Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 23 - 2009

plan9 It’s probably a bit of a stretch to say that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever made – not in a world with Uwe Boll and Troma films. Still, it’s not difficult to see how director Ed Wood’s disasterpiece earned that reputation. This is a bad movie. At points, it is so bad it’s good. But for the most part, it is just bad.

The movie is the story of a half-baked alien plot to resurrect the dead to convince Earth people of the existence of aliens, or take over, or both (it’s kind of unclear) and to stop them from discovering how to make sunlight explode and thereby destroy the universe (yes, really).

This story is told in voiceover, through lots of exposition by the characters and with a few weak action scenes. We do get some dead people wandering around – one of them, Tor Johnson, is actually even kind of menacing – and occasionally attacking people, but we get a lot more talking: poorly written, terribly acted, interminable talking. And then the occasional terrible effects sequence, including the pie plate on fire that serves as the movie’s climax.

If you love bad films for their badness, there are a few laughs here. If you are interested in film history, especially zombie film history, it’s worth seeing. But don’t expect much in either case or you’ll be disappointed.

Plan 9 from Outer Space/US/1959

This movie was viewed as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month — see the initial reaction piece here.

Review: I Walked with a Zombie

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 22 - 2009

IwalkedwithazombieA gothic romance that essentially repackages Jane Eyre on a tropical island, I Walked with a Zombie is the story of a series of overlapping love triangles – the nurse, the ill woman and her husband; the ill woman, her husband and his brother; and, to a certain degree, the brother, the husband and the nurse. It’s the triangle between the ill woman, her husband and brother that results in her illness (actually, her zombiism, to be precise), but the weird, stilted affair between the nurse, the zombie woman and the husband is what drives the plot.

The zombies here – there are two, a native zombie and the zombie woman at the center of the plot – are old-school voodoo zombies. They don’t eat people, nor even act particularly menacing unless ordered to by their masters – except in one inexplicable case early on that implies the zombie woman sees the nurse as a threat. They just walk around with empty expressions, unresponsive to stimuli. Not terribly exciting for fans raised on Romero’s gore-splattered hungry dead, but probably quite creepy by the standards of their day. The movie’s treatment of the native people and the voodoo religion and practices is surprisingly respectful, for its time.

The relationships at the core of this movie may be sudsy and melodramatic but they have a certain old-school charm. Despite not a whole lot happening, it moves along at a decent clip, the acting is excellent for the era (a little stagy by today’s standards, but still quite good) and it’s beautifully shot. The direction creates a nice moody atmosphere and conveys the sense of doomed love well. It’s interesting to see how the standards of horror have changed – only the atmosphere and sense of despair/doom remotely qualify this as a horror movie. The movie may be unbearably talky and slow by today’s standards, and it is certainly not what zombie fans typically look for in a zombie movie, but I Walked with a Zombie is a good, perhaps even great, movie.

I Walked with a Zombie/US/1943

This movie was viewed as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month — see the initial reaction piece here.

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

Brilliant: Monster Island

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 28 - 2009

monsterislandZombies, as a rule, are more at home in film and video games than in literature. There’s no grand literary tradition stemming back hundreds of years, or even decades for that matter, as there is with vampires. The truth is, the vast majority of zombie novels are utter shit. Even among the good stuff, there’s no single great work, apart from very recent works from Max Brooks arguably, to point to as sterling examples of the form. Well, folks, in a decade or two that will change as David Wellington’s Monster Island becomes recognized for the masterpiece that it is.

Monster Island‘s story revolves around two characters, Dekalb and Gary. Dekalb is a former UN weapons inspector leading a mission to retrieve a stash of priceless drugs for a Somali warlord in exchange for a place for himself and his daughter in the new world order. Gary is a rather unusual zombie – a zombie who can still think, thanks to a clever plan devised while he was still alive. The paths of these two intersect fairly early on, with devastating consequences for Gary, then split, taking a number of fascinating individual twists and turns before meeting again for a satisfying climax. The surprises on each character’s path are so integral to the story and so inherently satisfying it would be a travesty to spoil any of them, but suffice it to say that both must face dire circumstances in pursuit of what they desire, circumstances that change them and their initial goals.

Both characters are exquisitely wrought and developed throughout the story. Wellington manages to make them both sympathetic, even as they do terrible things. Making a zombie sympathetic to any degree isn’t an easy task, but Wellington isn’t your average hack horror writer. An excellent supporting cast surrounds these two characters on both sides, alive and dead. Not surprisingly, since most of Gary’s companions are mindless dead, the bulk of secondary characters that get attention interact with Dekalb, from the teenage soldiers accompanying him in his mission to the survivors they meet in New York City.

