Metaphorically Yours

The Cured

by Hope Madden

Zombies have proven to be metaphorically versatile over the decades. For Romero, they were sometimes the mindless consumer, sometimes the oppressed, sometimes the political outcasts.

David Freyne’s new Irish horror, The Cured, pushes the epidemic/ostracism angle to create xenophobic and racist parallels, as well as flashes of the kind of contagion-phobic hatred the AIDS epidemic met with. And Freyne does so without losing sight of a compelling, sometimes punishing story.

The Dublin of the not-so-distant future is home to the world’s most cataclysmic outbreak of the MAZE virus—a 28 Days Later kind of thing.

Senan (Sam Keeley) is among the stricken. Along with thousands of his countrymen, Senan has spent the last several years a zombie of sorts—a mindless, cannibalistic killing machine.

And though a cure has been found—relieving 75% of the infected—returning to a society proves difficult because the cured can remember their beastly behavior. So can the uninfected.

Plus, there is still that tricky question of what to do with the other 25%, “the incurable.”

Ellen Page (who also executive produces) co-stars as Senan’s widowed sister-in-law, and becomes  our window into what humanity may be left in humanity.

For a world in chaos (ours, not that of the movie), zombies offer a simple way to contend with the unimaginable: racism being celebrated at the highest offices, child molestation being excused when it’s politically convenient, Nazis being labeled good guys. For Freyne, publicly sanctioned fear and hatred leads first to oppression and then to uprising.

His set decoration echoes WWII-era propaganda as his characters struggle with shame, disenfranchisement, and righteous indignation. Keely’s deeply human performance remains focused on overcoming, but it’s the unnerving turn by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor that makes this film a keeper.

A barrister with political aspirations before the outbreak, Vaughan-Lawlor’s Conor proves a natural to lead a revolution. But what feels at first like an imbalance between entitlement and outrage slowly blossoms into something impressively fiendish.

There are two concerns with The Cured. 1) By horror standards, it’s a sociopolitical drama. 2) By the time it decides to become a horror movie, any hint of novelty or originality vanishes.

But don’t discount it. The Cured is smart and relevant. It doesn’t leave you guessing and won’t satisfy your bloodlust, but there is something satisfying in knowing that the ugliness and chaos of the day has not gone unnoticed.

You’re Killing Me, Smalls

It Stains the Sands Red

by Hope Madden

Given the recent, tragic passing of filmmaking icon George A. Romero, you may find yourself nostalgic for the walking dead. Not just any hungry, re-animated cadaver, but the kind that serve as a parable or vehicle for self-awareness. The slow moving kind. The kind you don’t know whether to fear, pity or admire.

It Stains the Sands Red is here for you.

Director/co-writer Colin Minihan, with co-writer Stuart Ortiz (formerly known collectively as The Vicious Brothers), tests your patience, but the effort mostly pays off.

We open with some impressive aerial shots of the smoking, neon ruin of the Las Vegas strip. Cut to another gorgeous aerial of a sports car zipping up a desert highway. In it, a couple of coked-up strip club lowlifes, Molly (Brittany Allen) and Nick (Merwin Mondesir), are escaping to an airfield where they’ll meet with other lowlifes and head to an island off Mexico.

Naturally, this isn’t going to work out. But what Minihan has in store will surprise you.

He’s made a couple of fine choices with his film. The point of view character is not only an unlikely protagonist – an unpleasant thug with a drug habit – but she’s also female.

Soon the car goes off the road and one meathead catches her scent, and suddenly Molly’s stripper shoes are not her biggest problem as she faces a 30-mile trek across the desert to the airfield.

Molly names her zombie pursuer Smalls, but she may as well call him Wilson.

What develops is an often fascinating, slow moving but relentless chase as well as a character study. With a protagonist on a perilous journey toward redemption, It Stains the Sands Red takes a structure generally reserved for the man who needs to rediscover his inner manhood and tells a very female story.

Very female. Menstruation and everything.

Credit to the formerly Vicious for investing in a female’s perspective, and for doing it some level of justice.

Allen makes a great anti-heroine. Convincingly hard-knock and difficult to like, she never becomes the would-be lunch meat you root against.

As is too often the case in film – horror, thriller or otherwise – the only way a female can tap that survival instinct is by way of the maternal one. This picture becomes too predictable and too sentimental once it embraces this cliché, but that’s not reason enough to condemn it.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Halloween Countdown, Day 28: Zombieland

Zombieland (2009)

Zombieland is quite possibly the perfect movie. Just when Shaun of the Dead convinced me that those Limey Brits had create the best-ever zombie romantic comedy, it turns out they’d only created the most British zombie romantic comedy. The Yank counterpart is even better, and with this amount of artillery, it’s certainly a more American vision.

Let’s start with the effervescently clever writing. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take the tried-and-true zombiepocalypse premise and sprint with it in totally new and awesome directions.

And the cameo. I cannot imagine a better one. I mean that. I’m not sure a walk on by Jesus himself could have brought me more joy.

That’s not true. Plus, in zombie movie?! How awesome would that have been?!

The performances kick ass, also. Thank you Rubin Fleischer for respecting each character enough to allow them a good balance of stupid mistakes, solid decisions and laughs.

Jesse Eisenberg anchors the film with an inspired narration and an endearing dork characterization. Yes, we’ve seen him dork before. One dork nearly won him an Oscar. Still, this is one of his finer dorks.

But Woody Harrelson owns this film. His gun toting, Twinkie loving, Willie Nelson singing, Dale Earnhart number wearing redneck ranks among the greatest horror heroes ever.

I give you, a trip to a loud and well-lit amusement park is not a recommendation Max Brooks would make during the zombiepocalypse. Still, you’ve got to admit it’s a gloriously filmed piece of action horror cinema.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Halloween Countdown, Day 12: Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead (Juan de los muertos) (2011)

By 2011, finding a zombie film with something new to say was pretty difficult, but writer/director/Cuban Alejandro Brugues managed to do just that with his bloody political satire Juan of the Dead.

First, what a kick ass title. Honestly, that’s a lot to live up to, aligning yourself to three of the great zombie flicks, both Dawns and Shaun of the Dead. That’s heady company, begging the comparison of Dawn’s scathing social commentary and Shaun’s ingenious wit. Juan actually survives this comparison.

Breathtakingly and unapologetically Cuban, the film shadows slacker Juan and his layabout pals as they reconfigure their longtime survival instincts to make the most of Cuba’s zombie infestation.

I’m sorry – dissidents. Thankfully the Cuban media is on top of this situation, letting the faithful patriots know that the violent, flesh-hungry villains outside are all dissidents. You old, fat auntie? Dissident. Paperboy, missing a foot and dragging himself toward that priest? Dissident.

One of a thousand hilarious touches is that the word zombie is never used – even Juan and his friends thoughtlessly refer to the mayhem happy characters as dissidents. It’s a whole new approach to the zombiepocalypse – not to mention social satire – and it’s entirely entertaining.

Alexis Diaz de las Villegas is outstanding as longtime, intentional loser Juan. Brugues surrounds him with a charmingly disreputable posse ready to take on the dissidents and find freedom – if that’s what they want.

It’s such a clever, eye-opening film with some added oomph via soundtrack and closing credits animation. Juan of the Dead promises one killer dia de los muertos!

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Fright Club: Best of George A. Romero

Today we salute a man whose career teems with ideas that have been both universal and wildly ahead of their time. There may be no horror filmmaker who’s had more of an influence on his genre than George Romero, whose political leanings and social commentary have given his inventive monster movies the relevance to stand the test of time. A great line, an original idea, and a fantastic pair of glasses – George A. Romero has it all. Here are our five favorites:

5. Creepshow (1982)

By the early Eighties, Romero – who’d basically created the zombie genre – was ready to tackle something slightly different. For Creepshow he teamed up with another genre godfather, Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay (most of which was adapted from his own short stories) and even co-starred.

