Archive for the Zombie Movies Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on a bestselling book, Film Scores, Movie Music, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , on July 2, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 1 of 2)

If you’ve seen any of the following movies…

  • ·         SCREAM (1997)
  • ·         MIMIC (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 2 (1998)
  • ·         THE FACULTY (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 3 (2000)
  • ·         THE WATCHER (2000)
  • ·         DRACULA 2000 (2000)
  • ·         ANGEL EYES (2001)
  • ·         JOY RIDE (2001)
  • ·         RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
  • ·         BLADE II (2002)
  • ·         TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)
  • ·         HELLBOY (2004)
  • ·         I, ROBOT (2004)
  • ·         FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (2004)
  • ·         RED EYE (2005)
  • ·         LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)
  • ·         3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
  • ·         THE HURT LOCKER (2008)
  • ·         MAX PAYNE (2009)
  • ·         SOUL SURFER (2011)
  • ·         SCREAM 4 (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012)
  • ·         WARM BODIES (2013)
  • ·         A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

…then you’ve also heard the music of Marco Beltrami.

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami

To date, he has scored almost sixty films and a number of television shows, in just about every genre.  Mr. Beltrami is recognized not only by the sheer abundance of his résumé, however; he was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Film Score for his respective work on 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) and THE HURT LOCKER (2008).

Earlier this year, he’d scored the “romantic zombedy” WARM BODIES (partnered with fellow composer/producer Buck Sanders), as well as the latest adventure of John McClane (Bruce Willis), A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  This fall, moviegoers will also hear Mr. Beltrami’s music in the CARRIE remake, as well as in the post-apocalyptic snowbound train thriller SNOWPIERCER.

At present, however, moviegoers will be thrilled with the double-assault of two big summer tent pole films featuring Mr. Beltrami’s work, WORLD WAR Z and THE WOLVERINE.  Mr. Beltrami was kind enough to carve some time out of his busy schedule for an interview about his music in these films.

***

Part One: WORLD WAR Z

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This is the story of the end of the world in the rise of a zombie apocalypse, and humankind’s attempts to end the threat.  A former UN investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), is forced to leave his family to help in the war against the undead

BLD: This movie, as just about everybody knows, faced an unusually long and bumpy ride in its production.  When did you become involved?  And did you have to keep up with any of its final changes (including the filming of an entirely different ending)?

MT: I started a year ago, last October.  We had a movie to work from, to look at, to get ideas from.  They had some additional photography they were doing, and some reshoots and stuff, and during that period, I stopped working, because there was no picture to work on.

BLD: So during all the reshoots, did you have to just sit and wait, or did you try to keep working at the score on the side?

MB:  It’s a long time to be on a film, and plenty of times (I had) ideas as the footage came in.  It actually wasn’t that long of a time; I already had things fleshed out for some scenes, but in terms of getting things written, it was time consuming, and the picture was not really locked (because) even then things were changing.  So it turned out to be a short schedule for something that was a long process.

BLD: Was it hard to stay focused, or did you have a general plan that you stuck to?

MB:  No, I had ideas.  We had a really good music editor that guided us on it, John Finklea, and he really stayed in close with the editorial team and the producers and was able to get a good sense of what they were looking for.  There were different people involved, creatively, and anytime there’s more than one person involved, it becomes a little bit of a translation thing, to figure out what exactly is the common ground for everybody.  (John) was really instrumental in deciphering that and helping the process go smooth.

BLD: This film focuses largely upon one particular person (Brad Pitt) and his plights in the zombie uprising.  How did you approach that dynamic of individual empathy against the backdrop of worldwide horror and survival?

MB:  For me, the story was at once epic, but also intimate.  There’s a universal nature to a horrific thing that’s going on.  There’s also the very personal nature of this guy, Brad Pitt’s character, trying to save his family.  The interesting thing is where these (plots) intersect, because thematically, I think the same themes can play for both, because every man’s journey is the journey of mankind.  Sometimes it became a question of instrumentation and orchestration.  There’s a thematic continuity between the epicness and the intimacy.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

BLD: Did you incorporate, or even create, any unusual instruments for the score?

MB:  The original thought of the score was that it would (follow) the first scene in Philadelphia, when all hell breaks loose and things are going bad (and it) cuts to this  emergency tone.  It always did, from the first time I saw the picture.  When Buck (Sanders, composer) and I first looked at it, we thought it’d be really cool to use that emergency broadcast signal as a musical start, or like a motive, from which everything else could be derived.  So we began to research what was involved in that, and it turns out that the pitches were something that can be used melodically as well, so that became a basis for much of the music.

The other thing that we thought would be neat, rhythmically, was the nature of zombies using their teeth, so we needed something that related to that.  It turns out that there’s a… (laughs) Actually, Tommy Lee Jones told me about this; I remember I was talking to him, and he told me that in Texas they have these wild pigs called javalinas which actually communicate with their teeth.  So I did a little bit of research, and so that became a pretty important part.  I figured it might be neat to have all the rhythmic parts derived from these jawbones, or these teeth gnashing together; so when we recorded in London, that was something I focused on.

The skulls used in the score.

The skulls used in the score.

BLD: Sometimes a film falls into one particular genre, but the composer approaches it with a different angle.  (For instance, Christopher Young scored the original HELLRAISER as a twisted romance).  How did you approach WORLD WAR Z?

