Zombies

Dance of the Dead

I went into Dance of the Dead expecting a better film. Detention of the Dead was good enough to get me looking for similar films. Which brought me to Dance of the Dead and I don’t like near as much. Mostly because I feel I was cheated on the Dance part of this film, since the majority of the film doesn’t take place at the dance. I feel bad for not liking this film, it has everything going for it. It’s a cheesy zombie flick, set at a prom, and its low budget with a focus on practical effects. I should be loving this film, but I’m not.

Dance of the Dead opens in a graveyard next to nuclear power plant. The grave keeper covers up the fact the dead are rising by removing the parts that break the surface. At the towns high school everyone is preparing for the upcoming prom. Steven (Chandler Darby) a member of the Sci-Fi club, tries to ask out cheerleader Gwen (Carissa Capobianco) after learning her date is sick. But chickens out when she shows interest in Nash Rambler (Blair Redford), the lead singer in a punk band. Meanwhile, Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick) breaks up with her long time boyfriend Jimmy Dunn (Jared Kusnitz) over his inability to take anything seriously and decides to go to the dance with Rod (Mark Lynch) instead. The night of the prom the Sci-Fi club led by Jules (Mark Lynch) goes and investigates the graveyard. At the same graveyard Rod and Lindsey park before the dance and start getting hot and heavy. When the dead rise in force, attacking the teens, killing Rod. Though Lindsey and the others manage to escape in Rod’s car. Jimmy on his way to the dance is forced to deliver a pizza for his job. When he arrives the family that ordered the pizza are now zombies and attack him. Jimmy manages to escape. He comes across an overturn truck, the only survivor is Kyle Grubbin a bully and Jimmy’s enemy. Kyle gets his gun and starts shooting zombies and nearly shoots Gwen when she’s jogging by. The three flee the zombie horde. Lindsey calls Jimmy after she and the Sci-Fi club take refuge in a house. Jimmy, Kyle and Gwen make their way to them via the sewers, which the discover is heavily polluted from the nuclear power plant. The group now formed decided to make a mad dash to try and save everyone at the prom before they become zombies.

I should love this movie, but it’s just not there for me. The acting is good enough that its not enjoyably awful, so a lot of them come off as dry or stilled.  None of the actors seem to be on the same page. Most of the performances you get the standard b zombie flick, but some of the characters are so over the top you cant tell if this film knows how to be funny. I had a real problem with the character of Coach Keel played by Mark Oliver, who is way to over the top compared to the rest of the cast.

This films tone is just as wildly inconstant, that I can only compare to the later Ernest films. One moment you go from zombie horror film to the humor with no real delineation. Just zombies, bad joke, oh more zombies, bad joke, zombies again over and over.

Though the film isn’t without it merits. It really shows what you can do with a small budget. Even if I don’t like the over out come and I have to respect it for that. The effects are gory and well done with the zombies looking the range of laughable to pretty alright. The transformations were handled better than I expected.  The music is often spot on for the moment and complements the scenes well.

Final thoughts, I you really like zombie films check it out. If on the other hand you’re only passingly a fan or not a fan of them at all, I’d say skip  it. There’s better teen zombie horror films out there. I really wish I could recommend this film but I just can’t. 4/10

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Cooties

mv5bmta4mtm5nzexmjbeqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdyyntk1otux-_v1_uy1200_cr8906301200_al_Cooties was a rough start, but a smooth finish. I really enjoy the standard zombie survival portion, but the lead in felt like it took forever. Which it really doesn’t, it just feels that way. I’ve seen comparisons between this and Zombieland. Out of the two, Zombieland is far and away the better film. Other than zombies and both being a horror-comedies, the films have little to nothing in common.  That said, Cooties isn’t a bad film. In fact, it’s kind of a good one.

