Killer Kiddies

As it happens, over the past two weeks a quartet of killer kiddie films came out on DVD, some possessing variable levels of good, weak, or downright awful qualities.

The Children (released by Alliance in Canada) is a very low-key shocker that takes place around Xmas time. Two sisters get together with their hubbies and kids, and a strange virus starts affecting the rugrats. One by one they grow slightly pale, and begin to ponder some important questions: Do I really like my parents? What would happen if I do play with sticks and stones? Does mommy really need two eyes, or can she make do with just one, like a kidney?

Director/writer Tom Shankland (The Killing Gene) explores children acting out these and other world-important queries and quandaries without a concrete examination of the killer bug’s raison d’etre, and that vagueness works for the film very well. It has shades of the Village of the Damned (1960), as well as the seventies version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but carves out its own original style.

If you’re already Blu-ray friendly, grab that disc, because this is a beautiful little production. I haven’t seen a shocker with such loving attention to detail since Hard Candy (2005).

The release of Children of the Corn (Anchor Bay) begs the trappings of being too faithful to a literary work, and that may be its undoing. Of course, all that attention to corn (literally and figuratively) doesn’t make the story as scary as it should be.

Donald P. Borchers produced the original 1984 version, as well as several cult classic releases for New World Pictures – a company whose quirkiness made it unique among exploitation competitors.

For the remake, Borchers directs, producers and sort of co-writes, and he’s got Jonathan Elias returning to co-score the remake. Now, films starring Bible-thumping loons – kiddie loons, in particular – are rarely scary. It’s when the banal indifference of a child’s face is used in place of religious banter or nattering (as in The Children) that they become creepy. It certainly worked for the original Village of the Damned (although the peroxide wigs were kind of goofy).

And then there’s the latest adaptation of a Jack Ketchum tale. Offspring (Anchor Bay/Moderncine) has feral kiddies and young adults turning a remote homestead into an instant knackery, except for babies and women, whom the young cannibals need for other purposes. Andrew van den Houten, who produced the superb but I-never-want-to-see-it-again film The Girl Next Door (2007) directs this time, and Ketchum wrote the script, with Ryan Shore contributing another dark score featuring fuzzy electronica.

Of the four films, Orphan will get the most coverage by the bigger media sites because it was another glossy Dark Castle production that blew donkeys. (This is a phrase that must be used sparingly, but here it is most appropriate.)

Director Jaume Collet-Serra also directed the 2005 ‘re-imagining’ of House of Wax for the production shingle, and while that film was actually fun (Paris Hilton dies beautifully, and the finale involves characters trapped in a house made completely out of wax), Orphan is a major misstep in several areas.

Critics have made light of the inane finale, but I’d argue that it could’ve worked had the film been shorter, sleazier, and Esther’s slide into weirdness as well as her eyes on daddy should’ve started earlier and progressed more rapidly instead of the measured rate that ultimately drags the film to 123 mins.

That’s Two Hours and Three Minutes.

John Ottman’s score is one of his best, but even good music can’t save a turkey. Joel McNeely wrote a beautifully deranged score for I Know Who Killed Me (2007), and like Ottman’s music, the score stands as an example of what the film should’ve been.

Evil kiddies have been a round for a while, with the granddaddies being The Bad Seed (1956), the Village of the Damned and sequel Children of the Damned, and certainly the first Omen (1976).

(In the case of Damien Omen II, the kiddie was a teen, so that one doesn’t really count; in The Final Conflict: Omen III, Damien Thorn was grown adult and became America’s Ambassador to Britain, but he had to kill kiddies to get there; Omen IV kind of brought the Thorn kid back as an evil daughter; and the 2006 remake went back to the original story, but was a wholly unnecessary production except that it let composer Marco Beltrami write one of the best retro-seventies religious sleaze scores ever.)

There’s also The Good Son (1993) with a teen Macaulay Culkin channeling the bad energy of his showbiz dad to vivify the character of an evil son; and maybe It’s Alive (1974), although the Johnson’s baby is more mutant toddler than an evil, cognizant child scheming of a bloody, household putsch.

