Sunday, June 1, 2008

George A. Romero Month, Film 1

George A. Romero may be the most influential horror filmmaker of all time, and so I'm dedicating the month of June to looking into his impact on the world of film. Our first look into the boundless influence of Maverick filmmaker is a remake of his 1985 film Day of the Dead, the third in his series of Living Dead movies. I'll look into the original soon enough, just to show you what happens when a remake makes the original look so much better by comparison. Director Steve Miner has already screwed with many other horror franchises (Halloween and Friday the 13th among them), so I guess it's only natural he'd somehow get his hands on this one. Nothing's bulletproof, eh? Romero himself proved that with film 4.

Day of the Dead
by Steve Miner

In some episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, there would be times when a poor cutting choice would cause the frames to jump around, resulting in a few seconds where no one could tell what was happening. At times like these Mike or one of the bots would generally say "And the editor goes for an academy award." The kind of stupid editing they're making fun of, where things jump around crazily for dramatic effect, is now used in the bulk of new horror films (Saw and the like) and along with shitty acting and stupid dialogue, it's a recurring motif of Miner's remake of the much revered Day of the Dead. Day is like a retread of the Dawn Remake, only with zanier zombies, more intense gore effects, and no character development whatsoever.

We start in the town of Leadville CO, where some stereotypes are making out in a cabin in the woods. Two of the four are going at it a little more adamantly, and so the less motivated of the two couples, Trevor and Nina are their names, goes for a walk in the basement. It leads to a dank corridor, but they don't explore very far, opting instead to leave and make out in Trevor's living room. His mom has been sick and so the house is unsupervised. They take off so quickly that they leave the other girl behind, and she is quickly butchered by something. On the roads leading out of town, a cordon of soldiers in Humvees have blocked everything off. Apparently their orders are to keep everyone in town. They tell the parents of a sick child that they can't go to the hospital because of this, but when we see those people next they are in a hospital. Don't worry about it, though, Screenwriter Jeremy Reddick didn't, and Miner apparently doesn't know the difference. So we meet the boy from the cabin's sister Sarah. She's an army corporal and she hasn't been to her home town for a long time. Bringing one private with her, she heads off to check on her sick mom. The private's nickname, we learn, is Bud (this for anyone who's seen the original is foreshadowing, otherwise it's just annoying). She discovers her asshole brother hasn't been taking care of their mother, and has left her upstairs with a terrible sickness. If she thinks that's bad, wait until they get to the hospital.
The hospital (or military medical center) run by cocky Dr. Logan quickly becomes the sight of the zombie takeover scene, crucial to any film of the kind. Sarah and Trevor's mom, as well as Nina's parents are quickly done away with, as is Sarah's commanding officer (fans of quality will be sad to learn this is Ving Rhames, and when he goes, so goes any hope this movie had of not sucking). Soon all that's left of the people in town are Sarah, Bud, Dr. Logan, an asshole soldier named Salazar, and Trevor and Nina. Trevor and Nina whole up in the town's only radio station with token nutjob DJ Paul, who isn't long for this world. Sarah, Bud, Salazar, and Dr. Logan try to commandeer a vehicle after escaping from the hospital and in the process, Bud is bit on the hand. Logan abandons the party and disappears into the woods, while Salazar, Sarah and zombie Bud rescue Nina and Trevor from the radio station. With all other roads out of town blocked off they agree the only safe place to go (after stocking up on non-military issue weapons) is the cabin in the woods. Remember that dank tunnel, well it leads to a pristine, Resident Evil-type laboratory where the zombie virus originated. By the time Sarah and everyone else figures out that yes, this is where the zombies came from, and yes Logan's behind it, the audience has been twenty steps ahead and gone to sleep. So the only way to end it is to leave it open-ended and not end it at all. Way to go, team.

The first step in making a god-awful zombie film is to make sure that everyone of your characters is a stereotype, and a really lame one at that. We have a paranoid DJ (sample line: "As a part of the military-industrial complex, do you have the power of free thought?" This is why people hate liberals, because of fuck-ups like Jeffrey Reddick). Ian Mcneice who plays DJ Paul hasn't quite mastered his American accent; that coupled with his comic obesity basically makes his death palpable from the moment we set eyes on him. We have the screw-happy teen couple who are first on the menu; we have defiant girl, underdog boy, evil doctor, foul-mouthed black guy, and "go on without me" commanding officer. This is the kind of stupid screenwriting that Robert Rodriguez was lampooning in Planet Terror. To make matters worse, no one but Ving Rhames can act worth a good goddamn under Miner's incompetent direction. Then we have set-pieces stolen from better films in the Romero world. We have the re-animated soldier who does good (though it must be said, not that much good) taken from the original Day of the Dead. The chase scene through the tunnels is lifted from the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (it actually worked in that film). And the ending is characteristic of many Romero films, but rarely in so tired a form as it is here. Bad script, no direction, bad movie.

The zombie make-up is nothing to write home about and the things that Miner has the zombies doing is ridiculous. They act more like the creatures from John Carpenter's Vampires than any zombie I've ever seen. The cinematography and the aforementioned stupid editing tricks make this one an incoherent mess. Zombie film fans can be an inarticulate bunch, but they know when a lines been crossed. Someone on IMDB said that when you make zombies jump several feet through the air, leap out of windows (this scene is utterly pointless, FYI), and in one glaring scene walking on the ceiling, then you are pissing on the whole Romero Legacy. That anonymous, inarticulate fanboy is absolutely right. Romero waited 10 years before making the first sequel to Night of the Living Dead, and then another 7 years before making another. Miner waited about three seconds after the remake of Dawn out-grossed The Passion of the Christ before this ill-conceived bastard was put into production. There were previews for the film as early as 2005, but funding problems delayed it's release until finally it was condemned to a direct-to-dvd release, which it so richly deserves. Steve Miner is such a shithead. He may have meant something to horror fans in the early 80s, but now he's just a hack. If I was smarter I would have stopped at this film's box art, which tastefully depicts a zombie vomiting up a big pile of green bile with an eyeball in it. Not a bad metaphor for the film itself; a big pile of celluloid vomit. 

Miner and Reddick watched the other guys make something delicious out of the same ingredients, but forgot to properly cook everything and just vomited it up for the world to see. I don't think I'd have put that on the menu either. It makes me wonder what Day of the Dead 2 must look like. When Romero dies, he'd better be cremated otherwise he's going to be doing a lot of spinning.

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