My wife detests Zombie movies. I find it very difficult to get her to watch one with me, unless it’s a Zombie comedy movie that is. She LOVED Shaun of the Dead, so when she was scrolling through Netflix for a movie to watch and came across this one….a Zombie Comedy – The Dead Don’t Die – by Jim Yarmusch, who is himself becoming quite a cult figure for the quality of his movies, it was she who actually suggested we watch it. After I had recovered consciousness and peeled myself off the carpet, I readily agreed and after a quick viewing of the movie trailer – which looked extremely good – we settled down to be entertained by maestro Yarmusch and his all star cast. Sharing the lead were Bill Murray and Adam Driver – two actors who can really put the dead into dead-pan. Assisted by other names such as Tilda Swinton as a rather unconventional samurai sword swinging funeral director, Selena Gomez as a “hipster probably from Pittsburgh”, Danny Glover is the owner of a hardware store that sells everything you could possibly need to kill zombies with and Steve Buscemi as a red-neck Trump supporting farmer who wears a red baseball cap with Make America White Again as its slogan.
Iggy Pop makes an appearance as a coffee loving zombie, Tom Waits plays Hermit Bob – a bearded backwoodsman hermit initially accused of stealing Steve Buscemi’s chickens – who watches the whole zombie apocalypse unfold from the fringes of his wooded encampment and rapper RZA brings up this trifecta of muso’s….and there are still more musicians who make a cameo appearance. One of these is the Sturgill Simpson who as well as briefly playing a character known as “guitar zombie” also sings the movie theme song “The Dead Don’t Die”……which is plugged several times throughout the movie (whenever a radio is switched on), including one scene where Bill Murray – who plays Police chief Cliff Robertson asks fellow officer Ronnie Peterson, played by Driver “How do I know this song?” – Driver absolutely deadpan replies “It’s the theme song” (of the movie).
Several times in the movie Driver’s character says “This is all gonna end badly”…..eventually Murray’s character asks him why he keeps saying this, like he knows something bad is going to happen. Driver replies “Jim showed me the script” – referring to director Jim Yarmusch.
All this happens in a small sleepy town in middle America with a lot of cliche characters. The basic premise of the movie is that somehow (possibly something to do with fracking at the earths poles) the rotational spin of the earth goes off kilter resulting in watches stopping, weird animal behaviour, it still being daylight late into the evening….oh yes, and zombies reanimating from corpses.
You’ll get the general idea from the trailer – I’ll provide the link at the end of this post. Actually the trailer is so much better than the movie. Save yourselves a lot of time and effort and watch the trailer instead of sitting through the movie.
There are characters in the movie who just seem to be there as a fill in, or as a favour to a mate or something….can I be in your movie…..yes sure I’ll make up a character for you who appears a couple of times but we never know why they are in the movie, or what happens to them during the zombie apocalypse. An example being a group of 3 kids in juvenile detention, who appear in a few scenes. They manage to escape the detention centre when it becomes over run with zombies but then go out onto streets overflowing with zombies but we never find out if they are eaten or survive. There just doesn’t appear to be a reason for including them in the movie at all. There’s no back story and they just go out into the night. AND, when a heavily Scottish accented Swinton is slashing her way through a crowd of zombies and a UFO appears overhead, I almost hit the off button. My wife and I looked at one another in disbelief and remarked “WHAT??!!”
The movie got mixed reviews from critics, most giving it mid range marks….not a great movie but not terrible either. There were snippets of brilliance but not enough to save it from mediocrity. And I must say I haven’t fully made my mind up. My initial reaction is it failed to live up to expectations….was too cliched…too laid back…too deadpan…..but maybe that’s what Yarmusch was going for…in which case it’s genius!. Perhaps I should give it another viewing in a year, or five….when very drunk. Either way, not quite the homage to zombies I was hoping for. I’ll give it a mid range 5.5 out of 10….and put it down to Yarmusch having an off day.
I’ve just finished reading The Return Man, by V.M. Zito. I borrowed it from the public library 4 days ago and given the chance I would have read it in one sitting, except of course life gets in the way of reading time. The book is an excellent take on the tried and tested Zombie story and is loaded with action, thrills and spills. If you’re a fan of Zombie books or movies, this book is an absolute must!
It’s not only me who writes in praise of this novel either. Here are some words by others to encourage you to read this book.