Besides, Johnson Jr. was content knocking off the milkman, and that shows a complete lack of ambition.



Berlin's Cold War Heat

Back in September, I posted reviews of Robert Siodmak’s Escape from East Berlin (1962) and the documentary/travel video Mauerflug (‘flight over the Berlin Wall’) as the first in a series tied to the giant reverse-chastity belt that was designed to prevent East Germans from penetrating the west.

Here in Part Two, I’ve uploaded a pair of reviews dealing with Berlin before the Cold War, and the city smack in the middle of it. Both productions are biased towards British POVs of the city, and don’t really present the drama from the average person’s stance.

The Man Between (1953), for example, has a snotty and ignorant waif visiting her brother in the British Sector, after which she ends up in the East and has to flee with the gangster she’s fallen for during her exotically dangerous sojourn. The film – still unavailable in Region 1 land – could be regarded as director Carol Reed’s second poke at postwar thrills-among-the-ruins, after The Third Man (1949), although nowhere as clever nor intriguing.

James Mason pulls off a decent East German (even his pronunciation of German is serviceable), and Claire Bloom looks beautiful in spite of playing an idiot. The location footage and recreation of ruined quarters is stellar, however, as is John Addison’s thematic material.

Reed’s film takes place pre-Wall; the GDR regime was starting to tighten its grip on citizens and crack down on flights to West Berlin, and barbed wire and military checkpoints were more severe, but one could still find venues to exit the Eastern Sector.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965) was a superb realist drama – WASP-style – taken from John le Carré’s best-selling espionage thriller about a British spy who feigns revulsion towards the British government/western politics and heads over to East Germany with his suitcase of secrets.

Spy is the antithesis of sixties spy films because it’s about characters, spy psychologies, and outright misery. Richard Burton is beautifully subdued under Martin Ritt’s direction, Oskar Werner steals the film at every angle, and Claire Bloom plays a far less naïve woman, although she’s essentially the perfunctory love interest.

Only the last scene takes place in East Berlin (er, a custom set built in Ireland), and the obligatory flight to the west is shorter, less elaborate, but far more tense than what Reed prolonged in his flat film.

The reason Ritt’s finale works in its compact dramatic state is purely because of the characters we want to see happy after been abused by governments and ideological monsters. They deserve a chance at peace, and the tension one sees as Burton tries to keep his performance style under several notches actually makes his scenes more compelling, because one senses his character is struggling with emotions kept locked up due to his risky profession.

There are no explosions, tricked-out Aston Martins, or bald men trying to destroy planet Earth with a lethal gas, but it’s a rewarding drama, as well as another fine example of British Bleakism. Spy isn’t precisely about Berlin – it’s the kludge centre where everything happens once the various levels of badness comingle – but it’s symbolic of the city being mucked up because the postwar winners are playing an elaborate game of chess.

Author le Carré points out in an interview on the Criterion DVD that while one man is sacrificed in the film’s pivotal courtroom sequence, many more of his colleagues and underlings will probably lose there jobs, their dignity, and some their lives due to automatic guilt-by-association.

Paramount released their own bare bones edition of Spy on DVD, but Criterion’s special edition from 2008 is worth every penny for the super transfer (Sol Kaplan’s grim little score is in true stereo!), plus some excellent extras.



The Spectre of Royalty

With 2009 marking the 20th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that ousted the Shah and replaced the monarchy with a theocratic regime, it’s fitting Mongrel Media released The Queen and I this month, Nahid Persson Sarvestani’s 2008 documentary on Empress Farah, Iran’s exiled Queen, now living in Paris, France.

Sarvestani was a Communist who supported the regime change, but she found herself and her family put in harm’s way when the ruling theocracy started to wipe out opposing political parties to ensure its total domination of the populace. She subsequently fled to Sweden, and eventually made a documentary about the surviving monarch - a person representing aspects of a painful past.

