The Beyond

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 30 - 2009

beyondIs The Beyond a zombie movie? It certainly has plenty of zombies, but at its core it’s more of a haunted/cursed house movie with zombies instead of ghosts. Our story introduces us to unlucky Liza, who’s inherited a hotel from her rich, bachelor uncle. It seems as if her luck has turned, but alas the hotel is built over one of the seven gateways to hell (way, way worse than being built over an ancient Indian burial ground, as it turns out). Plagued by a series of accidents and unusual (not to mention unusually awesome) deaths, poor Liza’s plan to reopen the hotel and solve her money woes is quickly derailed. Soon, she’s met a mysterious blind girl who seems to know a lot about what’s going on, a skeptical doctor who refuses to believe any of it and a whole slew of zombies. Things process haphazardly to a slow climax that sees her entering the gateway to hell for a long and likely unpleasant stay.

This is a hard movie to judge. It’s the third of Lucio Fulci’s forays into the wild world of the walking dead and while it’s beautifully shot and nicely paced, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. In some ways, it’s a precursor to the slasher film, concentrating most of its energy on a series of creative and outlandish death scenes. A man’s face gets eaten by tarantulas; a woman gets melted by acid into a frothy, bloody mess while her daughter looks on; a woman gets her neck torn out by a dog; a doctor gets a face full of glass; a woman gets her head impaled by a nail (complete with Fulci’s trademark eye-gouging action!). These are really the highlight of the film, and presumably the reason for its existence.

The zombies appear only intermittently until the last fifteen or twenty minutes, and then just kind of sway drunkenly while posing a vague, unconvincing threat. They look good, and there’s a definite air of menace to them when they are filling the halls of the hospital en masse, but the movie doesn’t do much with them. And the bits of movie between the death scenes and vague zombie menace are just bewildering and inexplicable. In a generous estimation, you could call it a surreal atmosphere reminiscent of a dream or drug trip. Less generously, you might call it an incoherent mess. And the characters? They exist solely to give the director some people to kill. They are not unlikable so much as unknown and unknowable.

Despite its shortcomings, it’s worth a watch. The gore is well done, if a little cheap looking in a few isolated instances. For all of its lack of a coherent storyline or decent characters, it’s remarkably entertaining. For the trainspotters out there, it’s sure to provide fodder for many a conversation about the films it’s influenced: Hellraiser in tone and, to some degree, story; every slasher flick ever in the pacing and buffet of clever death; probably others that didn’t occur to me. And hey, it’s Lucio Fulci and it’s got zombies.

This review was part of the Final Girl Film Club challenge for March. For more info and her takes on many other fine horror offerings, visit her invariably awesome blog early and often.

Trailer mania: Zombies of Mass Destruction + 3 more

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 30 - 2009

I was concerned that the recent bonanza of zombie movies was slowing to a trickle, but here are a handful of trailers arguing against that hypothesis. Admittedly, these look to be low budget, foreign and indie affairs, rather than the big-budget epics of the past few years (although World War Z is still on the horizon…). The best looking of the bunch is Zombies of Mass Destruction, but I refuse to get too excited about it. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth for a movie to be as good as the trailer and even though the trailer looks pretty good, you can see some rough acting and questionable humor in it. It’s another zombie comedy, this one poking a little fun at America’s terrorism hysteria. Okay, okay, they’re about six years too late for this to be really relevant, but there’s plenty of people who are still sure there’s a bioweapon under every bed just waiting to spread some kind of virus, zombie-making or otherwise. I just wish the movie’s web site had some real information, like a release date, whether it’s coming to theaters or straight to DVD or what. Oh well, I’m sure that will come presently. Until then, enjoy the trailer. Then, hit the jump for three more trailers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 27 - 2009

letsleepingcorpseslie

Apart from one of the best titles ever, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has plenty going for it. It’s the story of a luckless, macho antiques dealer who gets sucked into a zombie murder-mystery. When a clumsy woman crashes into his parked motorcycle, he’s left the choice of being stranded or catching a ride with her. All things considered, he should have chosen to stay stranded. Before long, he’s being detained as a witness to a murder by an incredibly surly and spiteful police sergeant who seems more concerned with framing him for being a long hair than actually solving the crime. In the course of investigating the murder alongside with his ride/cause of all his troubles, he discovers not only the walking dead but what’s causing them to rise. Of course, no one believes him about either the zombies or what’s reanimating them, giving the dead a chance to wreak some serious havoc before the satisfying and unhappy ending.

