Nostalgic: Night of the Comet

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 6 - 20092 COMMENTS

nightofthecometIn Night of the Comet a mysterious comet reduces nearly all of the planet’s population to a fine, red dust. Many of the survivors are turned into crazed zombies who chase and try to eat the unchanged. And there’s some mad scientists who want to use the unaffected to create a cure and save themselves. Facing off against these evil scientists are two sisters (one a cheerleader, of course) and a truck driver who will look familiar to fans of Star Trek: Voyager. It’s fairly lightweight and pretty dumb, but it’s also a lot of fun. The zombie makeup was excellent, but there are not nearly enough zombies in the film.

I have to admit to a fair bit of nostalgia for this movie. I must have watched it a dozen times as a kid, thanks to the miracle of cable TV. It’s clearly influenced by Romero, but it isn’t really a zombie movie — more like an apocalyptic sci-fi movie with a few zombies thrown in. Still, some of my adult fascination with zombies has to stem from the deep imprint this movie left on me as an adolescent.  And hey, zombies + apocalypse + ’80s = a good time in my book! If I didn’t have the nostalgia, this would probably warrant a lukewarm positive response. But I do, so I really enjoyed it.

Is it a zombie?

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 5 - 200915 COMMENTS

kirsty1What is a zombie? It’s an obvious and necessary question for any blog that seeks to cover the wide variety of zombie media. In my research and writing, I’ve encountered a number of different definitions for what is or isn’t a zombie. It’s something that really, really seems to get zombie lovers riled up. If you want to see an example, check out the discussion page for the Wikipedia list of zombie movies (it’s in my blogroll links). It has pages of discussion over 28 Days Later, much of which can only be described as frenzied.

Many people take what I feel is a ridiculously narrow view. In a list of the best zombie movies of all time I wrote a while back, some of the commenters complained that The Serpent and the Rainbow didn’t belong. Another commenter said if it wasn’t an ambulatory, flesh-eating corpse, it wasn’t a zombie (in other words, it’s a Romero clone, or it’s not a zombie). That’s just ridiculous. For one thing, it makes the list of zombie movies and media about a ten percent of what it actually is, or should be. For another, it completely ignores the history and development of the zombie. Worst, it completely excludes some of the coolest zombies of all time.

Personally, I take an expansive, inclusive position on what is or isn’t a zombie. I use what I consider a common-sense approach: if it looks like a zombie, acts like a zombie and/or is called a zombie, then it’s (probably) a zombie. I know that might seem like a circular argument, but we are talking about a largely fictional creature here — a zombie is what the people who make zombie media say it is, and, to a lesser degree, what the people who experience that media think it is.

It’s not quite that simple; there are other considerations. For starters, it’s definitely worth noting that zombies are, in one incarnation, a real thing. You can’t say that about too many other monsters! The first zombie stories came from reports of Westerners who visited Haiti and witnessed or heard about the creations of Voudon practitioners. From there, zombies were incorporated into film and theater, then later books, video games, etc.

On the other hand, things that are clearly and definitively something else, such as vampires, demons or ghosts, are not zombies (although there are some special cases that might qualify as zombie hybrids). These creatures have their own traditions and tropes associated with them. Trying to encompass them in the definition of a zombie simply dilutes the definition beyond usefulness.

That’s the basic premise: if it looks like a zombie, acts like a zombie and/or is called a zombie (i.e. is based on the reality of the Voudon practice of zombification or any of the fiction inspired by that practice) and isn’t something else, it’s a zombie. I’m not done with this topic, not by a long shot. I’m actually working on a super-scientific method for determining zombieness and I intend to address several specific characteristics of zombiism in later posts, but I think I’ve poked the fire enough for one day.