MB:  From these melodic and rhythmic approaches, everything else could be derived.  At heart it’s very simple.  One of the challenges on it was that there was this idea of the intimate versus the epic.  There was the thought that, on one hand, the score should be a biblical, sweeping score, and on the other hand, it’s something much smaller, where you hear the rosin on the bow kind of thing, to give it that urgency and immediacy, and aggressiveness.

So this was the first time I had ever done this, but I actually recorded the score two different ways, in two different studios, one at Abbey Road, which was a bigger group, and simultaneously we also recorded at a smaller place called British Grove, and there we were able to experiment a little bit more with the sounds, and the more aggressive sound of the orchestra.  The sound engineer, John Kurlander, was then able to mix all the elements together, and take advantage of both the smaller and the bigger scores and mix them together in a neat way.  So that was, at least for me, a greater approach, this idea for the score.

WORLD WAR Z is in theaters everywhere now.

(END OF PART 1)

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a bestselling book, Cinema Knife Fights, Disease!, Horror, Medical Experiments!, The Future, Thrillers, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

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(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?

LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.

MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.

LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.

MA: Hmm.  I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything.  Make that two, please.

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)

LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.

MA:  I detect an edge in your voice.  Tired of zombie apocalypses?

LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?

MA:  Not really.  I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.

LS:  Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.

MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.

LS: Good for you.

In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.

There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.

MA:  I enjoyed this plot point.  I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly.  That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect. 

LS:  The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.

Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.

Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.

MA:  No, that one wasn’t.

(The seat in front of them shakes violently).

MA:  Hey, take it easy up there, will you? 

LS:  What’s his problem?

MA:  No idea.  (Strange grunting is heard)  Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts.  Anyway, you were saying?

LS:  WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.

MA:  Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.

LS:  But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.

MA:  Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one.  It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket.  I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time.  Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex!  It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D.  I saw it in 2D.  I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.

Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.

LS:  I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!

Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.

MA:  I agree.  Pitt is very good here. 

And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time.  But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch.  That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.

MA:  Yes, I liked Enos, too.  I liked Daniella Kertesz even better.  She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process. 

LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.

MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni. 

I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization.  As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes.  It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.

LS:  And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.

MA:  I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes.  I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.

There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie.  I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat.  The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.

LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.

MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic.  Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel.  But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it.  Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.

LS:  But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?

MA:  I don’t think that’s the most important question.  I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies.  It’s because of characters.

LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.

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(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.

(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)

MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.

LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?

MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.

LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.

(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)

MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him):  Hey!  Want to keep it down?  We’re trying to review a movie here!

LS: Rude bastard.

(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly.  LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)

MA:  Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.

LS:  Why not?  They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.

MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film.  So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?

LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

MA:  Really?   I wasn’t.  But continue.

LS:  Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.

They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.

MA:  Yes, I agree about the swarming.  That was different.  But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie.  I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z.  To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.

LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.

Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.

WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.

MA:  I disagree.  I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD

LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.

MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt.  But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable.  They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough.  I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.

But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt.  He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie.  Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic.  Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.

As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish.  While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.

The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however.   As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!”  I didn’t find it stupid.  I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. 

Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it.  It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud!  Why isn’t it scary?  But it is suspenseful and engaging. 

LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.

MA: I also give it three knives.

(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)

LS: Uh oh.

MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu.  (to zombies)  Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)

(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).

MA: Now, what?

(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)

MA:  What are these for?

LS:  To bash in some zombie brains, of course!

MA:  Things are going to get mighty messy. 

(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!

 

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Friday Night Knife Fights Presents: SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND – Part 3 (of 3)

Posted in 2013, Friday Night Knife Fights, Horror-Comedies, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , on April 26, 2013 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) vs. ZOMBIELAND (2009)
PART 3 (of 3)
With Michael Arruda, L. L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund

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MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights.  Tonight it’s Part 3 of our battle of the zombie comedies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND.

So far, SHAUN OF THE DEAD has opened up a very wide lead, as it’s ahead of ZOMBIELAND by a score of 4 rounds to 1.

PAUL MCMAHON:  As it should be.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a much better movie than ZOMBIELAND.

ARRUDA:  Says you.  But that’s what we’re here to decide.

Once again, L.L. Soares and I are joined by Dan Keohane, ZOMBIELAND hater Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund.  Thank you all for joining us tonight.  We’ve got a great panel, and tonight’s the night that we conclude the debate.  Even though SHAUN OF THE DEAD has a comfortable lead, there’s still time for ZOMBIELAND to make a comeback.

Okay, it’s on to Round 6.  

Which movie has the better screenplay?  Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick for ZOMBIELAND, or Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright for SHAUN OF THE DEAD?

SHERI SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL: ZOMBIELAND has a better screenplay, I would say.

The plot is less predictable than that of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. As I mentioned, I like SHAUN, but ZOMBIELAND is written better and executed more effectively.

The ending of SHAUN seemed a little odd. Life kind of goes back to normal. It doesn’t really ring true. At the end of ZOMBIELAND, the characters are changed, but there’s no illusion that things go back to “normal.”