“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” –Publishers Weekly
“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” –David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN
“A harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel…” –Library Journal
“… an action-packed, plot-driven thrill ride that is frightening and savage.” –Rue Morgue Magazine
“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” –Financial Times
“In a word: relentless.” –London Telegraph
“A hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” –The Guardian UK
“Compelling, captivating and at times hauntingly scary.” –Fantasy Book Review
OK, so for those of you who haven’t stopped reading this blog post and rushed out to buy a copy….here’s a brief outline of the story without giving up any spoilers.
Henry Marco…..formerly known as doctor Henry Marco….is now a bounty hunter of sorts. He finds himself living in the former state of Arizona, in what are now known as the Evacuated States of America – west of the great divide. The eastern states are known as the Safe States. Safe from what you may ask?…..Well go on….ask! Zombies are what. The eastern states being the Zombie Free Safe Zone and the western states, being handed over to the living dead, has supposedly been evacuated of all living humans….except of course for Henry Marco.
Marco’s new job is to locate specific zombies – ex family members of people living in the Safe States – and to make that zombie dead again…..permanently. To give the tortured soul, of that former human being, everlasting peace. He has a colleague who lives and works in the Safe States, who get the job contracts for Marco and who receives payment for the jobs as, when and if, they are completed.
The main reason Marco remained in the west, despite efforts to evacuate the living, is that he is desperately trying to find his own wife, who he suspects is dead….Zombified. Why does he think this? He thinks this because he found her car with bloody hand prints on the windows inside her car, AND a pile of entrails on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.
The story is set 4 years after the zombie apocalypse began and Marco, once a doctor who’s job was to save people, has now transformed into a Zombie Hunter. He sort of likes being his own boss and being responsible for his own destiny while being of service to others. But then he is given a mission by the head of Homeland Security…..a mission unlike any that he has been involved in so far.
Will he come out of this one alive? Will he complete the mission successfully? Will he find his wife and put her soul to rest?
You’re going to have to read the book to find out. It’s a brilliant page turner of a book. I hurried along the adventure with Marco, eager to find those answers and many more….but was extremely sad to finish the book. I want more. More Marco missions.
I was most upset to find out that V.M. Zito has only written one other Zombie story – a short story at that – which is a prequel to The Return Man with the title of Waiting Room.
To quote Fantastic Fiction website “In the eerie abandoned corridors of St. Pius Hospital, professional corpse-finder Henry Marco is on a dangerous mission — to track and dispatch the Resurrected corpse of a man named Tim Patterson. The hunt will end in the dark waiting room of the sixth floor maternity ward, where Marco must confront the ultimate question: What meaning does life have to the dead?”
Waiting Room is not available at the library, but is available as a kindle download. I hate Kindles and don’t use them, but for V.M. Zito I will make an exception.
Many thanks for reading this blog post. Your comments are always appreciated. I shall endeavour….or for the Americans among you… endeavor….to write more regular posts.
Back in July I promised to do a review of some of the most dreadful and a few of the better Zombie movies I’ve seen – so here, after many hours of viewing, it is.
Some Zombie movies are big budget, A grade actor movies – but most are not. Some of the ones I’ve seen recently on YouTube were made on very little money, using friends as actors…..and it shows! I’ll provide links so that you can see them for yourselves, and where I can’t give access to the full movie I’ll give a link to the trailer.
Aylesbury Dead – Zombie Horror Film 2015. This British made Zombie movie was done on a very low budget and after reading what the film maker wrote on YouTube I wasn’t holding out much hope….”Before this film iv had no filming experience at all, this film started it all of for me 🙂 For some time now iv always wanted to work on a zombie film with all my friends. Well I’m happy to say after a year and a bit, hard work I did it! We all pulled together and made this madness.”
To be frank, it wasn’t the worst movie I’d seen and I did stick with it and watched it almost all the way through before I simply gave up on it. It started off quite well with a news reporter’s voice over photos of police cars and ambulances on streets as the reporter described some of the initial carnage that saw the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. But from here on in it started to slip down hill fast. The script was so-so, the acting wooden and some of the scenes completely unnecessary and dare I say it…..boring. By mid way when the main character has teamed up with a small group of survivors in a shopping mall, it really lost its way and was only going to be a matter of time before I hit the “end” button. In hind sight, for a first attempt at a movie, the guy did a reasonable job with mates as actors and a tiny budget. Verdict – not the worst, but pretty close.