The cause of the zombie plague is not revealed, but it appears to be supernatural for a number of reasons (again, revealing those reasons would spoil some excellent surprises). The average zombie is very similar to the zombies of George A. Romero’s Dead series – slow, nearly mindless (due to brain damage from asphyxiation as the person dies but before the zombie rises, it is explained) and always hungry. These zombies eat anything alive though – not just people, but animals, plants, even grass. And when they do, it fills them with vitality in undeath, healing wounds and giving them strength to go on. If they don’t eat, they slowly wither away and rot like normal dead things (well, normal dead things don’t walk, but you know…).

This is one of the finest zombie stories ever told, in any medium. It’s written in a spare, deft style that manages to pack maximum impact into minimal verbiage. There’s rarely a single word wasted throughout the story, from taut action sequences to tender, human moments to mind-blowing metaphysical revelations. Wellington’s mythology is well-developed, fully compatible with the popular view of the zombie and yet strikingly original in the realm of zombie fiction – I can’t wait to see how it develops in the two sequels. His characters are believable, his settings are real and his prose is gorgeous. This is an essential book for zombie fans – don’t pass it up.

You can read it online at the Monster Island website or purchase it from fine booksellers everywhere.

Edited 7/30/2012 to fix minor typographical error and awkward sentence construction.

Dumb but fun:Dead Heist

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 25 - 2009

dead-heistLook at that cover and read the title and you’ll know pretty much what you are getting with Dead Heist. It’s an exceptionally cheesy blacksploitation heist movie with some zombie-like creatures thrown in. And it has Big Daddy Kane as some sort of one-man anti-zombie army.  It’s a brain-dead b-movie action flick with a chewy, undead center, but hey, that can be fun. In it, a band of none-too-bright dudes rob a bank, get stuck inside and then the pseudo-zombies come. Then Big Daddy Kane comes to kill the zombies.

Those zombies seem lifted directly from the old Vincent Price chestnut The Last Man on Earth (itself an incredibly important film in the development of the zombie genre!), which is to say that they are sort of weird zombie/vampire hybrids. They only come out at night and they hunger for blood — which implies vampire — but they are dumb and they are many — which is more zombielike. Regardless, this isn’t the kind of movie that necessitates deep analysis. It is the kind of movie you can enjoy while drunk, or high or perhaps both. I think the highlight is the climactic fight. It is one of the worst choreographed fight scenes I have ever witnessed: so bad, it circled around to being good.

Dead Heist/USA/2007

Utter shit: Zombie Doom

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 20 - 2009

violentshit3infantryofdoomThe alternate/original title for Zombie Doom is Violent Shit 3: Infantry of Doom and it is infinitely more informative than the title it is marketed under. This movie is violent, it is shit and, although it certainly does have zombies, there aren’t enough to qualify for the name Zombie Doom.

This movie is the work of the infamous Andreas Schnaas, a low-budget, ultra-sleazy German schlockmeister. It’s shot on video, it features the worst dubbing I have ever seen (conceivably it’s more tolerable in the original German, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it is just as bad) and it is one of the more painful movies I have ever endured. The plot shipwrecks three guys on an island populated by an army of machete-wielding, zombie-breeding nuts. The army of crazies is led by an enormous fat man in a fur thong. There is a mad scientist. There are some kung fu masters fighting the nutjobs. And some ninjas fighting the kung fu guys. And a lot of other random shit. None of it is really explained, and it makes very little sense.

I suspect the plot was a last-second addition to give the ultra-cheap — yet still somehow disturbingly graphic — gore, the  brutally graphic rape/murder/necrophilia scene and the regular violent deaths something to stick to: story as an excuse for the fact that every frame of this movie is suffused with sleaze, to the point where you want to take a shower after watching it. The main takeaway from this for me was to avoid everything else Schnaas has ever done. I suggest you do the same.

Violent Shit 3: Infantry of Doom/Germany/1999

Monster mash: Zombie Holocaust

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 18 - 2009

zombieholocaustWhat do you get when you cross an Italian zombie movie with an Italian cannibal movie? You get Zombie Holocaust (aka Dr. Butcher M.D.). And it literally borrows from at least one other movie — footage, actors, characters and plot elements are all lifted. I recognized footage and actors (reprising basically the same characters) from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) and I’ve heard some of the cannibal stuff and padding footage is lifted, too, although I can’t confirm it first hand. Besides stealing from at least one really great movie, it offers plenty of gratuitous gore and nudity. There’s one great kill scene with an outboard motor that basically justifies the entire movie’s existence. Also, lots of boobs and a bit of full-frontal nudity from a passably attractive actress.

The plot gives us some cannibals in New York City, who come from an island full of cannibals and zombies. Some people go to the island to investigate. Cannibals chase them. Zombies show up. Its tidy plot “twist” is a mad scientist who’s creating the zombies and converting the natives to cannibalism simultaneously; that’s right, he’s responsible for the whole thing!

For reasons I don’t really understand, I find all Italian zombie movies far more watchable than they have any right to be judged strictly on their quantifiable merits. It’s not of much interest for casual fans of the genre, but of moderate interest for the more dedicated student.

