The 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.
The 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.
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.
It’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 –Â 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.
The 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.Â 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.
What 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 — IÂ 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.
Technically, 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.
In 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.
Famed studio Hammer weighed in on the undead menace with Plague of the Zombies in 1966, just a few short years before Romero changed the genre forever. The excellent reference book The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia gives this move credit for pioneering zombies as decaying and hostile. Plotwise, it focuses on an evil squire’s plot to murder townsfolk so he can use their reanimated corpses in his tin mine and the efforts of a couple of doctors to stop him. It’s a fun, unintentionally campy movie that goes to show that whatever their failings, studios such as Hammer had the fundamentals of filmmaking down pretty well. It moves along at a decent clip (for its era, probably a bit slow for modern tastes); the acting, direction and editing are all competent or better; and the story isn’t completely full of holes. Even if it wasn’t a solid, well-executed zombie movie, it would be worthwhile to zombie fans for its historical value as both an early champion of the decaying, murderous zombies we’ve come to know and love, and as one of the very last zombie films made before Romero supercharged the zombie mythos with Night of the Living Dead. There’s a nice decapitation in it, too, which certainly doesn’t hurt its appeal.
Welcome Pakistan to the international fraternity (is there a gender-neutral version of that word?) of zombie filmdom! Hell’s Ground is actually two different familiar horror plots shoved rudely together. The primary plot is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque creepy-family-in-the-woods vehicle. There’s a burqa-clad killer with a giant mace, and the greasy brother and the spooky older character (a mother, here) that should sound awfully familiar. Also, the six kids in a van that constitute our protagonists are an almost direct rip. Tacked on to that is a pollution-created zombie subplot that amounts to several scenes straight out of any post-Romero zombie flick.Â A field full of zombies is shown, the kids get attacked by one zombie and – surprise! -Â one of the kids (the handsome, slick player dude) gets bit and turn into a decaying, goop-yacking horror.
The underlying TCM engine that drives the movie is a classic choice and it’s decently, if uncreatively, executed. The zombie bits were well done but they are unfortunately few and far between. Basically, the zombies are an afterthought. You could cut those parts out entirely without losing much. The movie itself isn’t much more than a decent melange of familiar horror elements. Still, it’s more or less worth seeing just for the fact that it is a Pakistani zombie movie. It will fill the gap for that part of the world until we get a Bollywood zombie epic.