The making of the film created some fascinating inner conflicts for the director, because she slowly fell for the Queen’s charm - something that in turn affected the film’s focus and conclusion.

As flawed as The Queen and I may be, it’s a rare glimpse into a forgotten slice of Iran’s past, and most likely when the Empress has passed away, the country’s royal history will become a biographical footnote, except to loyal monarchists who hope the royal family will one day return and govern the country.

That wish is perhaps more self-serving, because it’s more about the fans wanting to return to a world, glamorous lifestyle, wealth, and social status that no longer exists. One is also aware of Sarvestani’s discomfort when she attends a monarchists gathering, and is surrounded by fans in a room filled with iconography and portraits of long-gone figures and the Empress’ now-graying children.

The affection these folks have for the royal family is understandable, and their fantasy is no different than the dwindling societies who dream of the reinstatement of their own lost monarchies, such as the Russian dynasties, but it just ain’t gonna happen.

Ultimately unsatisfying, Sarvestani’s film does raise the issue of a younger generation – those born shortly before or after the Revolution – who have few if any memories of the regime, yet share a fascination if not fondness for the royal family, and perhaps are oblivious (perhaps voluntarily) to the Shah’s dark side.

Also reviewed this week is a 2004 documentary on The Iranian Embassy Siege (MVD Visual) in London, wherein members of a minority Arab population in southern Iran took over the embassy and held staff and visitors hostage for six days until the British secret service burst in, commando style, and put an end to the mess. Organized and supported by the Iraqi secret service, the siege was meant to aggravate Iraq’s existing disputes with Iran, and preceded the Iran-Iraq War by a few months.

Filmmaker Robert Garofalo interviewed two survivors of the siege, as well as a British secret service agent who participated in the liberation, and interspersed their comments with archival news and government negotiation footage.


Flowing Through Nostalgic Horror

I’ve been sick with a wretched head cold for the past few days, hence the delay, but the time in bed (and dizzy spells) allowed me to gather a handful of films for this update which collectively illustrate the levels of originality, imitation, and nostalgia in contemporary horror.

That’s a big statement, but it can be distilled into something very simple, if not streamlined.

Last week I interviewed composer Douglas Pipes and writer/director Michael Dougherty for their film Trick ‘R Treat, as well as the soundtrack CD. It was actually a great idea to pair the two in a phoner because Dougherty is, as you’ll discover in my Q&A, a film music fan, and he used his knowledge and affection for certain scores to establish the mood of the script he was writing.

Like many horror directors, he’s also a horror film buff, but prior to his directorial debut, Dougherty also wrote with co-writer Dan Harris Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), Sony’s vain attempt to further an existing franchise. Now, big studios aren’t always run by bright bulbs, because while they may aspire to keep a brand name going (it only takes two films, and voila! You have a franchise!), they often figure as long as it rents or sells to stores and ancillary broadcast outlets, it need not be good.

MGM’s garbage Species 3 (2004) is perfect evidence of this mindset, and you know that at some point there will be another. Species 2 (aka ‘Species Duh’) was a theatrical film in 1998, but as director Peter Medak (PETER MEDAK, for Pete’s sake) stated quite clearly in his commentary track, the studio kept mucking around with the script and film until what was left was an incoherent and laughable blob of celluloid crud. (When alien babies are born with accompanying tear-away loin cloths, you know the studio brass involved with the film were smoking puddle fumes.)

UL3 actually had some pedigree. Dougherty and Harris were the writing team behind X2 (2003) and would soon co-write Superman Returns (2006), and director Mary Lambert has a background in classic music videos, as well as the horror film Pet Sematary (1989), so what went wrong?

UL3, if watched after reading our Q&A and seeing Trick ‘R Treat, was an opportunity for Dougherty to create a self-referential sequel ten years after the incessant Scream knock-offs had run their course. (Remember Sony’s I Still Know What You Did Last Summer? No? This is the film that sent Danny Cannon into TV land after a promising theatrical career.)

There are flashes of smart dialogue, and kill scenes harkening back to some classic films, if not creative kills of vintage slashers, but the script just doesn’t work, and Lambert’s direction is a key problem with the film.

