Friday, May 07, 2010

Return of the Land of the Living Dead

A couple of interesting Zombie films were on the agenda this week ... George Romero's Land of the Dead, and Return of the Living Dead from Dan O'Bannon. Land of the Dead is a peculiar thing, a Zombie movie which doesn't feel like one. It comes over more like some sort of vigilante film than anything else. The world has become infested with Zombies, and they stand around trying to recapture their lost humanity by continuing to do what they did before ... shopping, serving customers and so on ... while in a protected enclave, the last of humanity lives in a high rise development with its own shopping mall and every convenience you could imagine. However the owner of the complex, Kaufman, played by a fairly laid back Dennis Hopper, needs to get food and supplies in from somewhere so he has hired Cholo, played by John Leguizamo, to get the supplies for him. There follows a fairly predictable path, as a special 'supplies truck' is stolen by Cholo when Kaufman cuts him off after he has delivered the goods, and it's up to a small group of humans led by Riley (Simon Baker), and which include reformed prostitute/dancer Slack (Asia Argento), to retrieve the truck ... The film is most interesting for the zombies though, in particular 'Big Daddy' played by Eugene Clark who turns in a movie-stealing performance as a hulking brute who seems to have more intelligence than most - working out how to use a gun and other implements as weapons. The other zombies are mostly defined by their old jobs: a butcher, a cheerleader, a Salvation Army band member; and they follow 'Big Daddy's lead in attacking the complex and killing everyone inside. The film ends with zombies and surviving humans going their own way in a sort of 'live and let live' approach to the menace. I can't say it's a great film, but it has its moments and is never dull. The other film is a favourite of mine and I never get tired of revisiting it. Return of the Living Dead is a straight zombie film which is a sequel of sorts to Night of the Living Dead. Some zombies from that outbreak have been canned up by the Army, and accidentally delivered to a medical supplies centre where they have stayed for years and years before worker Burt (Clu Gallagher) decides to show newby Freddie (Thom Mathews) what is in the basement. Cue the escape of gases which overcome Burt and Freddie, and which bring all the organic objects in the supply warehouse to life. In a great sequence we see a split dog (a dog mounted and cut down the middle, nose to tail, to show all the internal organs) whining, and butterflies flapping in a cabinet. Then a cadaver comes alive and runs amok before it's pinned to the ground with a small pickaxe. This still doesn't kill it and so they then cut it into pieces and take them over to the local morturary run by Ernie (Don Calfa) who destroys them in the incinerator, causing poisoned rain to fall over the nearby cemetary where a group of stoner mates of Freddies are partying. Next thing they know, the dead are coming back to life ... It's a wonderful fun film, and the leads play it straight, the laughs coming out of the situations rather than any overt comedy. I love the Tar Man zombie in the cellar - one of the best zombies ever committed to film - and the idea of the things being able to run and reason is very nicely handled. The 'Send more Paramedics' line deserves especial mention of course, as does the idea of Ernie and Freddie literally turning into zombies as we watch, and without dying in between. The production design by William Stout is exemplary, and the zombies are brilliant as a result. The old woman one which is captured and pinned to the table is a case in point. Her backbone writhing and weeping fluids as she explains that the creatures want brains to eat to ease the pain of being dead is a neat twist, and lends a little sympathy to the creatures. The stoner crew are amazing ... what a bunch. And what on earth Freddy's girlfriend - who is a 'nice girl' - is doing with the likes of Trash (Linnea Quigley) who strips off faster than you can blink and dances on a tomb before being got by the zombies, is anyone's guess. I have to also point out that the two main leads here are called Ernie and Burt ... something of an homage to Sesame Street perhaps? Definitely worth a watch, it's one of the gems of zombie cinema.

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