Tom Sawyer vs. Zombies. Well, there went another 90 minutes of my life that I could have spent watching something more….well, more anything – stimulating, exciting, watchable….I could go on but won’t. The brief description of the movie on YouTube says – “Lt. Colonel Sawyer of the US Army wants to pay tribute to the dead of his family with a funeral at sea. But to get to the coast, he has to go through a zone infected with zombie virus. He leads a hopeless fight against hordes of living dead with help from sheriff (Richard Tyson) of a long overran western town by his side.”
I mean really?? Tom Sawyer Vs Zombies….I should have known better than to waste my time watching this. There is a scene where our hero Lt. Colonel Tom Sawyer, (incidentally dressed up like RoboCop, I have yet to figure out why), puts the barrel of a gun into his mouth and is about to pull the trigger but in the end decides to live another day – what a mistake! He should have pulled the trigger and put both himself and me out of our misery. Like most Zombie movies it involved getting across country for little reason and this movie battled it out with several others for the title of worst Zombie movie. Usually we viewers form some sort of a bond with the main character and cheer them on no matter what. Not this time. I was cheering for the zombies!
Next comes one that was actually watchable and had a bigger budget and actors that I’d seen in other movies including Mission Impossible. Zombie Apocalypse is a 2011 American zombie horror film by Syfy and The Asylum starring Ving Rhames, Gary Weeks, Johnny Pacar, Robert Blanche, Anya Monzikova, Lesley-Ann Brandt and Taryn Manning. Directed by Nick Lyon.
The start is a series of “news clips” – military on the streets, long shots of city-scapes complete with explosions and eventually we focus on 3 characters in a dusty Iowa town, walking down a deserted street. Two guys and a girl. Bear in mind that this is 6 months after the initial outbreak so somehow these three have had the ability to survive so far. By their behaviour in the opening scene, one wonders how they lived for 6 minutes, never mind 6 months. They’re walking down the middle of the street talking loudly and yelling “Hello”. The 2 men then leave the girl outside while they enter a garage to look for food. Why they don’t wait until they come upon a grocery store I have no idea, but they choose an abandoned garage, and then set about smashing their way into a candy machine…..you guessed it…..making enough noise to wake the dead! Fortunately for them, unfortunately for us, Ving Rhames and friends come to their rescue before the zombies can eat all of them. Happily one of the 2 guys – the one who just happened to have a shotgun, but managed to fumble the cartridges for it – was the one fatality. From here, the movie actually picks up and is a pretty reasonable zombie flick…….right up to the ridiculous final scene. To the casual viewer (me), it looked up to this point as though the movie could go on for another half hour or so, as our group of survivors are waiting in a small port for the ferry that will take them to safety….but, I don’t know why, maybe they’d over run the budget and the producers pulled the plug, but we are given this sudden and very badly done final scene that totally lowered this movie to the ranks of the mediocre. Verdict – one to watch if you can get over the final scene without saying “What the F*** was that?”
Disaster L.A. The Last Zombie Apocalypse 2014 movie. This movie I quite liked the idea of. Directed and written by Turner Clay. With Justin Ray, Jerod Meagher, Stefanie Estes, Ron Hanks. After a meteor shower strikes Los Angeles, toxic smoke is released across the city causing people to physically change and become violent. A small group of survivors plans to vacate the city by heading to the coast.
It’s a low budget Indie movie that starts with promise and, apart from a couple of rubber masked zombies and some annoying characters who I would have loved to have been standing directly under the meteors as the fell to earth to spare us from having to watch/listen to their drivel, continues in the same promising manner. As with most Zombie style movies it’s about having to get from A to B and the problems encountered in doing just that. Obviously there are casualties along the way and not everyone makes it to safety. Our heroes in this movie are a group of friends who have just finished university. The acting is pretty good, all things considered, and their actions and diction quite believable on encountering the unknown (although we know it’s Zombies because it said so in the title!!) I’ve seen some bad reviews of this movie, mostly I believe because some people expect Hollywood quality epics on a shoestring budget. This is one of the only Zombie movies I’ve seen where the infected kill their victims but the victims don’t reanimate and become zombies too. My verdict – definitely one worth watching although again the end was a little bit of an anticlimax.
