Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain

I, Zombie:  A Chronicle of Pain, or alternatively I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain, or sometimes just simply I, Zombie was written, produced and directed by Andrew Parkinson, and was released in 1999 by Fangoria Films. Presented in part in a pseudo-documentary style, I, Zombie details the traumatic physical and mental degradation of a young man bitten by a zombie.

Lauren’s Take:
I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain is a melancholy look into the existence of a dying zombie. David, a PhD student, is off collecting data for his research and falls victim to a zombie bite as he attempts to help a really sick looking girl. He documents his body's decay, committed to the scientific method till his eventual demise. David's depression and self-loathing doesn't let up, making this a dark and heavy film. I, Zombie is not just about sympathizing with a zombie character; with graphic connections drawn to the alienation and physical decay associated with HIV/AIDS, this film has deeper social commentary. The run down house where David gets infected, as well as his own flat, remind me of the bare, squalid living conditions in the heroin injected world of Danny Boyle's Trainspotting. Though sometimes David's acting is unbelievable, this does not detract from the film's  impact and its creative take on the zombie.

It is popular for zombie films to make commentary on the fear of widespread disease or the dangerous effects of scientists tampering with "nature". It is not new that the "zombie plague" or "zombie virus" is being used to represent a fear of HIV/AIDS. I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain tells another side of the story by exposing the social alienation felt by the virus victim. David drags the viewer down along his slow decent into loneliness, physical decay and depression. I usually expect the zombie to rot in the same way corpses do, but instead, our zombie's body decays awkwardly with random rot spots showing up on the skin. Socially, David is alone and doesn't know who to reach out to; trapped in seclusion, his actions get more and more disturbing. Without the support of any friends, family or other zombies who could potentially relieve David's emotional decline, alienation decays his soul as fast as the virus decays his body. In a later film, Dead Creatures, Andrew Parkinson shows the lives of zombie outcasts that have banded together to support each other's survival. I am interested in checking out this film.

Keith’s Take:
Andrew Parkinson, director of I, Zombie has successfully created one of the most depressing films that the genre has to offer. This zombie POV demands commiseration, as we are forced to identify ourselves with an individual suffering from a disease that has effectively ostracized him not only from his friends and family, but all of society.

What is striking about this film is not that we are introduced to the routine of an atypical zombie who documents his deterioration via recorded monologues; is troubled by his eating habits; and mourns over his own death; but rather the unmistakable similarity between our main character, David’s situation and an individual infected with a publically feared disease such as HIV/AIDS.

Like American Zombie, a socially aware film to follow ten years later, I, Zombie depicts the horrors of ostracism by equating the diseased ghouls to minority populations. Though where American Zombie falls short on despondency, I, Zombie really drives it home by exploring the dangers of solitude. The weight of this film’s reclusion is almost unbearable. Although we are certain that there are others experiencing the same tribulation, David is alone. Yet, despite David’s physical disfigurations, the few people that he encounters throughout the narrative, his landlady and a prostitute for example, seem to treat him as they would anyone else. This is a curious situation, because it seems to be the case then that David has taken it upon himself to oust himself from society. His self-induced isolation echoes the sentiments of an ignorant and fearful world, as David feels incapable of being loved or the ability to carry out any sort of normal life. For this reason David resents himself, and Parkinson has made this painfully clear.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante

Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante, released in 2001, is a sequel to Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez’s Argentinean SOV backyard-epic, Plaga Zombie. The film picks up nearly where Plaga Zombie left off, and follows group of three courageous friends, as they try to escape the alien-initiated zombie pandemic that is plaguing their town. 

Keith’s Take:
Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante is a no budget zombie flick that profits, rather than suffers, from its lack of funds. Exploding heads, colons, and eye-sockets are no rarity in this film, as the alleged three thousand dollar budget that went into making it results in the admirable promulgation of a love for practical effects and unrestrained gore. Heavily borrowing from splatstick classics like Dead Alive, Re-Animator, and Evil Dead 2, Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante is full of the cartoon-type splatter that zombie-film fans fall in love with.

Yet the directors’ creative flair abounds in more areas than just simply special effects. For one, the filmmakers use a number of different lenses to their advantage, and the film is loaded with enough expressive shots to really highlight the talent emanating from behind the lens. Though, there is no short of talent in front of the lens either, as the directors themselves appear as the film'vas main characters. Sharing the screen with one other companion, they form a power-trio that dishes out a true comic-book-style delivery. In fact, Parés wrote and illustrated a comic book sequel to Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante, entitled Plaga Zombie: Camino Tóxico So it’s no wonder that the film really plays as a comic book reads, both in its expressive qualities and in its pacing.

