Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking Back: 2010 in ZOMBIES

This is the first of my "Looking Back at 2010" posts, in which I plan to have a look at what I watched this year and see what was great (and not so great...). First up: Zombies! This is based on the list of films I watched in 2010, not necessarily those released in 2010.

Last year I sat through a fair number of Zombie films and, much like the genre, I have to say they were a pretty mixed bag. My film list contains 29 that I would describe as either being Zombie films or at least significantly featuring zombies. Of these, there were a handful of true genre classics - several of which I'd seen before - including Umberto Lenzi's zombies-with-weapons masterpiece Nightmare City (which I reviewed here), Hammer's brilliant Plague of the Zombies, the creepy Spanish Tombs of the Blind Dead and cult-classic no-budget cheese-fest The Video Dead.

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By brokensbone at 2011-01-03

Somewhat less memorably, I also endured Zombie Cop and Zombie Nosh, neither of which I'd recommend even to Zombie film-fans! At this end of the scale The Asylum's I Am Legend rip-off I Am Omega sneaks in too, falling just about on the right side of watchable, but not by far.

Big name Zombie offerings were perhaps a little thin. Although Zombies are supposedly making a bit of a come back (from the dead, heh) Hollywood and big name studios are yet to put out much of any worth. As much as I love Shaun of the Dead, I'd like a few more not-comedy Zombie films, and Hollywood is not exactly leaping at the idea. George Romero's newest, Survival of the Dead, went straight to DVD and, though not a bad idea or unwatchable film, it certainly isn't comparable to his best. Zombieland was pretty disappointing too: although it started out well, it was as if some Hollywood executive had stepped in at around the half-hour mark to tell them what they were doing wrong. What's starts promisingly turns into a predictable, warm-n-fuzzy feeling inside, relationship drama with predictable characters. You mean the big mean one is actually sensitive? And the nerdy one who looks like Michael Cera will get the girl? Who'd have thought it? Come on Hollywood, get some guts and kill off lots of main characters in a depressing, violent and gory ending. Please?

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Away from the US, this year confirmed to me (as if it needed confirmation) that the Spanish are just damn good at zombies. Mucha Sangre, Kárate a Muerte en Torremolinos and [Rec] were all brilliant fun in their own ways but it was (new to me) Una De Zombies that really astonished me. It's some months since I watched it and I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but it's an incredible and clever film that plays with the viewer from start to finish. Highly recommended! It's also worth mentioning here that, although not a feature film, the Spanish short Zombies and Cigarettes is just about as much fun as you can have in 17 minutes. And it's free to watch online!

Back in the English language, I saw the compelling but utterly horrible Deadgirl - think carefully about whether you'll enjoy it before you watch it: I did, many wouldn't - and the ruthlessly intelligent Pontypool (which I shall be re-watching as soon as possible), both of which I'd recommend. Nazi Zombies made an appearance in both the hit Norweigan Dead Snow and Brit-classic Outpost, whilst I was puzzled and thrilled in equal measures by a handful of mad-as-can-be zombie flicks, including Killer Shrimps, Wild Zero and the brilliantly titles Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead. Excellent!

The film that eclipsed all others for this year though was the world's first zombie film set in West Africa - Burkina Faso if we're being precise - The Dead. I don't know quite what made it so much better than any zombie film I've seen in recent years. Maybe it was seeing it for free. Maybe it was sipping a pint of ale as I watched it. Or maybe it's just fantastically good. It was introduced by one of the Ford brothers who directed it (I'm afraid I don't remember which) as being a Romero inspired Zombie epic and I think they certainly achieved that. The Dead is like Zombie films used to be. It's sprawling, rural and slow. The Zombies themselves are not especially threatening, but it's the endless, lonely tension that builds and builds that brings the sense of despair.

I'm certainly no hater of the modern-day speedy zombies (and having watched Nightmare City this year I was reminded they're not actually that modern a creation at all) but The Dead is a film that throbs with the pessimistic, end-of-the-world threat that characterised early Romero and Fulci films. It's also great fun. I have no idea if/when a DVD release is scheduled but I'd recommend it to anyone!

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