The film owns with a sick chicken being slaughtered and turned into chicken nuggets. Which are sent off into the world to be consumed by kids like Shelly (Sunny May Allison). Which turns her into a zombie, though not instantly. Clint (Elijah Wood) is a struggling writer, who is also a substitute teacher. After moving back to his home town, Clint gets hired to substitutes at Fort Chicken Elementary School. Where his high school sweetheart Lucy (Alison Pill) works. The two catch-up and share some chemistry, when Wade (Rainn Wilson) the PE Teacher and Lucy’s husband comes in and gets jealous. During class, one of Clint’s students, full on zombie Shelly attacks the class bully Patriot (Cooper Roth). Biting Patriot’s face and scratching Clints arm before escaping by running outside. Patriot is sent to the nurse and Clint continues with his day. During recess, newly transformed Patriot attacks and infects the other kids, each turning faster than the last. Soon the child zombies descend upon the teachers killing them until Clint, Lucy, Wade along with Tracy (Jack McBrayer), Doug (Leigh Whanell) and Rebekka (Nasim Pedrad) and students Calvin (Armani Jackson) and Tamara (Morgan Lily) try to survive the zombie onslaught.

The strong comedic cast sets the tone for this film as more a comedy than a horror film. Even when Cooties tries to get a strong sense of Dread, the constant comedy ruins its chances of building on up. Their are a handful of suspenseful moments, and some great references to the tropes within the genre. But Cooties never come across as foreboding and doesn’t inspire any sense of fright or unease after or while viewing.

So, while not the best horror film. It is great if you want a horror film that has a sizable amount of gore, but is just as sizable with the laughs. It’s really the great comedic cast against Elijah Wood’s straight man that makes this film work. The characters are all wacky and strange, but at the same times charming and harmless. Which is endearing allowing you to actually like the characters.

The dread location works great. I prefer location based zombie films, ie being trapped in a house/mall/military compound/what ever vs. the open road where large distances are traversed in a post zombie apocalypse. So I really liked the school and is the classic backdrop to the students vs teachers motif.

Final thoughts, I really liked this film… once it got going. As I feel the lead up is a little slow. But once all the kids turn into zombies and Cooties blossoms into the zombie film is was meant to be, it gets really good. The writing is great, the acting is hilarious and the zombies are gory. Other than the slow start my only complaint is Clint’s character gets really annoying about his book, real fast. 8/10

Cell (2016)

mv5bmtezntq2otyxmjheqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdc0otkznzgx-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Cell is pretty cut and dry for a zombie film, sticking to what I feel makes for a great one. A slower plot that’s more focused on the characters than with smashing heads and getting as big as a body count as possible. Not that mass zombiecide isn’t on the plate, because it is. Just the focus is on the underlying horror and tension than it is about the gore. Combing my two loves, Stephen King and Zombies seem like a no brainer way to get a solid ten for me. Unfortunately, Cell does have a few too many issues on the logical order of things for me to ride this train that far.

Cell opens in the Boston Airport, with Clay Riddell’s (John Cusack) cell phone dying as he exits his plan. He uses a payphone to call his ex-wife and expresses his wishes to see his son. After a call a strange signal comes in over the Cell Phones of all those near by. Causing them to go into a homicidal rage, attacking those that didn’t hear the signal. Clay manages to escape the airport by way of the subway, which shuts down when the power goes out. On the subway, he meets Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson), the engineer of the subway train. The two leave the subway and make for Clay’s apartment, where they encounter Alex Maxwell (Isbelle Fuhrman), Clays teenage next door neighbor. Who had just killed her mother after hearing the signal and becoming a “phoner”. Clay is driven by the need to see if his son and ex-wife are OK, and leaves to go find them with Tom and Alex. Along the way they find themselves at a boarding school, with only the headmaster Charles Ardai (Stacy Keach) and the only uninfected boy, Jordan (Owen Teague) left. Charles invites them to stay and shows them the field which is full of sleeping Phoners. He explains that they sleep together and night while listening to their phones, as if they are getting software updates. With Clay and Tom’s help, Charles has them set fire to the field with a tanker truck of gas. Though things don’t work out and the explosion kills Charles. The next place they stop is drive-in theater cafe, where they sleep out the day when Phoners are active. During which they all have nightmares featuring a Phoner in a red hoodie, a prominent figure in Clay’s graphic novel. Their journey continues until they come upon a bar, though this one contains uninfected humans bound for Kashwak, a place they a supposed dead zone for cell phones and there for safe. That night the others at the bar become transformed into Phoners and attack the main group. Though Clay and Tom manage to kill them, they aren’t able to do so before one of their own is killed, Alex. After Alex dies, the come across another group of survivors and through them learn that Kashwak is a lie. A trap somehow set up by the Phoners. Though trap or not, it doesn’t matter after Clay reaches his wife’s home and learns of her fate and that his son has headed to Kashwak…