Heavy: Homecoming

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 4 - 2009ADD COMMENTS

homecomingThe legendary Joe Dante takes on zombies in Homecoming, his entry in the Masters of Horror anthology. Overall he acquits himself well. It looks nice, the acting is solid and everything moves along at a nice clip. The story covers a group of zombie soldiers that return from the grave to express their opinion on the unpopular war that killed them (hint: they aren’t too fond of it). As well execuuted as this was overall, I really felt that it got bogged down by its politics. It’s so heavy handed in its approach to its message that it distracts from the experience of watching it, even if you more or less agree with its position (although some parts of it work precisely because they are so blatantly taking aim at some political hack, such as the scene where the Ann Coulter-esque character takes a bullet to the head — that worked great for me). I watched it for the first time recently and I wonder if I would have liked it more if I’d seen it right after it came out in 2005. I’ll watch it again in five years and see if I feel the same way – this one may actually be easier to swallow when what it is commenting on isn’t in that weird, not-so-fresh gray area between current events and history. After all, the idea of soldiers returning from the grave to express displeasure with the way they were used is an essentially timeless idea.

Soulless crap: Wicked Little Things

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 3 - 20092 COMMENTS

wicked-little-thingsThe gutless Wicked Little Things is representative of a disturbing trend in horror over the past six to eight years, toward generic, slick and soulless genre exercises. It features mediocre, if generally competent, acting, combined with stiff, pedantic direction, a questionable script and just enough gore to slip under the censor bar while throwing a bone to gore-hound fans. The plot of this stinker seems to have been generated by writing various horror movie tropes on cards, shuffling the deck, then dealing out half a dozen cards and calling it a story. This one got flesh-eating zombies, scary-ass dead kids, single mom moves to small town with a secret, possibly imaginary friend, revenge haunting and running in the woods. It does remarkably little with that haphazard collection of ideas. It is probably a tad better than Mortuary, another film that is representative of the same trend. Still, a tad better than utterly atrocious is still fucking miserable.

Me as zombie

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 2 - 20093 COMMENTS

zombieme

I know when you’re reading this blog, you’re thinking, “This is all fascinating, riveting stuff, but what does this guy look like? More importantly, what would he look like as a zombie?” Well now, thanks to my loving and ever-creative better half and the artistry of Rob Sacchetto of Zombie Daily, you know. I received a lovely, hand-drawn version of the image you see here for my birthday Saturday and knew I just had to share it with you fine people. If you like it as much as I do, you can get one of your own done by Rob by visiting the link above, or hitting his other, portrait-specific site Zombie Portraits. He’s also got some t-shirts and coffee mugs and what not, if you like that sort of thing.

A muddled mess: Mortuary

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 27 - 20092 COMMENTS

mortuaryIt’s hard to believe Tobe Hooper directed Mortuary, a steaming pile of crap about a mortuary built over the lair of a Lovecraftian beasty that can reanimate the dead. Note to developers: storing dead people over a creature capable of reanimating them is a bad idea. Note to filmmakers (the ones who made this, and any others out there): cramming in half a dozen subplots doesn’t keep me interested, it just makes them all underdeveloped and leads to gaping plot holes. You’ve got a romance subplot, a bullying rowdy supplot, the crazy sheriff, the city councilman who may or may not know what’s going on, you’ve got the scary deformed kid who once lived in the house, the family secrets, the … blech, I lost track at some point. The other big problem with this movie is it takes forever to get going, then crams all the good stuff — not that it’s actually very good, mind you, because the writing is terrible –  into the last 25 minutes. So it’s slow, slow, slow, then chaotic and incoherent. Fun! Only, not really. At least most of the cast was decent, so only some of the acting was painful.

Inanimate: City of Rott

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 26 - 20091 COMMENT

cityofrottThe animated City of Rott is something of a curiosity, as one of the very few animated feature-length zombie movies in existence — the only other I am aware of is the CGI-animated Resident Evil: Degeneration. Unfortunately, its one-of-a-kind status is its only real appeal. It’s bad. Real, real bad. The art and animation is strictly student-film quality, and bad student-film quality at that. More to the point, it’s like the scribblings on a junior-high math notebook come to life, or undeath, or whatever. The main story — about an old man looking for new shoes in the midst of a zombie apocalypse — is nonsensical and meandering.  Compounding the issue is the fact that a whole new set of characters and plot points are introduced over halfway through, and none of them made much sense either. It was all done by one guy — art, animation, writing, voices, everything — and it shows. Especially noteworthy are the female voices, which are achieved by speeding up the creator’s voice — very clever. At only 78 minutes, the movie feels like 178 minutes. Apart from some vaguely interesting ideas (brain-infecting worms cause zombies) and one or two mildly amusing moments, CoR is without redeeming qualities. Do Not Watch.

