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Before The Walking Dead brought the undead into our living rooms, filmmakers brought them to the amusement park, Spring Break, the big concert and a live news broadcast – with mostly bloody results.
‘Zombieland’ is quite possibly the perfect movie. Just when ‘Shaun of the Dead’ convinced me that those Limey Brits had create the best-ever zombie romantic comedy, it turns out they’d only created the most British zombie romantic comedy. The Yank counterpart is even better, and with this amount of artillery, it’s certainly a more American vision.
Let’s start with the effervescently clever writing. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take the tried-and-true zombiepocalypse premise and sprint with it in totally new and awesome directions.
And the cameo. I cannot imagine a better one. I mean that. I’m not sure a walk on by Jesus himself could have brought me more joy.
That’s not true. Plus, in zombie movie?! How awesome would that have been?!
Jesse Eisenberg anchors the film with an inspired narration and an endearing dork characterization.
But Woody Harrelson owns this film. His gun toting, Twinkie loving, Willie Nelson singing, Dale Earnhart number wearing redneck ranks among the greatest horror heroes ever.
I give you, a trip to a loud and well-lit amusement park is not a recommendation Max Brooks would make during the zombiepocalypse. Still, you’ve got to admit it’s a gloriously filmed piece of action horror cinema.
Nazi zombies, everybody! Hell yes!
Like its portly nerd character Erlend, ‘Dead Snow’ loves horror movies. A self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, ‘Dead Snow’ follows a handsome mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.
But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these rules or horror cinema. Like Scream and Cabin in the Woods, Dead Snow draws your attention to them. It embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but don’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles, and gore by the gallon.
The unapologetically faithful image of the traditional American horror film, ‘Dead Snow’ is funny and scary, utterly gross and thoroughly enjoyable.
For something a tad more subdued, but certainly still effective, check out this underseen indie flick. The picture begins as an insightful satire on the modern documentary, pitting objective artist against gonzo filmmaker.
Director Grace Lee, playing herself, agrees to co-direct a documentary on the Los Angeles area’s growing undead population with her zealous, craftless friend John (John Solomon). They interview experts – doctors, historians, social workers – and choose a handful of zombies as subjects. Lee approaches the film as the documentation of a misunderstood community; her co-director John is looking for something a little more lurid.
The film is evenly entertaining, whether it’s poking fun at boring documentaries, ribbing exposes that serve as star-vehicles for filmmakers, taking good-natured jabs at pretentious advocacy types, or mocking the filmmaker herself.
‘American Zombie’ is observant and often very funny. An evangelist hoping to serve this untapped market remarks to the camera, “Jesus loves zombies. Jesus was the original zombie.” With bits like that, as the movie progresses you find yourself lulled by Lee’s low-key, funny take on the living dead. And then, slowly but surely, she turns her film into a surprisingly creepy little horror flick.
In 2007, Spain opened ‘[Rec],’ which would spawn a chain of its own Spanish-language sequels, and, in 2008, the American retread, ‘Quarantine.’
Both ‘Quarantine’ and ‘[Rec]’ share one cameraman’s footage of the night he and a reporter tagged along with a local fire department. The small news crew and two firefighters respond to a call from an urban apartment building. An elderly woman, locked inside her flat, has been screaming. Two officers are already on the scene. Bad, bad things will happen.
As is almost invariably the case in horror films, there are some huge gaps in logic. I myself am no paramedic, and yet somehow I know that foaming at the mouth is a very bad sign. I don’t care if it’s a child, an old lady, a helpless animal – avoid anything with mouth foam. Words to live by, I think.
Obviously the people outside the apartment building share my feelings about mouth foam because, just about the time the first responders realize they’re screwed, the building is completely sealed off from the outside by government forces. Power to the building is cut, leaving everyone without cell reception, cable, and finally, light. Suddenly we’re trapped inside the building with about fifteen people, some of them ill, some of them bleeding, some of them biting.
As much as I enjoy ‘Quarantine,’ and appreciate its loyalty to its source material ‘[Rec],’ the Spanish language originator is, in most respects, superior. News anchor Angela (Manuela Velasco) is more fiery, less screechy, and the storyline is given a little room to breathe.
On the other hand, ‘Quarantine’ strips away all meat from the bone, offering lean, mean funhouse experience. By allowing a little gristle, ‘[Rec]’ ratchets up a little less tension, but allows you to feel a bit more for all participants.
‘[Rec]’ loses footing when it more explicitly outlines the true source of the epidemic, and ‘Quarantine’ earns points for a couple of extra, inventive kills. When it comes down to it, though, you can’t lose with either option.
A new crop of filmmakers – folks who’d grown up on the zombie flick – brought insightful new thinking to the genre. They saw the human tragedy and the humor that could be harvested, like fresh organs from a near-corpse.