Sunday, June 22, 2008

Couple more zombie film snips

I know I promised my mom that the next movie I reviewed wasn't going to be a horror movie. But IFC has had this great Thursday night Grindhouse feature going on all month (that I only found out about last week - grrr) and I just can't seem to help myself. Technically these little snippets don't really count as "reviews" so I'm not technically a liar, technically. All rationalizations aside, the two indie horror movies I watched Friday and Saturday nights were pretty much diametrically opposed to each other atmosphere-wise, and I'm tickled that I got a chance to see them.

On Friday night I watched John Carpenter's The Fog (1980), starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook. Set on the dramatic California coast, an idyllic village is about to celebrate its centennial when it is visited by an eerie, glowing fog bank. The fog contains zombie lepers - or zombie ghosts, it's not clear although they're certainly corporeal enough to wield swords and grappling hooks to ill-effect - who are out for revenge against the town. Adrienne Barbeau plays a sexy single mom who owns the local radio station, headquartered in a lighthouse, and she gives a play-by-play over the radio as she helplessly watches the fog roll in. Hal Holbrook plays the village priest who figures out what is going on; Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hitchhiker who makes a connection with a local fisherman; and Janet Leigh is a high-strung town elder in charge of the centennial celebration.

The greatness of The Fog comes from Carpenter's ability to create dread and tension using little more than music and a fog machine. There's very little actual violence (just a couple of off-screen stabbings), no gore to speak of and only one clear shot of a zombie leper's wormy face. What is scary is the implacable approach of the fog, knowing that something is out there, in the swirling mists, but not knowing when or where it show up. My only complaint was when Barbeau climbed to the roof of her lighthouse to "escape" the zombie/ghosts: first, once you're up there, there's nowhere else to go; second, if you can climb up, so can they and now you're trapped. Stupid horror movie heroines. Regardless, it's good and spooky fun.

On the other end of the spectrum entirely was last night's feature: Dead Alive (or Braindead, as it was released in Peter Jackson's native New Zealand). Holy frakkin' moly - how Jackson went from this 1992 movie to being allowed to make LoTR less than ten years later ... somebody in the studios took a big chance. I know he made another couple of good films in between (The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures) but I haven't seen them yet. What I've seen is Dead Alive and, I repeat, holy frakkin' moly. It isn't scary but it is bloody and disgusting and violent and just so much fun - I sat for much of the movie with my jaw dropped open in disbelief.

Typical zombie story, really: Lionel's mum gets an accidental bite from a Sumatran rat-monkey and quickly zombifies, making life truly miserable for poor mama's-boy Lionel. Like a good son he tries to care for her even so, but she is after all a zombie, and soon Lionel and his new girlfriend Paquita are battling for their lives against hordes of ravenous flesh-eaters.

The greatness of this movie is the gore. It's insane. A zombie punches through a victim's head and strangles another victim with its hand poking through the first's mouth. For much of the main action sequence, Lionel is chased throughout his house by the reanimated and tenacious stomach, lungs and intestines of a dismembered zombie. I can't even tell you all of it but the tide turns when Lionel brings his lawnmower inside, hoists it up to shoulder-level and literally mows down the mob of zombies. I was laughing and gasping and cringing and loving every over-the-top minute of it.

Since most of what I know of New Zealand is from this movie, the fabulous Black Sheep and the Flight of the Conchords series, I'm now pretty certain that Kiwis are total nutjobs. I'm not sure I want anyone to convince me otherwise.

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