Zombie Movie Review: The Dead

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Having been one of the lucky ones to see the World Premiere of The Dead (by the Ford Brothers) at the 2010 UK FrightFest festival it is my duty to review this little number, a movie I have been dying to see since catching the trailer a few months back.

Filmed on location mostly in the tiny African country of Burkina Faso, the story of The Dead follows two guys – one American military engineer Lt Brian Murphy and a local army Sargent Daniel Dembele – as they team up to help each other get across the country to find family and freedom from the zombie apocalypse. Yes, it’s a road movie folks. This is not a typical siege film, there are no mad scientists doing experiments on corpses, and there is no warring friends and family arguing about the best way to survive. No, this is just two smart, sensible, logical guys traveling several hundreds of miles together backing each other up along the way.

Despite a few debates along the lines of whether they should use their remaining water in a car radiator or keep it for themselves, these guys just get on with the job in hand – traveling as far as they can while still surviving. What was refreshing here is that both these chaps are completely sensible and rational. There is very limited ammo, fuel pumps are sparse to say the least and food comes in the form of wild chickens that have to be caught and cooked. Are you hungry? Dare you light a fire to cook your meat, risking the inevitable wave of zombies that will start to hone in on you?

The film also gets across fantastically the sheer terror of a plague of walking dead. There are no houses here to barricade yourself into, no stairs to climb, hell there aren’t even any walls to hide behind. Just trees, bushes and wide open plains. The Dead are always out there, always approaching, never tiring. How can you survive several days in this situation without the need to stop to sleep, drink or eat? If you stop the Zombies will still just keep on coming. And wow, do they come! A cast of hundreds of zombies, sometimes just individuals out in the background distance, sometimes in small groups, but they are always there every step of the journey.

What we have here is a movie straight out of the glory days of Fulci era 70s zombie movies. Ultra-slow moving creatures, beautiful scenery and some great sound effects. And not forgetting the gore, which – although involving some CGI – is used sparing and very effectively.

It’s a great zombie movie, and it’s refreshing to see one so realistically put together. Sure, it’s walking corpses, but everything else in there is totally believable. “Why don’t they just walk away? they’re only slow zombies” is a standard quote I’ve been known to hear about this genre. Well here that happens. Why waste ammo when you can just walk right past a lone shambling zombie? However that is only smart if it’s just one or two. If there are a dozen baring down on you then you’d start shooting.

If there is a criticism of this movie it’s that the pacing is so slow it does seem to drag at times. I’m sure this is an intentional decision on the part of the filmmakers but to shave 20 minutes out of this would have improved the attention span no end. Also the ending itself is not entirely satisfying, and has some downright daft moments too. But then this movie is all about the journey, not the destination.

Gore Score B-
Norks Score F
Originality Score C
Overall Score B

Zombie Movie Review: Zombeak

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Another day, another zombie animal movie. But Zombeak is not exactly in the same league as Black Sheep. The special effects team behind this one didn’t work on Lord of the Rings, the locations don’t involve the beautiful sprawling countryside, and the acting, editing, sound effects and vocal overdubs were not done with finesse or experience. No, Zombeak is straight out of the “I’ve got a stupid title, let’s try and bodge a movie idea into it” film school.

Usually when such a film plops onto my doorstep (which sadly happens via my own purchase) it’s a sign that I’m letting myself in for a boring evening’s movie viewing. However with Zombeak this wasn’t the case. Sure, it was a terrible movie by normal standards, but it was made with just the right amount of awful comedy, bad acting and ludicrous plot that it just seems to work.

Some stereotypical Goth Satanists have taken a young blonde lass hostage and are preparing to impregnate her by summoning the spirit of Satan himself into one of their number, who will then ravish the young lady in a reverse-exorcism ceremony. This is being helped along by using a dead chicken and some chanting to summon his horny lordship. While all this is going on, blondie’s fiance has rounded up the town’s single policeman and a local burger-bar manager to try to track her down. They all converge in an abandoned house interrupting the satanic ceremony, causing the Devil to transfer his soul by mistake into the sacrificed poultry carcass. Naturally all hell ensues with the zombie/demon/satanic chicken hunting down all the goths, rescuers and police and turning them in demonic zombies. Obviously there are some survivors of this chickenapocalypse, and it’s up to them to capture the chicken devil and put a stop to all this nonsense before it turns the whole town into zombie demons.