MCMAHON:  This is so obviously SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

If you take the zombies away, Shaun was the story of a man whose life was crumbling under his own complacency. He embarked on a journey to win back his girl, distance himself from his mooch of a best friend, make amends with his mom and stepdad and generally “sort his life out.” The zombies made the film awesome, but they weren’t the main focus.

ARRUDA:  Come on!  Do you really think without zombies SHAUN OF THE DEAD would stand as having a decent story?  I don’t think so.  Take away the zombies and you’re left with a bunch of losers fighting over pub food.

MCMAHON:  It’s a better story than ZOMBIELAND.

In ZOMBIELAND, you had one putz following the standard zombie movie plot by searching for his family, you had two brainless putzettes who believed zombies wouldn’t enter amusement parks, and then you had the biggest putz of all on a nationwide hunt for Twinkies snack cakes. Take the zombies out and you’ve got squat.

ARRUDA:  I wouldn’t want to take the zombies out of either movie, actually.  But I think the characters in ZOMBIELAND are just as satisfying as the characters in SHAUN, perhaps more so since they’re so over the top.

MCMAHON:  Nah.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD by a landslide.

ARRUDA:  Well, I think both screenplays work.  Both are hilariously funny, and both manage to be excellent zombie movies to boot. 

How to choose?  While this one may seem too close to call at first, after thinking about it— now don’t fall out of your chair, Paul— but I give the edge to Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright for SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  Their screenplay works from beginning to end. 

MCMAHON:  I told you.

ARRUDA:  While I enjoy Reese and Wernick’s ZOMBIELAND screenplay, their story runs out of steam somewhat as the movie approaches its final act at the amusement park.  And the Bill Murray scenes, while funny the first time, didn’t hold up as well upon further viewing.

L.L. SOARES:  I think both scripts are good. But I think SHAUN is a little smarter.

ARRUDA:  SHAUN OF THE DEAD wins Round 6.  Our updated score is SHAUN 5, ZOMBIELAND 1.

It’s time now for the seventh and final round.

And since ZOMBIELAND is so far behind, the only way now that it could win this contest would be by a knockout.  A knockout occurs when one movie sweeps the round, meaning all the panel members vote for the same movie.  Something tells me, though (looks at Paul McMahon) that that’s not going to happen today.

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Anyway, on to Round 7.  Which one is the better movie?

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  They may both be horror comedies, but the movies are very different from one another. 

I did like ZOMBIELAND, overall, enjoying immensely the title sequence using Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

I thoroughly enjoyed both movies and would watch either one again.  The acting and directing were superb in both.  I will give SHAUN OF THE DEAD a slight edge here, however because the characters just feel more real to me.  I do appreciate the fact that it doesn’t go full-on apocalypse, so it’s a bit different than most zombie films. 

So my pick for which one of the two is the better film goes to SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

DAN KEOHANESHAUN OF THE DEAD is a quieter, more subtle film that builds the laugh, and tension, as it goes along, and breaks as many of the zombie “rules” as it celebrates. It’s a British film, so the humor and social references are, well, British. If you’ve never been able to get into their sense of humor, you’d probably say ZOMBIELAND was better, especially as an American film – jumps right into the action, with in your face jokes and humor (and American cultural references – “Twinkies” versus “crisps” for example).

I love British humor as much as American. So my pick would probably depend on my mood at the time.  Yes, this is a long-winded, borderline pompous way of saying, “Neither, they’re just as funny in their own way.”

My final pick:  I call it a draw.  It’s a tie.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I think ZOMBIELAND is an overall better film. The plot works better for me.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD suffers, I think, because the first half of the film is largely expositional. Sure, in ZOMBIELAND, we have “the Rules,” which are expositional, but it’s done in such a funny way that we hardly notice.

SOARES: Yeah, “the Rules” were clever.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL: In ZOMBIELAND, we don’t know much about the characters, and we learn about them as they learn about each other. The problem with SHAUN OF THE DEAD is that by the end we can kind of figure out what’s going to happen because it’s all been set up for us.

My choice for the better film is ZOMBIELAND.

ARRUDA:  This one is a very difficult question to answer.  I tend to prefer ZOMBIELAND because I prefer its in-your-face zombie style to the more reserved British humor of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but does that make it a better movie?

I’m not sure.

I think the acting in both movies is equally as good, although I prefer the cast in ZOMBIELAND, so I give a slight acting edge to ZOMBIELAND.  Both directors do phenomenal jobs, but I think Ruben Fleischer is a bit more creative with his style, so again I give the edge to ZOMBIELAND.  I give a slight writing edge to SHAUN, but again the scripts are both terrific.

Based on this model, ZOMBIELAND wins two of the three rounds, so heck, I’m going with ZOMBIELAND.  I choose ZOMBIELAND as the better movie.

MCMAHON (to Michael and Sheri):  Poor misguided souls, the both of you.

Do I have to say this yet again?

SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I’ve seen it twelve times at least.

ARRUDA:  I’m so very happy for you.  What do you want? A medal?

SOARES:  Hey, don’t be rude to our guests!  That’s my department! 

MCMAHON:  In all the time since I watched ZOMBIELAND, I have not once wanted to go back and see it again. The only reason I did was to refresh my memory of it for these answers. I’m still underwhelmed. Without George A. Romero, SHAUN OF THE DEAD wouldn’t exist. Without SHAUN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIELAND wouldn’t exist. Winner: SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Can you tell I hated ZOMBIELAND?

