Thursday, October 29, 2009

Best Locations for Zombie Mayhem

As you can tell, I'm a man who likes to put things off until the last minute; squeaking by in the final days of October with my zombie list. Well, I do have excuses, but I wont bore you with them here.

If you're looking for a list full of details, excessive and accurate research, then I will most certainly disappoint. Instead I write from the heart, which is also where I keep my love for zombies. Anyway ... enjoy and Happy Zombieween!

5. A Large House/Mansion
Haunted houses are a staple of Halloween and horror in general, so zombies fit in just fine. Thanks to Resident Evil, we know that that the only thing that makes fighting zombies more difficult is doing it in a maddeningly complicated home. Plus the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic for taking place mainly inside a house. Not a mansion, of course, but it set up the idea of trying to take shelter inside a home and having the situation not improve.

For me I have to put this on the list because I have often fantasized about surviving a zombie apocalypse at home and have given far too much thought to how I would fend off the invading hordes of brain-thirsty goons.

4. A Cemetery/ Graveyard
It doesn't get more classic than zombies in a graveyard. You're more likely to see it in older films, but it really should make a comeback. Nowadays zombie movies begin in the middle of the anarchy and we rarely see that hand burst from the ground and zombies clawing their way into the night air.

Whether it's Night of the Living Dead, the video for Thriller, or the Simpson's Tree House of Horror, there's just something satisfying about watching zombies sprouting up like undead flowers.

3. A Hospital
Hospitals are creepy and unsettling enough when they are fully operational, so it only makes sense that when you throw the undead into the mix things are all the more terrifying. But this isn't about what is a scary location, it's more about entertainment value.

With hospitals you have all sorts of potential: operating rooms, morgues, long white hallways just asking to be painted in blood. Zombies have appeared in hospitals in various movies and games, but a personal favourite of mine is Planet Terror. In the movie we watch the place slowly become more and more chaotic and overrun with zombies. When Wray charges into the infested hospital with only a set of knives and some acrobatic skills it's really impressive to say the least.

2. An Amusement Park
Until finally seeing it in Zombieland, I always thought that amusement parks and carnivals would make for ridiculous set pieces of zombie killing. There are some solid moments in that movie, but I still think more brain-smashing goodness can be extracted from this potential.

With the bright lights, music, and giant spinning machines, it makes for a nice contrast with the horrific appearance of zombies (eg. bright shining candy apples meets shirts stained with dried blood and mud). Little ghouls running around a flashing rainbow playground - it's damn near adorable.

1. A Shopping Mall
What can I say? Who doesn't love the idea of zombies and shopping malls? First of all, it's awesome because the human survivors inside are living out a fantasy we all secretly have; to have free reign in a land of excess, to loot and pillage in the name of your own survival. Plus watching zombies in a mall is almost beautifully poetic. Watching people shop in the real world is like witnessing consumer zombies. They shuffle around blindly in search of something, but never being completely satisfied.

Thanks to the Dawn of the Dead films and games like Dead Rising, we have been able to celebrate and enjoy the wonder of zombies, those insatiable consuming monsters, invading a world where that sort of behaviour is encouraged.

Plus zombies on escalators are hilarious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Most Badass Zombie Killers

Firstly just allow me to apologize in advance for this list's lack of detail in some places. I did my best to refresh my memory on this topic but some material I just couldn't get to and so for certain entries, I don't say as much as I would like to.

It's an age-old truth that wherever you've got legions of zombies terrorizing and feasting on the populace, you've got a select few who fight back. Then there is an even more select few who fight back with extreme efficiency and even panache. This list will give those undead-trashing heroes their due.

5. Ben - Night of the Living Dead (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Both portrayals of this character (performed by Duane Jones and Tony Todd respectively) share the number five spot as I don't believe one really outshines the other. Ben makes the cut for his take-charge attitude coupled with an enormous sense of calm. You never see this guy panic, no matter how hopeless things become. From the moment he is introduced in either film, Ben is cool and level-headed and always working towards a solution rather than giving in to despair or outrage. Even when other characters actively work against him, he carries on.

