March 01, 2007

Zombie Film

by Jeremy Lassen

In celebration of the release of "The Night of the Comet," March is All Zombie Month.  I know next month would be a better fit, with the Easter Holiday, but I'm trying to avoid the ire of the Catholic-Anti-Defamation league.

"Night of the Comet" is a much-talked-about silly 80's comedy zombie film that has never been on DVD.  It is a total artifact of its era, but is definitely worth seeing if you've never had the pleasure of watching it.

Forgive me for repeating myself, but in an all- zombie newsletter there's bound to be some repetition.  "Return of the Living Dead" is the greatest comedic zombie film of all time, so you might consider watching "Return. . ." with "Night of the Comet".  Another repeat recommendation is "Cemetery Man," which was finally released in the States on DVD last year.  It is also known by its original title, "Dellamorte Dellamore," and is the best existential-zombie love story ever put to film.  Another phenomenally successful comedic zombie film is of course "Shaun of the Dead".  If you're living under a rock, and haven't heard of this one, go watch it. It's great.

Since the new film "28 Months Later" is just ratcheting up its PR campaign, you should take this opportunity to watch the original film "28 Days Later".  This one was a groundbreaker in many ways -- it premiered the modern concept of "fast movers" -- zombies that don't just shuffle but run like Olympic athletes when questing for human flesh.  It brought the concept of "bio-zombies" to the US for the first non-video-game inspired time, and it proved the commercial viability of the zombie sub-genre, ensuring years of turgid remakes of better zombie films from Universal.

Those better films include Romero's original "Dawn of the Dead" which, even in its bloated, overly long and poorly paced "director's cut," was better then the remake, which did such a poor job of introducing and differentiating the characters that I couldn't tell them apart when they started dying.  The opening shot of the remake was brilliant, and if they had stopped there, with a 10 minute movie, it would have been infinitely better. But getting back to the original, I highly recommend you check out the "European" or "Argento" cut of Romero's classic.  Argento was a co-producer to the movie, and he edited the movie and re-scored it for the European audiences.  It was SHORTER then both the US theatrical release and the director's cut, but contained MORE gore then either.  The score was by long-time Argento collaborators Goblin, and the pacing was infinitely better then either of the two US cuts.  In fact, the Argento cut is my favorite version of this film.  And it can be found on DVD, on a 4 disk "ultimate edition," which also includes a significant documentary called "The Dead Will Walk".

Moving on to another "core" zombie director, let's talk Mario Bava.  The Italian schlock-meister had 3 films that need to be seen by any self-respecting zombie fan.  The first, "City of the Living Dead," which I mentioned last month, is getting a reissue from Blue Underground.  Next up is "The Beyond".  Both "City. . .", and "The Beyond" are rather incoherent, stylish messes that feature some beautiful set pieces, and are quintessential examples of Eurozombie madness.  The other film worth tracking down is "Zombie 2".  It is called "Zombie 2" because Romero's zombie epic was initially released in Europe with the title "Zombie," and the distributor owned sequel rights, and Bava was tapped to churn out a "sequel" to "Dawn of the Dead".  "Zombie 2" is really interesting, not because of the classic eyeball trauma scene, nor by its audacious shark vs. zombie fight sequence, but because it went back to Pre-Romero Zombie imagery, and flirted with Caribbean Voodoo zombie imagery and settings.

For one of the best examples of Pre-Romero Voodoo zombies, be sure to watch the Lewton-procured "I Walked With a Zombie".  Directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is a tour-de-force of racial, political and class tensions, wrapped up in a voodoo zombie ribbon.   For a very effective modern  re-working of this voodoo zombie theme, be sure to check out the seemingly non-zombie, post Romero Voodoo film "The Serpent and the Rainbow".  Bill Pulman delivers a phenomenal performance, and Wes Craven directed (arguably) the best film of his somewhat spotty career.

Moving to Japan, I wanted to point out that "Stacey," "Biozombie," and "Versus" are all excellent, and different takes on the zombie genre.  The cultural imperatives in Japan result in films that are very different, but the living/hungry dead prove to be universal icons.  For a very "playful" Japanese zombie movie, be sure to check out "Tokyo Zombie," which can be described as "Shaun of the Dead" meets "Kung Fu Hustle".

Of course there are literally hundreds of other quality zombie movies out there.  Be sure to email me and tell me YOUR favorite zombie film.  I've got to get ready for the October Halloween Zombie Triple Feature at the Variety Screening Room!

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