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I’m beginning to see that, yes.

WANGLUND:  You’ve made it loud and clear.

KEOHANE:  And yet there’s still a modicum of obscurity, a morsel of doubt.  I’m not sure.

MCMAHON:  Very funny.

SOARES:  So it’s my turn, huh? What’s the best movie? Well, that’s very subjective, isn’t it? I would say, from a quality standpoint, SHAUN OF THE DEAD has the edge. But as to “What movie did I enjoy more?” Which movie do I personally like better, that’s more neck and neck.

I guess a good yardstick is which one would you watch again, and my answer this time around is neither. I like both of these movies, but I don’t love them. If I was channel surfing and found one of them, I might watch it, but I wouldn’t consciously sit down and watch one of them from start to finish again. I’m just not that big a fan of most zombie movies.

If I was going to rewatch any zombie flick, it would be either one of Romero’s classics or an especially good episode of THE WALKING DEAD. That’s about it.

So that means I’m the tie-breaker here. Colleen and Paul went with SHAUN. While Michael and Sheri went with ZOMBIELAND. And while I am sort on the fence, I refuse to take the easy way out like Keohane did and call it a tie.

I would say that, as far as pure enjoyment, and both of these films are meant to be entertaining above all else, I would have to go with ZOMBIELAND.

ARRUDA: Oh my God, I think it’s an upset! That means three votes ZOMBIELAND,  two votes SHAUN OF THE DEAD and one tie for Round 7 – which is the Knockout Round.

MCMAHON (to SOARES): I don’t believe you just did that, you bastard.

SOARES: Blame Keohane. He couldn’t make up his mind.

****

ARRUDA (reads the rule book): Errr.. not so fast. I just read the rules. The final knock-out round has to be unanimous. So ZOMBIELAND didn’t win after all.

SOARES: Dammit! I thought it was just whatever won the final round wins by TKO. That’s a stupid rule! If one movie is ahead all the way through, the chances of everyone unanimously agreeing to the other movie in the final round is pretty much impossible.

(Takes rule book from ARRUDA and rips out that page)

ARRUDA: Actually, you’re right, that probably is never going to happen. I guess it is a stupid rule. But, we can’t just change the rules at the last minute.

So here’s the solution. From this point on, the Knockout Round does not have to be unanimous. If a movie is ahead, but the other one wins the final round, then it wins by TKO, unanimous or not. That will make things more interesting.

But for this contest, we really should stick with the original rules.

MCMAHON (jumping up and down): So that means….SHAUN OF THE DEAD WINS!

ARRUDA: It sure looks that way.

MCMAHON: Yay! Now I don’t have to hang myself.

ARRUDA: Which movie is the zombie comedy champion of the world?  Well, tonight, it’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD!

On behalf of L.L. Soares, Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Colleen Wanglund, I’m Michael Arruda saying so long and thanks for joining us on Friday Night Knife Fights.  We’ll see you again next time.

(In the background, PAUL MCMAHON is chasing L.L. SOARES around with an axe)

MCMAHON: How dare you scare the bejeesus out of me like that!

ARRUDA: Good night everybody!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri-Sebastian-Gabriel and Colleen Wanglund

Friday Night Knife Fights: SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND – PART 2 (OF 3)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Friday Night Knife Fights, Horror, Horror-Comedies, Spoofs, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2013 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) vs. ZOMBIELAND (2009) – PART 2 (of 3)
With Michael Arruda, L. L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund

Bienvenidos_a_Zombieland-565000159-large-e1339351714563

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights. Tonight it’s Part 2 of the great zombie comedy debate, as our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters takes on the daunting task of pitting SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND. Once again, L.L. Soares and I are joined by Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund. Thanks all for being here, and thank you readers for joining us tonight.

Last Friday, in Part 1 of this debate, Rounds 1 and 2 went to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which now leads ZOMBIELAND by a score of 2-0. This bout has a total of seven rounds, and by the end of those rounds, we hope to declare a winner and be able to choose which one of these zombie comedies is the better movie.

On to Round 3. Which movie treats the horror genre with more respect? 

Okay, Paul, since we already know which movie you’ll be picking, since you’ve made it clear that you hate ZOMBIELAND, we’ll start with you.

MCMAHON:  Definitely SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA:  What a surprise!

MCMAHON:  Aside from it being its own story, there were plenty of homages to George A. Romero’s DEAD movies. From ‘Foree Electronics’ to Ed’s line “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!,” to the argument between Tim and Ed about whether it’s okay to say the ‘Zed’ word.

Reuben Fleischer saw SHAUN OF THE DEAD and decided he could make a zombie comedy, too. That makes ZOMBIELAND  nothing more than a SHAUN knock-off. A top-shelf knock-off, but still a knock-off. Fleischer’s movie rewards ignorance and stupidity, just like we do in this country these days.

ARRUDA:  Ouch!  No need to get political now.

MCMAHON:  I think that inclusion was accidental rather than a considered, purposeful Romero-esque social commentary of our time.

By far, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is more respectful of the horror genre.

ARRUDA:  Well, it’s more respectful of the Romero zombie movies, anyway.