Yes, the plot is nonsense and it’s true that the speech seem to have been added over the visuals from a studio located in a cupboard, but it’s perfectly possible just to ignore such minor issues, especially considering that you shouldn’t be expecting ‘Lord of the Rings’ in a film called Zombeak.

The characters themselves really play up their roles (particularly the ‘crow’ looking goth dude who sadly gets little screen time himself) and the zombie chicken himself is fantastic. Also the direction for such an obviously cheap movie is actually quite polished. It’s not a movie to watch with anyone who’s been brought up with only Brad Pitt movies, but then DTV movies have never really been about all that Hollywood nonsense. At the end of the day if you only watch one zombie chicken movie, well, that should be Poultrygeist. But if you fancy watching a cheaper, less well made one with no lesbian musical numbers then you can do a lot worse that Zombeak.

Gore Score C-
Norks Score F
Originality Score C
Overall Score C

Zombie Movie Review: Zombies of War

AKA Horrors of War

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Sometimes I wonder just who is the idiot in situations like this. Is it the distributor, who took a poor 15 certificate film called ‘Horrors of War’, retitled it ‘Zombies of War’ to bandwagon onto the latest trend, and added a single 18 rated trailer onto the disc purely so that the certification on the box would then be upped to an 18… Or is it me, who was fully aware of this manipulative behaviour yet still went and paid money for it. I am sadly of the conclusion that the idiot is yours truly.

So “‘zombies’ of war”. By the look of things the film makers belonged to a WW2 re-enactment society as there are constant shots of old war vehicles all over the place. Maybe they just cobbled together a movie while they were messing about pretending to be George S. Patton? Well the movie they have put together involves a band of soldiers roaming around the woods (as seems to be the case in lots of cheap pointless zombie movies – you don’t have to pay for sets or even use any imagination, just find a random clearing every so often to shoot the next scene) until they come across a mysterious person, and it then cuts back to the barracks with the only survivor chatting to his general. It is a different mysterious person each time, sometimes a crude looking Nazi Zombie, sometimes a rubber masked Werewolf and sometimes the obligatory mad scientist of some kind.

These soldiers have a few arguments with each other, occasionally rape and shoot innocent civilian women, and one sometimes turns into a werewolf himself and roams around naked without anyone seeming to mind. The hordes of nazi zombies promised by the cover art and box synopsis do not exist. There are possibly only 1 or 2 individual revenants (depending on whether it’s just the same one turning up again), and Hitlers big plan to experiment with the Paranormal is just reduced down to one scientist in an old warehouse with a single serum of Re-animator agent who has created a couple of werewolves and zombies.

If I’m coming across as if I don’t really care about this film, then you’re right. It was several weeks ago that I saw it and just watching it again on 4x speed on DVD reminded me of the pointlessness of it all. It just came across as if it were a slightly pointless and boring war movie mixed in with a slightly pointless and boring horror movie.  It wasn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, and I did stick it out to the end to find out what the heck was actually going on, but I have no desire at all to watch it again and no inclination to recommend it to anyone. (Unless you have a fascination with WW2 tanks and latex werewolf masks). At least the 18 rated trailer was for the excellent Tokyo Gore Police, so I was at least reminded to re-watch that amazing movie. It doesn’t have zombies though, but then not everything is perfect.

Gore Score D
Norks Score F
Originality Score D
Overall Score D

Zombie Movie Review: Pontypool

This film is showing on Netflix Instant US. Visit Blog of the Living Dead for details.

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Let me set the scene. Somehow I had managed to get myself into the Girlfriends good books that night (I am not sure how) and she allowed me free choice over the DVD we were to watch. I suggested that is practically a license for me to choose something truly awful but she didn’t seem to mind that idea. This is unexpected. Zombie movies, indeed horror movies in general are not particularly her forte. I took this as being a ‘test’ of some sort, and decided not to try my luck. So, with that in mind I left ‘Zombeak’ on the shelf and went with a more recent purchase, and one less likely to be awful. Pontypool.

