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Posts Tagged ‘Versus’

Whilst discussing his new book Monsters in the Movies on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews (aka Wittertainment), John Landis suggested that zombie are bigger and more prolific than vampire movies at the moment. He suggested that there are nine zombie movies in production at the moment including one starring Brad Pitt (World War Z). It could well be that zombies will be the go-to monster of the near future but there have been plenty of vampires movies recently:

Vampire Movies

The new century began with one of the most original vampire movies in years, Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) is a high concept movie, the premise; the actor Max Schreck who played Graf Orlok/Nosferatu (Dracula in all but name) in F.W. Murnau classic Nosferatu (1922) was really a vampire posing as an actor playing a vampire.

It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of Blade (1998), not only was it an early entry into the current trend for vampire movies but it was also the first credible comic book movie in a long time and the movie that started the Marvel phenomenon. Its sequel Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo del Toro took a big step forward reintroducing the idea that the monster in the movie may not be the monster of the movie.

Before the battle between vampires and werewolves in The Twilight books and movies there was Underworld (2003), like Blade it is more action orientated than scary but also explores the idea of who the real monster are. It is also incredibly stylish and has a well thought-out back-story that has helped it spawn a sequel (Underworld: Evolution (2006)), a prequel (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)) as well as a further sequel Underworld: Awakening due next year.

Directed by Uwe Boll Blood Rayne (2005) is loosely based on a video game of the same name, it isn’t very good, neither are its sequels: BloodRayne: Deliverance (2007) and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010).

Ever since the release of Nosferatu in 1922 vampires have been destroyed by sunlight (unless they just glitter and sparkle), with this in mind, where would you go if you where a vampire? How about Alaska in winter where the sun doesn’t rise for a month? That is exactly what happens in 30 Days of Night (2007). An original and entertain vampire with scary and bloody monsters.

Probably the most successful vampire movies of the century but far from the best, Twilight (2008) and its sequels tells the story of “vegetarian” vampires in a Mormon inspired morality tale. Not as bad as many would have you believe but not a classic vampire movie.

Also based on a novel, the darker and more subversive Swedish movie, Let the Right One In (2008) (original title: Låt den rätte komma in) exploring themes of childhood and bullying, the vampires are almost secondary to the plot. By far the best vampire movie of recent years.

The obvious and overt concept of Daybreakers (2009) is that of a world where vampires outnumber humans who have become little more than food. Behind this, there is a story of hope and humanity.

Thirst (2009) Bakjwi (original title), Oldboy (2003) director Chun-wook Park’s take on the vampire movie is thoughtful and original as well as being full of very dark humour.

Combining a road movie with an apocalyptic story, Stake Land (2010) at times has more in common with zombie movies than vampire movies. There is also a well crafted subtext about fanaticism, one of the best and most original vampire movies of recent years.

Priest (2011) is an underrated action horror that does little to expand the genre but is good fun.

Vampires on TV

Based on a poorly received 1992 movie of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) had a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror; its spin-off Angel (1999–2004) was more of the same if a little darker. Lasting 145 and 111 episodes respectively and having the opportunity to develop their characters, both series can be considered a success and are greatly missed by their fans. A movie version is often talked about but has never materialised. A further spin-off based on Eliza Dushku’s character Faith was proposed but never happened. Far less successful but also worth a look Blood Ties (2007– 2008) lasted just 22 episodes over two seasons. The similar themed Moonlight (2007–2008) had just one season of 17 episodes. They were both well made and enjoyable shows but offered nothing new. That is where True Blood (2008– ) succeeded, like Buffy before it, True Blood combined some original ideas with a great cast of varying characters, at times there is so much going on it is almost like a soap-opera, and not in a bad way! Having just finished its fourth season and with a fifth scheduled for next year it is still going strong.

Zombie Movies

Okay lets kick of with the big question, what is a zombie? For the purposes of this post the simple answer, if I say it’s a zombie, it’s a zombie. I know a lot of people don’t agree that “infected” are zombies, but they are closer to Romero zombies than Romero zombies are to the witch doctor zombie slaves of 30’s/40’s cinema. There is another reason, the zombie side of this debate would be a bit light without the inclusion of the infected.

When people are killed and buried in “The Forest of Resurrection” they come back from the dead thanks to an evil Sprit. If you put a group of gangsters in the middle of this, that’s that happens in the bonkers but brilliant Versus (2000).

28 Days Later… (2002) is so good that I am sorry to say its downhill from here, but it does set the bar pretty high, Following a group of survivors after an zombie apocalypse, its as much a road movie as a horror, the key to its success is putting likeable characters that we care about in (surprisingly believable) dangerous situations.