Next comes another British based zombie movie. Zomblies (2010) – I thought it was a typo, but no, the L is meant to be there. When a private militia’s rookie zombie hunters send out a distress call, it’s up to the Rangers to cross The Wall and bring them back as well as uncover the truth about a terrifying new breed of zombie.
The opening scene is of a man dressed in military fatigues and carrying a sizable pistol running through the woods flapping his arms around like a girl…..sorry girls, no offence meant. But he does run like a girl. He’s terrified and no wonder, the zombies appear from all directions and bang, bang, bang….he takes them down and finds his missing friend who is sitting under a tree with his guts in his hands. Our “runs like a girl” hero then deserts his mate, steals his gas mask and runs off into the woods again as “Mr. guts in hands” turns into a zombie (or is it zomblie?). The flapping arms aside, not a bad beginning.
Enter the Rangers, a band of armed to the teeth men dressed in black, who are sent beyond the massive zombie proof wall to rescue the hapless zombie hunters. These guys are tough, can handle their guns and it seems can run for hours across baron landscapes. The entertaining thing about the zombies are that they are fast. None of the shuffling zombies from the Walking Dead, these living dead run at a sprint, making them so much more dangerous. The acting is reasonably good but then the actors are not stretched, needing only to fight, yell and shoot. Some of the camera work is very shaky, presumably to give you the feeling that you are there amongst the action, but it can be a little nauseating at times. Naturally things don’t go quite as the Rangers had planned and …well….you will have to watch the movie for yourselves to find out who, if any, makes it home safely. It’s made on a budget, but not half bad.
After slamming Aylesbury Dead, I’ve just come across Aylesbury Dead 2 (2019) so just had to watch it. It’s still done on a budget, with unknown actors, but is a big improvement on A.D.1. I watched it all the way through….even the credits at the end. Yes I could pick holes in it…for example in one scene our hero enters a building at street level and goes down several flights of stairs to an underground laboratory, believed to be the place where the Zombie virus was developed,…..only to walk past several windows (oops!). BUT it wouldn’t really be fair to pick on things like that. We have an improved script with baddies as well as the zombie threat to add something extra to the movie. If you could throw some big money at its production and hire a couple of well known actors, you’d have a pretty good Zombie movie. William Axtell Films – take a bow.
And here folks is where I have to cut my review short. I had intended to review a total of 10 movies, but this month being September – where I live, here in New Zealand – it’s our first month of spring and so I’ve been busier than usual getting my veggie gardens up and running.
Zombies – love them or hate them, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground when it comes to the zombie genre. I love them, my wife hates them, so watching an entire zombie series is something I have to do alone….when she’s not around to hear the moans and shuffling feet of a herd of zombies.
As with anything Zombie, series are either done well or extremely bad. Again rarely are there any OK zombie series, or movies, or books – come to that. So just for the hell of it, here are 5 Zombie series that I have watched, or am currently watching….with a rating for each.
The Walking Dead – I’ll start with probably the most well known zombie TV series that has attracted a cult like following. If you’ve not seen The Walking Dead, you really should. Now in it’s 10th and probably final season – in my opinion – unlike a fine wine The Walking Dead is not something that has improved over time. I really enjoyed the first season, when the zombie plague first appeared, and I watched maybe the next 3 or 4 seasons, but by that point it seemed to me that they were just repeating storylines or wasting time with whole episodes delving into the relationships affecting this couple or that couple instead of concentrating on the actual zombie part of the series. They failed to keep me wanting to care what happened to the various characters, so I stopped watching. What began as a high scoring 4 out of 5 points for season 1, fizzed out to an overall 2.5 out of 5 points over all.
A spin off, or prequel to The Walking Dead, called Fear The Walking Dead actually had the reverse effect on me. The first few episodes of season 1 I more or less forced myself to watch just because it was about zombies. The acting seemed wooden, the characters were weak as was the scripted behaviour of the characters. For example, having just seen a zombie in the street rip apart an unsuspecting civilian, one of the characters goes into a neighbour’s home to find the guy on his knees feeding on his own dog. He is obviously a zombie not only because he’s ripped the belly out of his dog and is feeding on its entrails, but his mannerisms plus being covered in blood and gore kind of gives him away, but our hero says “Hi Mr whatever….what’s wrong?” and moves towards him. Or they wander into dark rooms without putting on a light…..or they’re out in the woods and lean their weapons up against a tree and wander away from them just as a zombie comes into view. I found myself yelling at the zombie to please eat these stupid, inept people so I can turn off the TV and go to bed. BUT shock horror sensation…..it actually got better over time and the characters developed depth and strength of character. Perhaps the script writers shook off their earlier hangover and sobered up…who knows? So, what began as a 1 out of 5 actually grew to maybe a 3 or 3.5 by the end of season 2.