The zombies are fairly original. They’re capable of working together and using tools, and while they don’t quite run, they can definitely shuffle at a good pace. Headshots do nothing but annoy them, but they do turn out to be roughly as flammable as kerosene. And strangely, they don’t show up in photos, a plot necessity that doesn’t make a lot of sense in context and is never explained. They look absolutely great, with realistically dead countenances and creepy-ass red irises. The zombie make up is unfailingly excellent, especially the autopsy zombie. The gore is nicely done too, apart from one fairly cheesy looking killing of a nurse.

Overall the acting is decent, but there is some silly overacting and clumsy delivery here and there. It’s not terrible, and it never derails the movie, but it’s definitely chuckle worthy. The story is strong, and in fine zombie tradition there’s even a heavy-handed message — pro-environment/back-to-nature in this case. The script is solid, if a little heavy on the talking and police procedural angle, which slows down the pace a bit. Still, everything is stylishly shot and the atmosphere is great, so the relatively languid speed at which it unfolds isn’t a problem. It also sounds incredible – the score and sound design, which intermingle in curious and effective ways, are top notch. All things considered, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is well-deserving of its status as a minor classic.

Pointless: Living Dead in Tokyo Bay

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 26 - 2009

ldtb1The Japanese have done interesting zombie movies such as Stacy and JUNK. The forgettable Living Dead in Tokyo Bay, however, is not one of them. After a meteor causes the dead to come back to life, a badass Japanese woman in a tight, futuristic jumpsuit has to rip off the plot of Escape from New York and rescue her scientist father, only instead of gangs, she faces zombies. And some super zombie Power Ranger-esque villains created by a corrupt military dude. And right now, if you are imagining something cool, stop. It sucks. It could have been fun, given better direction and a slightly more coherent plot, but it’s really lifeless (ha!) and slow and pointless. The zombies don’t get enough screen time and manage to underwhelm even low expectations when they do. The gore is gutless, the super-zombie villains are ridiculous and even a hot girl in a skintight jumpsuit manages to bore. Apart from being the oldest Japanese zombie movie I know of (1992) I can’t think of a single reason to even acknowledge this film’s existence.

Waterlogged: Zombie Lake

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 25 - 2009

zombielake1Sweet lord, is Zombie Lake bad. Bad. It’s one of the curious subgenre of  Nazi zombie movies. You’d think angry, dead, fascist Germans eating folks would be a can’t-miss proposition, but you’d be very, very wrong. I swear this subgenre is cursed. So far every Nazi zombie movie I have seen has been god-awful. Seriously, these are some of the worst of the worst in a genre teeming with terrible ideas, half-baked execution and incoherence.

Anyway, you’ve got some Nazi zombies living in a lake. Or not living, I guess. They came to be there after being slaughtered by some French folks at or near the end of WWII. For some reason they revive to eat the occasional swimmer in the titular lake. Then they come out to terrorize the town, or in the case of one zombie, to reconnect with his daughter. Curiously, his daughter doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the fact that her dead father is a rotting, shambling mess, despite never having met him before. Eventually the town folk formulate a plan to save the day. Hooray. None of this is explained and it all happens at a plodding, interminable pace. Long, long before this is over you will be begging it to end.

The make up and gore effects were, hands down, the worst I have ever seen. Seriously, I’ve seen little kids’ Halloween makeup that was much better done. The gore was limited to buckets of fake blood — they basically didn’t bother faking wounds for the most part. A zombie bites, fake blood is doused on the area and they call it a day. Add to the mix execrable writing, dull direction and terrible acting, and you have a big pile of vomit. It did have plenty of nudity, which honestly is one of the few things saving this from being the single worst zombie movie I’ve ever seen. Let’s face it, some attractive naked women help break up the monotony. There are two full frontal nude scenes, one of which featured like ten women. All hot. It was still not enough to lift this off the bottom of the barrel, but I’ve helpfully included a NSFW shot of a few them after the jump, to save you the trouble of actually watching the movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Queer: Otto; or, Up With Dead People

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 20 - 2009

otto2Even as an ardent, tireless fan of zombie cinema, I’ve never seen anything quite like Otto; or, Up With Dead People. Existing in some heretofore undiscovered common ground between the arthouse and the grindhouse, Otto is a tale of a young gay zombie in a cruel world that’s as dead in its own way as he is.

