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Zombies
by Liz Cole

Continued from Part One.

Asian zombies

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.

stacy

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.

shaun and ed

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.

chopper chicks

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.

GreenCine Recommends...

Liz Cole's Favorite Zombie Films:

The Omega Man (1971). Adaptation number two of Richard Matheson's novel, this allegory of American society after the various social changes of the 1960s opens with a wistful Charlton Heston watching Woodstock in an abandoned movie theater. Heston is the last man on Earth who hasn't been killed or turned into a zombie by bio-chemical warfare. More particularly, he's the last white male authority figure, a fact that isn't lost on the cult of Luddite zombies that gather outside his apartment every night to attack him with catapults as he plays chess and listens to classical music. To offset this, he helps out a group of scruffy kid survivors of the zombie plague, and sleeps with a tough-talking Angela Davis look-alike.

dead alive

Dead Alive (Brain Dead) (1992). The plot doesn't really matter. The way it's executed is fantastic. A much-loved aspect of Dead Alive is the crazy humor which includes kicking ass for the Lord, an insane zombie baby, and one of the longest, slipperiest, bloodiest, funniest battles ever against an army of zombies.

Shaun of the Dead (2004). It's often said that the true character of a man is only revealed in times of dire crisis, and for likable, lovelorn loser Shaun (Simon Pegg), that moment of reckoning came when the dead rose from their slumber to feast on the flesh of the living. With his trusty roommate by his side, nothing - not even the living dead - can stand between Shaun and the two most important women in his life.

28 Days Later (2002). From Trainspotting director Danny Boyle. Waking from a coma in a deserted London hospital 28 days after infected chimpanzees are released from a lab, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) takes to the city streets in a state of mystified confusion. It's up to him, and a small not-yet-undead posse, to sustain the human race and avoid the blood splatters that will turn them into frothing, flesh-hungry freaks.

Re-Animator (1985). Herbert West is a brilliant medical student who has perfected a green-glowing serum for regenerating life into dead things - or even parts of dead things. But a corrupt superior assumes control of West's experiments and winds up, by ghastly necessity, using the stuff on his own severed head and body.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987). Horror maven Wes Craven attempted a slight change of pace from his usual slasher movie milieu with this chiller loosely based on a true story. Bill Pullman stars as a Harvard researcher sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical company to investigate a drug that could be used as a new breed of powerful anesthetic. Once on the Caribbean isle, Alan is aided by a good voodoo priest, or "houngan", and his daughter, who runs a local clinic. Alan's search also pits him against an evil houngan who controls the Haitian secret police, who are involved with soon-to-be-deposed dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

Zombie/Zombi 2 (1979): A nosy reporter, a boat with a very hungry zombie that visits America, and an island where voodoo has turned most of the locals into you-know-what. Zombi is full of nudity and gore with special Italian touches: hideous eye gouging, choreographed cannibalism, and the famous scene in which a brash underwater zombie takes on a shark.

Land of the Dead. A return to what George Romero does best. The world is overrun by zombies and they're starting to evolve. The survivors have barricaded themselves inside a walled city to keep out the living dead. As the wealthy hide out in skyscrapers and chaos rules the streets, the rest of the survivors must find a way to stop the evolving zombies from breaking into the city.

Bio Zombie (2001). Hong Kong contribution to the zombie genre (or the mall-filled-with-zombies subgenre) is both funny and scary.

Junk (1999). Offers a few 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.

Return of the Living Dead (1985). Once intended to be a completely serious Romero tribute (or rip-off), it became its own, darkly funny, punk rocking entity. With the tag line: "They're back...They're Hungry...And they're NOT vegetarian."

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