The original Ben is saddled with a more or less catatonic Barbra (it's Barbara in the 1990 version) to contend with which is a challenge the second one didn't have and he also survives the zombie attack only to be mistakenly shot (I'm not going to get into the social commentary on that particular point) while Ben 2.0 does actually wind up infected (which means he had to have died first). So you could give the edge to the first Ben. But I still feel they're more or less equal in combating the zombies (whether with a tire iron, rifle or torch), fortifying the house and dealing with uncooperative human allies.

While neither version ends up surviving in the end, that's not necessarily a prerequisite for this list (most zombie movies conclude with the non-infected being defeated) and it's indisputable that they take charge and get shit done.

4. CJ -
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Initially, CJ is a real dick. Ana (played by my hero, the beautiful and talented Sarah Polley) and the small group of survivors that accompanied her to the mall are forced to deal with what is essentially a mall cop whose dream of holding a degree of actual power and authority comes true. With the support of the two lackeys he outranked in the time before people started eating other people, CJ takes away the group's weapons and even imprisons them for a period. Obviously he wasn't viewing the situation very clearly and was only making a dangerous situation even worse.

But as the movie progresses CJ becomes a real team player and is instrumental in getting the group out of some very tight spots. Despite his early dictum of "every man for himself" and "better you than me", he actually emerges as pretty much the opposite of that, even being downright heroic in moments. When Tucker (or maybe it was Terry?) breaks his leg (or twists his ankle or whatever) upon falling into the sewer, CJ endangers himself by dragging his comrade along with the fast moving zombies in hot pursuit. The guy ends up biting it anyway but not for any lack of effort on CJ's part.

In addition to this, CJ shows that he must have really taken his security agency's fire arms training course really seriously because he continually proves to be an excellent shot, often putting zombies down with one to the cranium. This also comes into play for his work with some propane tanks with devastating results for the enemy.

Like many other badass zombie killers, CJ makes a heroic last stand that buys time for his fellows. While the last of the group escape off the dock, he takes a huge number of zombies along to hell with him in a spectacular explosion.

3. Tallahassee - Zombieland (2009)
While at the moment this film is enjoying a huge level of...overratedness, it still is a good zombie flick. The main reason for this is easily Woody Harrelson's character, the highly entertaining Tallahassee.

No other zombie killer injects such a combination of enthusiasm and style. Tallahassee takes out the zombies in every way conceivable and has a blast doing it. RyHo once said, "The hardest thing for me about a Zombie Apocalypse if it happens would be hiding how excited I am" - well, that's Tallahassee through and through. I mean, yeah yeah, you later on get to find out that he's lost a lot just like everyone else and it's all very sad and tragic but still, he's killing zombies with garden shears!

Since it's included in the preview, I don't think I'd be spoiling things for anyone by mentioning that he actually lures a redneck zombie into the open by playing the first few bars of the famous "Dueling Banjos" then proceeds to wail on said zombie with said instrument. He can also be seen dooring zombies with cars, smacking them with a pick axe (my answer for everything) and shooting them with every firearm imaginable.

His killing spree at the amusement park during the movie's climax is already legendary among zombie enthusiasts and deservedly so. Tallahassee has definitely raised the bar.

2. Chris Redfield - Resident Evil (1996) , Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000)
It's a sad fact that the Resident Evil film franchise pretty much blows. The movies are watchable but really, why bother? Luckily, the video games on which they are based totally rock. And now we arrive at what was for me the most difficult part of this list. I knew all along that at least one of the playable characters deserved a spot here but determining which one(s) involved taking an awful lot of things into account. I mean, they're all pretty badass, otherwise they wouldn't have survived the games they were in.

I wound up selecting Chris mostly because he's in the two entries of the series that I believe to be the strongest (involving zombies, I mean. RE 4 is amazing but doesn't have zombies and while I haven't played 5, which actually includes Chris, I'm pretty sure there are no zombies present in that one either). But through the aforementioned excursions, Chris shot, stabbed, blew up, electrocuted and stomped an innumerable amount of zombies (along with a host of other nasty creatures that are irrelevant for the purposes of this list) and he went about it all in a very, for lack of a better word, professional manner. I realize this was my chance to place a female on this list but it just didn't turn out that way. Oh well.