That’s probably one stressor that motivated Dougherty to direct his own horror film, and realize his own vision of a nostalgic story that’s told with style – something completely lacking in UL3.

Rue Morgue magazine has an extensive interview in Issue #94 (October 2009) with Dougherty regarding the film’s long period in studio stasis after an early sneak preview in the fall of 2007, but the film is finally out, and people can judge for themselves as to whether Dougherty’s goals were successful.

Part of the film’s charm comes from a strong orchestral score by Douglas Pipes (Monster House), and he was given a broad canvas to write a dynamic score that wasn’t curtailed at key points for bad source music, a common trend in horror films because of that daft hope one song will somehow sell millions of music-from-and-inspired-by-albums.

In any event, in our Q&A, Pipes provides some career background info, and his score is now widely available on CD via La-La Land Records. My CD review will appear in a forthcoming issue of Rue Morgue, but it’s an excellent score with plenty of fine theme variations, and moody, low-key suspense cues. A solid hour of grisly fun.

While Dougherty indulged in his own kind of nostalgia, Sam Raimi went small scale and switched from the big budget chaos of Spider-Man 3 to Drag me to Hell (2009), a decent but somewhat ‘meh’ attempt to recapture the zest and wetness of his Evil Dead films. He’s a bit crazier here compared to the Spidey films, but there’s that midsection where not much happens… and you realize all the gross teasing is just padding to compensate for a weak screenplay and uneven lead actors.

Like Trick ‘R Treat, the Blu-ray for Drag contains more extras, whereas the standard DVD lacks the goodies that used to be standard on a studio-released horror film. The trend is clearly to get people to buy BR – and I’m working my way towards that, once player prices dip around Xmas – but the Trick ‘R Treat DVD may be the worst mastered disc, in terms of concept. Read the review to find out how Warner Bros. wasted 4.2 GB of space on some irrelevant material.

Lastly, one of the original slashers from the eighties makes its proper debut on DVD. Back in 2004, Sony released Happy Birthday to Me with an alternate score, and with the video rights now in Anchor Bay’s hands, the film’s back with its original score by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin.

The first time I saw the film was via the Sony DVD, and having no point of reference, I was stunned at the music score’s awfulness, and regarded the composers as hacks. Apologies to the duo, as AB’s DVD validates them for writing a gem that deserves its own commercial release. (and those curious about Harwood’s intriguing background and working relationship with John Cassavetes should check out Criterion’s John Cassavetes Collection. The Woman Under the Influence DVD includes a commentary track with Harwood, and he also appears in the excellent documentary A Constant Forge, as detailed in this old column for Music from the Movies.)

I’m trying not to let non-horror material take up the bulk of October’s release roster, and coming shortly will be some CD reviews, a tally of recent scores of note on CD, as well as another composer interview.

Also coming shortly will be more material related to the fall of the Berlin Wall (meaning more Petzold, and some overlooked films you might want to check out as the anniversaries of various historical Berlin footnotes creep up).

Also on the way is an odd angle on Iran in film – not Iranian directors, but American and European films shot in unique Iranian locations prior to the Revolution.


Rocket Robin Hood, Vol. 1, & More Canadian Release Dates

Oh YEAH!Originally announced about 2 years ago from Warner Bros. Canada for a Nov. 27, 2007 DVD release, the 2-volume set of Rocket Robin Hood was pulled due to ‘issues with the French language track’ on some episodes, so while fans of this cult series had hopes the label would release the series as reported in the spring of 2008, nothing materialized, spawning all kinds of theories about rights issues, alien grasshoppers, and black helicopters (or maybe not).