By and large this film is just a slight twist on the standard zombie film, following the 28 Days Later formula of the running zombie. The zombie motif is further re-enforced when the Phoners gain the ability to infect others by playing the signal from their mouths, rather than a bite.

The acting is what sets this film apart as the cast all does a really great job. With special emphasis given to Samuel L. Jackson, Isbelle Fuhrman, and Stacy Keach. Keach does a fantastic job given how little he’s in the film. He manages to steal the scene constantly for the few scenes he’s in. I was less impressed with John Cusack, who often felt like he was just walking through his scenes. Though I haven’t liked a Cusack film since Identity.

I was impressed with the ending, which it seems is a strange stance to take with this film. As it left a sad and haunting impression, along with a feeling of hopelessness. Something that is great, since the a good horror film should inspire negative emotions.

But like I said there are a few issues I have. First of all, the cell towers somehow remain active when the power seems to be failing elsewhere. As power fails and those meant to man the stations disappear I would think the towers would become nonoperational fairly quickly. Next is the Phoners are constantly shown with their phones, but never recharge them. Every phone during the scene where their sleeping in the football field is on, bright and playing music. I don’t know about them but my phone last less than a full day of constant use. So I can’t help but wonder when they all charge their phones?

Final thoughts, it’s no masterpiece, but I do like it. The issues I have with phoners does get to me and the constant wondering about the cell phones and the towers did distract me a bit too much to get any true fulfillment out of this film. The acting is solid and the effects are decently done, better than I would have expected. But I can’t help but feel that people becoming zombies because of the cell phones was done better and more subtly in Warm Bodies. 8/10

Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn

night-living-dead-darkest-dawn-posterDarkest Dawn, is another retelling of Night of the Living Dead and overall it’s good. Released in 2015, Darkest Dawn is a CGI animated film, though with its sixty-two minute run time film might be a bit of a stretch. Made on a shoestring budget in a garage and having been trapped in production hell for five years, Darkest Dawn deserves a medal for just getting finally made. Though, Darkest Dawn still has a myriad of flaws, some far more glaring than others.

Darkest Dawn opens with a zombie waking on an airplane and attacking the flight attendant before it quickly killed by an Air Marshall. It then cuts to Barbra (Danielle Harris), who’s visiting her father’s grave while on the phone with her brother Johnny (Bill Moseley). Johnny taunts her for her fear of cemeteries from his office in a skyscraper. Which is promptly hit by the plane from the opening. Barbra witness this and also notices the dead filling up the grave yard, which she quickly flees. She finds her way to a townhouse, but is attacked when inside. As she runs out of the apartment she comes across Bed (Tony Todd). Ben quickly deals with dead inside the townhouse and sets to securing it. When Barbra is upstairs she’s attacked by Harry Cooper (Joseph Pilato) and Tom (Madhavan). She’s rescued by Ben, due to him having a shotgun. We learn that they’ve been hiding out on the roof since those things started attacking the city. Not wanting to stay up on the roof, Bed elects to stay downstairs and is joined by Barbra. Tom also joins him along with his girlfriend Judy (Sarah Habel). Up on the roof Harry’s wife Helen (Alona Tal) watches over their sick daughter, Karen (Luann De Soto), who was bitten. The Coopers eventually come down, just in time to catch a news broadcast from a military unit just a few blocks away. After the house breached the group makes their way towards the military outpost…