A series of shorts pulled from the pages of a disgruntled boy’s comic book, Creepshow boasts the wicked humor, juvenile preoccupations and inclination toward comeuppance that mark scary comics. Linked, short form horror had certainly been done previously, but Romero brought a visual sense of the artistry and an affection for the mean-spirited humor that most other films lacked.

He also had a hell of a cast, with appearances by genre favorites Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau as well as King and heavy hitters from outside horror Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook.

They lend a bit of class to some fairly bloodthirsty pieces that find a dim-witted farmer covered in alien foliage, a disabused husband taking advantage of a newly found monster-in-a-box, a cuckolded husband whose revenge plot takes a supernatural turn, plus bugs! Loads of them!

4. The Crazies (1973)

In ’73, Romero used a lot of the same themes from his zombie masterpiece – a genre he’d more or less just created himself – but changed the beast slightly. When military blunder leads to a chemical weapon mishap in a small Pennsylvania town, infected inhabitants go insane. You still end up with a mindless horde capable of anything as well as the fear of contamination, but the fun difference is the unpredictability.

The premise is so ripe: people infected go hopelessly mad. Every version of madness is different. How does each victim behave? Romero didn’t mine this often enough because for him, the real terror was in the government’s behavior. Still, his most provocative ideas here tend to be invested in the varying madness.

Other familiar themes arise as well. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film. Indeed, Romero seemed more interested in social commentary than in horror this time around, but once again, his ideas were ahead of their time.

3. Martin (1977)

Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.

Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted by sympathetic undead.

Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!

The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNIGTSdKPl0

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore.

Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one, and he seems to be working to build on successes of his original. He uses the “z” word, digs at Eighties consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

“The scene can best be described as mayhem.”

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. Romero’s inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.

They’re back.

They’re hungry for human flesh.

Their bite infects the bitten.

The bitten will eventually bite.

Aim for the head.

Romero made a narrative choice that would mark the genre and certainly the filmmaker’s entire career: the mindless monsters outside are not the biggest problem. The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Fright Club: Best Zombie Movies

Ever since Romero reimagined the mindless monster in 1968, horror cinema’s go-to beast has been the zombie. Perfect for true terror or splatter comedy – or, hell, even a romantic comedy now and again – films of the undead proliferated faster than a zombie horde. You can find them in nearly every genre, on almost every continent, and in just about every possible medium including children’s books. (If you have not read Ten Little Zombies, it makes an excellent stocking stuffer. Trust us!)

To help us hone our list we enlisted Dave Man, who kindly joins us on this week’s podcast. If you only have time for 5 (or maybe 6) zombie films, which to choose? Rest easy! We have some candidates.

5. Zombie (1979)

Originally filmed as an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, this was director Lucio Fulci’s first true horror film, though he’d done several very violent films previously (Don’t Torture a Duckling, for instance). Shot to showcase violence, and immeasurably aided by Fabio Frizzi’s score, Zombie became a turning point in Z films and in Italian horror.

A boat docks in New York with one undead seaman aboard. A young woman and an investigative reporter head out to the island of that boat’s origins, where her father has been doing scientific work, only to find that the island is overrun with hungry walking corpses.

Fulci’s film tries to marry Romero’s take on the undead with the traditional voodoo narrative of films like White Zombie, but it’s the director’s vivid imagination for festering flesh, plus his now go-to shock of eye gouging, that helped the film make its mark. Plus, zombie-on-shark action!

4. Dead Snow (2009)

Like its portly nerd character Erlend, Dead Snow loves horror movies. A familiarly self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, Dead Snow follows a handsome mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.

But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these rules. He embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but he doesn’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles and gore by the gallon.