He wanders through a bleak, decayed city, adrift and lost, until he walks into a casting call for a zombie movie. As he becomes the lead in the director’s latest opus, he begins to recover memories of who he used to be, but it’s not clear that that’s a good thing. It’s not a film for everyone; even zombie lovers may have trouble sinking their teeth into this one’s flesh. The film moves at a zombie’s pace — slow, steady and nearly unvarying throughout. In its use of layers of meaning, film-within-a-film and other arty devices, it can be bewildering. In particular, it can often feel too self-consciously arty, but there’s also a sly sense of humor at work that disarms the pretentiousness to a large degree. There are a number of explicit but not hardcore gay zombie sex scenes — disturbing, perhaps, but no more so than the explicit torture-porn close-up of an eye being punctured in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, if viewed objectively. I’d go as far as saying the gay sex scenes are part of the genius of this film. Director Bruce LaBruce is clearly using zombies to reflect on society’s distaste for and hatred of homosexuality — he explicitly states as much, through the words of one of his characters as it is explained that the recent plague of gay zombies are the most hated zombies of all. I can only imagine a large percentage of zombie fans, the same ones who might revel in the explicit, ultra-realistic gore in some zombie movies, blanching and walking out of Otto at the sight of a few erect penises — much less the wound fucking scene.

He doesn’t only deal with homosexuality here. No, this film dives headlong into the long tradition of using the zombie to represent or reflect themes of alienation, anti-consumerism, persecution and loneliness. It’s unclear if Otto is really a member of the walking dead, or merely a confused youth reacting to the hostility and emptiness of his world by embracing death, and the fact that ultimately it doesn’t matter is part of why this film works. It’s not an easy film by any means, and I can’t say that it is one that everyone will enjoy, much less “get,” but for its originality in a genre that all too often settles for rehashing favored old tropes with slightly new make-up I really think it’s worthwhile. Director Bruce LaBruce has concocted something both strange and satisfying here by creating a zombie movie that may disturb even the most hardcore zombie fans.

Parts of this review originally appeared as a much shorter version in the Westword. You can find the original piece here.

Zombie Apocalypse

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 18 - 2009

zombieapocalypse1I stumbled across Zombie Apocalypse while checking my own site in Google – a nice bit of serendipity! Let me say, the title pretty much spells it out for this film, for good or ill. It’s another SOV (shot on video) exploration of the classic zombie apocalypse. This one follows two college buddies, Mark and Tom, out for a night on the town. Unfortunately, town has been overrun by a horde of the undead as a result of a feud between two secret-agent types working for shadowy organization involved in zombie research. Before long, the two buddies have joined up with one of the secret agents (Dwight, the least badass secret agent name ever) and are thrust right into the middle of zombiegeddon. Along the way they join forces with a goth chick and an almost-survivor (she gets bit, forcing Tom to dispatch her), run into one of Mark’s rivals (who happens to head a paramilitary group of survivors) and kill a whole lot of zombies before all is said and done.

It’s a micro-budget effort by director/producer/main writer/etc. Ryan Thompson, a Michigan-based filmmaker, and it definitely shows its limitations. On the negative side, it isn’t wildly original. Clearly, the filmmakers have seen a lot of zombie movies and they’ve done little more than bake up their own twist on a familiar recipe, creating the zombie-film equivalent of home-cooked comfort food. The acting is generally mediocre to awful, it could have used a lot more gore and the score is bewildering, segueing seemingly at random between quasi-porn music, traditional horror-movie synthesizer minimalism and cheeseball, goofy hard rock.

Despite those problems, it actually works a hell of a lot better than most of its SOV, backyard-auteur-epic contemporaries. This is a film that realizes what its limitations are and works within them. It wisely casts its two best actors in the lead roles, the writing is surprisingly good and it neither takes itself too seriously, nor plays everything for a cheap laugh. The best scenes work really well, especially the zombie battle in the woods and a cheesy but quite enjoyable battle royal between the two agents. And hell, when one of the biggest complaints about a movie like this is an inconsistent score, it’s already way, way ahead of the game. I could nitpick on some other issues — the pacing lags in a few spots, there is some painfully bad acting here and there (particularly the bouncer in the bar) and a few scenes are awkward and unbelievable (the bar scene, again) — but as a whole, it’s hard to consider Zombie Apocalypse anything but a triumph for what it is. I’m curious what he’d do with a real budget and a few competent actors, even though I doubt he’ll ever get either. Regardless, I’m keeping an eye out for Thompson’s next flick.

