Tag Archives: zombie

Fantastic Fest – Survival of the Dead

George Romero, the grandfather of modern zombie cinema, was in attendance to show off his new movie Survival of the Dead.  It’s a spinoff of the recent “Diary of the Dead” and, like it, is completely independent.  He says he envisions doing a four movie series like the first “of the Dead” linked series (Night, Dawn, Day) but along this new, different storyline.

I am always of two minds about Romero.  He’s of course a seminal figure in the field, his first zombie movie especially was brilliant, and has spawned an entire genre.  But…  His ideas aren’t aging well, and it often seems to be more of the same, without the additional polish you would tend to hope would come to pass over a career spanning so many decades.  I’d use a geek analogy to Gary Gygax, co-creator and main popularizer of the Dungeons & Dragons game – yay, he created a lasting cultural icon, but then over the next three decades he kept regurgitating the same ideas without, really, much evolution and became less and less relevant.  (It’s a step better than the Linus Pauling syndrome, where someone who was brilliant in a given field picks up crackpot theories in another – Pauling was a brilliant chemist who gave us several important theories, especially on the nature of atoms, but later in life hooked in to the idea that megadoses of Vitamin C would cure anyone of anything and went onto the quack circuit.)

Anyway, Survival of the Dead, as I feared, has its good points but also has many weaknesses and inconsistencies.  It follows some ex-National Guardsmen gone wrong (and a sassy kid they pick up) as they go to an island rumored to be free of the undead, but instead run afoul of a family feud.  Romero said he was going for a Western feel with this one, but it felt like he briefed one set of actors (the islanders) on that and neglected to brief the other (the Guard) and it yielded an extremely inconsistent tone.  Furthermore, though generally “serious,” there are moments of camp, like one zombie kill where the cap of its skull spins around before coming to a rest on its neck-stump like something out of Army of Darkness.  Similarly, at times it seems like life is going on OK in the U.S. despite the zombie plagues – late night hosts joke about “deadheads” and the Internet is still working – but then it seems like every single location is infested with undead and completely unlivable.  The movie couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be and veered wildly between several different tones.

The nominal addition to the Living Dead mythos here is that one of the islander families doesn’t want to kill the zombies, but keep them around as revered ancestors; rationalizing it as maybe someone will find a cure one day.  This could be an interesting premise, but it ends up being incoherent – the family is “zombie ranching” on their farm but carelessly kills them plenty themselves.  Then they change their story to “trying to teach them to eat something besides people!”  But no matter how you look at it, that’s stupid and pointless.  First, teaching zombies to eat livestock would just denude the world of animals as well as humans.  Second, zombies don’t need to eat – they just kill and “eat” out of their bizarre undead natures.  It’s not like they can “fill up” on something – they’ll eat your dog and then eat you;  you’re not being used as food per se, it’s not like they get nutrition out of it.

In the end, the failure of this movie and the other more recent Dead movies can’t be blamed on budget – it’s the script, and an inability to craft a coherent narrative.

Fantastic Fest – Zombieland!

I’m having a hard time keeping up with blogging all of Fantastic Fest, mainly because I keep having a bad time getting an IP address on the theater’s wifi, but I didn’t want to wait to share with everyone what a total badass trip Zombieland is. Fantastic Fest hosted the world premiere of this new film, and director Ruben Fleischer and cast Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg (the kid from Adventureland) and Emma Stone (the chick from Superbad) were there. It was very crowd-pleasing here in Austin that the film starts with Eisenberg’s character travelling from his University of Texas-Austin dorm back to his home city of Columbus.

The four characters are pretty much the only people left alive after a massive viral “fast zombie” outbreak.  So as to not get too attached to each other, they don’t even use names, just their cities of origin – Harrelson is “Tallahassee,” a super violent zombie killer, Eisenberg is “Columbus,” Stone is “Wichita,” and Abigail Breslin (aka Nim and Kitt Kittredge), the little girl, is “Little Rock.”  If you’ve seen the trailer, you have the general tone of the film – zombie laced dark comedy.  It’s always a worry that the jokes in the trailer are “all the good parts” and what’s left over is boring – but not in this case; the duo of Harrelson and Eisenberg is funny every step of the way.

There’s a surprising amount going on; though there aren’t many breaks from the nonstop and entertaining wisecracking and/or zombie killing, each of the four human characters are clearly defined and have their own internal conflict and arc going on.  (There’s a fifth human character, in an awesome turn, but I’m not going to give away the surprise by telling you who.)

Eisenberg’s character refers frequently to his “rules” of survival in Zombieland, from Rule 1: Cardio, to Rule 17: Never be a hero.  The rules are dynamically superimposed on the screen throughout the movie, in a way that could have been been distracting but instead flows really well and adds to the humor.  It’s a very interesting and nonstandard effect.

The action and zombie kills are bad ass, melding comedy and brutality seamlessly, whether it’s death by banjo, carnival ride, car door, toilet tank cover, hedge clippers…  It never quite goes over the line to pure camp, however, allowing you to stay “in the moment” with the cast of characters.  It’s also very interesting to just have the four characters to deal with – besides zombies and Surprise Person #5, it’s all these four actors all the time, which lends itself to a economy of scene that eliminates distractions and keeps the focus on their interaction.

The characters are not a terribly reflective bunch; first Tallahassee and Columbus meet and decide to stick together even though the former can tell the latter is “kind of a bitch.”  They get grifted by the two chicks but all end up travelling together, with various vague ends in mind – they’re not seriously planning for the long term; you get the impression that they have some things they’d like to see and do but pretty much the fall of civilization has resulted in them just not giving too much of a shit about anything any more.  There’s several scenes where the characters destroy things (like an Indian kitsch store in Arizona) pretty much just because they can.  Part of the development of the movie is them being able to learn to even give a shit about each other, their few remaining fellow humans.  They’ve all learned habitual distrust of others, as some might expect when the end comes.

The characters were well balanced, at least the main three (they didn’t make as much use of Breslin as they could have), but Harrelson really steals the show with his character’s exuberance and little twists – he’s always seeking the last Twinkie; he always paints a Dale Earnheart “3” on the sides of his appropriated Mad Max-mobiles; he really loves killing zombies in as hand to hand a way as possible…

The crowd went insane for this movie; it’s destined to become a horror-comedy gold standard.  A comparison to Shaun of the Dead is inevitable; I love both movies but they are quite different – Zombieland is a lot more energetic overall – more high-flying action; still a buddy comedy with a romantic element but a lot more – well, American; direct in humor and action sensibility.

So in summary – I loved it, all who saw it loved it, you will love it.

Zombie Strippers!

 Whenever a new zombie movie comes out, I host a Zombiefest at my house!  Zombie drinks, movies, and games and then an outing to see the movie.  In this case – a new movie with Jenna Jameson and Freddy (Robert Englund) entitled Zombie Strippers!  That’s about as close to a perfect movie as you can get really.  As a lead-in, I’m thinking Fido

As an aside, I love the Internet.