Which brings us to our next topic: pacing. If anything really plagues this film, it’s the placing. Despite numerous action sequences, the pacing of the film’s downtime is rather slow, resulting in, at times, an uneasy tension that is not instantly redeemed by the following splatter sequence. On the contrary, however, there is one scene alone that easily compensates for any fault this film may have, and that is the John West bedroom scene, in which we are saturated with the brilliance of his character in both fanatical set design, and a catchy original tune that will never leave you. “John West: he's the best! A hero! A cowboy! He's John West!”

Lauren’s Take:
I used to have only good things to say about this movie, but after watching it a second time, my fond memories have been slightly deflated by the slow story line. When Keith and I were screening this for Zombie Movie Night, our bi-weekly attempt to cultivate zombie enthusiasm, I was getting anxious watching the film plod along between action scenes. I really hyped up this film because the zombie gore leaves a lasting impression and because there are some really goofy twists.

A lot like the first film in this series, Plaga Zombie, the make-up is really unique. The first time around, Plaga Zombie's super low budget gave us gore-ified cake frosting zombies.  Zona Mutante has come a long way, but still has the creative charm of a low budget horror film. Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante recalls the splatstick gore of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive: spinal cords get ripped out, an intestine-hose torments with its fecal spray, goopy neon and charred zombies scream and stalk the streets in packs.

I love the too-cool-for-school attitude of the zombies. They have other things to do besides just eating flesh. Hippie zombies chill out in a park and rebel zombies organize their violent takeover. Actually, not only are the zombies great, the main characters are entertaining too. There is John West, the wrestler vaquero, Max Giggs, the computer hacker nerd, and Bill Johnson, the cool and collected leader. Put all this together and you've got some comedy. Oh yeah, and there are aliens!

The humor and random plot twists left me speeches the first time I saw this film. Though I can still find a ton of things I love about this movie, it was a bit too slow the second time around. Maybe I was feeling the pressure since I had promised such an epic film to those in attendance of Zombie Movie Night. Either way, this doesn't quell my excitement for the third installment: REVOLUCIÓN TÓXICA, which is due out in October.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hell of the Living Dead

Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead, also known as Night of the Zombies, Zombie Creeping Flesh, and simply Virus in Italia, offers little in the way of creative storytelling, as a group consisting of the most inept SWAT-style commandos ever portrayed on film, a reporter, and her cameraman try to survive a zombie-infested jungle of Papua New Guinea. Shot in 1980, Hell of the Living Dead guiltlessly rides the coattails of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and to a lesser extent, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. In fact, Mattei borrows more than just the aforementioned SWAT team from Dawn of the Dead, as he also rips-off Dawn’s signature soundtrack composed by synth super-group, Goblin. However, despite this overt appropriation the overall feel of the film is more Fulci than anything else. This is evident in the film’s themes, mood, setting, and characters.

Lauren's take:
Watching this film is kind of like dividing your attention between a knock-off of Fulci's Zombie 2, and a string of randomly related jungle clips on YouTube. 1970s National Geographic-style stock-footage is spliced together with scenes of naked white woman wandering around with googly eyes to construct a narrative of exploring the jungle to discover the origin of the zombie virus. This montage of shots from the French film La Vallée is really banking on being exotic, and at this point in the film you kind of have to turn your brain off, quit picking up on the discrepancies, and laugh it off.

Many elements come together to make Hell of the Living Dead one of those "so bad it's good" films. For example, the most ineffective SWAT team with the most inconsistent approach to doing their job. I think the trailer contains all 6 or 7 successful head shots of the entire film. This careless group of gun-wielding jerks is painfully bad at killing zombies and keeping themselves alive. It seems like the director, Bruno Mattei, lifted these guys right out of the beginning of Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

Though it might be argued that the special effects are cheesy, I prefer latex and make-up special effects any day to CGI, so I am a fan of the gore in this film. The carnage is not realistic, but I think the special effects can be applauded for their creativity. I think Keith and I had to hit rewind a couple times to watch scenes that make you look on in disbelief, wondering, "did they really go there?"

Though the characters are too absurd to relate to, the story line is muddled by excessive stock nature footage, and many aspects appear to be stolen from popular zombie films of the time, Hell of the Living Dead should not be written off as a complete waste of a movie.

