After a gruelling first session on the Saturday afternoon of RotWotLD, we desperately needed something to revive our flagging spirits. First, booze:
Delicious zombie head juice.
Second, a series of high (and not so high) quality zom-coms, beginning with:
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead is a modern classic, and I don’t use that term frivolously. It’s a parody of zombie films, but it’s also made with such love and respect for the genre, that it ends up being one of the best zombie films ever made.
Also, Edgar Wright is an amazing writer and director: in my opinion, one of the best working today. For a few examples why, watch this short video which explains how he crams visual gags into every scene, in ways that most comedy films just don’t bother with.
It’s not just visual jokes, either. The tightness of the writing is incredible. Not a fraction of a second is wasted in Shaun of the Dead; there is literally not one thing said or done by any character which doesn’t have a double meaning, a setup or a callback, or some other joke or reference in it somehow.
Shaun of the Dead is one of those films which blows you away with its brilliance every time you see it. It had been several years since any of us had seen it, and we enjoyed it so much, it was tempting to abandon RotWotLD and immediately follow it with Hot Fuzz and The World’s End instead.
However, we stayed strong, and decided to use the wave of elation to ride us through one of the “guest picks”:
A bit of back story. On the original Weekend of the Living Dead, one of the guests brought along an extra film for comedy value: Zombie Strippers (2008). It turned out to be cringeworthily awful – not even entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” way, because it was so obviously aware of its camp trashiness that it was impossible either to laugh with it or at it.
Undeterred by the previous failure, the same guest, returning to RotWotLD, brought a selection of trashy zombie films. Just to prove all of these are real, here’s a photo of his contribution:
Zombeavers sounds like an even more explicit version of Zombie Strippers, but it’s literally about undead aquatic rodents.
The premise is pure American horror movie cliché: a group of college students go to a remote cabin for the weekend. Then it gets unusual: instead of a psycho slasher or supernatural monster, the characters are attacked by rabid beavers. Except they’re not just rabid: a toxic chemical spill on their dam has transformed them into ZOMBEAVERS.
That one lame pun is the entire reason for the film’s existence. It’s one of those concepts, like Human Centipede, that should have been forgotten about immediately after the drunken conversation in which it was proposed.
One online review claimed that, “with the right combination of alcohol and low expectations, Zombeavers can be quite entertaining.” And I have to say, that’s accurate. The zombie head had been emptied of zombie cocktail, expectations were rock bottom, and we actually rather enjoyed it.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The original modern zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, was co-written by George A Romero and John Russo. After Night, they parted ways. Romero went on to make Dawn of the Dead ten years later, followed by four more films: together these are considered the Romero “Living Dead” canon.
However, it was Russo who actually retained the rights to the “Living Dead” name, which is why it wasn’t “Dawn of the Living Dead”. In 1978, when Romero was releasing Dawn, Russo published a novel, Return of the Living Dead, which was an alternative sequel to Night, taking the series in a different direction. In 1985, the film The Return of the Living Dead was released, based on Russo’s novel, although directed and completely re-written by Dan O’Bannon (screenwriter of Alien and Total Recall). A series of sequels to this was released over the next two decades, as well as a Russo-re-edited version of Night with an added framing plot.
It’s a convoluted history, but worth mentioning as a reminder that Romero isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of zombie films. He’s not even the be-all-and-end-all of his own Living Dead series. There are earlier works, like the 1930s voodoo films, which have their own alternative lines of descent to films like The Serpent and the Rainbow, there are the Italian spaghetti zombie films of the 1970s and ’80s, and there are other branches to the main family tree, like Russo’s Return series.
The premise of Return is that the events of Night happened, but were suppressed and covered up the government. Since then, life has gone on as normal. But several undead corpses from the outbreak, sealed in hazchem containers, are being kept in a warehouse. One night, the Keystone security guards accidentally unseal a container, and all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile, a gang of punks is partying in a nearby graveyard…
The Return of the Living Dead is fabulous. It’s played for laughs, with lots of outrageous gore, splatter and slapstick, and a great ’80s punk soundtrack. Of all the films we watched during RotWotLD, it’s probably the one I most want to watch again.
Return is also notable as the film which introduced the concept of zombies groaning “BBBRRRAAAIIIIINNNSSSS…” and specifically hungering to eat brains, unlike Romero’s zombies who just eat any living flesh.
The perfect way to finish Saturday’s seven film session, and never a wrong choice at gone o’clock in the morning, is Peter Jackson’s Braindead.
Before going to Hollywood and being given the biggest film budget of all time to make The Lord of the Rings, Jackson was a smalltime New Zealand director, who made two of the most insanely awesome low-budget comedy horror films ever: Bad Taste (about an alien invasion) and Braindead (about a zombie outbreak). I still can’t work out how the Hollywood studio system made that leap of faith based on that career history, but someone is obviously good at spotting works of audacious genius.
Braindead tells the story of Lionel, a meek young man living with his domineering mother in a small New Zealand town of the 1950s. However, when she’s bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey on a trip to the zoo, Lionel’s life starts to spiral out of control. As his mother and a growing number of other characters become zombies, Lionel desperately tries to carry on with life as normal, keeping the ravenous undead tied up in the basement but feeding and caring for them as if they were poorly patients.
Braindead‘s zombies follow “extreme zombie rules”, by which any intact body part continues to move and attack: one of the most memorable monsters is a disemboweled pile of guts which crawls and squelches around, causing mayhem with its noodly appendages. So when it all builds up to an epic climax in which the zombies escape and infect a whole party’s worth of gatecrashers who’ve taken over the house, Lionel has to man up, and fight back with suitably extreme measures.
Interesting fact: Braindead is officially the goriest film ever made – in terms of volume of fake blood used in production.
It’s also thoroughly brilliant, full of great lines like “Your mother ate my dog!” and “I kick arse for the Lord!” and a firm favourite amongst the attendees of RotWotLD.
And that was Saturday. Seven films (for a total of nine), ranging from the great (Shaun of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, Braindead) to the awful (The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery). Where could the weekend go from there? Find out in: