Thursday, May 17, 2012

THE DEAD: Romero's Successor Has Arrived

On October 29th or 30th I will be seeing a zombie picture shot in Africa and directed by Howard J. and Jon Ford simply entitled The Dead.  I'll see it in a room full of horror fanatics as a part of the Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-thon, a yearly event that's namesake pretty much says it all. I'll be in Philadelphia, a large metropolis of a city seething with people. I will most likely eat at the Wawa across the street from the International House where the horror-thon will take place. There will also be people there not to mention food from many different places from around the globe. Throughout this entire experience dear reader I want you to know... without a shred of doubt in my mind... I will be waiting for African friggin' zombies to bum rush me from the dark slits of any number of ally ways or from the dark recesses of the theater auditorium.  Tonight I watch it in a more subdued environment, but the heebie jeebies are right around that poorly lit corner.  The Dead is hungry for new fans and it will most certainly get them in abundance.

Synopsis (because you want to know what's about to eat you, don't you?):

"An American mercenary, the sole survivor of a plane crash, has to run the gauntlet across Africa, battling with the living dead. Joining forces with a local military man, desperately searching for his son amongst the chaos, they fight together to survive, in the first Zombie Road-Movie set against the stunning backdrop of Africa."

The first thing that any zombie film afficiando asks before he sees a picture like The Dead is, "where does this fit in withthe current zombie mythos thus far?"  Furthermore which director are we imitating this week. We all know that zombies are all the rage (pun intended) in the new millennium. Zombies must be quickly approaching vampires as the sub-genre with the most entries in its roster.  So it's becomes easier to identify what type of zombie we have and then the movie typically shapes itself around that. Do we have Fulci slow movers that come directly from Hell and appear out of nowhere with murderous intent? Do we have Lenzi undead that come from radioactive origin, run fast and look like extras from Toxic Avenger the musical?  Are these the zombies of yesterday. Non flesh eaters that are slaves to voodoo priests transforming hard working villagers into mindless, free labor?  Maybe the fast moving, Danny Boyle zombies?  None of these. We have gone back to basics. Romero zombies it is: Slow moving flesh eaters that are easily dispatched with a blast to the head. Romero's films taken on a socially critical air that is as disconcerting as Savini's masterpiece Dawn of the Dead.  What's the social criticism du jour? Africa itself.

I think we're all aware of the plight of many of the nations of Africa. War. Famine. Poverty. AIDS. It's a laundry list that leaves us ashamed and has us asking as many questions about how far we've come as  a human people.  From the outset the military are clearly on the menu. Two separate opening sequences tell the tale of military seeming military superiority when it comes in contact with... them.  Both sides of the the reality version of the game of Risk fall to the hunger of an unreal horde of living dead.  You've got a Romero inspired plague read "dead rising from the grave"  taking the place of any number of really real world plagues decimating the people of Africa. The only way to counter act this gore filled horror trap is to work together with the enemy. To unite against the living dead and in turn our real global existence should recognize the absolute furious need for a little bit of pro-activity.  Simple as that. Fight the good fight. Fight the real enemy and not the one that's delineated by lines in so many sandboxes.  Romero should be proud given his propensity to tell the tale of societal woe using brain loving zombies as his decaying vehicles for social consciousness. The Dead sounds like it would be the anti-feel good movie of the year, and it probably could have been had it not been for some excellent choices  made by Howard J and Jon Ford.

The Dead has a powerful cast in both the protagonists and our beloved zombie brethren.  Air Force Engineer Lieutenant Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) gives an inspired, suspenseful performance as the last survivor of an ocean helicopter crash.  His stone grimace is the face of war and of a life ever changed by the living dead.  Freeman's performance is complimented by this African counterpart, Sergeant Daniel Dembele (Privince David Osei) a man who appears to be as a stoic soldier dedicated to his cause, but when his troop is annihilated by a zombie outbreak, he teams with Murphy to make sense of their common reality.

Beyond your typical "what kind of a zombie movie am I watching" fetish, a zombie movie fan will want to know what to expect from the make-up and special effects artists. You know as well as I do that zombie films come in two different types when it comes to design. The kind that wipes out the make-up counter at the Party City down the street leaving all the little kids in the neighborhood to pillage their mother's rouge selection. Then... there's professional grade flesh eaters. More and more you're likely to see Party City after Party City zombie, but this is clearly not the case in The Dead. You're looking at updated Romero Dawn of the Dead zombies with amazing contact lenses. I'd say that its fairly apparent that at least a few flesh eaters pay homage directly to the father of zombie pictures.  Go ahead. Watch Dawn of the Dead before you see the Dead (if you don't have it fully memorized that is) and play a little game of Zombie Memory. It's not overly noticeable and it may not be on purpose, but one thing is for certain, it works.

Gore hounds... you will be impressed and enjoy what Dan Rickard and Max Van De Banks have lined up for you. Plenty of splatter.  The camera almost seems to pause right before our dear "zed" friends lose their faces. For example: zombie attack, gun shot, face close up of gun shot, splatter, pause, fin.  Drippy, gooey blood with raunchy organs flying like streamers at a birthday party.  It's a breath of fresh air when most independently produced zombie flicks are trying to develop their characters before they've even thought of  how to make a head explode. Yes, it's storyline, storyline, storyline in indy horror... with one exception. Zombie films need to have the gore to back up the audiences expectation.  Look for the sound effects during bite sequences. You'll be looking for that bag of Ruffles the whole time.

The Dead might not be for certain viewers. There are some pretty wild camera shakes and jump edits that leave you feeling disjointed and perhaps slightly nauseated.  We all like to get our vomit bag ready at a good gore flick, but not because we feel like we're on an old wooden roller coaster. The Dead is not a found film or faux documentary piece; it's just got some camera shake used to accentuate motion. You might not like that. We'll be sure to feed this cadre of film goer to the zombies first.  While the the underlying social criticism isn't overly apparent or pronounced it may make some audiences feel like their being preached to. I'm not entirely sure if those of you who read the Sprayer are sensitive to socio-political subtext, but if you are, you may want to wait for the Blu-Ray and skip directly to the suspense filled zombie attack sequences.

As was stated previously, this movie is in the vain of the Romero zombie films. Socially conscious. Provocative. Ground breaking. Gory. What we are seeing is the successor to George Romero if the Fords will allow themselves to take that great leap forward.  Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Romero's newest work Survival of the Dead are all fine films in their own right to be certain. When Romero started making films he was in his twenties; Night of the Living Dead was made when he was twenty eight  in 1968. His perspective now is a valid one, but it is not necessarily the perspective of the modern day, socially aware film goer. The Dead provides that perspective in ways that films like 28 Days Later and even Shaun of the Dead aspire and nearly attain. The Dead renews the covenant that Romero made with horror fans when he made Night of the Living Dead and then succeeded it with movies that challenged the status quo.  Africa is the next great natural disaster if it hasn't become it already and if we don't act fast.

With a limited theatrical release coming October in select cities across the U.S., it's best to start looking for your venue of choice now.  Mine will be in Philadelphia with an overabundance of people and all the time looking over my shoulder... waiting to become the cure for world hunger.

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