Posts Tagged ‘zombies

05
Apr
09

Dead Snow: The Next Great Zombie Film

The Next big thing in Undead Cinema.

The Next big thing in Undead Cinema.

For those of you who may not know, I have a serious love for anything involving the use of zombies or the undead.  From movies to video games to literature, I am fascinated by how versatile they are in any storytelling medium.  So imagine how excited I was when I first heard about a foreign zombie flick, taking place in the snowy mountains, that feature…(drum roll please)…Nazi Zombies.

Oh yes kids, it’s true.  And you know what is even better?  It is a superb horror flick.

Now, a little history.  There have been some exploitation style movies, back in the 60’s, 70’s and I think even up until the 80’s, that have tackled the idea of having undead nazi soldiers, but most were completely and utterly terrible.  I’m not talking “funny Ha-Ha get drunk with your friends and watch it” terrible.  I’m talking bad to the point of nausea.  For evidence of this, please see (read: download illegally for free) Zombie Lake. /End history lesson.

But enough wasted time establishing the immense uphill battle that Dead Snow faced, and let’s get on with the review.  The plot of Dead snow is a simple one, but simple doesn’t imply that it isn’t well utilized and perfectly solid.  Some 20 somethings are going on vacation, and decide to go up to a cabin in the snowy mountain woods.  The “old crazy story teller guy” warns them of some old wives tale about soldiers who died in these woods surrounding the cabin.  Of course, our 20 somethings, including a great “movie geek guy”, cast him off as a crazy local, and shortly there after, all hell breaks lose in the form, you guessed it, Nazi Zombies.

Fantastic make up on the Nazi Zombies

Fantastic make up on the Nazi Zombies

The magic of Dead Snow isn’t it’s plot though, it’s in the characters and the fantastically rewarding pace.  The group of friends aren’t typical zombie fodder, there isn’t a clear cut stereotypical “slut”, nor is there the guy who is hopelessly in love with a girl he can never get, and there isn’t a clear “dick” character, who is rude and crass but painfully funny and accurate in his social observations.  Instead, everyone character feels a bit more three-dimensional, they all seem to have a good, general sense of wit, and while they each have unique personality traits, like a knack for humor or a knowledge of movies, they come on as more than just TV sitcom characters who are helping to strengthen rigid stereotyping.  Also, characters evolve, something rarely seen in horror today.

The pace is the second most important piece to the Dead Snow puzzle.  From the opening scene, we are treated to classical music as a Jane Doe gets hunted down by our ruthless zombies at night.  This is a great way to introduce people to the movie antagonists without spoiling there appearance, and combining it with a classic misdirection “boo” scare makes it all the more fun.  There is no notion that in order to create good characters, that we the audience can relate to and invest in, we have to stare at them doing mundane things for 45 minutes.  Dead Snow introduces everyone quickly, letting you adapt to their personal behavior and traits on the fly, all the while keeping the tension high by inventing some new and resurrecting some old classic boo scares.  And when the well dries up on tension and suspense, the movie goes into absolute overdrive, providing the kind of kick ass orgy of violence only true horror can deliver.

Sometimes, you just gotta fight back the undead horde with garden tools.

Sometimes, you just gotta fight back the undead horde with garden tools.

The last thing I would like to touch on is the special effects.  Minimal CGI means that lots of fake blood, limbs, and intestines get strewn all over the place, and the choreographing of the fight scenes is so tight and visceral, that it really helps bring you into the struggle.  It’s a scrappy, survivor type of fighting, nothing fancy or cool about it.  It’s a nice contrast to the modern day practice  of ridiculously complicated and illogical battles between good and evil in horror movies, when instead you would just be reduced to dirty tactics and savagery in the case you were ever attacked by the undead.

So, in the interest of keeping this one short and sweet (just how I like my women) I will wrap this up by saying that Dead Snow has all the earmarks of the next big independent horror film, especially in the flooded sub-division of Zombie films.  It shows an intimate knowledge and respect of its’ ancestors, most notably Raimi and Romero, but it also comes packing a slew of original ideas, as well as innovative implementations of standard tricks of the horror movie trade.   It is  unpredictable, direct, funny, unapologetic, and wholly satisfying.

It is at this point in time where you should be googling your ass off trying to find this flick.

BRAINS!!!!!!!!!!

BRAINS!!!!!!!!!!