You can find more info about the movie (and order your own copy, if you are so inclined) at the Zombie Apocalypse web site.

Lost Zombies wants you

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 18 - 2009

lostzombiesHere’s one of the more original ideas in the zombie milieu — Lost Zombies, a site that aims to create a community-generated zombie documentary via a MySpace/Facebook like social networking site. They’ve got a pretty clever back story, outlined via the timeline on the site and an innovative method of farming out the pieces (a grid of needed submissions, where anyone can take a hack at whatever piece interests them). They’re also getting a fair bit of attention, thanks to some SXSW exposure. It looks like thus far they aren’t particularly close to being done and I can’t find any indication of what the target date of completion for the finished project is, but in the meantime it seems like a good place to meet fellow zombie devotees. Naturally, I signed up for a membership and you can find my profile here. Supposing I can find the time and a project that suits my talents, I will even participate. I haven’t been able to find a contact link for the project’s leadership, but if I can, I intend to interview them for the site. Stay tuned.

Scare air: Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 17 - 2009

fotldI didn’t expect a whole lot from Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, but maybe that’s why it was such a surprisingly enjoyable movie. I think its biggest strength was it knew exactly what it was: a well-funded b-movie without pretension. Plotwise, it was a pastiche of cliches from the zombie and plane movie genres, but it got a lot of mileage from its competent (albeit unremarkable) cast of vaguely recognizable character actors and generally high production values. The director kept things from getting too hammy and kept the pacing moving along nicely — why can’t more horror and b-movie directors do these two, simple things? These zombies were the fast type, which I generally disapprove of but am becoming more accustomed to, and the make-up and gore were nicely done. I especially liked the yellow eyes of the zombies, which are illogical but pretty cool looking.

The story is exactly what you’d expect: mad scientist dude illegally transports zombie on commercial flight, zombie busts lose on the plane and things get seriously negative for the crew and passengers from there. Everyone reacts pretty realistically, which is to say mortal terror, panic and selfish if ultimately stupid actions by most of the soon-to-be zombie chow.  The ending was awesome, too. I liked this one so much I bought it.

Resident Evil: Degeneration

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 13 - 2009

residentevildegenerationThe entirely CGI-animated Resident Evil: Degeneration was, for my tastes, far better than the live-action Resident Evil. Admittedly, I have only seen the first RE movie – I was so disappointed I didn’t bother with the others, though I will eventually. In Resident Evil: Degeneration you have a typically (for the franchise) convoluted plot that centers around the efforts of another company to pick up the pieces of the Umbrella Corporation’s research and profit from it, even if that means their market is terrorists. The main event is a release of the zombie-making T-virus in an airport and pure zombie mayhem is the result. Franchise heavyweights Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield are the main characters and they lead a rescue mission from inside the airport, before tangling with a corrupt corporate executive (is there any other kind?) who’s concocted an elaborate plot to test the G-virus, which creates a weird reptile/insectoid hybrid demonic-looking mutant that is all but unkillable. There’s also a romance sub-plot between Kennedy and a new character, and the new character’s brother is involved in the release of the G-Virus, as revenge. Oh, and he is being manipulated by the corporate executive who’s linked to the senator trapped in the airport and, uh, … did I mention it gets a little convoluted?

The movie looks great at times and horrible at others, depending on what the scene portrays.  The zombies themsleves and the action scenes typically look great, and the fires looked nothing short of amazing (the film makers knew this, and used the effect as much as possible). Unfortunately, any kind of  emotional scene or anything that required a facial close-up was way too much “Welcome to Uncanny Valley!” to be anything but off putting. The pacing is generally tight but it does drag at moments and the story is convoluted enough to be difficult to follow at times. Those two things conspired to make my attention wander at several points. Luckily the dialog is nowhere near as bad as the games’ famously bad writing — at its worse, it’s just kind of stiff and unrealistic, but no worse than many a live-action zombie epic I’ve sat through.

For fans of the RE games, this is definitely a worthy exercise, if only for the additional insight into the characters and back story of the games.  For fans of the RE live action movies it’s probably little more than a curiosity at best and utterly confusing at worst (“Uh, how does this relate to Alice now?”). For general zombiephiles, it’s an interesting, if flawed, work that’s worth a look (especially if you enjoy anime, which it strongly resembles in many ways: pacing, story and dialog in particular).

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