SOARES: Let’s face it, Romero zombie movies – especially the first three –  are the gold standard for zombie horror movies. So it’s pretty much the same thing.

MA: Dan, what about you?

KEOHANE:  They’re both spoofs, of course, but—.

SOARES:  Did you watch the movie this time, Dan?  Do you know it has zombies in it?

KEOHANE (puts on his dark sunglasses):  I see dead people.

Anyway, overall, I think SHAUN has a level up on the horror scale, since you have more of a threat to characters, more a sense of danger especially in the pub scene, than in the chaotic, silly world of ZOMBIELAND’s amusement park.

ARRUDA:  Funny, though, when I re-watched ZOMBIELAND for purposes of this column, I found it less silly than I remembered it. I mean, it has its goofy bits of course, like the whole Twinkie thing, but I found it edgier than I remember.

SOARES:  Dan, give those glasses to Michael. ZOMBIELAND, edgy?  It’s about as edgy as a Twinkie!

(KEOHANE hands dark glasses to ARRUDA who promptly puts them away.)

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  Would you like the walking stick, too?

ARRUDA:  No, I think I’m good. Actually, on second thought, I will take the walking stick. (SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL hands ARRUDA the walking stick.)  This might come in handy later. (Waves it at SOARES.) 

So, Sheri, what are your thoughts on which one is more respectful of the genre?

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:    Both films do the horror genre proud, I think. They both poke just a bit of fun at the genre without showing any disrespect.

WANGLUND:  Ditto.

SOARES:  You two need to be more disagreeable.

Anyway, I don’t think either one is disrespectful. But I think it’s pretty obvious that SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the one that has more affection and respect for the genre.

ARRUDA:  I think both films treat the genre with respect, and I don’t see either one as dissing horror films. But I give the edge to ZOMBIELAND because at times it worked more as a straight horror film. I empathized with the characters more in ZOMBIELAND, and I was concerned for their safety, even during the silly amusement part scene. I didn’t really feel this way watching SHAUN OF THE DEAD, because I was too busy laughing. I find this amusing because it’s the SHAUN OF THE DEAD characters who die, while the ZOMBIELAND characters survive. SHAUN did such a good job building its comedic world, I never took it seriously.

So, the Round 3 tallies are in, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD wins 3-1, with two abstentions.

Which means SHAUN wins Round 3.

Okay, after three rounds it’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD 3 and  ZOMBIELAND  0 so far.

****

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA: On to Round 4.- Which movie has the better cast?   I’ll answer this one first.

I prefer the ZOMBIELAND cast. I like the four principal leads, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. This quartet is more effective than Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield and friends.

Plus ZOMBIELAND has Bill Murray playing himself in one of the movie’s goofier segments. Even though I agree with Paul that this sequence is overrated, it’s still fun to see Murray.

I like Simon Pegg A LOT in SHAUN as the normal guy caught up in the zombie apocalypse, but I like Jesse Eisenberg almost as much in the same type of role. But in addition to Eisenberg, ZOMBIELAND also has tough guy Woody Harrelson, tough babe Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. While I like the supporting cast of SHAUN, they’re not quite as good as the Fab Four from ZOMBIELAND.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I agree with Michael.

I like Simon Pegg and his gang, but you can’t beat Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee for sheer bad-assery. Harrelson brings a touch of carefree sexiness to the film that SHAUN just doesn’t have. I can certainly appreciate that Shaun manages to overcome his hopelessness and pull himself out of his rut, but having two pathetic guys in one zombie battle is a little redundant.

MCMAHON:  You’re both wrong.

Simon Pegg and crew had some difficult scenes, and they did a fantastic job nailing every emotion called for. The standoff between Shaun and David toward the end was particularly intense.

In ZOMBIELAND, the plot came to a halt for a spell while the characters revealed where they came from and what they’d been through. I saw Tallahassee’s big “reveal” coming a mile away… possibly because I’d recently watched the final M*A*S*H episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which used the same narrative sleight of hand. While Harrelson did okay with the scene, it wasn’t enough to overshadow the acting in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD clearly has the better cast.

SOARES:  I have to go with ZOMBIELAND for this one. While I liked Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in SHAUN, I can’t name anyone else who was in it. All the major characters in ZOMBIELAND are good and memorable, and work as an ensemble. So it’s ZOMBIELAND for me.

KEOHANE:  Personally, I think they’re both top-notch. I became a Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes fan because of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and later their brilliant SPACED television series (1999-2001).

I’ve always enjoyed Eisenberg and Harrelson (and more recently Emma Stone) in anything they’ve done, or at least anything of theirs I’ve seen. They may have sucked in something I simply haven’t watched yet.

I’m calling this one even.

WANGLUND:  SHAUN OF THE DEAD was co-written by and stars Simon Pegg, a British actor who clearly brings his dry sense of humor to the film. Pegg plays a regular guy dealing with some typical issues that most people can relate to when the zombie outbreak occurs.

Most of the cast was unknown to American audiences, and I appreciated that because no one is safe.

zombieland_ver3

ZOMBIELAND has a fairly well-known cast that portrays the characters almost to the extreme of their types. Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee takes pleasure in destroying zombies while Jesse Eisenberg is like a scared little boy who you have wonder how he has survived at all (I very much like his “rules”). Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin’s con-artist sisters are believable in terms of how you may have to survive, but I think the characters aren’t as relatable as they are in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I did like the cameo appearance by Bill Murray which was funny and sad at the same time.

