Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. Look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
But before I get to the zombified delights, I have a few horror tidbits to share…
ZOMBIE TRAMP CONTEST WINNERS!
SAY WHAT YOU SEE: THE COLLECTION
And now, learn how to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse from this trio of zombie flicks!
PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)AKA: THE ZOMBIES
Directed by John Gilling
Written by Peter Bryan
Starring Andre Morell, Diane Clare, & John Carson
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
“Look father, they are hunting that poor fox.” “Men have always hunted.” “For food, yes, not for bloodlust…”
This, one of the opening lines of PLAGUE OF ZOMBIES, sets the tone for the rest of the film, for the most part. Hammer Films are mostly known for their Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy films, but this little gem shows that there isn’t a monster the film studio couldn’t do right. PLAGUE OF ZOMBIES precedes Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by two years and although it isn’t set in modern times like NOTLD, the two films are vastly different (one following the typical Hammer style, the other establishing the blueprint for all zombie films to follow). But both use zombies as only a backdrop of a study of how quickly our fragile humanity can disintegrate when faced with a common threat.
What one comes to expect from Hammer films is front and center here. English moors and mansions are the set pieces. Everyone is prim and proper. The gals’ fancy dresses are either low cut to show off the all important cleavage or are torn to be low cut as they flee the monster of the film. There’s a lot of talk. The blood is bright. And at the center of it all is a young couple, fighting the supernatural odds to be together. I mention the talk because as much as I respect Hammer films, those films at times have me reaching for the fast forward button. I understand budgets were low and space is required to fill the allotted time needed for a feature, but watching folks in fancy dress flapping jaws for huge chunks of the film gets tedious sometimes.
There’s plenty of that here in PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, but for the most part, it’s one of the better Hammer flicks in that the threat is permeable throughout it all. The very first scene filled with voodoo drumming natives lead by a creepy masked figure sets the tone that this may be a different Hammer film, but soon enough we get the dresses and the mansions and the like. A series of mysterious deaths throughout a small village has the town fraying at the ends. A professor is called in to help find out what is amiss. I like how this film takes its time before revealing the zombies as the menace. There’s a mystery front and center here with the professor played by a staunch Brook Williams who acts more like a detective than your typical professor. Another performance worthy of note is John Carson (not Johnny) who plays Squire Hamilton, a Snidely Whiplash-style character who is up to no good. His prissy demeanor caused me to chuckle as he tried to be threatening.
But the thing that makes this film a standout is the look of the zombies themselves and how they act. About twenty minutes in, a screaming zombie finally shows up. It’s a really terrifying scene as the zombie appears out of nowhere screaming and laughing and then tossing a woman at the viewer. Thanks, zombie! This is a truly frightening introduction. The scene comes out of nowhere and proves to be very spooky. The zombies themselves are heavily caked with makeup and look a bit like Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes visage, but they are pretty terrifying. They also wear monks’ robes much like some of the Italian zombie flicks that would come to screen about ten years after. The pairing of zombies and voodoo is always a creepy duo, a trend in most zombie films you’ll find before NOTLD, but rarely after that film. The rituals themselves are well done and are more unsettling because of their juxtaposition against the prim and proper culture of the rest of the film. Still, they get to be a bit goofy, especially the drummers who never seem to get tired of drumming with their Royal Order of Water Buffalo hats flopping from side to side.
Though guilty of falling into Hammer tropes, PLAGUE OF ZOMBIES proved to be a fun flick due to some well done performances, a strong sense of unease throughout the entire film, and of course, the zombies themselves. It may be a bit dry and boring for today’s crowd, but folks who like watching a good mystery unfold won’t be disappointed by the end when all unholy hell breaks loose.
LA HORDE (2009)AKA THE HORDE, LEGION OF EVIL
Directed by Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
Written by Arnaud Bordas, Yannick Dahan, Stephane Moissakis, Nicholas Peufaillit, & Benjamin Rocher
Starring Claude Perron, Jean-Pierre Martins, & Eriq Ebouaney
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
This film has been on my short list of films to write about since I began this column. It's not necessarily the end all/be all of zombie films, but it's not as bad as some people have said in the Talkbacks either. More in the vein of a RESIDENT EVIL flick by way of SNATCH than anything else, LA HORDE is a loud, ballsy action horror film and it's not really trying to be anything else. I think the critics of this film may have only one film in mind when they rag on this film. This isn't high drama. No Oscars will be lifted high by the makers of this film. The story isn't complex and the characters aren't really fleshed out. What it is is a manly zombie film, where even the chicks walk like they've got a pair. I originally wanted to review this film with MUTANTS (I reviewed it here a few weeks back), because it is the polar opposite of that film. Where that film gently takes its time fucking with your head by developing an intricate and melancholy relationship between two likable characters then putting them into the middle of a zombie plague, LA HORDE crashes through the door, bends your brain over a table, and goes to town on it. It's a testosterone-fueled bull crashing through a china shop of delicate things like subtlety and motivation.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Though going into the film the box clearly indicates that this is a zombie film, I think the movie would have done better to hype up what makes this film somewhat unique. Up until about the fifteen minute mark, this is a revenge tale pitting a bunch of crooked cops against a bunch of gangsters. Had the film taken a bit more time in the "real world" setting, I think the sudden switch to zombie film would have been more powerful, but I think the makers of this film realized that the story they had wasn't necessarily original and the actors weren't really the best, so they decided to get right to the good stuff pretty quickly. Had the directors gone the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN route and completely switched genres mid-stream, I think it would have been a more powerful film. As it is, the cops vs. gangsters motif merely serves as another backdrop to hang a zombie story on. Sure there is the usual theme of the monsters really being the living in this film and the fact that the cops and crooks don't trust each other is a theme played on throughout, but still it seems the attention to this film is focused on the kewl scenes and not so much on things like character and drama.
