Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Zombieland (2009)

Zombieland (USA, 2009) - Color, Director(s): Ruben Fleischer
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 88 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 4 stars out of 5

Starting life as a TV show, Zombieland instead became the highest grossing zombie film in the U.S. (until it was dethroned by World War Z in 2013) and the feature-length directorial debut of Ruben Fleischer. Featuring a fantastic cast of Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. The story was very much character driven and the onscreen chemistry between these four was enough to carry the entire film, there are literally a handful of characters in the credits and the rest were zombies. Harrelson is a total bad ass who might be borderline psychotic and kills zombies with sadistic glee, Jesse Eisenberg is a socially awkward dork with OCD, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are two cutthroat sisters who will do whatever it takes to survive. Throughout the course of the movie, we watch as these characters bond and we get to know them personally as well. The tone is a perfect balance of comedy and horror elements that makes it so much fun to watch.

Who wouldn't open the door for her?

At the start of the movie, the world is overrun by zombies thanks to a burger infected with mad cow disease. These zombies are infected rather than of the undead variety, they're feverish, covered with pustules and sores, spewing blood from every orifice. We are presented with various rules for survival narrated by Jesse Eisenberg's character, Columbus, before the intro credits kick in with Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" blaring over them. Columbus then crosses paths with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the two ride together before stumbling upon Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) at a supermarket. The sisters trick Columbus and Tallahassee, riding off with their car (twice!), before the four of them decide to stick together for awhile. From there it becomes kind of like a road trip movie with zombies. They bond along the way to an amusement park (probably the dumbest plan for survival) despite not being able to trust each other initially. Each character goes through an arc with the cowardly Columbus stepping up and becoming a hero in the end, the emotionally walled-off Tallahassee opening up about his loss of Buck, and the sisters learning they can not only trust but depend on the other two.

We should be safe here, no one will notice the bright lights and music...

Nudity: None. There's a zombie stripper in the intro chasing someone with tassels on her boobs.

Gore: Plenty. There's a ton of headshots, bludgeonings, and people getting eaten. As far as zombie films go, this is not too explicit. There isn't much in the way of intestines spilling out or anyone getting disemboweled but all the zombies look pretty nasty. There is one zombie eating someone on the highway as she makes all these slurping and munching noises. She even snaps a bone and sucks the marrow out as we watch from a distance. Tallahassee takes her out with the door as they drive by.

"Who ya gonna call?"

Awesome: Very. The movie is filled with running gags like Columbus' rules for survival and Zombie Kill of the Week. Tallahassee references Deliverance before bashing a zombie's skull in with a banjo. The cast looks like they had a lot of fun filming it, especially the scene where they destroy a gift shop. There's a surprise cameo from Bill Murray when they decide to stay at his house after arriving in Hollywood. They have a great time hanging out, playing Ghostbusters, and smoking pot out of a hookah. Speaking of small appearances, the insanely hot Amber Heard plays Columbus' neighbor, 406, during a flashback to his first encounter with zombies. Best of all, I've known plenty of people who are terrified of clowns and there's the most gnarly looking Zombie Clown at the end of the movie. I highly recommend this one because it's not just a good zombie movie, it's a good film. Call a couple friends over, grab a box of Twinkies, and settle in for a fun night.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead (UK/France/USA, 2004) - Color, Director(s): Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 99 min.

Z-rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 3 stars out of 5

Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy that is brilliant on so many levels, for me to describe it just wouldn't do it any justice. If you haven't seen it, stop reading this review and just go watch it. You won't regret it. The script is solid and does a fantastic job setting up jokes that pay off later in the movie. There are references to other films, directors, and actors that are so subtle you'd miss them if you blinked. Unlike those garbage "spoof" movies like Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, etc. that unrelentingly beat you over the head with their references. In addition to the great cast, Edgar Wright is a talented director who adds more depth to the movie through visual comedy. Tony Zhou of Every Frame A Painting explains this better than I ever could, so check out this episode he does about Edgar Wright's directing style:

The movie opens with a musical cue from the original Dawn of the Dead playing over Universal logo. Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his girlfriend Liz are discussing their relationship problems at the local pub, The Winchester, with Shaun's friend Ed and Liz's flatmates David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis). Shaun promises things will change as we cut to the opening credits.