12
Feb
09

Friday the 13th: A Midnight Showing Fanboy Retrospective

Curse or Creative Genius?  We'll soon find out how well the Marquee player from the slasher genre holds up in modern day.

Curse or Creative Genius? We'll soon find out how well the Marquee player from the slasher genre holds up in modern day.

Good day to you, fellow Midnighters, and welcome to my first ever Retrospective piece here for Midnight Showing.  I want to handle this a little differently than most “retrospective” pieces I see on the Internet.  Instead of simply trying to impress you with my harmfully encyclopedic knowledge of this series and it’s many quirks and idiosyncrasies, I want to take a look at it from a relatively spoiler free perspective of a fan who is analyzing the overall impact of such a lucrative and beloved,  yet heavily criticized series that’s bread and butter was the apparent exploitation of sinful teenagers who just so happened to be fucking around with the wrong psychopathic serial killer.

And what a wonderful place to start.  The Friday the 13th series (which I will refer to as F13 for the rest of this piece since it’s much shorter and easier to type!) has become a source of ridicule and comparison.  Whenever a movie series begins to take a turn for the worst while cranking out sequels, everyone seems to jump to equate that failure, with the failure that was the endless stream of entries into multiple horror franchises in the 80’s.  Also, people in general (people in general meaning not fan-boys and horror geeks) seem to feel the movies have absolutely no value or merit, and serve only to fulfill a misogynistic, predatory sexual desire only experienced by guys usually aged 14 to 35.

The funny thing is, now a days dressing like a homeless manical serial killer is kind of an "in" look.

The funny thing is, now a days dressing like a homeless manical serial killer is kind of an "in" look.

For those who feel this way, do me a favor.  Got to your local movie theater on Thursday the 12 of February of 2009.  Get there about 11 o’ clock.  Stand in the parking lot, and see how many people go up to the ticket window and buy tickets to see F13.  Note how many of them are women.  You will then be prompted to SHUT THE FUCK UP by me.  The notion that F13 is some kind of soft-core porn for men who have trouble with women, is an asinine, paranoid delusion created largely in part by ultra-sensitive people with too much free time.  They claim its to protect their innocent children (who undoubtedly have porn underneath there bed mom doesn’t know about) from on-screen violence and the temptation of sex and drugs.  The irony of course, is that even back then in the 80’s and especially in today’s media, we glorify and report on death, rape, famine, disease, torture, executions and everything else that’s horrible and desensitizing.  Apparently, by many folks sense of logic, real death and other horrible acts of humanity are perfectly acceptable to be reported 24/7 on the news, but if we perhaps want to get scared a little, in a safe and communal environment such as  a movie theater and watch some dumbfounded teenagers fuck, do drugs, and get ripped to shreds by a masked iconic serial killer, to whom we relate to more than those dying on the news, we are bad people.  Apparently a lot of people who criticize the already marginalized horror genre don’t own any mirrors in their houses.

But before I dig any deeper into the messy pit that is morals and standards, let’s explore the soul of the series a bit.  F13 (the original) is actually more of a cautionary tale than anything else, it’s just told in such a where were relatively innocent teenagers (Hey, they smoked pot and had sex, so of course they are a little guilty) are brutally slain.  For those who haven’t seen the original F13, what I’m about to say will be a major spoiler, so now would be a good time to scroll down to the next paragraph or watch the goddamn movie, since it is still quite good.  The mother of Jason Voorhees is in fact the killer throughout the entire first film.  Although since you never see her, you just assume it’s Jason taking revenge for the negligence of the camp counselors who let him drown.  This twist should intrigue anyone looking to see the remake, as Jason is clearly visible in the trailers and commercials, yet it’s widely known he didn’t start his body count until Part 2.

Marijuana

Marijuana

+

sex

sex

=

Equals Death.

Equals Death.

So if F13 isn’t just useless trash spit out into the cinematic world by perverts, than what is it really?  Surely, it’s still a horror film, with the fact of whether or not it is actually scary still being hotly debated.  What I never hear in conjunction with F13 conversation and retrospectives is the fact that F13 was a movie made in a completely different time and social climate than the one we are currently in.  In the 80’s Reagan was president and he and his wife were trying desperately to clean up the world many saw as full of filth and sin.  The world’s major threats were Russians, not low-tech religious fanatics hiding in a cave in a desert of a 3rd world country.  Aids popped up, and subsequently scared the shit out of almost everyone.  All these factors, and about a million more, made the perfect breeding ground for escapism theater, a brand of movies that weren’t all based on history or current events, or even reality for that matter.  Even though F13 takes place at a very earthly and mundane looking summer camp, the idea that a undead, superhuman monster of a man, who seems fully grown by the time he makes his triumphant entrance in Part 2, can rise from the dead again and again to exact his bloody revenge against really anyone who gets in his way is quite out of the realm of possibility.