No mention was made of why the show’s DVD release was shelved, but Rocket Robin Hood, Vol. 1 has been announced for a Nov. 17th release via E1. Spanning 4 DVDs, Vol. 1 ($24.99) will include the following episodes:

Pilot – Prince of Plotters – The Time Machine – Robin vs. the Robot Knight – Mystery of the Crown Jewels – Warlord of Saturn – Wily Giles – Jesse James Rides Again – Giles the Great – City Beneath the Seas – Don Cayote McPherson – Michael Shawn The Leprechaun – Little Little John – The Marmaduke Caper – Follow the Leader- Cleopatra meets Little John – Little George – The Magic Medallion of Morse – The Awful Truce – The Sad, Sad, Sheriff of N.O.T.T. – Don’t Make a Sound – Goritang – The Orbiting Salesman – Marlin, The Magician

Total running time will be 592 mins. All episodes will feature “vignettes of various characters,” but no other extras.

Why is this show a cult favourite? Surely not because of the animation quality, which is genuinely cheap. RR was a trippy cartoon directed by Ralph Bakshi that featured striking images (see HERE) set to orchestral jazz sounds, and the inter-stellar stories were chopped up into vintage movie serial chapters. (For more info on the series, check out the Wikipedia entry, and for video samples, there are plenty of YouTube clips.)

I’ll save my own personal memories of watching the series early in the morning in hour-long slots on City TV (then channel 79) when the set is a reality and is in my hands, but before I detail a few more Canadian release announcements, I truly hope this all spawns the re-release of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, that other show produced in 1967 by the same studio and supervised by Bakshi, which Disney released on DVD during their rights agreement until the last Spiderman film’s theatrical run.

And for those still head-scratching as they wonder where to get the stock music the two series shared, there’s an excellent blog HERE (with some handy links). There’s also some discussion at the Film Score Monthly board HERE regarding the music’s apparentl availability on iTunes, under the heading “KPM Artists (feat. Syd Dale), Spider Sounds Vol.1 & 2.” A review of the collection can be read at this blog.

And here are the rest of the notable Canuckle releases for the fall:

E1 and the CBC will release Canada: Above and Beyond – 100 Years of Aviation Oct. 21st as a 3-disc set that features the four-part doc series, with the following extras: extended interviews with director, pilot, production crew; English audio commentary track with the director and cinematographer; behind-the-scenes of Silver Dart replica, Snowbirds, and more; and a 1947 archival film of the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.

Fox brings Fight Club to Blu-ray Nov. 1st ($37.99) in a 10th anniversary edition with exclusive BR extras: 2 interactive features, starting with “A Hit in the Ear: Ren Klyce & the Sound Design of Fight Club,” where viewers can remix key scenes using 4 audio choices “with the help of Ren Klyce,” plus “Insomniac Mode: I am Jack’s Search Index,” where viewers can access part of the disc’s bonus material via interactive tools.

Also new are behind-the-scenes material with director David Fincher, actors Brad Pitt, Ed Norton; audio commentary by author Chuck Palahniuk, Fincher, Pitt, Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. Other extras include 2 Fight Club featurettes, 7 deleted scenes, music video, plot gallery, and more.

From Mongrel Media comes the Danish film Flame & Citron / Flammen & Citronen Dec. 1st (39.95).

Maple will release The Cove Dec. 8 on DVD ($29.95), as well as a slew of new Blu-ray titles from their back catalogue on Nov. 24th ($19.95 each): Near Dark, Red Heat, My Bloody Valentine Special Edition (1981), Angel Heart, Cujo Anniversary Edition, Frailty, Monster Squad Anniversary Edition, and Air America.

No word as to whether the extras from Near Dark will include any or all goodies from the old (but amazing) 2-disc Anchor Bay set from 2002.

In TV news, Shout Factory will release The Paper Chase, Season 2 Dec. 15th as a 6-DVD set, whereas Paramount will release the following titles on Dec. 8: Perry Mason, Season 4, Vol. 1, and The Fugitive, Season 3, Vol. 2.

Rocket Robin Hood, people. ROCKET ROBIN HOOD. Worst animated show around, but oodles of fun.