He also did the vast majority of it on his own, as is the way with RE protagonists. Any time he managed to meet up with another survivor, such as Bravo Team member Rebecca (cutest zombie killer) or five-time Corey Hart I Wear My Sunglasses At Night Award-winner Albert Wesker, the plan of action was to always "split up", which of course made no tactical sense but did serve in making his exploits all the more impressive and badass. Also, in both Resident Evil and Code Veronica, the parts you play as Chris are more difficult than those with the other playable characters (those being Jill and Chris's sister, Claire) so that works in his favour as well.

Although his dialogue can often be downright laughable and his personality leaves something to be desired, one cannot deny that Chris is one badass zombie killer. And that's all that really matters.

1. Guitar Wolf - Wild Zero (2000)
I haven't seen this movie in years and unfortunately, I forget a lot of it. But I could never forget just how badass Guitar Wolf is. And I also haven't forgotten that he employs that badassery in the art of zombie killing.

Wearing a black leather jacket, he rides a wicked motorbike (specifically designed to hold booze among other things) and is never without his guitar that houses a hidden samurai sword. He even dispatches zombies by throwing (somehow) lethal guitar picks. Also, while I know it doesn't pertain to zombie killing, I'm pretty sure he cuts open a giant spaceship with his sword.

All the while he assists the movie's protagonist, Ace, as he tries to survive the zombie and alien onslaught as well as navigate the strange and dangerous world of love ("Ace! Do it!!!" - I really can't explain that one. You'll just have to see for yourself.)

I can't remember how many zombies Guitar Wolf actually kills but it doesn't matter. Just go see Wild Zero and tell me I'm wrong. And if it turns out I'm wrong, I don't want to be right.

Most Unsettling David Lynch Characters

David Lynch has terrified the world and charmed the French with a body of work rooted in nightmarish creeps. That said, picking five of them was easy, but describing the essence of their creepiness less so. Because of that, I’ve included video of their most unsettling moments in case my words fail me.

5. Man behind Winkie’s (Bonnie Aarons, Mulholland Drive, 2001)

So a crusty, dreadlocked hobo dollies out from behind a cement wall in back of a Sunset Boulevard Winkie’s…

When the gents and I first watched Mulholland Drive, we took great pleasure out of the creep whom Shane dubbed “Winkie the breakfast troll.” Although it was hilarious when we watched it in company, the scene is sublimely creepy when seen alone, with headphones, in the dark. For all of Lynch’s difficult subject matter and idiosyncrasies, he knows how to craft a scene. Some might argue that’s all he knows how to do, and his movies are just a collection of such scenes. In any case, the tension here is terrific; the nervous laugh of the tormented man telling the story of his dream; the sinister ambient noise and muted background; his sheer panicked sweat, despite the Winkie’s air-conditioning. As the long shots travel down to the back of the diner, the viewer is filled with a dread much more powerful than the appearance of the actual dream man. It’s quite comical the way that he doesn’t so much step out from behind the wall, but looks wheeled out by some unseen gurney of spookery. All in all, the man is much more unsettling in the minds of the audience, which is exactly how Mr. Lynch wanted him to be.

P.S. The man was also played by a woman.

4. The Baby (Puppet/Cow Fetus, Eraserhead, 1977)


I love Lynch, but I can’t tolerate Eraserhead. It is just too hard to watch. The grotesqueness of the world that it creates is too much for repeat viewing. One of the worst inhabitants of this dank hellhole is the unwanted freak child of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) and girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart).

From Wikipedia:

“The baby is hideously deformed and has an amphibious appearance: a large snout-nose with slit nostrils, a pencil-thin neck, eyes on the sides of its head, no ears, and a limbless body covered in bandages. It continually whines throughout the night.”

Speculation abounds about whether the prop itself was an embalmed cow fetus, or a puppet. Lynch has never confirmed or denied either. Suffice it to say, the thing is as repulsive as offspring gets, but the sound it makes is that much worse. This horrible sack of deformed sickness just keeps crying and whining and making hell for its parents and the viewer. It’s as if you crossed the whining Baby Mario from Yoshi’s Island with a phlegmy salamander with tuberculosis.

It leaves you with a shitty headache and some existential angst for good measure.

3. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet, 1986)

“Here’s to your fuck!”

Frank Booth is fucked. He’s also #36 on AFI top 50 film villains of all time.

With this character, Dennis Hopper played possibly the most deranged son of a bitch to ever grace the film. His gymnastic use of the word fuck is hilarious— choosing a pull quote for Frank was harder than the list itself:

“HEINEKEN!? Fuck that shit!”

“Don’t say ‘please’ fuckhead!”

“If you receive a love letter from me, you’ll fuck forever! Do you understand, fuck?”

“Let’s fuck! I’ll fuck anything that moves! AHAHAHA!”

Frank is a complete maniac who fucks his way (literally and figuratively) through the film, lobotomizing henchmen, brutalizing Isabella Rossellini, huffing amyl nitrate, and whispering Rob Orbison.

The “Baby wants to fuck!” scene is among the most violently disturbing in Lynch’s considerably disturbing repertoire.

But perhaps most unsettling about Frank is his love of Pabst Blue Ribbon…

2. “Mystery Man” (Robert Blake, Lost Highway, 1997)

“As a matter of fact, I’m there right now…”

Lost Highway was the first Lynch movie I ever saw, and I watched it multiple times before seeing any of his other work. What always stood out for me was the scene at Andy’s party where Fred (Bill Pullman) meets the Mystery Man face to face. Earlier in the film we see the pallid face of Robert Blake projected on that of Fred’s wife (Patricia Arquette) after some of the saddest movie sex of all time. At Andy’s, their encounter is the most iconic of the film.

Fred stands at the bar, and surveys the crowd. He spots a creepy little man in black across the room. As the Mystery Man begins to walk towards him, the music stops and the noise of the party falls to a hush. Robert Blake plays this part devilishly well. During his exchange with Fred, the creepiness is in the Mystery Man’s knowing smile and eerie calm. He grins from ear to ear, and his eyes are like a Great White Shark.

The idea of a man telling you he’s in your house while standing in front of you, then hauling out his intense 90s cell-phone and insisting you call to find out, and then have him fucking answer and deliver a chilling “I told you so” was a mind-fuck for my teenage self. The Mystery Man’s laugh is just the icing on the cake.

Then the muzak starts up again as if nothing happened.

The Mystery Man takes his leave and the viewer is left pondering cinema’s less quoted, and decidedly less wholesome “phone home.”

1. Bobby Peru (Willem Defoe, Wild at Heart, 1990)

“Bobby Peru— just like the country.”

What is most terrifying about Bobby Peru, within this crew of freaks, is that he could be a real person.

Lynch understands reality— he just ignores it, mostly. In Wild at Heart, our heroes meet Bobby Peru in a motel park in Big Tuna, Texas. He’s a greasy criminal in black with a pencil moustache and teeth like the portcullis of a sandcastle. He oozes sleaze and Willem Defoe plays him with the kind of menace that Lynch seems to like best— one that gravitates between goofy and farcical to unpredictable and violent.

Bobby Peru’s most unsettling moment is when he invites himself into Sailor (Nick Cage) and Lula’s (Laura Dern) motel room under the pretence of taking a piss, only to slime her into stunned submission, grab her by the throat and force her to say, “fuck me.”

This scene is deeply disturbing and an analysis of it even makes its way into Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s “The Plague of Fantasies.” While the text is here, the gist is that Bobby Peru essentially forces Lula to consent to rape, and rejects her, thereby humiliating her more than any attack ever could.

Bobby Peru is every truck-stop rapist in Texas slapped with the greasy braggadocio of a cowboy porn-star.

He makes me nauseous, and for that he’s number one.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Most Memorable Zombies

In the pantheon of zombie films there are a select few that reach what could be called "classic" status. Even the originator of the genre, George A. Romero, doesn't always make the cut.

One of the best ways to make your zombie movie memorable - great zombies. The following is a list of some of the best to hit celluloid.

5. Shark-Fighting Zombie - Zombie (1979)

Okay, I'll admit this pick is a little out there. That's why it's at numero cinque. I'm aware that you have to be pretty into horror to know about the Italian/Euro horror stuff. That behind us, zombie films are mostly for the horror fan anyway, so let’s continue.