Why So Hockey?

Why So Hockey?

But it’s just that “unreal events in a familiar setting” that gets people all worked up.  Proper horror is all about taking something you may use or see or interact with in your life, and turning into a source of fear, tension, and discomfort.  The fact that because there is a certain amount of familiarity with something in the movie, in this case a normal summer camp in the woods, we can then use our imaginations and our disbelief to begin to believe how a place where so many have created cherished childhood memories, can turn into a labyrinth of pain, death, and mutilation.  The 80’s were chock full of repression, and from repression comes niche markets.  The aforementioned social climate saw a tidal wave of movies misdirecting our fear from the ones the nightly news we talking about, to indestructible bogeymen who can get us when we least expect it.  The only thing was, the niche was exploding at the seems, too much of a popular thing, and when niches become mainstream, they rarely remain the edgy, alternative , cathartic, and even experimental forms of entertainment they once were, they instead become just a vehicle for making a lot money.  F13 did have some surprisingly good sequels such as the ultra-violent and fast paced 4th entry (Friday the 13th The Final Chapter), which was originally slated to be the series finale, and the underrated 7th entry (Friday the 13th The New Blood) where Jason is confronted by some form of a meta-human with psychic powers who accidentally awakes him from his slumber (I call it slumber because it’s surely never death).  When it was all said and done though, most people didn’t see any of the newer entries as anything more than cannon-fodder for critics, porn for the perverse gore-hounds, and a cash cow for the big wigs pulling the strings.

Yet, there F13 sits, primed to make millions during one of the hottest movie going weekends of the year, Valentines Day Weekend.   Marcus Nispel and Michael Bay are directing and producing respectively.  This is the same tandem who delivered the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake back in 03, for what that knowledge is worth.  In the decade where Hollywood has completely abandoned any ability to create original content, especially within the horror genre, Jason Voorhees has been dug out of his 6 year nap, as Hollywood scrambles to put together a Reunion tour of sorts.  Michael Bay is surely kicking the tires on what once was a proud, thriving series to see if maybe now is the right to re-unleash the Camp Crystal Lake Slasher.

It will no doubt be financially successful, and will probably pay for itself within the first weekend, but I still feel uneasy.  Were less than 48 hours away from go time with the remake, and the Internet is buzzing, both good and bad.  Will my beliefs hold up?  Can a series that was at one point laughable, find a new home in the hearts of a new generation of film goers?

There’s only one thing I know for sure though.  It can’t be any worse than Rob Zombie’s Halloween.  Oh wait, fuck, what if it is?  Holy shit.  I need to lay down my head is starting to hurt.

Happy viewing this weekend fellow Midnighters, and do something nice for your girlfriend…oh wait who am I kidding, none of us have girlfriends.  But seriously, if you do, take them to see Friday the 13th.  They get all touchy feeling.  Trust Me.

Or just watch the recently released UNCUT version of the 1981 slasher sleeper hit My Bloody Valentine.

09
Jan
09

Internet Oddities January 2009

It may be a new year, but there is no shortage of viral lunacy circulating the Internet.  So, while we cook up some new original material behind the scenes, have a gander and kill some brain cells from this garbage, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible.


P.S. I also included some trailers for upcoming flicks I think we should have on our collective radar.




21
Nov
08

Dead Set: A Reality TV Show Zombie Mini-Series

Big Brother is watching...you get eaten by Zombies!

Big Brother is watching...you get eaten by Zombies!

Dead Set is a thrilling mini-series that combines two of the most popular things going in TV and movies today, the reality TV show (in this case Big Brother) and zombies.  The style in which this 5 part story is told is similar to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later series, complete with shaky camera-work and ravenous, feral running zombies.  Personally, I have found the “28” series of zombie movies very underwhelming, and I also haven’t been too big a fan of the idea of  running zombies.  Dead Set, however similar to the aforementioned films it may be, sets itself apart, and is, as far as I can tell, a hidden gem of a horror genre, at least among American audiences.

