Dead Alive, Juan of the Dead, & Night of the Living Dead

Posted: 12/07/2012 in Movies
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Earlier in November, Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY held a zombie film festival. While the under-cushioned seats were painfully uncomfortable, the movies were some of the best that the genre has to offer. First up was:

Dead Alive

Dead Alive

Before Peter Jackson started swimming in gold and Oscar trophies a la Scrooge McDuck, he made quite possibly the most ridiculously gory horror comedy of all time. That movie is Dead Alive.

Lionel is a secluded young man who spends most of his time hanging out with his overbearing mother. When a local girl takes an unlikely interest in him, Mum is none too pleased and follows the couple on their date at the zoo. While sneaking around, she gets bitten by the zoo’s newest resident, a vicious, crazed rat-monkey. Things go down hill quickly from there. Mum gets sick, her skin starts falling off during a dinner party, and she eats a dog all before going full zombie. A frightened and confused Lionel tranquilizes and locks her in the basement along with some of her victims, which begin to pile up quickly. Things come to a crescendo when Lionel’s gold-digging uncle stops by and throws a house party, providing plenty of victims for the zombie clan downstairs.

THE GOOD: Dead Alive is over the top from the word go. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny and stomach-churningly disgusting, and almost always super wacky.

THE BAD: Unless you have a weak stomach, there’s not much to dislike here. I don’t really care for the laughing zombie baby, but I also don’t know if a movie like this would have felt complete without a scene in which the main character punches a baby in the face.

THE ZOMBIES: These might be some of the most dangerous zombies ever put to film. Not only are they quick and vicious, they also have the capability of reproducing with a zombie baby coming to term in about 24 hours. They’re not easily destroyed as body parts continue the attack even after becoming separated. I might rather be attacked by a full zombie than by a crawling tract of small intestine.  The only way to stop them seems to be destroying every last bit, preferably with a lawnmower. Threat Level: 10

VERDICT: Dead Alive is a disgusting classic that every zombie enthusiast should see. Grade: A

Current ZMN Rank: #6 out 96

Golden Zombey WatchI don’t know that there’s any greater lock than Dead Alive for Most Memorable Massacring of Zombies. When I think of mass zombie slaughter, I think of Lionel with a lawnmower. There are also a number of moments that could be nominated for Bizarre Zombie Behavior, zombie sexual reproduction comes first to mind. Definitely a strong lead on Zombie Comedy as well.

The second movie of the day was the Cuban zombie comedy:

 Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead

When the people of Cuba start getting sick and attacking one another, the news blames Americans and Cuban “dissidents”, but the titular Juan and his merry band of low-level criminals don’t buy it and see the zombie outbreak for what it is. They take advantage of the situation by offering their zombie killing services for profit.

THE GOOD: Juan starts out looking pretty much like a Cuban version of Shaun of the Dead, and though it tells a different story, you’ll notice similarities throughout. That’s not a bad thing though, Juan is a really funny movie. Most of the jokes hit solidly with the best moments combining heart and comedy. Juan contains quite a few genuine, laugh-out-loud moments.

THE BAD: Can’t think of much. I’m not sure why Juan and his group need money when they seem to loot everything they need, but that point doesn’t detract from the movie at all.

THE ZOMBIES: One of the early scenes has the group testing out various monster killing strategies until they agree that they’re dealing with zombies. There’s a joke about fast and slow zombies, though they all seem to be about the same speed. Juan and his group manage to take them out fairly easily most of the time, but in traditional zombie style, they’re more dangerous in large numbers. Threat Level: 7

VERDICT: Juan does a great job mixing comedy, action, and heart. I wish more movies could get that mix right. Definitely a must see for zombie fans, I hope this one reaches a wider audience as well. Grade: A

Current ZMN Rank#9 out of 96

Golden Zombey Watch: Juan will definitely make the ballot for Zombie Comedy and Foreign Language Film. I’d also look to see the film take runs at Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Zombie Fighting Duo, and Soundtrack.

The last film of the day (for us anyway) was the granddaddy of all zombie movies:

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

If you haven’t see Night of the Living Dead, I don’t know what you’re doing reading this blog. This is the one that started it all, the advent of the modern zombie. Before NOTLD, zombies were all boring voodoo slaves, hardly capable of bringing about the apocalypse. A scrappy young dude named George Romero decided to mix a little bit of I Am Legend (the book), flesh-eating, and paranoid social commentary, and POOF! a fantastic genre was born. 

THE GOOD: Now I’m admittedly not a huge Romero fan, I don’t care much for the original Dawn or Day, and I think too much time is spent prostrating to his greatness. I have to say, though, that NOTLD is a classic that stands the test of time. Not just a classic zombie or horror movie, but a classic movie, period. I’ve seen this movie a ton of times and it still manages to creep me out more than any other movie in the genre. It also perfectly encapsulates the notion that still remains potent in current zombie lore: when things go awry the greatest danger comes from within.

THE BAD: While NOTLD is a great movie, it is certainly not without its flaws. Some moments I’ll chalk up to the time period, like all the female characters being essentially useless. But the choice to have Barbara play nearly comatose for most of the movie is frustrating and the moment when Ben smacks her across the face is pretty cringe-worthy.

THE ZOMBIES: While standard slow zombies these days are often referred to as “Romero zombies”, the undead found in NOTLD don’t exactly fit the model. I guess when you’re creating something great it’s not necessarily perfect right out of the box. I, for one, am glad that it never caught on to have zombies be afraid of fire and light. These early zombies also seem more apt to cause petty vandalism as well, breaking windows and headlights. I particularly like the scene where they finally get into the house and zombies can be seen rearranging furniture, messing with pictures on the walls, and pushing the piano for no apparent reason. Threat Level: 6

VERDICT: Despite its shortcomings, NOTLD is an absolute classic that’s as good now as it was the first time I saw it. Thank you, George Romero, for creating the genre that I love so dearly. Grade: A.

Stray Thoughts: *Johnny is douchebag. His status as first modern zombie casualty is well-deserved. *Mr. Cooper may be an obnoxious windbag, but gosh darn it, he was right about the basement. I wonder if Ben was thinking that while he spent the night down there.

Current ZMN Rank: #3 out of 96

Golden Zombey WatchThis is a hard one to call, it almost feels like nominees should be more like Lifetime Achievement Awards for founding the genre. I’d probably look at Duane Jones for Best Actor, perhaps Mr. Cooper for Best Villain, and maybe Outstanding Zombie for the Flesheater, zombie #1.

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