Other than the change-up of updating the setting to current day New York and having the survivors leave the house. Darkest Dawn hits all the main notes from the original. From the famous line “They’re coming to get you Barbra” to Ben and Harry butting heads, Harry’s bitten daughter, to the bleak ending. So it was nice seeing the integrity of the original, so well-preserved for this adaptation.

The voicing acting is really good, almost top-notch with Tony Todd just shinning. With the other actors doing nearly as well, with only the supporting cast ever feeling a little campy at times. The Pacing is also incredibly solid and the tension is really allowed to build.

My one complaint is on the visuals. Which looked like an early PS1 CGI cut scene. I spent the whole film expecting to have press start to begin the game or to have take control of one of the characters. This is quite honestly some of the worst CGI work to see come out in recent years. But I can understand given this work was done in a basement.

Final thoughts, beyond the awful visuals Darkest Dawn is a real good re-imaging. It  stays true to the spirit of the film is redoing, while still changing and tweaking things enough to make it its own. Is it better than the original? Absolutely not. But for fans of the franchise it is most defiantly worth the watch. 7/10

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

dawn_of_the_dead_ver2I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through this film again. Having not seen it in over a decade, all I could remember about it was the zombie baby and a couple of stupider moments in the film. I watched this film back in a time when I was just getting into zombies and something about them in the film bothered me. So having left a bad taste in my mouth and a sour memory I’ve never revisited it. Now having done so, I can’t really see what my issue with this movie is. Sure there is a handful of cheesy moments and a zombie baby. But the few inadequacies the film has, it more than makes up for it with some pretty great character moments and growth. Plus it features one hell of a great opening.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) opens with Ana (Sarah Polley) getting off a long shift at the hospital where she works as a nurse. She mentions that it’s strange that one of her patients from that night who was admitted with a bite has been moved to the ICU and a man with a bite on his neck is being wheeled into the emergency room as she’s leaving. She heads home, where she crawls into bed with her husband. Though while the two have a moment in the shower they miss the new bulletin about what’s going down and go to bed blissfully unaware. Ana’s husband wakes up in the early morning with the neighbors girl standing his doorway. When he asks if she’s alright, she moves into the light revealing a badly marred face. He rushes to her, only for her to bite a hold in his throat. Ana forces her off him and locks her out of the room, then turns her attention to trying to save her husband. Who bleeds to death, as she desperately tries to reach 911. Though he doesn’t stay dead, he rises and attacks her. But she manages to escape to the bathroom, then out the window. Outside the entire neighborhood is in chaos with cars burning and people being eaten in the streets. She manages to escape to the highway, but crashes her car after a man tries to steal it from her. She wakes up later to Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a Police Sargent pointing a shotgun at her. After proving she isn’t one of the infected the two head off, the come across other survivors Micheal (Jake Weber), ex-thug Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). The five of them head to the local mall to take refuge. Inside they’re again attacked with Kenneth getting cut and Luda, unknown to the others gets bitten. The group come across the mall security on the second floor led by CJ (Michael Kelly), with Bart (Michael Berry) and Terry (Kevin Zegers). The two groups get off to a rough start with CJ not wanting them to stay, but relents. Though he keeps them locked in one of the stores. This is until a truck shows up looking for help. CJ’s unwillingness to help leads to a coup and the new survivors consisting of Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Frank (Matt Frewer), his daughter Nicole (Lindy Booth), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Steve (Ty Burrell), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid) and a heavy-set sick woman in a wheelbarrow (Ermes Blarasin), are allowed inside. Ana tends to their wounds, but focuses mostly on the sick woman. She has a massive infection stemming from a bite she received from one of the undead and after dying rises again. Though she quickly put down via poker to the eye. This leads Ana to the discovery of those who are bit get sick, die and rise again. Which is why she feels that it spread so fast. Which is bad news for Frank, as he was also bitten. Though he consents to being quarantined and put down after he turns. After Andre hears the news about the bites, he hides away Luda who’s been getting sicker and sicker…