We see that Shaun's life is a mess, his bestfriend Ed (Nick Frost) is a deadbeat loser who sits on the couch playing games all day and selling pot. Shaun is working a dead end job where he gets no respect from the people younger than him. He's also having a hard time juggling his relationship with Liz (Kate Ashfield) and remembering to visit his mother. The final straw is when he flubs the dinner reservations for a date with Liz and she breaks up with him. The beauty is in the way the film is set up, you know the zombie apocalypse is coming, you're expecting it to happen at any moment. Wright plays with those expectations by having ominous music cues leading up to a false scare. As he's building these characters, he's also dropping hints that bad things are happening around them. People are acting strangely, news reports and newspaper headlines all indicate there's reason to panic, and yet everyone is just going about their lives. There are scenes set up to mirror each other like when Shaun walks down to the corner store at the beginning of the film then later makes that same trip, after the zombie outbreak, completely unaware of how much the world around him has changed. This is why the movie works as a Horror Comedy without having to cross over into parody territory.

Once the outbreak officially begins, we watch Shaun mature from someone who has no direction in life and can't handle his responsibilities to becoming the take charge hero of the film. Despite being a couple of losers, Shaun and Ed rescues Shaun's mother, their friends, and find a place to hole up. The zombies themselves are classic shambling undead Romero zombies. This movie is a laugh riot and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it. The home video releases include a Zomb-O-Meter, which has facts and trivia pop up throughout the film. This pointed out so many things I've missed despite repeated viewings, like the subtle nods to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead 2, Suspiria, Alien, and more. If you've already seen the movie before, this is a great way to watch it again.

Nudity: None. Shaun's roommate turns into a zombie in the shower and he's naked throughout the rest of the film but nothing is explicitly shown.

Gore: Not much for a zombie movie. A few bites, a zombie is impaled on a pipe, and there's a death scene at the end that references Captain Rhodes' death in Day of the Dead. Overall, most of the gore and violence is played for laughs. Nothing too disturbing or scary.

Awesome: Very. The movie is a ton of fun to watch, I've seen it a few times and I'm still catching new things in it. I love the British slang. This was the first film in what's referred to as the "Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy" followed by Hot Fuzz and The World's End. While not a trilogy in the traditional sense, the films share common themes, actors, and are loosely connected by the Cornetto references. Each film represented by a specific flavor with Strawberry representing the blood and gore of Shaun of the Dead, the blue Original Cornetto representing the police element in Hot Fuzz and the green Mint Chocolate Chip representing aliens in The World's End. If you haven't seen these movie, I would HIGHLY recommend all three films! Have a few friends over, pick up some Cornettos if you can find them (Nestlé Drumsticks were the closest thing I could find) and have yourself a fun mini-marathon. How's that for a slice of fried gold, eh? Fun fact: Ed is playing TimeSplitters 2 on PS2 at the beginning of the film.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dead Alive (1992)

Dead Alive [a.k.a. Braindead] (New Zealand, 1992) - Color, Director(s): Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 104 min.

Z-rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 5 stars out of 5

Many people know Peter Jackson for his bigger budget films like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the 2005 King Kong remake but before he was making blockbusters, he made three of the grossest splatter films ever committed to celluloid. Bad Taste was a low budget Sci-Fi/Horror Comedy about alien invaders harvesting humans for a fast food chain. Meet the Feebles was a satire on a Muppets-style musical stage show that involved things like drug deals, bunny AIDS, and sodomy. Finally, he followed those up with the goriest, most splatterrific zombie movie in the history of cinema.

Samatran Rat Monkey

Known as Braindead in most foreign territories, the movie starts with a couple of guys trying to smuggle a Sumatran rat monkey off Skull Island when they're stopped by a group of natives. They manage to slip away and the animal is transported to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand where an overbearing mother lives with her son, Lionel. A local shopkeeper named Paquita falls for him, believing they're "romantically entangled" by fate. On their date at the zoo, Lionel's mother is sneaking around spying on them when she stumbles too close to the cage and is bitten by the rat monkey. Infected by the bite, she slowly deteriorates until she eventually dies and becomes a zombie. Lionel uses animal tranquilizers to keep his mother and her growing number of victims sedated in his basement when a greedy relative attempts to blackmail him, threatening to inform the authorities about his growing collection of corpses. The shit really hits the fan when the conniving bastard of an Uncle throws a house party and the zombies escape from the basement.