But overall I’m going with the cast of SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA:  So, ZOMBIELAND wins Round 4 with a score of 3 -2 with one tie, which means after four rounds, our score is SHAUN OF THE DEAD 3 and ZOMBIELAND 1.

****

ARRUDA: On to Round 5.   Which director does better job, Ruben Fleischer on ZOMBIELAND or Edgar Wright on SHAUN OF THE DEAD?

SOARES:  I think they both do a fine job. I’ve liked other things Edgar Wright has done, and I noticed that one Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie that Wright didn’t direct – PAUL (2011)– was painfully unfunny. So, because I just like Edgar Wright better overall as a director, I give the slight edge to him.

WANGLUND:  Edgar Wright, who co-wrote and directed SHAUN OF THE DEAD does a great job keeping the pace of the comedy while still keeping the zombie threat very real and very scary. The end of the film is bittersweet as so many of Shaun’s friends and family do not survive, but life has been able to continue.

I think ZOMBIELAND director Reuben Fleischer did a good job balancing the comedy with the very real horror of a zombie apocalypse.

The directing was superb in both. Even Steven again.

ARRUDA:  While I agree that both directors do a good job, I give the slight edge to Ruben Fleischer. I like the energy he brings to the pacing of ZOMBIELAND. Some scenes are downright frenetic. I also like the creative gimmick of the words superimposed on the screen where Eiesenberg’s Columbus lays out his rules to live by. Sure, this isn’t original, we’ve seen this type of thing before, but it still works here.

But Edgar Wright utilizes a lot of creative touches in SHAUN OF THE DEAD as well.

This one’s very close but I give the edge to Fleischer. Advantage, ZOMBIELAND.

MCMAHON:  From the very first shots of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, you know Edgar Wright is bringing his A-game. A seemingly intimate conversation between Tim and Liz is revealed through camera angles to be happening at a table crowded with their friends. Also, I loved the pre-zombie and post-zombie mirroring of Shaun’s trip to the corner store for a Coke and a Cornetto.

ZOMBIELAND tried to copy the sense of fun by using title cards to keep track of Columbus’s rules for survival, and that was cute, but felt heavy handed to me. Almost like Ruben Fleischer wanted to be sure we knew he was making a comedy.

Winner: SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I’m siding with Colleen on this one. Superb direction by both guys.

KEOHANE (feigning ignorance):  Which movies are we discussing again?  Seriously, this one’s too close to call.

SOARES: Yeah, I notice people are saying “both” to a lot of these questions. These two movies are just too close – they’re both decent comedies about zombies. It’s just not a very exciting contest to me, because there’s no real conflict here.

ARRUDA:  I disagree.  I’d much rather have a close contest like this than something like SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. SCARY MOVIE 5.  Where would the fun be in that?  Competition is supposed to be evenly matched.  Otherwise it’s not much of a contest.

All right, then, there you have it. Round 5 goes to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, with a score of 2-1 and 3 ties. Which means our tally after 5 rounds is SHAUN OF THE DEAD 4 and ZOMBIELAND 1. But ZOMBIELAND could still pull a surprise win out of its hat in PART 3.

That’s all the time we have for PART 2. Join us next Friday night for the final two rounds, the exciting conclusion to our debate of SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND. Don’t forget, ZOMBIELAND still has a chance.

So long for now!

—END PART 2—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri-Sebastian-Gabriel and Colleen Wanglund

 

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Exotic Locales, Foreign Films, Gore!, Horror, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In 2004, SHAUN OF THE DEAD gave us a horror comedy that hit all the right notes. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gave us a “dead on” comedy firmly planted in the world of the zombies created by George A. Romero in such classic films as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The reason why it was so brilliant is because it was so well-versed in the world Romero created and played off that smartly.

SHAUN opened the floodgates for other zombie comedies. Some of them have been pretty forgettable, others like 2009’s ZOMBIELAND, have given us clever riffs on similar material. And now, along comes JUAN OF THE DEAD (aka JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS),  a zombie comedy that comes from (and is set in) modern day Cuba. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Quite well, actually.

Directed by Alejandro Brugues, JUAN OF THE DEAD begins with Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on a raft, fishing. They catch a strange-looking fish that turns out to be a dead body. But it suddenly lifts its horrific head and tries to bite them! Lazaro shoots a harpoon through its skull, and the friends agree to keep this a secret.

But not long afterward, they find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation in Havana!

As zombies fill the streets, Juan and Lazaro decide it’s time to take a stand—they start a service where they hire themselves out to kill zombies. They are joined by Lazaro’s son, Vladi California (Andros Perugorria), a young hippie lady’s man, as well as a transvestite named La China (Jazz Vila) and her hulking boyfriend, El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez). They all have their special weapons: Juan uses paddles from his raft, Lazaro has machetes, El China has a slingshot and El Primo uses his fists—and, because he faints at the sight of blood—El China blindfolds him and has to lead him around.

There’s also Juan’s daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro) who is visiting from Miami where she lives with her mother. She hasn’t seen Juan in years and picks the worst possible time to come visiting. Of course, as the movie progresses, we find out that Camila, who Juan is always trying to protect, is as tough as he is.