Less well received but surprisingly good, the video game derived Resident Evil (2002) is the start of a franchise, the fifth part of which is due out next year. The classic fight for survival against a zombie hoard is given a little extra edge by setting that amounts to a claustrophobic underground maze but the success of the movie hangs on the appeal of Milla Jovovich.

Don’t dismiss Shaun of the Dead (2004) as a comedy horror, it is a knowing and cleverly constructed story from a team well versed in zombie movies.

If you take Dawn of the Dead (2004) on its own merits it is a great movie, it does feel a little lightweight and less relevant than the classic 1978 original but it will make you jump more often.

If subscribe to the philosophy that people infected by a virus aren’t zombies, you really won’t like the idea of aliens turning people into zombies as they do in Slither (2006). A silly and insignificant movie elevated by a charismatic and funny performance from Nathan Fillion.

The Spanish horror [Rec] (2007) is one of the few found footage movies that really works. Filled with jumpy and scary moments and anchored by a fantastic performance from Manuela Velasco. The sequel [Rec] ² (2009) picks up where the original left off, it isn’t as good but is still far better than your average Hollywood movie. Speaking of Hollywood, [Rec] was remade as Quarantine (2008), I haven’t seen it so can’t comment on how good it is, but understand it follows the story of the original film pretty closely relocating the action from Barcelona to an unnamed American city. Interestingly, its sequel Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) takes the story in a new direction telling of a new outbreak on a passenger plane.

28 Weeks later (2007), the sequel to 28 Days later tries to be bigger and more expansive than the original movie but actually suffers for its grander scale. Well worth seeing but not as good as the original.

Planet Terror (2007) is for me, the weaker half of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grind house project (although it has a higher rating on IMDB than Death Proof) it is a real throwback to the 80’s toxic waste zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

Pontypool (2008) where does this one come on the is it, isn’t debate? A zombie virus spread by “infected” English words forcing the inhabitants of a Canadian town to communicate in French. There is probably some political statement that goes over my head, putting this aside, as a film it is original and brilliant.

The French movie, The Horde (2009), isn’t a great movie but it is a effective one. There is no explanation of where the zombies come from but killing them follows all the genre “rules”, the escape from a confined space is also an archetype.

George A. Romero is still making zombie movies more than forty years after his first, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Land of the Dead (2005) is a good addition to the “of the dead” series. In keeping with the social commentary of the earlier movies it is a good allegoric tale of the distribution of wealth. Diary of the Dead (2007) is less successful, using mocumentary/found footage as a basis it is a stand a lone story. Not a bad movie but the format has been better used in [Rec]. Set on an isolated Survival of the Dead (2009) has good concept but is all a little lightweight. He is also credited as an executive producer on The Crazies (2010), a remake of his 1973 movie of the same name. Not a zombie movie but it does share a lot of similarities with them, a surprisingly good movie even if it lacks the killer ending of the original.

Zombies on TV

The Walking Dead (2010– ) is the only zombie show on the list, but what a show, based on a comic book series of the same name, the story follows a small group of survivors and presents a gritty almost realistic aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

As I started writing this article I had no idea if there had been more vampire of zombie movies in recent years. I was of the opinion that recent vampire movies where better than their zombie equivalents. What I soon came to realise is that they both have a few great movies, a few rubbish ones and lots of mediocre ones. The whole zombie issue is further clouded by the debate of what is and isn’t a zombie movie. For me it is a genre that is as wide or as narrow as you want it to be. As for what is coming soon, the vampire movies of note are: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and Underworld: Awakening. Far more interesting is World War Z. Based on the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks that was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel as well as the movies of George A. Romero. The movie that is in production now is set for release this time next year, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt whose Plan B Entertainment reportedly won a bidding war over Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way. Only time will tell which genre will be best or most prolific and you will have to make your own mind up as to which has been better so far, personally I am happy to watch many more of both types of movie.

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Having just re-watched the underrated Land of the Dead (2005) I thought it would be a good time to take another look at the genre in particular what makes a zombie movie.

Early zombie movies concentrated on zombie masters and voodoo rituals: In White Zombie (1932): Béla (Dracula) Lugosi plays a Voodoo master who is employed by plantation owner Charles Beaumont in order to lure the woman he loves Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) away from her fiancé Neil Parker (John Harron). Lugosi’s character known only as ‘Murder’ turns Madeleine into a zombie using magic and the power of his mind. Things never go to plan when you employ an evil Voodoo master and it soon transpires he has his own plans for Madeleine. I walked with a Zombie (1943): Director Jacques Tourneur is probably best know for the brilliant original version of Cat People from 1942, he followed it up a year later with I walked with a Zombie an eerie and atmospheric mystery thriller that is dreamlike and often poetic in its approach to the genre. It is the story of a Canadian nurse, Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) who is sent to a small West Indian island to tend for a young comatose woman. She soon uncovers the voodoo that is practiced on the island.

