Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: REC

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 19 - 2010

There are a handful of zombie movies that attempt to use a kind of cinéma vérité style. REC is easily the best of the lot. The film uses a TV news crew filming a reality show about late-night workers as its central storytelling device. The on-air personality Angela and her cameraman are following a group of firefighters around. A call to help a woman trapped in her apartment turns into a harrowing ordeal when the woman turns out to be irrational and violent and the building is sealed from the outside by the authorities.

In many ways, REC plays out as an inversion of Night of the Living Dead. Both feature a small group of strangers trapped inside a building facing zombies. The difference is, in REC, the people are trapped in with the zombies, by hostile or uncaring authorities outside. This inside-out take on a classic situation serves to ratchet the tension up to excellent effect. Being trapped in a building by zombies is scary. Being trapped in a building with zombies is much, much scarier.

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Review: Insanitarium

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 14 - 2010

From time to time you’ll run across an odd, unpolished gem among the rubble pile of half-assed, incompetent, direct-to-DVD zombie movies. Insanitarium, despite some notable issues, is one such movie. The story follows a young man named Jack Romero (see what they did there?) who gets himself committed to an insane asylum to try to rescue his sister Lilly. Once inside, he finds a mad scientist is using the patients to experiment with a nanotech compound that turns its users into raging, flesh-hungry freaks. Before long, all hell breaks loose (naturally) in the form of mobs of hungry patients running amok.

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Review: Survival of the Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 7 - 2010

George A. Romero is the undisputed master of the zombie genre. There’s simply no arguing that anyone else has ever — or likely will ever — come close to his contributions. So the release of a new Romero zombie film is always a big deal, even if his latest offerings have received mixed reactions from critics and fans alike. And if you were expecting Survival of the Dead to buck that trend, allow me to let you down now: this is not a return to the majesty of Dawn-era Romero. It fits firmly in with his post-2000 zombie offerings Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead.

That being said, I didn’t hate either Land or Diary. I came to appreciate Land after several viewings, and I really liked Diary from the beginning, although my enthusiasm waned to some degree after additional viewings. That said, I think neither of those films is as bad as their detractors claim. Both have merit and both are at least as good as 90 percent of the zombie films out there.

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Review: We’re Alive

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 30 - 2010

Season one of the audio drama We’re Alive is done, making it the perfect time to review it as a whole. As one of the few episodic audio dramas around and perhaps the only ongoing such series that tells the tale of a zombie apocalypse, We’re Alive is well-positioned to make waves in the zombie world.

The story follows a relatively familiar zombie apocalypse plot arc. We start with a small group of soldiers, called to report to duty to deal with some sudden and extreme “rioting.” The rioters turn out to be flesh-eating freaks that turn their victims into more of the same. The soldiers flee, find other survivors and hole up in an abandoned apartment building.

As in so many stories of the type, the narrative follows the group as they fortify their tower, look for supplies and survivors, encounter other groups of survivors and face the zombies. The basic story elements are familiar. What sets We’re Alive apart is the twists. This is not a Dawn of the Dead clone set in a tower instead of a mall. It has its own unique personality, based in its original take on the zombies themselves, its distinctive cast of characters and its unusual format.

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Review: Mulberry Street

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 16 - 2010

When there’s no more room in the sewers, the rats will walk the Earth. Or so might run the honest tagline of Mulberry Street (aka Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street), one of the selections for the 2007 edition of After Dark’s Horror Fest.

The story focuses on the tenants of a Manhattan apartment building that are about to lose their apartments to make way for upscale development. Before that happens, there’s an unfortunate outbreak that turns people into zombie-like rat mutants. Together, the tenants must face the zombies. Er, rats. Whatever. In other words, it’s a basic zombie siege film, with a rodent twist.

At first the creatures look and act like zombies; later they go all ratty (elongated faces, big incisors, pointy ears) but still love biting the shit out of everyone. It’s a weird twist, and while I appreciate the desire to do something different, it comes off as being different solely for the sake of difference — there’s no real effect on the story, tone or even look of the movie except for the rat makeup near the end.

It’s a symptom of the film’s real issue, which is lack of focus. Weird subplots never get resolved and odd character notes go nowhere. The intent may have been to add depth, but the result is to simply distract from the heart of the film. Despite those issues, it’s a decently paced and quirky, if unremarkable, zombie movie that just ends up feeling a little muddle-headed.

Mulberry Street/US/2006/

Review: The Zombie Combat Manual

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 9 - 2010

Lots of zombies. No guns. No problem. That’s the basic premise of Roger Ma’s The Zombie Combat Manual, an in-depth analysis of the tools, techniques and concerns inherent in facing the living dead mano-a-corpso.

