Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dead Heat

You can’t keep a good zombie down. In fact, that’s pretty much what makes them zombies—that and the cannibalism.

Like zombies themselves, the zombie movie refuses to die. There are some slight plot variations, but the basic story usually involves a handful of humans fending off a battalion of flesh-eating corposes.

The humans fight among themselves, get picked off one by one, and then the zombies smash their way into wherever the heroes are hiding and then all hell really does break loose. Roll the credits.

These movies will never be mistaken for great cinema, but some of them—a few of them--can be reasonably entertaining as you long as you’ve got nothing else going on.

Now if you’re squeamish…you probably shouldn’t be watching a zombie movie. You know there’s going to be severed limbs and gallons of fake blood spilling all over the place, so why torture yourself? If you expect everyone to hug it out and go vegan, you don't know much about zombies.

Zombies are pretty low on the monster movie food chain. Vampires can be suave and sexy. Werewolves are tortured souls who struggle to contain the best within.

And zombies? They're just walking cadavers. They don't try to seduce people; they just eat them. And they're awfully low on angst. That's probably why you rarely see a movie about one zombie. They're not that interesting on their own. You need a whole herd of the bastards.

According to the Zombie Reporting Center --I couldn't possibly make that up--1932’s White Zombie with Bela Lugosi is credited with being the very first zombie movie.

What’s really scary is that I actually saw that movie many years ago. All I remember was Bela putting the whammy on his enemies and forcing them to work on his sugar plantation all night long. It's not a nice thing to do, but it does cut down on your overhead.

I remember watching Night of the Living Dead years ago on late night TV, back in the pre-DVR days. Back then if you wanted to see a horror movie late at night, you had to stay up late at night and watch the thing in real time. By the next day you pretty much looked like one of the living dead yourself.

28 Days Later added a lot to the genre, even though the monsters actually weren’t zombies, just severely messed up human beings. The film dropped the slow, foot-dragging ghouls in favor of faster, leaner freaks who sprinted after their victims and thus made for some very exciting scenes.

Heil, No!

I recently rented a Norwegian horror movie called Dead Snow which tells the blood-soaked story of a group of young medical students who take off for a weekend in the woods and wind up getting a very personal lesson in gross anatomy.

It turns out they’re staying in an area once occupied by a group of Nazis who were driven off to the frozen woods to die back in the day, but who instead become flesh-eating ghouls. I'm not sure if these guys were due any backpay from the German army but it could make for an interesting court case.

Soon the young people are battling the evil Nazi zombies, or as we call them in America, Tea Baggers. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.)

Along the way we have mutilation, amputation, and infestation as scores of Third Reich renegades emerge from the snow banks to gnash on anything that gets in the way of their molars. I half-expected to see Sgt. Schulz and Col. Klink goose-stepping across the tundra while munching on human body parts.

You know expression “as pure as the driven snow”? Forget it. The snow in this movie is quickly soaked with blood and strewn with guts.

The filmmakers seemed particularly enthralled with entrails, which are ripped, yanked, and used for a rope ladder during the course of the movie. The monsters did everything but skip rope with somebody’s innards.

The slicing and dicing wore me out toward the end, but I think that’s the point of today’s horror movies. If people aren’t wincing, you’re not doing it right.

I finally caught up with Zombieland last week and I rather enjoyed it. The director said he was inspired to take the comedy route by Shaun of the Dead and while Zombieland isn't in the same league as Shaun—I love that picture—it’s definitely worth renting.

The hero is a neurotic nerd who stays alive thanks to a list of rules designed to keep him out of the hands–and teeth--of the living dead.

These rules keep him alive, but the guy gradually learns that they also prevent him from living. The film's got plenty of action, romance, a surprise guest star and a murderous clown. What else do you need?

I suspect we’ll have more comic zombie pictures, since its so much easier than actually taking the genre seriously. And I'd much prefer these kinds of movies over the crop of teenybopper-in-love-with-a-vampire stories we’re currently suffering through. Talk about horrifying...

If you can’t get enough of the undead, the Chiller network is kicking off a zombie film series on Earth Day as part of what they call their Recycled Bodies series. That's their joke, not mine.


Calamity Jen said...


Rob K said...

Well said!