Spectacular location shooting, exquisite cinematography, effective sound editing and a killer soundtrack combine to elevate the film above its clever script and solid acting. Take the gorgeous image of Norwegian peace: a tent, lit from within, sits like a jewel nestled in the quiet of a snowy mountainside. The image glistens with pristine outdoorsy beauty – until it … doesn’t.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55uGN58UOkk

3. Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992)

Rated R for “an abundance of outrageous gore,” Braindead is everything the early Peter Jackson did well. It’s a bright, silly, outrageously gory bloodbath.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Penalver). Unfortunately, Lionel’s overbearing sadist of a mother follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay). The bite kills her, but not before she can squeeze pus into some soup and wreak general havoc, which is nothing compared to the hell she raises once she comes back from the dead.

Braindead is so gloriously over-the-top that nearly any flaw can be forgiven. Jackson includes truly memorable images, takes zombies in fresh directions, and crafts characters you can root for. But more than anything, he knows where to point his hoseful of gore, and he has a keen imagination when it comes to just how much damage a lawnmower can do.

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978/2004)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore. Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one. He uses the “z” word, digs at consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

Plenty of filmmakers have remade or reimagined Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuNE1cX03c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhsutNfvuAY

1 Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual, and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. His inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.
They’re back.
They’re hungry for human flesh.
Their bite infects the bitten.
The bitten will eventually bite.
Aim for the head.

The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

Halloween Countdown, Day 23

28 Days Later (2002)

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But director Danny Boyle single-handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-zombie film.

Like zombie god George Romero, though, Boyle’s real worry is not the infected, it’s the living.

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

He uses a lot of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from The Crazies and Day of the Dead, in particular (as well as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder). But he revolutionized the genre – sparking the rebirth of zombie movies – with just a handful of terrifying tweaks.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Sure, it’s tough to believe that among the ten or so people still alive in England, two are as stunningly attractive as Murphy and Harris. You know what, though? Boyle otherwise paints a terrifyingly realistic vision of an apocalypse we could really bring on ourselves.

Halloween Countdown, Day 7

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined George Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Night of the Living Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley) who seems like a real person. Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball, and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

And who hates Nicole? I do. I hate Nicole.

One Scary Movie Per Day in October. Day 26: Night of the Living Dead

 

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

Two hundred miles outside Pittsburgh, squabbling siblings Barbara and Johnny visit a cemetery to put a wreath on their father’s grave. Then comes the first of the film’s many iconic quotes: They’re coming to get you, Barbara.

My favorite, though, has always been, “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up.”

A befuddled, borderline useless Barbara stumbles to an old farmhouse, where the very useful and not easily befuddled Ben takes her under his wing and boards up the place. Meanwhile, TV newsmen declare that the, “scene can best be described as mayhem” and note that Barbara, Ben and all those folks down the basement should avoid the mayhem’s “murder-happy characters.”

Romero’s responsible for more than just outstanding dialogue. (OK, at times, like the heavy handed score, the dialogue isn’t entirely outstanding. But often enough, it is.) As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. His inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.

They’re back.

They’re hungry for human flesh.

Their bite infects the bitten.

The bitten will eventually bite.

Aim for the head.

The tensions inside the house are almost as serious as the danger outside the house, once bossypants Mr. Cooper pokes his head out of the basement. And wouldn’t everybody be better off if Romero could write a worthwhile part for a female?

Still, the shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

For Your Queue: Z-28-Hit-Play..Hut-Hut!

 

The zombie thriller directed by Marc Forster (who’d directed no thrillers, let alone zombies) that has almost nothing to do with Max Brooks’s fascinating novel World War Z? Surprisingly enough, yes. Yes please, even. Brad Pitt’s scarf-wearing hero traipses the mostly demolished globe in search of a cure in a movie that never lets up, consistently surprises, and delivers the goods. Check it out this week on DVD.

 

Maybe the zombie movie match-up is Danny Boyle’s not-really-zombie flick 28 Days Later. Sure, they’re not dead yet, but they are super pissed off and they want to eat you, so run! Just don’t run to that military outpost. Boyle’s empty London, brutal monsters, and epically creepy climax makes his foray into horror an especially joyous one. Two great ways to get prepped for the coming Halloween season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eunaclr-WgU

Or, just watch Fight Club. You can’t go wrong there.