Dead Set starts off showing the inner workings of reality television.  It’s sort of a nice behind the scenes look which I’m sure has been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect, but still feels very genuine.  We are introduced to a gaggle of characters, some more important than others.  You’ll immediately begin playing the “Who’s gonna survive game” in your head, which is always a good thing, because it means the actors and the director have already made empathetic characters early on, which winds up being one of the main reasons this series had me in the clutches of suspense for almost 3 hours.

After we get a look at “Eviction Night”, where one of the house guests is sent home, no longer eligible for the prize that awaits the final contestant, we are plunged into a crisis happening right outside the studio, which is an apparent (and unexplained, a classy touch.  No need to always explain why there is zombies) zombie apocalypse.  Chaos ensues, and different sets of the relatively large cast get separated and wind up having to find ways of surviving in and around the studio.

Seeing as house this is a 5 part mini-series, I was slightly skeptical going in how the director and writers were gonna keep up the frenetic pace they started off with.  Fortunately, a combination of clever nods to classic zombie flicks, interesting scenarios and obstacles, and the rule of “anyone can die at any time” meant that I was fully engaged, and holding my hand over my mouth at the conclusion of each episode that always seemed to be a cliffhanger.

Special effects also helps elevate this to near legendary status, with a COMPLETE ABSENCE OF CGI (FUCK YES) and awesome practical gore such as this incredible exploding head.

BOOM! Headshot.

BOOM! Headshot.

There are other surprises as well, all of them really bloody and particularly brutal.  I won’t ruin them for you, but they rival some of the best kills I’ve ever seen in the genre and really stand out.  Make no mistake, just because this is “made for TV” doesn’t mean it wimps out on the hardcore stuff.   its R-Rated goodness should put smiles on the faces of even some hardened horror fans.

Solid, if not a little trendy, directing, good acting, and a storyline that doesn’t wear out it’s welcome while also exploring many possibilities a shorter, 90 minute zombie flick wouldn’t have time to touch on make Dead Set a solid recommendation for someone wanting zombie goodness, with a European flair.  For zombie fans, this is a must see.

Big Brother is watching, and so should you.

What a story she would have to tell in the diary room.

What a story she would have to tell in the diary room.

26
Oct
08

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue)

Great movie poster.  Blah movie.

Great movie poster. Blah movie.

Let sleeping corpses lie also known as the living dead a the Manchester morgue is yet another fairly well known European zombie flick, no doubt created in the wake of the success of Romero’s American zombie works.  Apparently someone was sleeping (get it, sleeping) when they were studying other zombie movies, because besides a few gnarly scenes, this walking dead romp is lacking in the fundamentals.

Gore specifically.  Sure, you can make a zombie flick without heavily relying on blood and guts to keep the audience interested, but it’s kinda like ice skating uphill.  The very nature of the dead coming back to life to eat the living brings all sorts of wild images into the imagination, and unless your a master at creating atmosphere and a tight, tense story, your going to have to have some seriously gross scenes to keep people squirming, and above all keep them caring.

Acting isn’t to fault here, as you might expect with a foreign, dubbed zombie film.  Our main duo do their jobs adequately, so much so that’s there’s really nothing I can complain about.  I just wish there was more for them in terms of harrowing scenes, violence, and atmosphere to react and be a part of.  The supporting cast isn’t really too important, but I should mention the inspector, who does a great job as being the “non-believer” prick type guy throughout the whole ordeal.

The plot is more than serviceable, as a pair of “hippie” types run into each other at a gas station, then later are accused of murder, for which the real culprit is of course, zombies.  According to this mythos though, zombies don’t show up in photographs, are sometimes referred to as ghosts, can speed up their shuffle walk when need be, and their only weakness is fire.

Directing is kept pretty modest, with a few interesting POV shots and interesting angles, but nothing really pops off the screen and grabs you.  In horror, there’s a major difference between watching and experiencing, and this definitely falls into the category of just something you merely watch.

I was expecting a lot more, especially since Sleeping Corpses has a strong online reputation and following.  For the zombie enthusiast, this is somewhat recommendable, but chances are if your ga-ga about the undead, you have already seen or at least heard of this one.  To the more casual fan, this is easily overlooked, as the European theater of film has literally dozens of superior walking dead titles to choose from.

As for the Inspector I mentioned earlier.  We do get an awesome quote from him though.

“You’re all the same the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!”