These zombies are unique because the infection originates from an animal, like rabies. The legend of the Sumatran rat monkey is that huge rats came scuttling off the slave ships and raped the tree monkeys. The rat monkeys are also used for black magic ceremonies, which means the natives were aware of how dangerous the bite from these creatures were. When Lionel tries to poison the zombies, they turn into roided out super zombies because the poison was an animal stimulant, so the infection must retain some of its animal properties. Unlike any zombie virus I've ever seen before, a pile of organs gains sentience and becomes a creature of its own. Also, like the zombies from Return of the Living Dead, destroying the brain doesn't seem to stop them either.

Zombie baby

Nudity: None. Two zombies are shown having sex, which results in the female zombie getting pregnant. The scenes are tame though.

His shirt was white before the carnage began

Gore: TONS. This is always listed as the goriest movie ever made. I don't know if there has ever been another movie to officially top this one but 300 liters of fake blood was used for the final scene alone. There are plenty of other scenes where blood (and other fluids) spray like geysers. This movie makes Troma films seem like family entertainment. There's even Looney Tunes-style gag where he's running in place because the floor is slick from all blood on it. That lawnmower scene is the reason I was got super excited when I saw a lawnmower in the first Dead Rising game. 

Awesome: to the MAX! Like his previous films, Braindead is filled with tons of gross-out humor like the scene where Lionel's mother eats Paquita's dog or when blood and pus squirts into someone's custard from an open wound. Some of the gags really test your gag reflex, but there's also some genuinely funny moments as well. Like when the priest beats the shit out of a couple zombies while declaring, "I kick ass for the lord!" or Lionel taking the zombie baby out to the park. There's a good blend of slapstick and gross humor to keep from putting people off entirely but still manages to be shocking every time you're looking at the screen. I love the way this movie ramps up, almost like a video game. There's even a final boss and everything! HIGHLY recommended for everyone to see at least once in their life. No words can describe how truly awesome this movie is, it really has to be seen to be believed.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Return of the Living Dead (USA, 1985) - Color, Director(s): Dan O'Bannon
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 91 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 4 stars out of 5

As important and influential as Romero's zombie films were, there was another integral film that contributed to the zombie mythos. If you asked a random person on the street what zombies eat, they'll most likely tell you zombies eat brains. In Romero's movies, the zombies were cannibals that ate any piece of flesh they could get their hands on. Dan O'Bannon's black comedy/zombie horror was the first movie to introduce the concept of zombies eating brains.

Thom Matthews (Tommy from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) plays Freddy, a new employee at a medical supply company. The foreman, Frank, tells him that Night of the Living Dead was based on true events and they have one of the bodies in the basement. The Darrow Chemical Company was developing a chemical for the army called 245-Trioxin that they sprayed on marijuana or something. There was a spill and the chemical seeped into the morgue, bringing bodies back to life. Due to a shipping error, this medical supply company received one of the bodies instead of The Darrow Chemical Company. Frank brings him down into the basement to show him the body and accidentally punctures the barrel, releasing a gas that permeates the warehouse and knocks the two of them unconscious.


Cue intro credits and one of the most awesome opening themes ever. The music is one of the best things in 80's movies. Here, have a listen for yourself.

The gas brings all the dead things in the medical supply warehouse back to life, including a cadaver that was hanging in the freezer. They call the owner, played by Clu Gulager (the hilarious Bartender from the Feast franchise), to help them figure out what to do. They try destroying the brain but when that doesn't work, they chop the cadaver into bits and take it to the morgue down the street to be cremated. This proves to be a huge mistake as the cremation process releases a cloud of Trioxin into the air which rains back down onto the cemetery, seeps into the dirt, and reanimates all the bodies in the graves. Freddy's friends, a group of punks that were waiting to pick him up from work, are now caught in the middle of this nightmare. Linnea Quigley plays the red-haired Trash and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. (Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning) are part of the group of punks.

"What do you think this is all about, you think this is a fucking costume? This is a way of life!"