Soundtracks Highlights This Week

Recently uploaded is an interview with composer Daniel Pemberton, whose music from the British-U.S. co-production Monster Moves (aka Huge Moves, Impossible Moves, and Mega Moves) is out as a downloadable album (which I also reviewed). Probably 95% of the album’s content is comprised of addictive themes and vocal works, and while the TV series is still unavailable on DVD, one can view samples of the music at work via YouTube. (Editor’s Advice: start with “Deep Deep Down”).

Just uploaded are reviews of two La-La Land CDs: Michael Linn’s Allan Quartermain and the City of Lost Gold (limited to 1200 copies), and the compilation Zatoichi: The Best Cuts 1967-1973 (limited to 1500 copies).

The release of Linn’s music (lightly based on Jerry Goldsmith’s themes from the first film, King Solomon’s Mines) might come as a surprise to some because a) the film itself was barely released by a dying Cannon Films; and b) most who saw the film will likely recall many scenes were tracked with material from Mines. Whereas the two films were shot in tandem in 1985, Lost City didn’t hit screens until 1987.

I can still recall the news announcement of their back-to-back filming, and wondering a while later if Lost City would ever be released. This, for Cannon-philes, is significant, because in 1987 the company was going through a number of problems which ultimately led to its demise. However, Lost City’s abbreviated theatrical release was probably more symptomatic of the company’s mid-eighties attempt to go mainstream and become a major studio (fat chance).

I still have a copy of a hefty Variety issue that’s peppered with multiple announcements where Cannon trumpeted major directors contracted to make art house films, including Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train (a good film), Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear (an incoherent mess), and what appeared to be a dip into classics: Rusty Lemorande’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Train was released to critical acclaim, Lear was spat out on VHS, and Journey was shut down and retooled into one of the most incoherent efforts by a studio to salvage a bad film using $2.85 cents in leftover change. (One day I’ll do a piece on these films. One day. With stimulants, as I progress from good towards outright rabbit rubbish.)

La-La Land also released Runaway Train on CD, so it seems little by little some of the good music from Cannon’s archives is coming out. Wish list: how about some Gary Chang?

52-Pick Up is screaming for rescue from oblivion.

Chang was a fairly prolific composer in the eighties and early nineties, and wrote some inventive synth scores, although is his best work remains Shock to the System – a brilliant soundtrack + film. Other underrated scores screaming for release include Dead Bang (1989), Miami Blues (1990), and the eerie music from The Nightman (1992), a TV movie apparently only seen by me, and no one else.

Other soundtracks of note are Edwin Wendler’s Home: The Horror Story (2000) available as a downloadable album, John Ottman’s really striking score for 2009’s clunky Orphan (Varese), Henry Jackman’s Monster’s vs. Aliens (Lakeshore), and Christopher Young’s deliciously evil Drag Me to Hell (Lakeshore), all of which I reviewed for the October issue of Rue Morgue.

Other soundtracks of note which were covered for an upcoming RM issue are Craig Safan’s Fade to Black (1980), and J. Peter Robinson’s The Believers (1987).

Perseverance has done a wonderful job in releasing these scores, with Safan’s full score making its debut (in mono) as a composer promo, and Robinson’s Believers (limited to 1000 copies) remastered and expanded with complete cues and source material that actually reduces the repetitiveness that affected the shorter Varese LP.

Lastly, some fans may have missed TCM’s airing of The Night Digger / The Road Builder, a rare thriller film from 1971 scored by Bernard Herrmann. Each Tuesday TCM is airing Herrmann-scored films, and it was a shock to see Night Digger quietly buried among the more familiar Hitchcock titles. I’ll have a review of the film next week, seeing how this is one of the few Herrmann films that evaded home video.

Still waiting to see White Witch Doctor (1953) and King of the Khyber Rifles (1953).

Wake up, Fox.



Screenwriters should always ask "Why?"

One of the toughest nuts for screenwriters and directors to crack is making a story set in a post-apocalyptic world work.

It sounds relatively easy: you start the tale when the landscape is eerily peaceful, and a handful of normal human survivors have decided to wander out into the open because they’re bored, some need companionship, a few have run out of food, or have acclimatized themselves to running around with a shotgun and extra ammo with a new daily goal of some sort.