12
Oct
08

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! Strippers vs. Zombies

How?  How do you fuck this up?

How? How do you fuck this up?

Look at that poster.  How?  How is this not a home run?  You have zombies.  Zombies are fucking great.  You have strippers.  Here at Midnight Showing, we’re all about women, especially those who seem to think clothing is optional.  Plus, it’s a low budget film.  Really low budget.  So you figure they would  have to bring the violence, the gore, the hilarious and copious amounts of nudity, and the humor right?

Wrong.

Strippers vs. Zombies, or is that Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, fails to even deliver us what is shamelessly promised on the cover.  To put it mildly, the overall quality of this film is only slightly above something a high school A/V club member would produce as a side project with his stoner buddies.  There almost no nudity, and none of it is in the least bit sexual or even funny.  The gore is a mish mash of horrible cgi, and so-so make up and practical effects.  The acting, from everyone besides the Samuel L. Jackson “funny black pimp” guy was pretty much forgettable, if not downright terrible.  The music is just generic sounding rip offs of pieces featured in movies like the Exorcist and Terminator.  And the director could barely keep the actors and actress’s in the shot, let alone do anything with the camera other than follow the action, and he even did that shitty.

Oh, and the really embarrassing thing?

At times throughout the movie, people would talk, on camera, and there would be no sound.  Like an old Godzilla movie that’s poorly dubbed.  Also, if any lines needed to be done over with dubbing later on, it was obvious the voices were recorded at different volumes, in like 128 kbps quality, in a completely different environment.  Obviously the makers of this film are not only shameless (a trait i would never fault anyone with), but also completely without a sense of professional pride.

It feels like they let this movie be released without watching the finished product.  Just like when I write for this site, you gotta proofread that bitch, and at least knockout the obvious errors, you know, like releasing a movie with LINES OF DIALOGUE COMPLETELY MISSING EVEN THOUGH THE ACTORS MOVE IS MOVING ON CAMERA!

If you follow zombies flicks, you’ll know that 2008 has been the year of the stripper vs. zombie movie.  Earlier in the year a movie starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund came out called Zombie Strippers.  I thought it was friggin’ terrible, but at the very least, it had some parts that showed you the filmmakers aren’t completely brain dead.

Strippers vs. Zombies goes that extra mile to make you just give up hope.  It shows you why movies like Snakes on a Plane are made, and even how movies like Snakes on a Plane MAKE MONEY!  By the way, the “funny black pimp” i mentioned earlier, he actually said in the movie “I’m tired of these motherfucking zombies in this motherfucking club!”  Really.  He did.  And it was probably the best part of the movie.

Maybe you should watch it, just because that guy is hilarious.  No, no you shouldn’t.  If there is any lesson to be taken from this film, it’s that if you come up with a good poster, a good title, and have no talent, you too can help make a mockery of the horror genre.

11
Oct
08

Dance of the Dead (NOT the Masters of Horror Episode!!)

Little bit of a rip-off of Shaun of the Dead, but still nice.

Little bit of a rip-off of Shaun of the Dead, but still nice.

Dance of the Dead has the look and feel of a disastrous zombie flick.  It has a bunch of no name teenage looking actors and actresses.  A plot (Zombies rise from the dead on the night of the prom and high schoolers have to fight for their lives and their town) ripped from several other zombie movies.  A movie poster eerily similar to that of 2004’s amazing “zombedy” Shaun of the Dead.  And, on top of all this, a director with virtually no feature film directing experience.

But this, true believers (Yes, I just pulled a Stan Lee reference out of my ass.  You don’t like it?  Go read a DC comic then you pussy.  Yeah I know Batman is good, but other than that, DC sucks.) is why we watch movies, and THEN decide if they suck or not.  Or at least some of us do.

Dance of the Dead managed to do something that all good horror, and especially zombie flicks, HAVE to do.  Make the most out of the pieces you have.  If you look back in the legendary genesis of the zombie flick, you will quickly find out that the best of the bunch, even the ones done by famed directors like Romero and Fulci, were done on smaller budgets without the luxury of having big stars to bank on for success.  Dance does this wonderfully, making even the predictable and annoying characters seem likable.  And if they weren’t likable, then they at least had the presence of mind to kill them off early!