It’s an odd premise altogether. Set wholly within a radio studio and featuring almost no zombies at all, it just consists of a breakfast radio team who start hearing the reports of an outbreak in their sleepy town and begin reporting it over the airwaves, never quite sure if what they are reporting is actually true. We get treated to the odd phonecall from witnesses that sound pretty far-fetched, and even the UK’s BBC phones the studio to find out what’s happening, all the while nobody is quite sure what is fact or fiction.

Ok, it turns out it was pretty much true. Zombies are indeed on the rampage out in the town, and it’s up to the radio chaps to hanker down in the bunker-like studio and hope for the best, while still broadcasting the happenings when they can.

If you don’t know already, the cause of the outbreak is insinuated to be Language itself, and while never being totally pinned down as fact this is the assumption they make, and attempt to get around this slight issue by chatting to each other in French. For people who only speak a small amount of the language they sure do speak it good, almost as good as like what I does for English!

The main dude has one of the most fantastic voice I have ever heard, and I could just listen to him speak for hours. The claustrophobic location is a perfect setting for the preceedings to play out, and it’s a great idea to have the action almost soley conveyed by telephone and radio conversation, without it being seen. Sure, there are some action scenes set within the building – and they’re pretty gruesome – so if you’re after gore there is some going on here. However it is mostly about the performances of the lead 2 or 3 people. The only let-down is when they are joined by a Doctor in the studio, as his acting is pretty trashy and he seems to only exist to provide some exposition. Still, forgiving him that this is a great original zombie movie, and that is something to be praised.

Gore Score C
Norks Score F
Originality Score A
Overall Score A-

Zombie Movie Review: Re-animator

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There are some films that achieve a legendary status by school kids – often just for one specific scene – and usually when none of the kids have actually seen it. Re-animator is one such film. Hence my disappointment on actually watching it to find out that I had been lied to by my school chums, and the illustrious scene itself isn’t actually Herbert West using a decapitated head on himself. Why I would actually want to have seen that version though is a mystery to even myself, as in this proper one there are actual norks on show, and it doesn’t involve the ‘man thrusting his groin into a rubber head’ image I have had in my head all these years.

So I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit here, let’s get back to the actual movie and not my demented childhood dreams, shall we? I was reminded to watch this film when the guys over at The Gentleman’s Grindhouse podcast said they’d be reviewing it (they do a much better job of discussing the film than I could!) but being the tardy guy I am I never got around to watching it in-time for their show. I figured it was time I included it in this blog anyway as it’s a stone-cold classic, easily up there with Return of the Living Dead and Braindead. Oh yes, if you’ve never seen it before then it’s very much in that vein of things. Gory comedy gold.

I sat down to watch it with the GF who isn’t exactly the biggest fan of the genre, and she wasn’t particularly amused by the scene with the re-animated kitty which she thought was cruel beyond belief. However I love it, possibly just for the squeally cat noises and the fake puss around the neck effects! Still she stuck with it and was rewarded with some of the greatest gore scenes in zombie cinema. Impalement on a bonesaw, decapitation, scalping and strangulation by intestine are all present here, and all in a goretastic fasion! Although it is my 3rd or so viewing I had forgotten just how spectacularly gory this film is.

There is a plot in amongst all the gore and norks too. Herbert West has developed a serum which can bring the recently dead back to life. Or so he hypothesizes. Naturally it doesn’t work as planned, as is the case in ALL films which involve mad scientists, experiments and cadavers. (On second thoughts, perhaps we should discipline Re-animator for being partly – if not wholly – responsible for spawning such an onslaught of god-awful shockers in the mad-scientist-experimental-serum-zombie genre, damn there are some duffers in that pile!). Herbert and his lecturer Dr Hill are basically at odds with each other about the theoretic techniques of bringing the dead back to life, and it is these two bickering and fighting around which the whole film is structured. Herbert has the research and Dr Hill wants in on the action, and it doesn’t end particularly well for either party.

With gore a plenty, lots of nudity too and some great dead-pan acting throughout, Re-animator is not just a classic, it’s a classic that can be watched again and again, losing nothing with each re watch. The music is perfect too, and makes me wish for a bygone day when soundtracks were ‘composed’ and not just a compilation of trendy bands shoehorned into the background here and there. Heck, it’s only been about a week since I watched it and just writing this review up now makes me want to see it again.

Gore Score A
Norks Score B+
Originality Score B
Overall Score A