning and recalling at least some impulses from its life. The longer it has been zombified, the smarter it is. Newly risen are nearly mindless, but even they have been observed using simple tools to bludgeon or break windows to reach prey. Older zombies can communicate, organize and plan, including making efforts to resist distractions to focus on a task.

How to kill: Destroy the brain, destroy the zombie. Nothing else works.

Slow but implacable, the Romero zombie just keeps coming, ever hungry for the flesh of the living. In Romero’s universe, all recently dead people rise to become zombies – being bitten is not required. Being bitten, however, is invariably fatal, usually within a day or so. The early Romero movies showed zombies are largely mindless, but they seemed to get smarter with each installment, evolving over time (perhaps as they acclimated to a post-life existence?). Eventually they achieve cooperation, planning and impulse control, making them considerably more dangerous.

Romero’s zombies appear to get sustenance from eating the living. They can exist for a long period, perhaps indefinitely, without feeding, so there may be something else at work besides simple desire/need for sustenance. They can not be killed except by destroying the brain. Massive damage to the body may incapacitate the zombie, but as long as it can still bite it is dangerous. Since all bodies rise to become zombies, the bodies of the dead must be disposed of as soon as possible after death, regardless of the cause of death.

The zombies of George A. Romero’s work are in many ways the prototype for all modern (post-1968) zombies. As such, they appear frequently in others’ works, sometimes with minor variations. A good rule of thumb for any new and unidentified zombie encountered is to treat it as a Romero zombie until evidence suggests otherwise. These zombies first appeared in the seminal Night of the Living Dead and then in its four follow-ups. The first three of these, through Land of the Dead, appear to take place on a single timeline. The last, Diary of the Dead, appears to be a reboot/reimagining and further installments may alter these observations or make a case for categorizing a second variety of Romero zombie.

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