That’s more or less what happens in The Omega Man (1971), still the best (albeit cheesiest) adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novella (although the first third of the 2007 Will Smith version has potent moments). As the only man left in Los Angeles, Charlton Heston picks whatever car he wants to drive, grabs some gas from an available tank, and heads out, wherever, hunting for infected scumbags that threaten his safety and sanity. If he needs anything along the way – clothes, a new flashlight, a Twinkie – he takes it.

It’s a neat premise: you own the land. You set the rules. You figure out how to live based on new conflicts and needs.

There are three parts to writing a good post-apocalyptic tale:

1) Set up a premise tied to contemporary fears – either currently in the news, or something that’s plausible based on known realistic disasters that could happen if certain global stressors go into overdrive.

2) Keep the focus on a few characters that live in safe haven, wander into a makeshift civilized society, escape from a repressive makeshift society, or are trying to set up their own world order.

3) Introduce a threat that will either come back and bite the heroes in the ass, or maintain a threat that eventually finds a way past the safety buffer established by the survivors, and threatens their new world with total annihilation that may force them to start from scratch again (provided they survive the uber-battle).

Where filmmakers frequently go wrong is after the setup: they make it as far as creating a really neat, bruised world, introduce characters with dramatic potential, and then the writers and directors realize they’ve no idea what to do next because they never had any game plan to begin with.

It’s a devastated world. Now what?

In the case of Zombieland (2009), its creators figured their endpoint would involve a battle in an amusement park.


They mapped out a prolonged battle sequence, and organized some action set-pieces that are funny and kinetic, and finish the film with a sign of hope, plus a tepid but tolerable romantic union.

Next quandary: if the survivors of Zombieland have settled into a safe home near then end of the film’s midpoint, and have no reason to leave, what logical stressor can be introduced so that one half of the characters heads for the amusement park, forcing the other half to follow and save their skins in the pre-determined battle?

There are several scenes early into the film that signal the filmmakers’ poor script construction: a prolonged and contrived driving odyssey (which didn’t work either in the post-nuclear, disaster idiocy Damnation Alley), a montage in a souvenir shop (which DID work in the original Dawn of the Dead, because it captured the group’s boredom in being cooped up in the attic of a shopping mall overrun by zombies), and a slow series of scenes in a mansion where the group become bored long after the audience has reached that stage.

One could argue the filmmakers had too much fun experiencing the neatness in a free-for-all world through their characters, but then there’s the stupidity factor that comes into play: the reason the two sisters leave for the amusement park is to experience some normal fun.

Why does the older sister decide it’s time to head out when her own sense of security has just been augmented by a new romantic interest?

Why leave at night when you can’t see the dangers (zombies) lurking in the dark, but they can see you (bright white folks)?

Why leave for the park at night?


It’s the biggest dramatic blunder in the film, and the only reason Zombieland doesn’t fall flat on its face it because it’s a comedy.

One also senses the filmmakers realized things had become too flippant at the script level, so two moments were added to give the group some gravitas: the lead zombie hunter (Woody Harrelson) reveals exactly what kind of life companion he lost after the world became zombified; and the older sister makes that dopey decision to head out to the park rides with her young sibling because she feels her baby sister needs to remember what it was like being a kid in a normal world (though that may be all irrelevant, since we know from a flashback sequence that the girls earned their keep by conning nerdy guys out of cash, which isn’t normal, but probably read great on the printed script page).

Does the film have any virtues making it worth the inflated theatrical ticket price? Yeah, but only marginally. Zombieland is better-suited for the home video realm, and here’s why.

In tandem with that film’s theme of undread flesh chompers is a review of Dead Snow (2009), the Norwegian horror comedy that similarly manages to succeed due to its comedic and gory content rather than originality. Director Tommy Wirkola really, really, REALLY liked The Evil Dead, and it’s an amusing riff, but had the film been played straight, it’s doubtful its intriguing premise of fast-moving, greedy and vengeance-breathing Nazis would’ve held audience interest.

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