Next comes Z Nation – I knew after watching one episode of this zombie series that it was too terrible not to watch. It appears to be a bit of a “piss take” and certainly does not take its self seriously. I’m not sure if it was in the first episode, but certainly very early on in season 1 where a soldier and a rag tag group of hangers on have to transport a prisoner, who is thought to be resistant to the zombie virus, from one side of the USA to the other, to a CDC lab where a cure for the zombie virus will be made from the prisoners blood. So far so good. But when confronted by a zombie baby in an abandoned building you know that no good is going to happen when, instead of leaving it there and continuing with his priority mission, the soldier in charge decides to go into the building – alone – and put the baby out of its misery. Of course the unarmed zombie baby manages to bite the AR15 carrying, battle experienced, soldier…so it’s then up to the rag tag team of civilians to complete the mission. It’s scenes like that one that make the series unmissable…..just when you think it can’t get more ridiculous, the writers pull one out of the bag to top the ridiculousness (if that’s even a word) of the one prior. I give it a sold 3 out of 5, because the audacity of the writers deserves it.
Following on from Z Nation comes another spin off – Black Summer was a specially made for Netflix 8 part series that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
Jaime King stars in the lead role as Rose, a mother who is separated from her daughter during the earliest and most deadly days of a zombie apocalypse. The action is fast and furious and I had to remind myself to take a breath every now and then. The final scene of the final episode let this otherwise exciting and almost believable zombie series down. BUT, that final scene apart, I heartily recommend it. I was very happy to hear that Netflix had commissioned a second series, again of 8 episodes, but filming has been disrupted due to our real life zombie apocalypse….covid-19. The final scene robbed it of a perfect score…it therefore gets 4 from 5.
And finally, rounding off my pick of 5 is Dead Set. It’s a kind of Big Brother household meets the Zombies. This British TV series again is one you’ll either love or hate. What attracted me to it was that having once accidentally watched part of an episode of BIG BROTHER all I wanted was to be able to let loose the zombie hoards on the contestants. Dead Set does just that. I’ve only just started to watch it on Netflix but so far so good. I give it a tentative 3 from 5 for a good start. What sets this series apart from the other 4 I have featured, is that it’s British so has that touch of irony that Americans just don’t understand.
There are many other Zombie series around but these 5 are my top pics. Thank you for reading…and watching….
I will be back with my personal top 10 Zombie movies list. Stay tuned.
As I mentioned in my last post, which was about the post-apocalyptic novel “Earth Abides”, (which incidentally has nothing to do with Zombies) …I love tales about Zombies…..be it books, movies or TV series. Black Summer (released April 2019) is a “made for Netflix” series about the Zombie Apocalypse and although there has only been one series so far, (I believe another is in the pipeline…watch this space!) I think it’s great. It was inspired by and is produced by the same company who created another series on Netflix called “Z Nation” …..in which someone mentioned the start of the Zombie Apocalypse as being the “Black Summer”, when the whole map of the USA suddenly turned black with Z’s.
It’s not like the “Walking Dead” – with their shuffling Zombies that even granny with her walker would be nimble enough to dodge….nor is it like the voracious Zombies of “World War Z” who are so fast that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt would have trouble outrunning them. The Zombies on Black Summer move fast….but human fast, not super hero fast. The story begins just six weeks in from the outbreak of the Zombie Apocalypse and is the usual escape the Zombies by trying to reach an almost mythical “Safe Zone” road trip. You have to have your wits about you to survive, and each episode from start to finish gets the heart pumping. It’s definitely “on the edge of your seat” stuff. And it doesn’t pay to get too attached to any particular character…for Z-obvious reaZons. Give it a look if you get a chance. There are just 8 episodes in series one and as of yet series two has not been confirmed. It’s low budget with mainly B grade actors, but it’s a lot of fun, thrills and spills. The Official Trailer is below…..enjoy!