Zombie, directed by the late, great Lucio Fulci is considered one of the best in the zombie genre. The film is alluded to being a sequel to the quintessential zombie masterpiece from George Romero himself, Dawn of the Dead. In fact it is not at all a sequel. When Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy Dario Argento cut the flick and it was called Zombi. Fulci titled this film Zombi 2 (it’s called Zombie State-side) so people would think it was a sequel (a trick often used by the slick little Italians).

This is still a great film. Essentially known as “Island of the Dead“, it follows a group of individuals stranded on a small, tropical island that are faced with hordes of the undead. Pretty simple stuff. One of the most memorable scenes from the film, however, is easily the zombie fighting a tiger shark.

Oh yes, this shit is for real. No CGI here, folks. This was 1979. They had a guy underwater and they had a shark. So they had the guy fight the motherfuckin' shark.

How this all came to be is something I just can't imagine. How in the name of all that is holy did Fulci get a tiger shark at his disposal? Finding a guy that'll throw on some mesh and go down and mess with a shark isn't that uncommon. There are all kinds of nuts out there. But having the thought, "You know what would be great here? If we could go out, lure in a shark, and have this crazy motherfucker over here mess with it a bit on camera. That'd be awesome," and then making it happen... that's just amazing.

Another reason I had a hard time adding the Shark-Fighting Zombie to this list is because, in my mind at least, the zombie fighting a shark is really cool and all, but the question that hangs in your brain after the fight is the real reason it's so famous... did the shark turn into a zombie? Is that possible? Is there a Shombie (or Zark) swimming out there in the depths somewhere?

God, I wanna know! If only we'd had a chance to witness the Shombie, then it most certainly would've made this list.

4. Worm-eyed Zombie - Zombie (1979)

Yes, I know... another zombie from Zombie. I lack originality. Whatever. The fact is, folks, that the image of this zombie is easily one of the most iconic in the genre. Like it or lump it, Fulci knew what he was doing.

This zombie has several titles, like Conquistador Zombie and, I might be wrong on this one, Planter-head Zombie, which I believe was the name Fulci gave it himself, but I couldn't verify that anywhere. It's something like that. The zombie goes uncredited in the film, so it's hard to know what to call it, but Worm-eyed Zombie seems to take the cake, because... well... he has worms in his eye sockets.

Even if you haven't seen this film, you've probably seen this image. It finds its way on to numerous t-shirts, websites... anything zombie-related really. The image was almost always on the cover of the home video releases, going right back to its original big box release in 19-odd-dickety.

The first time I watched this film I kept waiting to see this zombie, and when the living dead first break through from the earth in this film, and you see ol' wormy eye for the first time, you won't be disappointed, trust me.

The film is famous for several reasons: the gore, which I haven't mentioned yet, but trust me, it's Fulci and it's top-notch; the Shombie... need I say more?; the eye-gouging scene, which sort of gets lumped in with gore, but it is a renowned moment in horror cinema; and finally, the Worm-eyed Zombie. The flick may have been a knock off in its day, but you have to check this one out, guys!

3. Cemetery Zombie - Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The original. The grand-daddy of them all. The Cemetery Zombie. In 1968, George Romero set out to make a low-budget, horror film. He filmed it in black and white to save some cash. He did it with a lot of extras, and little to no blood (which when on screen was actually chocolate syrup). He had no idea that he would create a sub-genre of horror films that has become one of the most widespread the genre, itself, has to offer.

This is in turn due to the fact that he didn't copyright the film properly, and anyone and their dog could rip him off and not get sued, but still. The man built a genre completely by accident. Hell, he didn't even call them zombies. He called them "ghouls", but fortunately that didn't take. Zombie just sounds cooler.

So what's the first zombie film ever? Well, technically it could go back to White Zombie (1932). That's not the same thing, though. Flesh-eating zombies, the ones that count, first hit with Night of the Living Dead, and the first one we ever saw was Cemetery Zombie.

Barbara and her brother Johnny go to visit their recently deceased mother in a cemetery outside of town. Little do they know this is the worst possible place to be right now, because the dead are returning to the land of the living! They see a strange and disoriented man off in the distance, who soon attacks, cracking Johnny's face off a perfectly good tombstone.