The name of their enterprise becomes “Juan of the Dead” quite by accident (it’s the way Vladi answers their ancient-looking telephone the first time they get a job). They are soon being hired to go to rich people’s houses to exterminate their loved ones, and hotels to get rid of occupants who are no longer breathing.

Juan and friends look for work during a zombie apocalypse in JUAN OF THE DEAD.

There are lots of scenes of Juan and his friends getting in bloody brawls with zombies, so there’s lots of gore. They also meet some interesting characters along the way, including a gun-toting preacher who only speaks English (albeit with a thick Cuban accent) and who no one else can communicate with (they only know Spanish). And, at one point, the gang is apprehended by soldiers who order them to take their clothes off and they are chained together in the back of a transport vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners turns out to be a zombie, which leads to chaos.

The movie has its share of laughs. One scene came toward the end involves Lazaro telling Juan he has been bitten by a zombie and won’t make it to morning. It sounds pretty intense, but it turns out to be pretty funny.

It’s also interesting to get to see Havana, which was obviously a beautiful city once, but is now rundown and crumbling. We don’t get to see real Cuban locales on film very often, but I hope JUAN OF THE DEAD won’t be the last movie we get from Cuba anytime soon.

It’s a good cast, and Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a lot of heart in the lead role. While I didn’t think it was as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I thought it was a fresh take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it’s worth checking out.

I give JUAN OF THE DEAD ~ three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JUAN OF THE DEAD ~three knives.

FIDO (2006)

Posted in 2012, 50s Horror, Cult Movies, Indie Horror, Innovative Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by knifefighter

FIDO (2006)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Ah, the Fifties, a psychologically fascinating time. WWII is over and there is money and happiness to go around. In FIDO, WWII has been replaced by “The Z War,” but the result is the same. After almost a decade of living with their consciousness stuffed full of worry and death and horror, the American people focus on happy thoughts and hide away anything that makes them uncomfortable. Life is about presentation. How you look to your neighbors means absolutely everything.

FIDO opens with a very Fifties-looking Public Service Announcement (PSA) detailing the meteor that re-animated all the Earth’s corpses and spurred the Zombie War. We learn about Dr. Reinhold Geiger, who discovered that if you destroyed the brain, you destroyed the zombie. Dr. Geiger then invented a suppression collar that would stifle a zombie’s urge to eat living flesh. This miraculous invention, now manufactured and maintained through the wonders of Zomcon, ensured that every family in America could have their own zombie to handle household chores. Now everyone can be a productive member of society, even after they’re dead.

As the PSA finishes, a very Fifties-looking schoolteacher steps into the shot smiling beatifically. Her class beams at her while she introduces the new head of Zomcon security, Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerney, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005 and THE A-TEAM, 2010). He gives an exhilarating but condescending speech about the importance of Zomcon. His visit is marred by Timmy (K’Sun Ray, in his first major role) the only distrustful-looking kid in the class, who asks questions that beg answers beyond the pretty rhetoric designed to numb society into obedience.

When Timmy returns home, he discovers his Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX movies and 2007’s DISTURBIA) has gotten them a zombie. When Timmy’s Dad (Dylan Baker, HIDE AND SEEK, 2005 and TRICK ‘R TREAT, 2007) comes home, we learn that he is terrified of zombies and is mortified that his wife would so blatantly defy his wishes. Dad is working like crazy to earn enough money to pay the exorbitant price of a decapitation and funeral for each member of his family. Mom has to agree to keep the zombie chained up in the backyard when it’s not doing chores before Dad agrees to keep it for a trial period.

Timmy names the zombie Fido (Billy Connolly, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, 1999 and the upcoming HOBBIT movies, 2012 & 2013), and takes him to the park to play. Fido’s collar breaks and he kills their neighbor Mrs. Henderson. The collar kicks back in, revealing an intermittent short, but the damage is done. Timmy is well-versed in making things look “perfect” when bad things happen, so he buries Mrs. Henderson in the park and brings Fido home to clean him up.

Of course, Mrs. Henderson doesn’t stay dead, and soon there is a full-on zombie incident in town. Timmy continues to hide the truth while Mr. Bottoms and his Zomcon Security Force work to contain the outbreak. This is complicated by the fact that Mr. Bottoms has moved his family into the house next door, and Timmy’s Mom is getting friendly with Mrs. Bottoms, the way a good neighbor should.

The first kudos for this film go to the writing. Setting the story during this time period was a brilliant decision. In a world where even rotting corpses shambling around in broad daylight can be made to “look” normal, it spotlights the differences between how things are made to look and how things actually are. Some of the more horrific moments come from the living people refusing to deal with problems and inconveniences. When Timmy comes home with a torn shirt, Mom tells him: “Clean up, put on a new shirt, and we won’t even have to talk about those bullies.”  When she finds him bouncing a ball against the house, she says: “Please don’t play baseball by yourself. It makes you look lonely.” When the zombie knocks over a shelf in the garage, she worries that Dad will send the zombie away. “Then people are gonna say that the Robinsons are strange, and they’ll be right!”

Mrs. Robinson dances with their zombie “… it’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair.”