This version of the film bares very little resemblance to the original. Other than being survivors in a mall during the zombie Apocalypse the two films couldn’t be any more different. Other than their focus on character growth over the actual zombies, though this version does spotlight them far more. The film has a lot of quiet moments, like all the characters sharing a meal and quizzing Micheal on what job he was best and worst at, given he had so many. The answers being Husband and Father respectively. This scene adds a great level of humanity to these characters and makes you like them and care for them. That way when they’re eaten alive you actually care.

Though the most humanizing moment actually comes from Frank and is one of my favorite scenes in the film. When he states before he dies that he wants every second. This was the only good scene that stuck with me and I was happy to see that it lived up to its memory.

The zombie effects this time around are just great. Easily among the best in the franchise, but with larger budgets come better effects. Which this film has a lot of, a lot. As each zombie has a unique look and eventually things start blowing up like a Micheal Bay film.

My main issue comes from the zombie baby, which if you feel is spoiler. I’m sorry it’s one of the most well-known parts of this film. I understand Andre and where the baby fits into the overall story, but it feels more stuffed in for shock value than it does for anything else. Well, and an easy way for them to start scrubbing out some characters from the bloated cast.

Final thoughts, its got a certain level of cheese and at times takes its self a little too serious. But it does manage to be a solid zombie film and a pretty OK horror film. Both steaming from the very likeable cast, save one or two characters you’re meant to hate. Zack Snyder did an excellent job in his directorial debut, taking an old film and giving a drastic overhaul for new audiences. 8/10

Day of the Dead (1985)

day_of_dead_poster_01The last of the original Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead once again picks up where the previous film left off. Humanity is now on the brink of extinction with a just a few hold outs left. Which is part of what really makes the original films so good. They have a sense of time, an order of events that tie them all together. Turning them into a more or less one cohesive narrative without having to rely on familiar faces or locals. Just a common theme, zombies.. and a sense of hopelessness, and the fact that we are still our biggest threat and not the hungry dead. While not my favorite in the series, Day does vie for the second, maybe third place. This is mostly due to the strength of the films antagonist Captain Henry Rhodes, who is one of my favorite all time characters I love to hate.

The world is now overrun with zombies, which now far outnumber people. Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), radio operator McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander), and Private Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.), who also happens to be Sarah’s boyfriend are out searching for other survivors. Though all they find is a city full of the walking dead. With no luck they return to the underground military bunker they call home. While away the base commander died, leaving his second in command, Captain Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) in charge. Rhodes states his displeasure with Dr. Bowman, along with her superior Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who he and the other soldiers refer to as Frankenstein and his assistant Dr. Fisher (John Amplas) for lack of progress and the constant drain or resources they represent. After an accident that leaves two of his soldiers dead and Miguel maimed after being bitten and having his arm amputated the already tense situation worsens. But the things go straight off the rails when Dr. Bowman and McDermott come across a tape revealing how unhinged Dr. Logan has become while looking for medication for Miguel and witness Dr. Logan feed Bub (Sherman Howard), Logan’s pet zombie that seems docile and even remembers fragments of its past life and decided to take the helicopter before someone else does. Though they get interrupted by Captain Rhodes, who when he learns the rewards for training Bub was the remains of his soldiers kills Dr. Logan and Dr. Fisher. All while Miguel, who suicidal and not wanting to turn, lets the zombies into the base…

Much like the first film, where it wasn’t intentional and here it is very much so, race seems to be a big factor. Racism seems to often be at the forefront with Rhodes other soldiers pointing out Miguel is a Mexican when they feel he has caused the death of the other soldiers. Something that wasn’t his fault and after it had been suggested he be taken off active duty due to his erratic behavior. Though Rhodes is very stressed for manpower so his argument is just is valid.