This all brings me to my first point.  The cast here, again full of people who’s biggest project to date seems to be Dance of the Dead itself, are all very competent.  The movie is exactly demanding, but it still has a lot of dialogue, and without people to spew those words out, however trite or meaningless, it’s difficult to make a movie work.  The saving grace seems to be the comedy within the conversations though.  Nothing is taken to seriously in Dance of the Dead, and that lightens the load for everyone involved.  It’s a feel good, fun time zombie flick, and the cast seem to reflect that with the youthful energy being the driving force.

Direction here is solid, but not in the least bit flashy or pretentious.  There some nifty use of heavy lighting and filters, the cornerstones of any 80’s “Return of the living Dead” style zombie flick, but other than that, everything’s played pretty straight forward, and I for one have no problem with that.  If you don’t feel comfortable as a director taking chances and being experimental, there’s no need to force it.  That “comfort” is actually a strength to the film, and I felt right at home with the direction, and thankfully nothing was ruined by the dreaded “shaky cam” or choosing shitty angles to shoot the action on.  Simply put, the camera work never gets in the way of the fun.

Gore and special effects are all good, but it’s most likely all stuff experienced zombie fans have seen before.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t highly entertaining, and some of the bullet wounds are particularly graphic.  There’s also a head split in half the long way, and a severed head “still alive” gag that is very cool.  Nothing here will have you howling or calling your friends to tell them “how awesome that kill just was”, but it’s all impressive none the less, and thankfully, almost totally free of any cgi.  Yay!  Here at the Midnight Showing we basically have one rule concerning our gore and special f/x, and that is “Fuck CGI!”

If you couldn’t tell by now, Dance of the Dead is a movie that has all the elements to become a cult classic.  Sure, that’s pretty cliche to say, but when a movie has it, it just has it.  I think the director has a pretty good handle on this zombie thing, and if he continues to interject the brand of humor in his future flicks, he should make some very interesting stuff.  Also, some of the actors and actress’s are surely going to be noticed because of this film.

If your looking for a light-hearted, “Shaun of the Dead” style zombie flick, and you can appreciate flicks that pay obvious homage to what’s come before it (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps), then you should get plenty of enjoyment out of Dance of the Dead.

If only my prom was overrun by zombies.

07
Oct
08

Insanitarium directed and written by Jeff Buhler

Peter Sotrmare's face is much scarier than any needle.

Peter Stormare's face is much scarier than any needle!

Jeff Buhler is showing the horror community a lot in a very short amount of time.  He is responsible for the screenplay of The Midnight Meat Train, a movie already reviewed her on Midnight Showing by yours truly.  Insanitarium marks his first time behind the camera, as well as being the stories scribe.  All that time spent with Clive Barker and Kitamura working on Meat Train must be paying off, because he crafts himself quite the impressive little flick that isn’t perfect, but rises above the direct to DVD schlock it will undoubtedly be lumped in with.

After his sister is locked away in a local insane asylum, Jack is refused access to even speak to her.  He decides that he must save her from what seems more like a prison than a mental facility, and fakes being crazy to be admitted in.  He then learns that the head doctor, played by the incredible Peter Stormare, is doing some experimental tests on the patients, fooling around with a drug that warps those trapped inside into ravenous flesh eating cannibals.

Before you write this off as another shitty zombie movie hiding under the guise of a psycho thriller, please know that it isn’t.  The word “zombie” is never even used in the movie, and Buhler’s “zombies” still retain all their higher brain functions, meaning they are essentially the same exact people they were before being introduced to the drug, they just become a little more ferocious and feral in some cases, and of course crave human blood and flesh.  Buhler spends almost an entire hour setting all the personalities of those inhabiting the asylum up, and for a first time director, shows an amazing amount of patience before setting loose his demons to tear things up.

Jesse Metcalfe, who plays our hero Jack, deserves some credit for never slipping into complacency.  Stormare is brilliant and fun as the evil doctor, Kevin Sussman is perfect as the comedic relief and aid to Jack throughout his journey to free his sister and escape the grips of the compound, and the rest of the cast never breaks your concentration or makes you cringe.  That’s saying a lot considering most of the film is full of nobodies, and it’s apparent that even though the film has a slick, shiny, and professional look, it was obviously made on a fairly modest budget.

Buhler does show what a fan he is of movies through some obvious nods to previous mentally unstable killers and movies of days past.  One of his characters is named Loomis, no doubt after Dr. Loomis, immortalized by Donald Pleasance in the Halloween series.  There’s a guy in the maximum security room obviously modeled after Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter.  Even timeless classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest get a well deserved wink.  Buhler certainly seems to knows his movies.