Those who have a narrow idea of what constitutes a zombie tend to forget that the now accepted idea of flesh eating walking dead was actually invented by George A Romero in Night Of The Living Dead (1968): Zombie movies had died off (terrible pun intended!) until George A Romero reinvented, revolutionized and reanimated (the bad puns just keep coming, sorry) the genre. Romero’s ultra low budget movie is about a widespread outbreak of flesh eating zombies. The reason the film works so well is that it is more claustrophobic and personal; it does this by concentrating on a small group of survivors. Using TV and radio broadcasts to show what is going on away from their personal struggle it is as if we are one on them, only seeing what they see of the outside world. But the film is far more important than that because it set the rules for the modern zombie. They are literally the walking dead, they have little brain activity and “live” on instinct, their only aim to feed in turn creating more of their number as the victims die and are reanimated as zombies. The un-dead are slow moving and shuffle along making it seemingly easy to escape an aspect of their character that has caused much derision more recently. The film was in its day considered to contain graphic violence; this manifests itself more as gore than actual violence, something that found its way into other horror sub genres in the subsequent twenty years. Moving on from the Vietnam references of the first film the second and best of Romero’s ‘Dead’ series Dawn Of The Dead (1978) is at times a satire about consumerism making full use of its shopping mall setting. The movie follows all the same rules as the first film including one that seems to exist to this day, the best was to destroy a zombie is severe trauma to the head. Whether it be a cricket bat (Shaun of the Dead) or a bullet (most modern zombie movies). The idea of shutting oneself away from the problems of the outside world has relevance outside the plot as do so many of the other themes explored like race, greed and selfishness. Some of the themes explored in each of the five films in the series so far have direct correlations to the time they were made. This second film made in the late 70’s has more of a sense of hope and optimism than the first and most recent of the series.

The new bread of zombie are created by a man made virus the zombies are fast angry and violent, the best example of this is probably 28 Days Later (2002): The new zombies are compelled as much by rage as any need to feed. Directed my Danny Boyle and written by author Alex Garland in Their second collaboration. It was garlands first story written directly for the screen and is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that has that combines action, horror, drama and thriller but retains the personal story of the Romero films. It spawned the inferior but not bad sequel 28 Weeks Later and a third film, the imaginatively titled 28 Months later is rumoured to be in the early stages of development. Will there be a 28 Years later? The photography is notably different to a Hollywood film giving it a real feel of something that little bit different. Scenes of a deserted London are haunting and brilliantly executed. Resident Evil (2002) was made and released around the same time as 28 Days later. Resident Evil is based on the popular video game series of the same name. The film has been dismissed as similar to other video game spin-offs like Tomb Rader, although not as good as the other films I have mentioned it still as some merit within the genre. Playing out as more of an action film it follows one main character throughout, Alice (Milla Jovovich) in the way that a computer game does. Using Amnesia as a plot device an element of mystery is included. The cleverest thing about the film is that the narrative is a collection of set pieces that end abruptly and move on to the next when a goal is achieved, much like in a video game. The zombies are similar in to those in 28 Days later, they where created by a man made virus and exhibit more strength and speed than seen in traditional zombie films, an element essential for the action. The film has had three sequels Apocalypse and Extinction and Afterlife, Resident Evil: Retribution is set for release next year.

The Spanish horror film [•REC] (2007) uses the increasingly popular found footage idea. REC follows a television reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) who are shadowing a Barcelona fire crew, they get trapped inside a building of infected people following what appeared to be a routine callout. Making full use of the filming technique the movie is full of both the gore and the scares a horror movie needs. The cause of the outbreak seems to have a foot in two camps, the zombies are clearly the result of an infection but the latter stages of the film introduces a religious element as we discover the owner of one of the apartments was an agent of the Vatican who was researching the virus responsible for demonic possession. Putting all this aside, for me it is the best zombie movie since Dawn Of The Dead.

These movies represent three or possibly four different types of zombie movie, for a completely different spin on the genre take a look at director Ryuhei Kitamura’s seminal Japanese action/horror film Versus (2000). For zombies that can run but are otherwise follow the Romero rules see the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. There has been much debate around The Evil Dead trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992) and if the demonic possession in these movies constitutes zombies, whether they are zombie movies or not is irrelevant they are just great movies. Comedy horror is a notoriously difficult combination to pull of, there are two zombie comedies that do it perfectly: Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009). The main reason they work is simple, they stick to the basic ideas (rules for want of a better word) of the genre, this and they are perfectly cast and painfully funny. One final film to look out for Night of the Comet (1984). This is an 80’s teen/horror/comedy that works well as a parody of the cheesier side of low budget horror. It doesn’t have anything new or original to say and won’t change the world but it is good fun.

So where do you stand on the zombie debate; what are you favourite zombie movies, do you like your zombies fast or slow and are the infected zombies?

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