Rhodes though, is my favorite character, a villain that I absolutely love to hate. I want to say the delivery is a bit over the top. But given the level mental stress the character has to be under, I can’t really say that I don’t understand where his character is coming from, putting the actions and delivery of the character into a far more believable scope.

Bub is another great character. I think I like the character because he’s in a way and extension of the zombies progression throughout the series so far. Where in Night, all the zombies were just mindless undead, in Dawn they showed a sense of memory returning to the Mall. For as the that film put, “this place was important them”. Bub shows fragments of who he was, enjoying music, saluting an officer, and after trying to shoot a gun that’s empty checks for a clip and looks upset when he see’s its empty. Though his character really shines after he free’s himself and so pleased with that fact goes to show Dr. Logan and when he finds his corpse runs the gamut of emotions from grief to anger, finally settling on vengeance.

Final thoughts, like the other entries in the series George A. Romero knocks it out the park by knowing that a zombie film isn’t about the zombies. It’s a character drama, with all the character exploration and revelations that need to come with it. I like that Day takes the same level of attention to character that Dawn had and expanded to the mindless undead. Showing that maybe they aren’t all the mindless. 8.5/10

Night of Living Dead (1968)

night-of-the-living-dead-posterWhile not the film that originated the zombie, as films such as white zombie proceed it. Night of the Living Dead is what popularized the idea of the undead zombie and forced into the mainstream consciousness. Something that I would forever be grateful for. Though the idea of zombies eating brains would show up until Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead laid the groundwork for every zombie film to follow, while at the same time being a cinematic masterpiece.

Night of the Living Dead opens with Barbra Blair (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner), visiting the grave of their father. While visiting, the pair are attacked by a man, later revealed to be one of the undead, during the attack Johnny is killed when his head strikes a tombstone. Barbra flees to the car, but as Johnny has the keys she is unable to drive away and is beset by the man. She manages to escape by releasing the brake and coasting down hill until she crashes into a tree and flees on foot. She finds her way to a secluded farmhouse that seems abandoned and hides inside. While searching the house she comes across the mangled body of a murdered woman and in fright she runs from the house where she encounters Ben (Duane Jones). He rushes her inside as he’s been followed by a few of the undead. Once inside, he boards up the doors and windows, he tries talking Baraba who is now pretty much just catatonic. After securing the house people come up from the basement where they’ve been hiding Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) a teenage couple and a family consisting of Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) along his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), who is sick after being bitten by one of he undead. Harry, who has a short temper instantly starts butting heads with the more level-headed seeming Ben. Instantly putting the group at odds with one another. After hearing about a safe place to go on the radio they decided to make a desperate gamble to survive…

I love this film over others in the zombie sub-genre is because it actually has very little to do with the zombies. As a good zombie film should, sure they’re the danger an ever-present threat, forcing out heroes into action or inaction. But its focus is on the characters giving them full complex personalities, which makes them both relatable and even like-able.

The gore effects are pretty solid, mostly because the film is in black and white which lets your imagination get to work and the fact they used real chunks of meat during films. That and this film was made in a time when CGI wasn’t a thing a yet. So the effects are all practical. That said, by modern sensibility the gore is tame by today’s standards.

Where this film really shines is in the acting. As every actor does a great job making their character stand out and be memorable while not detracting from the main film in any way. Judith O’Dea especially since she basically a comatose wreak half the film, but when she has a dialogue she emotes and you get a strong sense of who this character is. While never questioning her emotional state.

Final thoughts, I really love this film and saying its the best zombie movie ever wouldn’t be a lie. That said, the first three Of the Dead films are cult classics for a reason. It’s hard to say anything new here as this film is a classic and any horror fan worth their salt has already seen it and its countless estimators. 10/10

Also, its public domain.