Presented in the same faux-nonfiction style as Max Brooks’s wildly popular Zombie Survival Guide with a much more specific focus, th ZCM offers 300 pages of detailed instruction on every aspect of combat with the undead. The books starts with a couple of brief chapters on the zombies themselves, quickly outlining the type of zombie we’re talking about by outlining people’s misconceptions about them, their anatomy and a catalog of their strengths and weaknesses. In summary, these are very like the aggregate ideal picture most fans have of zombies — slow moving, killable only by destroying the brain, completely mindless and highly contagious, spreadable by bite or scratch. In other words, nearly identical (with a few specific changes/details) to Brooks’s conception, or to the zombies found in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie for that matter.

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Review: Sugar Hill

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 2 - 2010

In 1974, two of film’s greatest movements — Blaxploitation and zombies — combined to form Sugar Hill, one of the most unjustly forgotten movies in film history. It’s the story of a woman (Marki Bey as Diana “Sugar” Hill) who turns to voodoo to get revenge on the powerful mobsters who murdered her boyfriend. With an army of chrome-eyed, cobweb-festooned zombies commanded by voodoo god Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), Bey dons a funky jumpsuit and takes out the mobsters in inventively horrible ways. The incredibly loud clothing, unique creature design and stylish camera work result in one of the most visually stunning entries in zombie film history.

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. The zombie design is unique — and awesome — as well. The cobwebs, blank expressions and weird, silver eyes were both cool and creepy. I’m actually somewhat surprised no one has used that look since. It’s very effective.

Okay, the plot is paper thin, the acting is generally mediocre with occasional flashes of scenery-chewing insanity and it’s non-PC to the point of being embarrassing to modern sensibilities. But you don’t go to a Blaxploitation/zombie film looking for deep plot, deft characterization or a message — you go for jive talking, corpse raising, and ass kicking, and it delivers all of that in abundance.

Sugar Hill/US/1974

Parts of this review originally appeared in my initial reaction piece when I viewed it as part of the 2009 Zombie Movie Marathon Month and in a piece I wrote for Westword.

Review: Wet Work

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 26 - 2010

Philip Nutman was writing zombie apocalypse novels before zombie apocalypse novels were cool. These days, it seems like we get a new one once a week or so, but back in 1993 when he published Wet Work, they were pretty scarce on the ground. The book is held up as an exemplar of the “splatterpunk” movement, meaning it’s gore-drenched and relatively depraved. If you like your zombie fiction that way, then by all means, dive right in.

When comet Saracen unexpectedly shows up in a remarkably close orbit, it’s bad news for life as we know it. Some unknown radiation from the comet has a couple of nasty effects — effects no one notices until it’s too late. First, it raises the dead. Second, it thoroughly fucks the immune system of nearly everyone it touches, turning even common infections into deadly killers. That’s a nearly unbeatable combo and in no time at all, it’s hell on Earth in the form of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

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Review: Pontypool

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 19 - 2010

As I mentioned in this week’s feature, Pontypool is a movie that stretches and tests the boundaries of what can or can’t be considered a zombie. It’s set in a radio station in the small town of Pontypool in rural Canada on a particularly cold and snowy day. Strange reports of rioting and bizarre behavior start pouring in to the radio station. For a town where the typical crime consists of public drunkenness and maybe the odd domestic disturbance, this is obviously a very strange day. It’s about to get a lot stranger.

It’s hard to talk about the rest of the film without getting a little spoilery. if you are extraordinarily sensitive to spoilers, haven’t yet seen the film and have managed to somehow avoid any of the other spoilers out there online (the main plot point is “spoiled” everywhere, from the ads to the back of the box to every interview and probably every review out there) STOP READING. I’ll spoil the review and tell you I thought the film is excellent and a must-see — you can come back and read the rest when you’ve seen it.
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Review: Revolt of the Zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 12 - 2010

The pre-Romero history of zombie film is a litter of dull, sleepy films studded with the occasional gem. Revolt of the Zombies is not one of the gems. Revolt is the second zombie film from White Zombie director Victor Halperin but it lacks even that film’s somewhat dated charms and plays like a third rate ripoff of it. Clearly Halperin was out of ideas and hoping to capitalize on his previous success (he even “borrowed” the effect of superimposing Bela Lugosi’s eyes over certain scenes, despite the fact Lugosi is not in this movie).

Supposedly, Revolt is the tale of an expedition to discover the source of a zombie-creating agent to make an army of zombie super soldiers. There is one cool early scene of a horde of Cambodian zombie soldiers getting shot at and not dying or even reacting. Neat! In reality, the rest is a turgid, melodramatic love story about a guy, the girl he loves, and his best friend. Who she loves, naturally. Blech. Anyway, the guy who loves the girl learns the zombie secret and uses it to … try to get the girl. Really?

He controls everyone around him but the girl, creating a massive zombie army. And uh, does nothing with it. Then he realizes she will never love him, he releases his zombies (they aren’t dead, just hypnotized into a mindless, obedient state) and they turn on him. The end. Lame. Next time, more zombie army, less retarded love story, please.

Revolt of the Zombies/US/1936

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