April 4, 2010

Happy Jesus Zombie Day!

In honor of Jesus Zombie Day, I thought it was appropriate to look at the zombie genre and shine a light on some films that might be good Jesus Zombie Day viewing. Though horror films wrapped me up in their tight slimy grip at a very young age zombie movies didn't arrive on my radar until a little later on when my buddy Shane got me a well-used VHS copy of Dawn of the Dead for my birthday one year. We inserted that tape in the VCR and for the next two hours we were overwhelmed by the awesomeness that is director George A. Romero's zombie apocalypse series. I've since had the good fortune to interview Romero, and in fact, I've been on the set of his last two entries in the Dead series, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead (which hits theatres in late May) and I'm now a full-fledged fan of the zombie horror sub-genre. Here's five Zombie flicks to get you through Jesus Zombie Day.

5) 28 Days Later Yeah, yeah, yeah, they're not zombies, they're infected, but whatever, it looks like a duck and walks like a duck... This film, from talented director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) tells the story of a small band of the uninfected who've narrowly avoided a deadly virus that all but wipes out the UK turning its residents into blood thirsty rage-filled time bombs. Tense, grimy and gritty, Boyle's take on the zombie flick is highly recommended. Followed by a sequel that Boyle executive produced but didn't helm with a third entry in the works.

4) Return of the Living Dead This 1985 Dan O'Bannon flick started out as a sequel of sorts to the classic Night of the Living Dead (due to a copyright blunder, Night became public domain) but ended up as a very 80's, rock n' roll take on the genre with generous does of humor. While still dark, gory and tense, the movie was a revelation to me when it saw it in the mid-80s on video because it blended comedy into the mix when up until that point the only comedy I had seen in horror movies was unintentional. This flick even lets the zombies be funny. My favorite scene sees the police arriving at the location where our heroes have barricaded themselves only to be quickly massacred by the marauding undead. Cut to a zombie, with blood all over his face after devouring one of the police officers, picking up the crackling radio in the squad car and saying "send more cops." Pure gold. Followed by four increasingly lousy sequels with no connection to this one except the title. (I gave up after the dismal Part III, which did however, include one fantastic moment when out of nowhere a zombie Michael Jackson, dressed in this 'Thriller' leather jacket, appeared in frame, briefly did a dance step from the iconic video, then disappeared.)

3) Zombieland This movie takes the Return of the Living Dead blueprint to the next level and instead of making a horror film that's not afraid to be funny, they made a comedy that's not afraid to be horrific. After being recommended by 'Movie Night' host Johnny Hockin I watched this movie on a flight and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the first zombie movie for the post-video game generation. This flick has several zombie kills that you can imagine being shot on cellphones and uploaded to YouTube. Smart, funny and respectful of the genre it's toying with and bolstered by great performances from Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and the sexy Emma Stone (and a killer cameo from a Hollywood heavyweight) Zombieland is a solid entry in the genre. Rumored to be soon followed by a 3D sequel.

2) Shaun of the Dead Another UK import, this one sees Shaun, a schlubby down-and-out appliance salesman dealing with relationship issues and a lack of ambition thrown into the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The film was a coming out party in North America for star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, who directs the film with style and humor and makes the movie self-referential without every losing the narrative thread and also remains very respectful of the George A. Romero zombie series that he uses as source material for the undead in his flicks. (Romero was so delighted by Shaun of the Dead that he actually used Wright and Pegg in cameo roles in his Land of the Dead, where both played zombies.) Highly recommended.

1) Dawn of the Dead For me, this is the flick that started it all. The sequel to the seminal Night of the Living Dead, this is the true classic of the genre. The film focuses on a small band of survivors holed up in a gigantic, empty shopping mall, which starts out as an Eden with his many resources and luxuries but soon, as things often do in horror films, the tide turns and the place is soon overrun with the undead and an unruly motor cycle gang. The film doubles as a vicious satire of the consumer culture, but who cares? Where it really excels is as a balls out zombie opus highlighted by the virtuoso special make-up effects work of the incomparable Tom Savini and the masterful direction of the Godfather of Zombie films, George A. Romero. There's a remake that's pretty decent, but nothing touches this film. Romero made one zombie flick before this and has churned out four additional installments in the series, but this is ground zero for zombie cinema. Zombie Jesus would be proud.

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