A Zombie Analysis
By Kristin Battestella
As our horror marathons, viewing lists, and Halloween escapades continue to go on even into November, several series and sequels have been scattered across the critique cemeteries. So, here’s a quick and easy breakdown of our zombie treats- along with a few new undead debates.
Day of the Dead – George A. Romero gives us a bleak look at science versus the military in this 1985 second sequel to Night of the Living Dead. The cavernous underground but confined setting is great for intimate threats and limited places as Lori Cardille (Ryan’s Hope) and Joseph Pilato (Pulp Fiction) adversely cling to some semblance of civilization. Once again, it is the people behaving badly- not the zombies- that creates all the problems. This is a lovely study into what makes the undead how they are, if they are still human at all, or if they can or should be tamed. Who is the real animal here? Is the zombie invasion some sort of punishment or judgment against us or a humbling reason to restart humanity back on the right track? Despite great gore and fear, the pace may seem slow to some. There isn’t a lot of humor here, which helped Day’s predecessor Dawn of the Dead, but we are watching the breakdown of society thanks to flesh eating monsters, remember. This is clearly a stressed, unhappy situation, and it makes for great horror film.
Shaun of the Dead –I mentioned this 2004 ‘rom zom com’ previously in a quick recommends list, but I must discuss co-writer Simon Pegg (Star Trek) and director Edgar Wright’s (Spaced) fun take on zombies further. Within this unique mixing of genres, time is allowed for us to know and enjoy our players with tongue firmly in cheek thanks to a bemusing yet tender and likeable cast including Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), Billy Nighy (Underworld), Kate Ashfield (This Little Life), and Penelope Wilton (Downtown Abbey). Amid all the humor, there are also serious touches of life and relationships with great ironic uses of music, the media, and horror clichés. After all, only a pulse separates our humdrum and routine lives from zombification. Really, there’s so much wastelessness going on in Shaun’s life that he doesn’t even initially notice the zombie apocalypse is going on! Yes, it’s poking fun at traditional undead and romantic fair, but there’s also something quite smart here, with fine camerawork and editing to both mock, scare, and heighten the humor without resorting to sex, vulgarity, and torture porn like so many other modern pictures. In jokes, car crash fun, video game delights, even decent blood and gore more than suffice amid the survival debates. Wow, I guess my original one sentence praise did say it all: “Laughter and wit mixed with emotional characters and honest relationships in a zombie flick? Yes.”
White Zombie – Bela Lugosi (Dracula) is done up smashingly twisted as the witchdoctor causing undead trouble for Robert Frazer (The Three Musketeers) and Madge Bellamy (The Iron Horse) in this 70 minute 1932 treat. Though the costumes are thirties smashing, the sound and film is very poor- snap, crackle, pop and all that- making this tough to watch for some. Though it’s easy to think there’s something kinky afoot with some pre-code suggestions and innuendo and the music is quite good and suspenseful, the made on the cheap style is a bit too obvious. The acting is a little over the top, too, and the plot can be somewhat confusing if you don’t hear all the dialogue. The portrayal of Haiti and minorities is also a little stereotypical of the time as well. Nevertheless, this is a fun little piece showcasing the more traditional voodoo zombie angles of those buried alive and soullessly controlled rather than our brain eating slow pokes and humor. Actually, I’m surprised the remake for this hasn’t gotten off the ground yet or that the idea of using zombies as manual labor isn’t used that often- particularly since zombies are currently trumping the glitter vampire wave and post-apocalyptic notions are quite hot right now. It’s technically flawed, but zombie fans can learn a lot here.
It’s Getting Iffy
Return of the Living Dead Part II – This 1988 sequel from John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead spinoffs is played all for the laughs, so much so, that I’m not sure why its rated R. Sure, there’s some kids using weapons against the undead and the usual violence, but compared to its precursor, the nudity, horror smarts and all out gore are lacking here. The quips and zombies are fun, and the guts and gore we are given are good when we get it, but it doesn’t seem like enough. The straight comedy approach with only hints of military secrets and societal hysteria aren’t expanded enough to keep things interesting. A step down from first in this offshoot series, yes that would be fine- but this is almost a parody of the franchise at this point. It is strangely funny that James Karen and Thom Matthews inexplicably return from the Return of the Living Dead, but the gag doesn’t last. I’d much rather writer and director Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves) been allowed to make a proper Part 2 instead of reducing it all to a dumb teen comedy remake. Pity.
Now then, here’s our somewhat organized list of Zombie treats, conveniently in one place at last!
Dead and Living Dead series
Random Undead Juice