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

Deadlines: News roundup 5/29/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 29 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Bookmark the home page or add the feed to your RSS for your daily dose of walking dead. Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

There’s a slew of DVD release info hitting, some of it contradicting previously asserted info (fun!). We’ve got word of October 13 for Pontypool on DVD (it hit on-demand today for you cable folks) which contradicts the July 21 date DVD Active reports. If I can get anyone at IFC to respond to my queries, I’ll get to the bottom of this. In less confusing news, REC is still slated for June 14 and grave-robbers-meet-zombie-gangsters flick The Crypt is coming to DVD August 11 after a limited theatrical release June 25. You can get a few additional details here. (Fangoria)

The talkmeisters at Fangoria Radio (Sirius channel 108/XM channel 139, satellite radio folks starting at 10 p.m.) will have Pontypool director Bruce McDonald and star Steven Hattie in for a chat. (Fangoria)

If you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas (in July), this oil painting of a toy zombie in front of the Seattle Space Needle is perfect, and will only set you back $32.99. (Fangoria)

A sequel to Greek zombie movie Evil (this one apparently called Evil in the Time of Heroes) is coming. There’s a teaser trailer after the break. (Quiet Earth via a Greek blog)

Who says there’s no new ideas in the land of the dead? The standard zombie tropes get twisted up with amnesia-like symptoms that alter the very perception of reality in the no-budget thinker Fugue State. I’m instantly intrigued. And there’s a teaser (which doesn’t really do the idea justice) after the break.

Finally, for those following the Zombie Movie Marathon Month saga, the final film list, in rough order (possibly final, but may undergo minor sequence changes) is also after the break. When we meet again, Zombie Movie Marathon Month will be upon us!

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ZMMM List 2.0: plus Film Club and Japanese zombie voting action!

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 27 - 2009

onechanbaraConsidering June is almost upon us, I thought it was time I got serious about firming up this list. Here’s what I’ve settled on watching for sure:

Lucio Fulci’s Zombie
Nightmare City
Hell of the Living Dead
Zombie 3
Burial Ground: Nights of Terror
Versus
Tokyo Zombie
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Return of the Living Dead
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
Dead Set
American Zombie
Mutant
I Walked with a Zombie
Messiah of Evil
Day X
Grapes of Death
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Pet Sematary

That’s nineteen, which is almost two-thirds of the month. There will definitely be three more Japanese zombie movies, which I’m inviting you all to vote for (poll at the bottom of the post and on the right sidebar). Leave me a comment or e-mail with suggestions on these. Here is the list of “maybes” I am still considering:

  • They Came Back
  • Dead and Breakfast
  • Zombie Strippers
  • The Stink of Flesh
  • Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
  • Re-Animator
  • Redneck Zombies
  • Fido
  • Evil
  • Zombie Honeymoon
  • Enter Zombie King
  • Resident Evil
  • Shanks
  • Sugar Hill
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Fog

Also, if you have a blog, I invite you to join the Zombie Movie Marathon Month Film Club. It works like this: watch one or more of these movies this month (bonus points for watching them the same day as I do!). Write something about the movie on your blog, and link to my writing on the site from your post. E-mail me with the link. I link back to you! Fun! Easy! An excuse to watch a ton of zombie movies and maybe get a minor traffic boost!

Finally, I need a hand choosing which Japanese zombie movies to pick for my five days of Japanese zombies. No need to comment, just push a button. Never heard of any of these? That’s okay, you can pick them by title if you like. Or by art — the picture at the top of this post is for Onechanbara

[poll id=”2″]

Preliminary movie list for Zombie Movie Marathon Month

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 22 - 2009

zombiefulciJune is almost upon us and that means it is time for me to get serious about finishing the list of movies for the June Zombie Movie Marathon Month festival. I had hoped to have the entire list done by now but for a variety of reasons — scheduling conflicts, inability to confirm that movies will be available, indecision — I haven’t been able to do so. I have come up with a preliminary list of definite movies to watch (although not the when, for the most part), a couple of themes to explore and a handful of “maybes.” Now I am taking commentary from you fine readers. Help me decide!

My two themes are five days each of Italy and Japan. Italy has proven to be the easier of these, and comprises most of my “definite” list. Japan is a little trickier and I may put it to a vote next week (about time I used that poll for something, anyway). Apart from that there are a few seminal films that I have managed to not see yet and a few my daughter has managed to not see yet and those comprise the rest of what is definite.

Here’s what I have nailed down, some with commentary:

  • Zombie (30th anniversary! I’m doing a free showing of this)
  • Nightmare City
  • Hell of the Living Dead
  • Zombie 3 (Because Lucio Fulci worked on it briefly)
  • Burial Grounds: Nights of Terror
  • Versus
  • Tokyo Zombie
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space
  • Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
  • Return of the Living Dead (daughter has never seen it!)

Here’s the stuff I am considering, but haven’t settled on:

  • Dead Set (okay, it’s a TV miniseries, but still a moving picture show)
  • American Zombie
  • Mutant
  • I Walked with a Zombie
  • Messiah of Evil
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Haven’t seen this in years, like since it was fairly new)
  • Pet Sematary (ditto)
  • Onechanbara
  • Grapes of Death
  • Zombie Honeymoon

Okay, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’ve got ten nailed down, ten strong possibilities and a whole, long list of other stuff that I haven’t decided on. Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

June is Zombie Movie Marathon Month!

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 14 - 2009

zombi3webI mentioned before, briefly in a news post, the fact trumpeted in the headline above: June is the second annual  Zombie Movie Marathon Month! For the second year in a row, I will be watching a zombie movie every day for the entire month of June. I invite all zombie fans to join me — from the comfort of your own home — whether it be for the entire month, weekends only, a single week or whatever you can manage. I’ll be posting the entire schedule within a week (I hope) and you can join in with the same movies on the same days, the same movies on different days, or your own schedule. If you run a blog or web site and participate in any way, I will gladly link to you and/or any reviews you post in conjunction with the fest.

I will be doing a single public screening, of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, on June 18 (details to come) if you happen to live in or near Denver. The rest will just be me at home (or wherever — actually planning on going camping in early June, so I’ll be watching in the woods somewhere!) every day. Last year I wasn’t able to make it every single day, so I doubled up other days. This year, I am going to do everything in my power to do one movie every single day. I am taking suggestions for movies to watch, so feel free to leave comments with ideas. During the fest I will be posting daily impressions and lots of movie reviews — hopefully as many as two-thirds of the movies I watch during the marathon (the rest will trickle out over the course of the following months as I finish and polish them).

Finally, after the break I have posted a report I wrote last year on the marathon for the local paper I freelance for. It might have some interesting tidbits for regular readers.

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