There isn't much to see here. He's just an old fella making faces, really. He's the first, however, and you gotta give the fella props for that.

2. Bub - Day of the Dead (1985)

Who doesn't remember that face? Huh? Isn't he cute? Oh, he thinks he's people.

That's right, Bub. The zombie that has just a little too much going on in the ol' noggin. Day of the Dead is, of course, the third in George Romero's original zombie trilogy. Like Star Wars, the original trilogy is the only one worth a damn (in my opinion). The film, however, gets over-shadowed by its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead. Night was the original, so it has that going for it, and Dawn took things into a much grander place. Day lost its scope. It bit off a bit more than it could chew. That being said, its still a great film all on its own, and has probably the most legendary zombie out of the whole trilogy.

I know Zombie Roger and Fly Boy are a big deal, but none of them could talk or use a gun! Now could they!?

In this film we have a small army regiment and a handful of scientists that are held up in a mine. They're getting a little shack-happy down there, and that's basically the plot of the film. The fact that the undead are trying their damndest to nibble on them is sort of a secondary thing. Some of the scientists down there are doing all sorts of fucked up experiments on the zombies, but when the military men find out they've been performing experiments on their own, shit gets ugly fast. Then the zombies, that have essentially taken over the world, find a way in and it's go time.

One of the scientific subjects is Bub. A lovable zombie who has been taught to speak and use some low level motor skills. He has a place in one of the most memorable moments in the film, or the series for that matter. Although this film does live in the shadow of Dawn of the Dead, its definitely the most gory of the series. The scene I'm talking about proves that point and then some: when Captain Rhodes gets it.

First, while attempting to escape from the zombies, Rhodes runs into ol' Bub. Bub has himself a pistol, and without hesitation puts a few in Rhodes so that his zombie buddies can get a taste. They then proceed to tear him clean in half (well, maybe not clean) while Bub dashes off into the sunset.

His image is, much like Worm-eye Zombie, one of those you almost always see associated with zombies. The original poster for Day of the Dead sports a "dawn-esque" image, not really associated with the film, but many of the home video releases, and teasers, have Bub splattered (wrong choice of words?) all over them.

1. Tarman - Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Argue all you like, people. Bitch till you're out of breath. What's the line you think of when you think "zombie"? Come on, go for it. Say it. That's right, "BRAAAAAIIINNNS!" Where'd that come from?

Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, that's where. Before this, zombies really only starved for the flesh of the living. In O'Bannon's film, however, they were after one tasty little morsel, those sweet delicious brains, presumably because they lacked their own.

The first zombie to utter the term? Tarman. He's the first zombie to appear in the film, as well. Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) are working in their storage facility for some kind of weird shipping company. They sell medical cadavers, fake skeletons, all kinds of weird shit. Frank decides to show Freddy something cool they have in the basement, which turns out to be an encapsulated zombie. The two dumbasses manage to open the container, which results in the Tarman escaping, along with a gas that turns the recently departed into mindless, brain-eating zombies!

The mere fact that Tarman can talk is something that's really interesting. Dawn of the Dead came out this same year, and Romero finally breached the topic of a zombie finding some of its humanity, or at least some of its old motor skills, and being able to perform simple tasks like speaking. O'Bannon's movie isn't that deep, though. Return of the Living Dead (the title clearly trying to make some cash off of Romero's classics) is pretty much a parody of zombie films.

But that's what makes it great! It's a horror comedy with tons of memorable moments, including Trash, played by the lovely Linnea Quigley, whom is naked most of the film (and should have made this list...), Spider, one of two Friday the 13th alumnists in the film (the other being Thom Mathews) who plays the angriest motherfucker ever, and those hilarious talkin' zombies!

Another great quote from this film is when some police are sent to a zombie-infested scene, only to be killed and ingested very quickly. One of the zombies then gets on the radio and yells, "Send more cops!" Brilliant, really.

As I said before, though, you can't think of zombies in this day and age without thinking of them wanting to feast on some brains, and the quote (simple as it is) "Braaaains!" is practically their motto. Tarman was the first, folks, so he caps off this list.

Hope you enjoyed,