by Liz Cole
Continued from Part One.
It is impossible to talk about zombie films without mentioning Bio Zombie, Junk and other late 90's Asian contributions to the genre. The premise of Bio Zombie (1998) is one of the most original you'll find: Iraqi agents smuggle a dangerous biochemical agent into Hong Kong by concealing it in bottles of soda. Two video game bootleggers, Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee, inadvertently unleash it on the public, spawning a zombie scourge in their local shopping mall. This Hong Kong production has lots of blood, humor and tongue-in-cheek twists, as exemplified by the scene where the mall sushi chef takes on an undead football team.
Stacy (2001, Naoyuki Tomomatsu) is absolutely original and defies simple explanation. Schoolgirls around the world are suddenly croaking after bouts of "Near Death Happiness" and rising as flesh-eating zombies (Stacys). However, under the law, the only people who can kill a Stacy are her lover, her family, or the officially sanctioned "Romero Repeat Kill Troops" (the first of many horror in-jokes). There are other genre nods, including a mass-marketed chain saw called "Bruce Campbell's Right Hand 2" (misspelled "Blues Campbell" on the blade) and marketed by a girl in a bunny suit, and a subplot involving repeat-killer girls who worship Drew Barrymore and aspire to be repeat-killed themselves by the Japanese equivalent of Justin Timberlake.
Atsushi Muroga's Junk (1999) is a great zombie movie with all the staples: plenty of gore and a fairly high body count, nudity, an abandoned military base, and an intriguing fixation on the word "yo." Junk also offers a few much-needed original touches in terms of both gender roles and the intelligence of its undead, whether it be a female getaway driver who is more willing than her male partner to drive headlong into a horde of zombies or a prototype female zombie whose strength and abilities exceed that of five men. Muroga's reversal of traditional roles and refusal to take the proceedings too seriously is refreshing.
Wild Zero (1999) was made by music video director Tetsuro Takeuchi and features Japan's famous trash-rockers Guitar Wolf. It follows that Wild Zero isn't for curmudgeonly zombie purists (or for those who can't appreciate camp), but with exploding zombie heads, pyrotechnics and a soundtrack of high volume garage punk, it's hell-bent on pleasing everyone else. I won't explain the plot because you've seen it in other UFO/zombie films, but I'll bet those films didn't have magic killer guitar picks, naked women shooting zombies in the shower, hermaphrodite love, a rampaging nightclub owner in a wig and hotpants, and a Japanese rock star slicing a UFO in half with a sword hidden in the neck of his guitar...
Back with a vengeance
Zombie flicks have always been marginal in their popularity and weak in their box office performance and relegated to the cult-favorites section at video stores, thanks to low production values, mind-numbingly repetitive plots and inherent cheesiness. But along with their fellow slashers subgenre, the 21st century welcomed the stale and tired genre back into the mainstream. Zombie movies hit the box office with a vengeance, from films based on the other prime entertainment media - video games - to those inserting themselves into the molds of romantic comedies. Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson) is not surprisingly action-based, since character development isn't exactly a priority for a film based on a videogame. The sloppy editing seems catered to an audience with the attention span of a fruit fly. However, Milla Jovovich makes a fine action heroine.
A lot of hardcore horror fans weren't happy to discover that the creatures in 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) moved incredibly quick, and that they weren't traditional zombies but people infected with some very strange byproduct of genetic research. But some scary movies need swift zombies, and this is one scary movie. All of London turns undead, followed by, presumably, the world. It's up to a small posse to sustain the human race and avoid the blood splatters that will turn them into frothing, flesh-hungry freaks. The overtaxed psyches of the military men in 28 Days Later prove far scarier than the turbocharged zombies.
Another British contribution, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's Shaun of the Dead (2004) is in some ways a romantic comedy littered with the undead (a "Rom-Zom-Com"). When the city suddenly gets taken over by the living dead, our protagonist Shaun (Pegg) finds the perfect opportunity to prove himself to his girlfriend by saving the day. Shaun is full of funny moments, such as when Shaun and Ed are looking through Shaun's LP collection for a suitable vinyl to throw at two oncoming zombies ("Dire Straits?" "Chuck it!") or when Shaun and his friends beat up an elderly zombie in the pub using cricket bats, all to the rhythm of "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.
Writer/director Dave Gebroe's indie Zombie Honeymoon (2005) is another flesh-eating corpse movie about romantic relationships, and it's a good one. The low-budget shocker, shot in New Jersey with a mostly unknown cast, concerns newlyweds who try to keep their marriage intact after hubby is attacked by a ghoul and becomes infected. This is a straight, tragic love story with plenty of blood, guts and rotting flesh.
Be sure also to check out Andrew Parkinson's originally premised I, Zombie (The Chronicles of Pain, 1998), in which a young man sequestered in the woods to work on his Ph.D. is bitten by a diseased zombie woman. Days later he comes to his senses and realizes that he ate a camper, thus beginning an introspective look at the ethical quandaries faced by zombies. Parkinson followed this up with Dead Creatures (2001), a lovely movie revolving around a group of pretty, normal girls who happen to be living dead in London. They take turns posing as prostitutes, bash their victims' heads in, and keep them around until they begin to smell.
It's worth mentioning the Grade B zombies, too. The title of Redneck Zombies (1987) says it all. Someone uses a barrel of toxic waste to brew moonshine for the entire town, and naturally everybody starts turning into zombies and munching on the living. Troma's Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989) has motorcycle babes, townsfolk, a busload of blind orphans, and a dwarf all fighting zombies in a run-down mining town. It co-stars Billy Bob Thornton (one must start somewhere!), Don Calfa, Lewis Arquette (yes, their dad), and Howard the Duck himself, Ed Gale.
Dead and Buried (directed by Gary Sherman, 1981) is about a series of brutal mob murders in a small beach town, whose victims return as members of the mob with each bloody dispatch. Fangoria called The Dead Next Door (1988) "The A-Team vs. the Zombies." It offers up a cool scene of human protestors for Zombie Rights being attacked by the zombies, and a crack government "Zombie Squad" charged with eliminating all the undead. Italian director Bruno Mattei's Virus (1980), a.k.a. Cannibal Virus a.k.a. Hell of the Living Dead, is a Dawn of the Dead tribute.
Besides Romero's comeback film, other recent contributions to the zombie pantheon include the Australian flick (and future cult favorite) Undead, and the very French They Came Back - only furthering the belief that zombies are a worldwide phenomenon, and here to stay.
"Gee, dad, maybe if you don't eat people, nobody will notice you're a zombie." - Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town
Liz Cole is the director and co-founder of Evil Twin Booking Agency, a worker-owned collective that helps to bring socially conscious independent films such as The Weather Underground, The Fourth World War, The Corporation and Unprecedented, performers like The Yes Men and Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, to small towns and large cities. She is a programmer of the Lost Film Fest, an event focusing on pranks against corporations and government institutions. When in office her first act will be to replace the U.S. national anthem with "Brain Eaters" by the Misfits. Hey, it could happen.