Sunday, June 27, 2010

....I Didn't Get You Anything

Before we turn away from Zombies and head for darker waters, we're going to do George A. Romero a service by showing both how far his influence has spread and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt how great his best movies are. For, if it's one thing that proves a winner, it's all the crap that tries to duplicate its success without understanding what made it so great. Today we're going on a tour of the scope of zombie films and just how much the world now owes to George. First we're going to look at three European countries first ever zombie films and then see that the Romero-inspired Zombie film has not only spanned nations but indeed dimensions. Now as excited as I am to see just how far and wide George's influence has spread (I can think of no films that better deserve a rabid fanbase than Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) I can't say that my expectations for such films, however low, were met. So, while it is, in a fashion, good news that so many countries are producing zombies films none of them are really worth your time. They weren't worth mine, but I like to think I'm performing a public service by watching these know, so you don't have to. So don't.

by Yorgos Noussias
If the director's name didn't give it away, this is Greece's flagship zombie movie. After drilling into a cavern that no one knew was there, three workmen (never specified what kind, but I assume they're building houses) venture inside to check it out. They don't see anything out of the ordinary, but something definitely finds them. What exactly, we never know, but later that night the three men find themselves at home, a club and a football match with no memory of having got there. Seconds after explaining this to the nearest person they then bite them. The next scenes are sort of like filmed illustrations of those internet zombie infection detecting logarithms, the 'evil' makes its way through everyone in the club and the football stadium and the only people left in the third guy's apartment are his daughter Jenny and their neighbor Marina, who escape via the fire escape. They run into two other survivors, Argyris, a horny cab driver, and Meletis, a recent widower with a shotgun. They aren't the only people left alive in (what I take to be) Athens, but the way their encounters go with other living people, they may as well be. They're going to have to put aside their differences if they want to survive.

I thought I'd start here because I was actually the most impressed with what the filmmakers could get away with. Though it could have done much better Evil manages to do so much with so little that I was much more forgiving of the fact that it looks like shit and has no surprises. Yorgos Noussias clearly has a thing for crowd scenes and because his special effects people have ways of fabricating those, his movie seems much bigger than it is. Because of their ability to convincingly render both a deserted city and a full stadium overrun by zombies (the effect they use to show this is actually really impressive, as is the one they use to show it on TV) A movie with about nine characters and a bunch of zombie extras thus feels like something that Greece gave its permission for. The kind of communal feel is important in a film like this because you can be some idiot with his friends in the woods or the hope of a city. Guess which one is easier to root for? Furthermore the idea that you were doing this semi-officially says to me that you can get away with more and can afford to really kill your zombie extras. And I really do think that the language barrier almost always makes it easier to accept mistakes. Or anyway, their harder to recognize. Perhaps that's why someone like Argyris, really nothing more than the irritating comic relief, is much easier to swallow than he would be in any American film.
Is it a great film? No, but it is a brisk film and Noussias has juuuust enough skill to make you forget how little this movie matters. And really with competition like Zone of the Dead or Zombiegore, Evil looks like fucking The Exorcist. The highest praise I can really pay it is that of the movies discussed here, it's the best. But, as we shall see, that ain't sayin' much.

Zone of the Dead
by Milan Konjevic & Milan Todorovic
It's kind of hard to believe that it took two people to direct this movie as it features only one actual performance and that sadly enough comes from Ken Foree. If I had to guess I'd say directors Konjevic and Todorovic and their co-writer Vukota Brajovic are more than casual Dawn of the Dead fans as they went so far as to fly in that film's star to Belgrade so he could star in what wound up being Serbia's first zombie film. The story (and it hangs around for far too fucking long to be totally written off - as if clinging to the screenplay saves this from being an excuse to paint people like zombies and then shoot them) is that Interpol are transporting a prisoner in order that he might be executed (or something. It doesn't matter). Anyway he's supposed to be super dangerous but with a heart of gold, which his escorts Foree and Kristina Klebe pick up on immediately. So when the zombies show up they have to trust him to help them get out alive. Yadda-yadda-yadda. You've seen it before, you know how it ends, and frankly you've seen it done better. The direction is clunky, the camera work terrible, the production design regretable, the script rather awful. There is however one divergence that kind of gave the predictability a break, a loose end that quickly becomes a liability. Somewhere nearby, a man escapes from an asylum just as the zombies get there. Believing god has sent them to him, he steals a bunch of weapons and goes on a crusade to kill all zombies and broadcast the word of god to whoever's left alive. The idea of someone already insane not really effected by something as nightmarish as zombies is, as far as I know, new territory and if they'd decided to just make this the Taxi Driver rip-off it turns into every ten or fifteen minutes, they might have had something. This is easily the most interesting part of the story but its throttled in its infancy by virtue of the fact that Brajovic was evidently so pleased with the idea that he decided to play the psychopath himself and to put it mildly he's the worst actor in a cast filled with terrible non-actors. So instead of wanting to see more of their treatment of his story, I just wanted it to stop and fast.
So why doesn't this film warrant an F? One reason: Ken Foree. Foree is a tough case because like Michael Berryman or Tom Towles, he was never really a star, or even a respected actor and since playing the roles that won him a place in the hearts of horror movie fans young and old, he's been reduced to doing walk-ons in Rob Zombie movies. There are worse fates surely, but asking Foree to carry a movie that wouldn't exist without his work in a much better movie now more than thirty years old is problematic to say the least. So while you can't really say his star has fallen, he's not exactly skating on his reputation doing Nora Ephron comedies. However, Foree is a great actor even if he never got quite the chance to prove it. Watching him interact with the totally wooden likes of Kristina Klebe and Miodrag Krstovic is kind of like watching him talk to them as actors and assuring them that they'll do fine; in both cases they're both in way in over their heads but in neither case is he right. At least he proves he can still act cool with a camera on him. Despite putting on a little extra weight, Foree hasn't really aged since Dawn of the Dead and I love seeing him even if he is only (effortlessly) saving save a movie from total unwatchability, I just wish his fans had better work for him to do. Though, as per usual, it could always be worse.