Nudity: Linnea Quigley does a fully nude dance on a tomb. The director thought it would be too graphic to show her vulva so they created a prosthetic one to cover it up and her look smooth like a Barbie doll. 

Gore: Dead bodies and rotting corpses in various stages of decay, brains being eaten, zombies biting into people's skulls. There's plenty of blood but not much viscera, these aren't the cannibalistic zombies that will eat your insides. They specifically eat brains, so there's a lot of blood spray.

Awesome: to the MAX! The soundtrack featured deathrock and punk rock bands of the time. The movie manages to be hilarious without having to cross over into parody territory. Frank freaking out after they accidentally release the gas and bring everything in the warehouse back to life makes the situation so much funnier. Then there's the scene where they're planning to unlock the freezer and have Frank shove a pickaxe through the zombie's head but suddenly the butt-naked cadaver bursts out of the door and barrels towards Clu Gulager instead. That whole scene is an absolute riot. As for the zombies themselves, they're different and more dangerous than Romero zombies. They're smart, they talk, and destroying their brains isn't enough to stop them. They can run, use tools, and even set traps. When paramedics and cops arrived on the scene, the zombies attacked them then radioed for back up so more victims would come. Not to mention the movie introduced the Tarman, an iconic character that even got his own action figure. HIGHLY recommended for fans of zombie movies, especially if you like black comedies.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (USA, 2004) - Color, Director(s): Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 101 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

Everyone is always so quick to bash remakes these days, not without good reason I might add, but there have been a few examples of good remakes in the past. Night of the Living Dead, Piranha 3D, Maniac, The Fly, etc.

The problem with remakes nowadays is they rarely strive to improve on the original film, instead often just attempting to cash-in on the name of their predecessor. This is why 'remake' has become a dirty word in the eyes of moviegoers. If you're looking for another example of a remake done correctly, look no further. There's no denying the massive popularity and undeniable influence of George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead. In Europe, it spawned a franchise of loosely connected zombie-themed films, known as the Zombi franchise, in addition to a slew of imitators. A remake could have VERY easily been a soulless cash grab, instead turned out to be one of the best zombie movies since 2000.

7 days after you watch that video tape...

Although zombies never really went away, their popularity was beginning to wane following their peak in the 80's. In the late 90's, a survival horror video game franchise helped breathe new life into the zombie subgenre. Biohazard, known as Resident Evil here in the States, reinvigorated interest in shambling undead corpses coming back to life and eating people. Zombie media has typically been populated by slow-moving, stiff zombies until a British film in 2002 depicted a man awakening from a coma to find post-zombie apocalypse world. 28 Days Later featured people infected with the rage virus that caused them to become extremely violent and could not only run but chase people down on foot. While the infected aren't officially called "zombies", 28 Days popularized the idea of fast-moving, running zombies which was further cemented by this remake of Dawn released two years later.

Hey! Is that Burt Reynolds?! Oh...

We follow a nurse (Sarah Polley) and a group of survivors that hole up at local shopping mall during a zombie outbreak. The mall setting comes directly from Romero's version but the characters and events are all original. Ving Rhames is a bad ass cop with a shotgun and Mekhi Phifer is a father-to-be who just wants to protect his wife and child by any means necessary. After arriving at the mall, they were initially going to be turned away by the a group of security guards led by C.J. (Michael Kelly) but were allowed to stay after turning over their weapons. They're eventually joined by a second wave of survivors that includes the beautiful Lindy Booth (Wrong Turn, Cry Wolf), as a fragile teen who loses her father and gets emotionally attached to a dog they find in the underground parking structure, and Ty Burrell who is great as a self-absorbed, snarky douchebag.

Nudity: There's a sex scene between two of the survivors at the mall and you can see the very lovely Kim Poirier's breasts. She was also in Decoys 2: Alien Seduction, which was a direct-to-video knock-off of Species. A girl's breasts are shown as the end credits roll, it's footage from Steve's (Ty Burrell) camera that the survivors are using to document their travels. 

Gore: Tons. People are bitten, heads are impaled with sticks, people and zombies alike are cut apart by chainsaws, and there are headshots aplenty. I like that they didn't hold back on the violence, part of why zombies are so terrifying is because of the amount of death and carnage they bring with them. They're not like Dracula who sneaks into your bedroom at night or demons that possess you, they're your friends and family who have lost their humanity and are just trying to eat you.