LA HORDE feels like a movie that was thought up around a number of cool moments. The much highlighted showdown with one of the tougher cops against a crowd of zombies atop a car is a fun scene that looks damn awesome. It's a money shot and works well in the movie. I admit, I was cheering for the gritty bastard to somehow make it out alive as he unloaded rifle after rifle and pistol after pistol until the guns were on E, then whipped out his knife and slashed away at them. It was a damn fun action sequence. There are a few of these scenes in the film. A standoff in a dark alleyway of an abandoned parking building is another tense action sequence of note. They're the kind of moments a bunch of dudes sitting around drinking beer cheer on and jump out of their chairs for. It's appealing on a SPIKE TV level. But if you're looking for horror that makes you think or scares that creep up your spine and linger, LA HORDE is not your movie.
As I said, most of the characters of this film are pretty one note. It's as if they took the cast of LOCK, STOCK, & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and threw it into a zombie film. You could categorize most of the characters into three categories: tough gangster, tough cop, zombie. One of the exceptions is Eriq Ebouaney (who you might recognize from DePalma's FEMME FATALE) who has a presence about him that oozes both intimidation and sympathy. Out of all of the actors he stood out, maybe because I'd seen him before, but also because his was the most interesting subplot of the film. As I said, most of the other actors do a decent job of being tough, with Jean-Pierre Martins (the aforementioned zombie car showdown tough guy) doing an especially good job of being tough despite the fact that he kind of looks like the Food Nazi from SEINFELD.
There are definitely worse zombie films out there. Believe me, I've seen them. If you like the RESIDENT EVIL films, LA HORDE is slightly better than those. It's not on par with Romero's films, but not all films have to be. Action and horror don't always mix well, but with LA HORDE, at least you get a handful of cool action sequences, some pretty gnarly zombies, and a crew of actors who know how to act tough (but that's OK, because the script doesn't really ask them to do much else). I like films with a message or horror as a metaphor for this or that as much as the next guy, but there's room in the pool for an action horror film that doesn't try to hide what it is: an unapologetic in-your-face action film. That's what LA HORDE is.
NINJAS VS ZOMBIES (2010)Written & Directed by Justin Timpane
Starring Cory Okouchi, Dan Guy, Carla Okuchi, & PJ Megaw
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
This is one of those films that looks to be a labor of love, made by a group of friends with a couple thousand bucks and some time to kill. It's far from a slickly made film, but one can see the passion and effort put into this thing by all involved. So where most may scoff at this type of low budget indie, I find its simplicity charming and worthy of mention here on AICN HORROR.
This movie very much wants to be CLERKS meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but comes up a bit short in the end. The story focuses on a group of twenty-somethings that look and act like they tumbled out of the movie CLERKS (one of the characters is even named Randall) and into this one. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the interaction and bickering between the main characters is one of the highlights of this film. But while CLERKS spends most of its time being firmly placed in the real world, NINJAS VS ZOMBIES goes for more of a SHAUN OF THE DEAD/STAR WARS vibe where these slackers are forced to take on evil forces. At its core, the film is about two brothers who work in a comic shop and just happen to experiment with magic. One brother wants to be an evil master of darkness, the other fights the good fight. If the conflict sounds comic-booky, it should. The guys who made this film actually have comic book spin-offs for NINJAS VS ZOMBIES and a sequel to this film already in the works called NINJAS VS VAMPIRES. There’s even a catchy theme song! You certainly can’t accuse these guys of lacking in ambition.
NINJAS VS ZOMBIES has a humorous tone throughout and though all of the humor didn't have me slapping my knee spastically, there were some pretty funny moments. Those well versed in geek culture will probably have a lot of fun as a large amount of the humor references to films like EVIL DEAD and other horror and martial arts classics. All in all, the humor hit the target around 70% of the time, which is pretty good in my book.
The acting ranges from decent to not-so-much depending on the actor spouting the lines. Like CLERKS, the writing is stronger than most of the actors here, so I often found myself conscious of the script and admiring that beyond the more amateur performances. Some of the actors, especially the main villain (who reminded me of Eric from TRUE BLOOD), did a pretty great job and had some decent comedic timing. Others read their lines like they were reading a eulogy. But as I said before, the amateur quality of this film is more endearing than anything else.
I don’t want to oversell this one. It’s not a perfect film. All in all, those expecting a big budget masterpiece are going to be disappointed in NINJAS VS ZOMBIES, but if you go into this one with an open mind and a consideration for the passionate folks making it, you can't help but have a good time with it. The guys making this film have seen all the movies we have and are obviously having a blast playing ninjas and zombies. Despite the fact that the film, at times, looks like it was filmed in someone’s backyard, NINJAS VS ZOMBIES is a fun work of geek cinema that deserves a viewing.
Looks like the guys behind this film are at it again. Check out this trailer for the sequel, NINJAS VS VAMPIRES!
And finally, I bring you this, because this is awesome. It’s Richard Gale’s THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON. Enjoy!
See ya, next week, folks! Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns on AICN Horror’s Facebook page!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the titles for purchasing info)! MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 & MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1. VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1 and #2 (interview, interview, preview, & review). VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL (preview, review). NANNY & HANK miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4(interview, interview, interview, preview, & review, Check out the NANNY & HANK Facebook Page!). Zenescope’s upcoming WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010. THE DEATHSPORT GAMES miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4 (in September Previews Order #SEP 100860, in stores in November 2010!).