And when Buhler does take the chains off for the finale, he also lets the blood fly with some effective gore and special effects.  Highlights include a scalpel up through the jaw and into the mouth, a groovy slit throat with blood spraying all over the camera, and an icepick lobotomy.  If your a gore hound though, you may be disappointed in how long it takes things to get going.  Make no mistake, Buhler, as I mentioned before, takes his time here, getting everything he can out of his own script and his cast.  The gore here is subtle, if gore can ever be subtle, and Buhler doesn’t glorify it or telegraph it much.  His camera just kind of follows our heroes and when they make a kill, the camera looks at it just long enough to show you how awesome it was, and then gets back to the task at hand.  It’s a nice approach and makes violence on display feel a little less staged.

Low-lights include way to many kills followed by horrible one liners.  I am as big a fan of Ash and his goofy sayings as the next Evil Dead fan, but in a movie that is as dead serious in tone as Insanitarium, there just isn’t room for more than one or two one liners.  It gets annoying after hearing so many, especially when they all take place in a 25 minute span.  The dialogue also fails the scenes at times.  Buhler tries to make his doctors and staff sound very medical and scientific, but it just comes out as pretentious and silly sounding more often than not.  This isn’t the fault of the actors delivering the lines, but Buhler’s obvious unfamiliarity with medical and psychological scientific terms.  It’s fine if you write and you don’t know exactly what your talking about, just don’t pretend like you do.  The music also shows the limitations of the budget, but fortunately for us we don’t have to hear it much.  My final complaint lies with the sequel-ready last few scenes.  Can anyone write a movie and just fucking END it when it ends?  I understand you want to leave things open, but this movie begged to have a climatic and assertive finish, and what we got was anything but.  It’s a shame when even our main heavy never gets his comeuppance.

Gripes aside, Jeff Buhler should be gaining some momentum with his one-two punch in 2008 of The Midnight Meat Train and Insanitarium.  For a first time director, and the only two official writing credits on imdb being these two movies, Buhler seems to have come out of nowhere and the man now has my full attention.  If he can keep up the pace he’s set for himself, he may be able to breath some life back into a horror genre that has been up and down ever since the turn of the century saw every other studio cranking out remakes and teen screamers.

Recommended, as I’ve said before, to those with patience.  Also keep a close eye on Jeff Buhler.  My instincts tell me he is on to bigger and even better things…but hopefully not a goddamn remake.

28
Sep
08

REC – US Remake title: Quarantine

”][REC][REC] starts (below) with a chirpy reporter informing the viewers that they will be spending some time with a local fire brigade to see what they do while the citizens are asleep. Eventually the fire brigade receive a call to attend a block of flats. Reporter in tow, they head for the flats.

yeah, you're not so chirpy and cheery later on!...

yeah, you're not so chirpy and cheery later on...

I should mention that the entire movie is shot with a raw documentary feel, for example at the start we see the reporter fluffing her lines and retrying, and while heading to the flats we see her discussing things with her cameraman. Effectively everything we see is from the cameramans perspective.

As they enter the block of flats the natives are restless and an investigation (with the local Police) begins. Heading in to the offending flat, they discover an old woman, covered in blood, who ends up causing chaos.

Well, that's not a good sign...

Well, that's not a good sign...

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you watch this movie with the lights out, you’d better have a change of underwear at the ready.

The group, loosely led by one of the Police, try to leave the block of flats but are trapped inside. Loud speakers outside tell them they are, effectively, in a contaminated zone and would be shot if they try to leave. As if that’s not bad enough, things get much worse! The virus which is wreaking havok is pretty much a zombie virus, anyone bitten by a carrier becomes a mad, rabid, zombie. Unfortunately, none of the people trapped in the block of flats know this…

That room either houses a nasty virus, or it's home to an S&M party. Either way, it's not good!

That room either houses a nasty virus, or it's home to an S&M party. Either way, it's not good!

Again, I don’t want to spoil things, so I won’t go any further with the storyline. The movie was shot on a shoestring budget which, rather than making things look bad, it’s made them look better, the director has obviously gone the route of ingenuity to solve budget problems. Special effects are sparse but when they appear they are very well done. Yes, a lot of scenes are shaky-cam, but it is justified and done to intentionaly disorientate and jar us.