Zombie Holocaust/Italy/1980

Review: Return of the Living Dead III

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 13 - 2009
Watch out, she bites

Watch out, she bites

Unlike the first two movies in the series, which planted tongue firmly in cheek for one great horror comedy (the original) and one below average one (the sequel, reviewed here), Return of the Living Dead III abandons the humor angle and takes a much darker tone. It’s a strange decision, considering that fans must have been expecting something in the same vein as the first two, but for a while it almost – almost – works. Then the admittedly meager promise of the beginning falls apart, leaving a tattered mess

The story this time around focuses more intently on the army’s involvement with Trioxin, the gas that reanimates the dead. Being the army, they are trying to weaponize it. Being the army in this series, they are utterly and completely incompetent, to a degree that is beyond ridiculous. The whole plot hinges on this incompetence and unfathomably lax security around base.

The leads are an army brat and his goth girlfriend. The two of them witness a reanimation test that goes awry, leading to some death and dismemberment. When she ends up dying in a motorcycle accident shortly thereafter, he decides to reanimate her. Once she’s back, they have a run in with some gangsters, she starts eating people, the army tries to catch her and bring her back, she tries to re-kill herself and things get more ludicrous by the second until it finally ends.

The film takes two serious liberties with the original. First, the bite of a zombie makes more zombies, which was not the case in the original — only exposure to Trioxin created zombies. Second, they introduce the idea that pain allows the zombie to control its need to feed. That’s in direct opposition to the original, where the pain of being dead was what caused the zombies to cave brains in the first place. These changes are extremely obnoxious.

On the plus side, the second change does offer an excuse for Julie — the girlfriend — to transform herself into the sexiest (yeah, I said it), most badass zombie you’ve ever seen. She pushes glass, scrap metal and chains though her skin, strips down to almost nothing and ends up looking like an extremely gruesome BDSM fetish model – which is kinda hot, admittedly. I assume that was the real reason for this movie.

The look of the zombies was wildly inconsistent. The original experiment zombie looked fantastic – dead, creepy and believable. Later, some zombies that get released from Trioxin canisters look subhuman, like trolls or goblins, rather than rotting, reanimated corpses. Most of the rest, such as the clerk Julie eats early on, just looked cheesy and bad. The credits list three different studios for the zombie work, which explains the inconsistency. Why they didn’t stick with the original studio and look is a mystery.

Considering the lack of continuity in tone from the first two movies and the extreme liberties taken, RotLD III would have been better served to abandon the connection altogether and set itself up as an entirely new movie. It would still be pretty crap, but at least it would have been more original crap then and wouldn’t have suffered from the comparison to the original.

Return of the Living Dead III/US/1993

After the break, enjoy a NSFW pic of Julie in all of her BDSM zombie-babe glory

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Too slow: Undead

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 12 - 2009

undeadIn Undead we have yet another horror-comedy hybrid. It had some potential, but squandered it via uneven pacing that progressed to glacial by the midpoint of the film and an overly long run time. The story gives us zombies created by a meteor, some aliens and lots of crazy redneck/outback characters, most notably the fucking ninja-like nutjob hero in overalls with the triple-barrel shotgun. The characters all hole up with our hero and slowly succumb to the zombie menace as we even more slooowly discover what is really going on. The film is Australian and it definitely looks to Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s work for inspiration — a bit too much, really. It goes beyond inspiration, beyond homage and veers dangerously close to slavish imitation. Still, despite the problems it is probably worth a look, if for no other reason than some great visual gags including a killer zombie fish and an old lady that takes a meteorite straight through the head. Just be forewarned, that pacing is fucking slow. It’s a movie that would have been benefited greatly from an enthusiastic editor and a slimmed-down run time.

Mostly dead: Undead or Alive

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 7 - 2009

undeadoraliveIs the world ready for a zombie/western comedy with Chris Kattan? Will it ever be ready? The makes of Undead or Alive didn’t bother to ask that question, they just plowed ahead at full speed. The plot give us one of those cliche odd couples on the run, plus an Indian curse that creates zombies, a corrupt sheriff and lots and lots of stupid.

Not surprisingly, the humor here is largely slapstick and juvenile. Surprisingly, some of it actually manages to be funny. And despite being essentially worthless and mostly terrible, I have to admit it was strangely watchable. It was also pretty weird. The ending in particular was just fucking odd — I can’t really say anything about it without spoiling it, but it ranks up there with some of the weirder shit I have seen in any zombie movie and seems wildly out of place in such an essentially lighthearted movie.

I can’t exactly recommend this movie, and I definitely didn’t like it, but it had something … maybe with better leads, or a slightly more polished script, this could have been something worthwhile. As it is, it’s just odd. But if you’ve already seen everything else at the video store or you’re having your own thirty-day zombie fest, it might be worth watching.

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