Keith's Take:
Hell of the Living Dead is not a one of those Italian horror films treasured for the way it unabashedly stylizes violence and gore amidst nightmarish atmosphere that, in some ways, often supersedes the attempts of Hollywood’s horror legends. Instead the films of Bruno Mattei represent a certain reality of Italian popular cinema, that is, pure trash. For those that venture beyond the trodden paths paved by The Greats, Argento, Fulci and Bava, Bruno Mattei is well know for his exploitation-film making efforts. In this regard, the man has an impressively large resume, tackling nazisploitation, Italian sexy-comedies, pornography, women-in-prison films, nunsploitation, mondo films, etc., all with a sense of urgency exclusive to those with the lowest of budget constraints.

What sets Hell of the Living Dead aside from Romero and Fulci is a detectable lack of sincerity. The film’s origin of the zombie outbreak, which concerns a government-designed virus used to quell the raucous third-world, is suggestive of some radical, political statement regarding injustices towards indigenous peoples. Yet Mattei’s P.C. intentions do not seem entirely honest, as right from the get go the whole native sub-plot comes off as an excuse for some bare-breasted action. However, in the film’s defense, inclusion of zombified indigenous peoples seems to be a consequence of the Cannibal Boom, a barrage of cannibal films, primarily of Italian origin, peaking in popularity between the years 1977 – 1981. That, and Fulci’s Zombie had just come out a year prior. At any rate, beyond the questionable native sub-plot and a reel of stock footage, Hell of the Living Dead does deliver decent gore and some unforgettable zombie-violence dished out by and eight-year-old.

Hell of the Living Dead begins to make sense once one has an understanding of Mattei’s penchant for producing exploitation type films. Now, this does not necessarily justify the film’s shortcomings, but it does beg that a different set of criteria be used when discussing the film. A film like Hell of the Living Dead is not about suffering through the ridiculousness of the film to get to the good parts, it’s about embracing that ridiculousness for what it really is, and realizing that it’s gone past bad and straight back to good.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dead and Buried

Welcome to Potter’s Bluff, a small coastal town where things aren’t always as they appear. The film gets twisted fast, as we follow Officer Dan Gillis and his investigation of a sudden surge of violent murders against a few unlucky outsiders. Chock-full of all the necessary elements to create a truly bizarre viewing experience, including half-cooked heads, an obsessive mortician, missing corpses, and a run in with the black arts, Gary Sherman’s Dead and Buried is a refreshing take on the zombie mythos.

Keith’s Take:
Judging by Dan O’Bannon’s track record (Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, Alien), he must certainly be responsible for much of the twisted vision that is Dead and Buried. That is not to say that Dead and Buried is the most disturbing film I have ever seen, in fact, far from it. However, the merciless nature of the film’s murders creates an air of injustice and helplessness present throughout the film.

These bizarre and ruthless murders, committed and photographically documented by throngs of townsfolk, quickly spiral into a full-blown Invasion-of-the-Bodysnatchers-type conspiracy that naturally rope you into the investigation led by Officer Dan Gillis. Generally, or perhaps traditionally, zombie films are not centered on exploring the zombie’s origin, and this facet leaves Dead and Buried at a unique advantage in terms of the film’s originality. Yet to say that this film is strictly concerned with exploring the diegetic origin of the undead’s insurgence would be misleading, since it is not altogether clear whether or not there actually is an insurgence to speak of. Nor is the film’s interpretation of a zombie completely transparent. A schoolteacher even suspiciously claims that “although they are conventionally dead, they are capable of very closely imitating the living.”

Beyond the masterful design of Dan O’Bannon and company there are certainly other superb qualities of this film that deserve mention. Namely the well-balanced composure of many of the film’s shots, including some artistically handled panning that actually manages to contribute to the scene’s narrative (see the second murder sequence), great acting, believable script, some genuinely disturbing visuals, and a moodiness borrowed from the isolated setting of Messiah of Evil.

Lauren's Take:
Though the title suggests the contrary, the characters in this film are pretty concerned with keeping things alive and reviving the forgotten, in their own twisted way. The dead are preserved via post-mortem beautification by a mortician obsessed with making the dead look better than they did when alive. Missing face tissue and eyes are re-constructed with non-human materials and give the illusion of living beauty. He regrets having to seal up and bury his work where no one will see it. This mortician also blares songs of yesteryear in an attempt to preserve these forgotten tunes. Possibly the strangest part of this film is the murderers' tendency to photograph every murder as it goes down. It seems counter intuitive to take a lot of photos of a person being killed, and things just get stranger as the number of these voyeuristic photographers grows with each murder. They want to keep the moment of death alive by preserving it on film. Or maybe they just need proof that the person really did die a traumatic violent death? This film is complex and twisted, and so are the motives behind the murders. Still not sure if I understand how all the pieces fit together. Dead and Buried is a pretty fun zombie mystery that keeps you second guessing every character up until the very end.

Rating: 10/10