*sound of underwear being soiled*

*sound of my underwear being soiled*

[REC] is an awesome movie. I saw the English subtitled version, I’m told there’s a dubbed version which I would only recommend to slow readers as I find dubbing annoying, they seem to have a knack for picking the wrong voice actors. Before it could be released in the UK, [REC] was grabbed by Hollywood for a remake (Quarantine) which is due out sometime this year. I recommend you see the original in all it’s glory, then you can laugh at the inevitable rubbish remake. [REC] is a cracking film that is text book in it’s frights and doesn’t even come close to needing a remake!

I dare you to watch it, late at night, with the lights out…

26
Sep
08

Undead or Alive starring Chris Kattan

Close, but no cigar.  Still worth a look for the zombie completist however.

Close, but no cigar. Still worth a look for the zombie completist however.

The combination of the undead, cowboys and indains should be a no-brainer.  I mean, the wild west was one of the most violent and turbulent places the world had ever seen.  So much so, that the legends that were created by stories of shootouts behind corrals and horseback train robbery’s have spawned countless movie interpretations and made stars out of people like Clint Eastwood and “The Duke.”  Zombies have succeeded in having good movies in almost every setting.  The jungle, the suburbs, the country-side, metropolis’s, shopping malls, and even outer space.  But as of yet,  I have not seen a good western zombie mash up.  And while Undead or Alive tries it’s hardest to be that definitive crossover, it falls short of reaching that goal in some key areas.

Let’s start with the plot.

Army deserter Elmer Winslow and local cowboy Luke Budd are on the run after robbing the evil Sheriff Claypool, stealing his money and fleeing the town, they find themselves with an angry posse on their trail. Joining Elmer and Luke is an Apache warrior, who’s out to wreak vengeance on behalf of her decimated people; her plan is to attack the U.S. Army wherever she can find it, and she takes Elmer up on his offer to go with her to the nearest Army outpost he knows. Their plans become complicated when they discover that, as a result of the great Apache Geronimo’s curse on the white man, all the people of the surrounding areas have turned into zombies. Anonymous on imdb.

I have no complaints with this.  Not over-complicated, but it has enough events to warrant the 90 minute run time.  The problems come up when we start getting subplots, like the one of the priest in the town.  So much time was taken up by his plight, and in the end, nothing really came of it.  The zombies in the town don’t factor in at all to our main trio of characters and their finale.

Speaking the of climax, it’s awful.  The movie, as least from my viewing, ends like 5 times.  So many fade to blacks and dramatic last shots make it seem like the directors and writers didn’t know if they wanted to end the film with things not working out to well for our heroes, or with an open-ended sequel ready finish, or with a happy ending.  Instead we see all those endings, and then end up with a weird combination of all of them being our true, final end.

The ever-changing ending wasn’t helped by the film’s tone.  Undead or Alive goes from serious, to satirical, to goofball “national lampoon” comedy, to…I don’t even know.  Just when your settling in, thinking the flick is going to calm down and stick to one mood, your thrown completely off by Chris Kattan (of SNL fame) doing some 3 Stooges level physical comedy.  That makes it sound like I’m bashing Kattan’s performance here, and I’m not.  Kattan and Denton actually make this movie watchable, prying every morsel of fun and charm out of their onscreen persona’s as possible.  Sheriff Claypool is a great villain, and it was a shame that we didn’t see more of him, and less of Sue, the Indian woman and token female member of the outlaw set of Elmer and Luke.

The music in Undead or Alive really is the final blow however.  It just sucks.  There’s no way I can be eloquent about this.  A combination of a soundtrack and a score, it makes my head swirl with anger that they couldn’t just decide to have a score or a soundtrack, and then when they created a hybrid, the music was so annoying it nearly makes the scenes they are played in unwatchable.  If you want a lesson in how to let the audio completely ruin pieces of your film, watch Undead or Alive.

Ironically enough, the producers money that didn’t go into having a descent set of music to accompany their film, apparently went to having amazing special f/x, gore, and make up.  Zombie design is simple yet brilliant, and some of the kills are completely new to me.  Robert Kurtzman of famed KNB effects was the special effects adviser though, which explains why the f/x were so well done.

For the zombie completist, this is worth a rental if only see something new and different.  For all other interested parties, there are much better “zombedies” out there, such as Dead and Breakfast and Shaun of the Dead that deserve your time more than Undead or Alive.  For those waiting for the successful marriage of cowboys, Indians, and the walking dead, we will just have to wait some more.