by Maarten van Druten
I went to high school with a kid called Zach Luneau who used to make no-budget horror films in the woods behind campus and in his backyard instead of doing homework. He's since stopped and I think he now makes BDSM furniture; my point is even on his worst day Zach made better movies than Zombiegore. In fact, when I was maybe ten or eleven I was given a camcorder for christmas that I used to make stop-motion movies with action figures. On my worst day, I made movies better than Zombiegore. Effectively its own parody, Zombiegore has found its way here strictly because it is, so far as I can tell, the first and only zombie film to come out of The Netherlands. Frankly all this tells me is that a.) The Netherlands aren't trying hard enough, b.) Ken Foree got off easy, c.) I've got to stop giving movies with no budget my time and attention because these fuckers aren't even meeting me halfway. Trash. Tripe. Drivel. Fuck you, The Netherlands. Get your shit together and don't subject charitable idiots like me to your fucking endless infantile bullshit. This is a movie that tries to pass off a Star Wars toy as a real gun. The only part of the movie I even slightly enjoyed is when the black metal band The Maggots shows up to play a song in the middle of the film.

Night of the Living Dead 3D
by Jeff Broadstreet
If George A. Romero were dead, I'd call Night of the Living Dead 3D one of the more egregious instances of corpse-raping I'd ever seen, like that commercial David Spade did for Direct TV with footage of Chris Farley from Tommy Boy. He's not, so this is merely in bad taste and amoral, to say nothing of the film itself. You all know the story by now. Thanks to Romero not having quite the nose for business he has now, the original Night of the Living Dead was lost to the dreaded public domain, forever damned to show up on three-disc horror anthology budget packs sold on pharmacy bargain racks. George authorized a version about ten years ago (which is well worth owning for the excellently restored print if not piece of mind). Unfortunately what the public domain status means is that anyone could pass off their middling non-entity of a low-budget zombie film as a remake, sequel or whatever and nothing but common sense could stop them; and when has that been on the side of the filmmaker? The score up until now was just about split. Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead was just ok, both Return of the Living Dead and Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead were excellent. On other hand, we have Steve Miner's wretched Day of the Dead, Ana Clavells & James Glenn Dudelson's unrelated cash-in Day of the Dead 2 and the first 3D zombie movie Night of the Living Dead 3D. I fucking hate 3D. It gives me a headache, costs me four fucking dollars, and adds nothing. For more on 3D, see my review of Avatar, or follow me around for an hour, I'll find a reason to complain about it. So just guess how successful an unauthorized 3D remake of one of the two or three best horror films of all time that constantly references that film and stars Sid Haig is. Go on, guess.

Nothing, and I mean nothing works in Night of the Living Dead 3D. There aren't even enough objects directed at the screen for this to work as a 3D film, and don't get me started on the horrible fucking effects. They've changed Barbara into a stronger character but didn't hire an actress half as good as Patricia Tallman to play her. Ben is now white. Harry, Tom, Judy, Karen and Helen are now pot farmers. And Sid Haig's mortician is responsible for the zombies instead of a venus probe or nothing at all. So the budget and 3D cameras aside, this is just a dumbass zombie film with no original ideas, no decent actors, no effects budget, no scruples and no reason to exist. And it has the fucking nerve to call itself a remake of Night of the Living Dead? That sort of takes the cake as disrespect goes. Before you accuse me of over-reacting I hasten to remind you that Jeff Broadstreet has been making movies since 1989 and Romero had made only commercials before making his debut with mostly non-professionals in front of the camera. Night of the Living Dead is one of the most indelible and legendary independent film success stories of all time. Night of the Living Dead 3D is what happens when you run out of ideas twice.
Well I guess no one ever said watching every zombie film ever made was going to be a picnic but seriously, Jesus Christ! I've been so inundated with shitty zombie films lately (shitty zombie films that I walked into expecting to be at the very least not offended by for the hour twenty they'd last for) that I almost forget what a good one looks like. The next time I review a zombie film on this website I swear to Satan himself it will be good. I don't think some good news is too much to ask for - though maybe it's just beyond people these days. If three countries with rich cultural traditions/tragic and fascinating histories as Greece, Serbia and The Netherlands can produce zombie films with almost nothing to recommend them, I fear for the rest of the developing world. What will it look like when Kazakhstan or Chad finally get around to having film subsidies that could support the production of a zombie film. Should we even encourage them, seeing what we've been given thus far? Will they still look to Night of the Living Dead for inspiration? The only thing that's certain is that if I'm alive, I'll be there watching them.

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