Awesome: to the MAX! I loved this movie when it first came out and I still love it whenever I watch it. This was a great update to a Romero classic. The survivors on the roof make a game out of shooting zombies in the head with the owner of gun shop across the parking lot. When they plan to escape to the docks and hop on a boat, they build these bad ass armored shuttles lined with barbed wire. Tom Savini, Ken Foree, and Scott Reiniger from the original all make cameo appearances. This was also the first time I ever heard the lounge cover of Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness" by Richard Cheese. And finally, this was written by James Gunn and directed by Zack Snyder! I actually hear that James Gunn left to work on a different project and other writers were brought in to finish the script but Gunn got solo writing credits. Regardless, this movie brought together two of the biggest names in Hollywood right now. James Gunn directed the unexpected hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, for Marvel and Zack Snyder is helming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice along with the Justice League movie for DC.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Night of the Living Dead (USA, 1990) - Color, Director(s): Tom Savini
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 92 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

Say Cheese!

George Romero's seminal zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, is undoubtedly a classic and landmark film in cinema. Due to an unfortunate mix up with the film's copyright, it slipped into public domain and Romero actually saw little in the way of profits. Concerned that someone would eventually produce an unauthorized remake, Romero decided to produce it himself. Tom Savini was originally brought back to do special effects, after working on Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, but was persuaded to direct the movie instead.

Barbara and Ben

While staying loyal to the original film, I think the remake does improve on certain aspects of Romero's version. The original movie may have been subversive for featuring a black protagonist, but feminists have criticized the character of Barbra for being helpless and "virtually catatonic" throughout the film. Patricia Tallman's (Babylon 5, Army of Darkness) portrayal of Barbara is strong, vigilant, and a total bad ass. There's a moment after she arrives at the house where she's in shock but quickly gets over it. She has the awareness to know whenever someone, living or dead, is coming up behind her. She's the one who realizes you can run past the zombies and makes plans to escape. She's crackshot with the rifle, getting headshots on every zombie she aims at, and she even bashes a tubby zombie's head in with a fire poker! In true Final Girl form, you even see her literally and metaphorically putting on the pants in one scene.

Tony Todd (Candyman) plays Ben and he's fantastic as always. Tom Towles, who sadly passed away earlier in April this year, plays the obnoxious Harry Cooper. Towles is known for playing scumbags and he really manages to get under your skin from the very first moment he appears on screen. In the original movie, Harry was a selfish coward only looking out for his own self-interest but Towles' Cooper is all that and more. He's a loud, pompous jackass who acts like a big shot around his wife but doesn't lift a finger to help everyone else board up windows.


This movie has the same claustrophobic setting as the original but a couple of the characters are more developed. This one also touches more on how difficult it is to kill loved ones, especially when you don't know what's going on or what's causing them to act this way. Russell Streiner (Barbara's brother Johnny from the original) and "Chilly Billy" Cardille both make cameo appearances.

Uncle Rege Zombie

Nudity: Matching nude male and female zombie buttocks. There is some female zombie sideboob too but it's hardly worth mentioning

Gore: Not as much as you might expect from a movie directed by Tom Savini. He had to cut several scenes from the film to avoid an NC-17 rating and was not allowed to fully explore his vision. Savini describes the production as the worst nightmare of his life, with less than half of his ideas making it into the final version of the film. The make-up and special effects do look fantastic though! The effects team studied autopsy and forensic pathology textbooks to make them look as realistic as possible. I hear that Savini sometimes shows the cut scenes at conventions. I would really like to have seen his vision without meddling from producers or the MPAA.

Awesome: Very. As far as remakes go, this is definitely one of the better ones I've ever seen. Initially, the movie caught a lot of flack for being so similar to the original but has since gained some cult popularity. I think this remake does exactly what remakes are supposed to do, update certain aspects of the story. If the story was radically different, they should just make a completely original film. Following the era of splatter cinema that the original helped usher in and the slasher boom of the 70's and 80's, I feel like a full color update is very much welcome. Sadly, there have been multiple attempts to cash-in on this title and they have all been terrible. There's even a campaign for an animated remake with genre favorites attached like Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, and Bill Moseley. Much like the living dead, they never stop coming!