The Video Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 25 - 20093 COMMENTS

videodeadWhat you get with The Video Dead is direct-to-video gem from the ’80s that feels, at times, like a modern-day parody of that era. I mean, the main character is in college, studying aerobics and music video. Yeah, seriously. Here’s the plot: a cursed TV that shows an endless loop of the faux film Zombie Blood Nightmare (along with some other weird shit, including a noirish succubus and a grizzled demon slayer) comes into the possession of a family in the ‘burbs. The zombies escape the television, murder ensues and the heroes (two unsupervised suburban teens) are left trying to kill the zombies and restore normalcy, with the help of a former owner of the TV who happens to be some kind of cowboy.

This thing is all rough edges but it’s got its merits. Some highlights: a bride zombie who wields a chainsaw, a brilliant plan that involves dangling live human bait from a tree to lure the zombies in for the kill and a machete/chainsaw duel that ends as badly as can be imagined. The zombies here are interesting. They are plenty decrepit but seem to have an unusually high degree of self-awareness for the undead. They can’t stand their own reflections, for example, and seem to remember at least some things from their days among the living. They even display a macabre sense of humor at times. They’re also unkillable — shooting them, cutting them up and other trauma just slows them down temporarily.

As interesting as elements of this are, it’s not really surprising that it is so obscure. The plot is full of holes, the acting is shoddy and the direction is strictly functional in the most limited sense of the word. It’s weird — I kind of hated this while I was watching it, but as soon it was over I realized it was pretty cool in its limited way. If you run across it at a garage sale or maybe on late-night TV, it is definitely worth a look.

Broken promise: New Year’s Day

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 24 - 20092 COMMENTS

newyearsdayTechnically, New Year’s Day is not a movie. It’s an episode of the FEARnet.com anthology series Fear Itself. Whatever — the distinction is pretty meaningless these days. The plot of this one follows a young woman who finds herself smack dab in the middle of a zombie outbreak after an epic New Year’s Eve bender. As you might surmise, she has to get across town to “safety” in the middle of all this shit. It’s not a bad set-up but this movie has some serious issues. The acting is fairly atrocious, but it’s not like the actors had much to work with – the writing is worthless. Add to this some utterly spastic and nausea-inducing editing techniques (think bad music video meets epileptic nightmare) and you have a pretty painful hour to sit through. The twist ending (I won’t spoil what the twist is, in case you want to watch it for yourself. You can do that by visiting the New Year’s Day page on the FearNET site) takes steps towards redemption, but then the inconsistencies pile up and you’re left wondering what a decent writer, director and cast could do with a similar idea — this group (including veterans of 30 Days of Night and the Saw franchise) fucked things up pretty good.

Rip-off: Zombies the Beginning

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 23 - 20093 COMMENTS

zombies_the_beginningIn Zombies the Beginning, you have a classic steal – the filmmakers (Italian “legend” Bruno Mattei, chiefly) took Aliens, replaced the aliens with zombies and voila, new movie! Only, not very new – we’re talking line-for-line swipes 95 percent of the time. There are a few moments of amusement to be found here in seeing how they deal, or fail to deal, with the changes necessary to realize the zombified take on Aliens. There are also a few moderately humorous lines, including the obligatory nod to George Romero. Then there are a few real WTF moments, such as the weird brain that controls the zombies, the pregnant women incubating zombie babies (which seems awfully redundant and pointless since a zombie bite appears to makes more zombies, but whatever), the weird air-conditioning ducts that lead to the pregnant women in one scene and the fucked-up zombie-hybrid naked hobgoblin children that presumably come from the pregnant ladies. Mostly though, it’s just a dull, tepid, cheaply made Aliens rip-off that isn’t worth the time it takes to sit through.

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