The performances are all top shelf. K’Sun Ray does a convincing job making you believe he’s the only person in town who’s in tune with how things actually work. Carrie-Anne Moss is excellent in her role, always trying to forge familial happiness in situations where everything is out of balance. You even feel sorry for Dylan Baker’s character as he struggles to maintain his role as the head of the household, while it seems that Fido is slowly usurping his place.

Casting Billy Connelly as Fido was also an excellent choice. Everyone else in the film bears the look of the fifties. None of them would seem out of place in the old TV show LASSIE (which gets lampooned in one hysterical scene– the boy’s name is Timmy, after all), or in any of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Connelly doesn’t fit that mold in any sense, and every time he is on screen it heightens the feeling that something is out of place.

For some reason, FIDO didn’t catch on like it deserved to. Maybe because it was a period piece, maybe because it came during a flurry of zombie comedies trying to make a buck in the wake of 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It wasn’t terribly well distributed, either. I can remember hitting both Hollywood Video and Blockbuster on release day and finding it unavailable.

Period piece or not, FIDO deserves another chance to catch the public’s attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out soon. After all, what are your neighbors going to say when they find out you haven’t seen it?

This one is a solid four stars, with a single time out.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE (1987)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2011, 80s Horror, B-Movies, Cult Movies, Indie Horror, Low Budget Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Another Trip into the City…
By Nick Cato

The summer of 1987 was a great time to be me (or at least my age).  I was only out of high school for a year, working the night shift at a local supermarket as I awaited my current city job to call, and playing drums in three different punk bands.  And while there was somewhat of a lull on the suburban grindhouse scene, an ad for a 1950s throwback film caught my attention in the film pages of the Village Voice (see poster above).  So I rounded up a couple of buddies and we trekked to the Waverly Twin Cinema in New York City (today the home of the IFC Center, which continues to show new and classic midnight movies).

In front of the theater, one of the film’s producers (at least that’s what he claimed to be) was handing out fliers for the film’s soundtrack (which is quite good, by the way) and telling everyone, “Come on in!  This one’s a coke classic!” (meaning “You’d enjoy it more if you were on cocaine!”).  I don’t know if he convinced any passers-by to come in OR if he was selling blow on the side, but we took our seats and were surprised to see such a large crowd at this relatively unknown film’s midnight premiere.

While I LOVED The Fleshtones’ opening title song, one thing annoyed me then and throughout the rest of the film: you could actually hear the sound of the projector OVER the sound of the film, and we were sitting around the center aisle.  But this distraction aside, the film still turned out to be an enjoyable—if uneven—horror comedy.

A group of high school buddies (who looked way older than high school buddies and resembled the cast of the Archie comics) accidentally kill a local drug dealer after trying to get some weed for their prom dates, and dump his body into a river.  Being a 50s-tribute film, the river is (guess what?) full of toxic waste, and causes the dealer (wonderfully named “Mussolini”and played by Steve McCoy) to come back as a crazed, green-faced zombie bent on revenge.  Mussolini kills the group’s “leader,” high school baseball star Dan (Michael Rubin).  His friends decide to dump him in the same river as Mussolini, figuring he’ll come back as a “good zombie” to protect them from the undead dealer.

What ensues is at times hysterical, at times really stupid, and at still other times quite gory, although the “special effects” are below amateur level, some even looking like the effects crew didn’t even give half a try.  Mussolini rips one poor guy’s face off (in the only decent-looking effect), going on about “You want weed?  HERE’S some weed for ya!” or something like that;  there’s a silly “romance” sequence where Dan reveals to his girlfriend that he’s now back as a zombie; and in the finale (SPOILER ALERT!), Dan tosses Mussolini’s decapitated head for a 3-point shot at the prom in the school’s gymnasium, then proceeds to chop it in half with a machete in one of the goofiest-looking gore scenes ever captured on film.

The scene that floored the audience, however, had nothing to do with zombies or gore.  A policeman (played by an elderly Steve Reidy in his ONLY film appearance) questions the boys at a “police station” that I’m assuming was one of the film crew member’s backyard shed.  Reidy’s police uniform also looks like it was purchased at the Salvation Army on a bad day, and his constant, un-threatening questions such as “What were you guys doin’ down at the pier?” had the crowd in stitches.  It’s a masterpiece of bad acting that would’ve made Ed Wood jealous.

I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE was a fun film to see at a midnight show in NYC.  I’m not sure how many enjoyed this when it came to video, and I even saw a VHS of this placed in the “classic monsters” section of an old video store I belonged to, presumably by an under-informed employee.  I can still remember the sound of the projector’s click-click-clicking over the scenes I’ve just described, and the voice of the live film peddler out front was as entertaining as the film.

Trash film fans:  SLIME CITY (1988) and SLIME CITY MASSACRE (2010) star Robert Sabin stars as one of the high school buds, and keep your eyes peeled for an unaccredited cameo by director/author Gregory Lamberson, who plays a young pot-head.  The film also boasts an impressive soundtrack for a low-budget production, and includes artists such as Los Lobos, The Smithereens, Alex Chilton, The Waitresses and the Violent Femmes.  The aforementioned title track from The Fleshtones is easily the best, though.

Now excuse me while I go jump in the river…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

A reanimated Dan discusses how to get rid of rival zombie/drug dealer ‘Mussolini’ with his high school pals.