Holy Shit Saturday
The Revenant (2009)
Writer/Director: D. Kerry Prior
Okay, The Revenant isn't strictly speaking a zombie film. When Bart Gregory is sent home from Iraq in a casket, he wakes up the night of his burial to find that he's not completely dead. Then, with the help of his stoner friend Joey, he discovers that blood is the only thing that stops his decomposition. In fact, it makes him feel and look much better. Almost human. He also falls into a deathly, um, death when the sun rises, but wakes back up at sunset.
So, it's more of a vampire film, except that there are zombie elements, like the decomposition and fact that he has no superhuman abilities -- other than being able to take a bullet like a motherfucker.
This is another film shot on the cheap with the Red Digital Camera (like Thursday's Exit Humanity) and it looks fantastic. I mean it looks high-quality-film fantastic, and it's shot with a camera light enough to hold in one hand. Plus it keeps prices down, so you can shoot a lower- budget film that looks like a lot more was spent on the technical side. Of course, you still need to know what to shoot, and how to put a film together from the script to the casting to the final edit, and Prior has a sure handle on every step of the process.
Not only does this film go to some pretty dark places before all is said and done, it is also one funny fucking film, mixing in a little bit of Boondock Saints with some classic splatterstick gore gags. I'm a sucker for a good vomit joke, and this movie has at least three that had me laughing out loud.
And what would a story like this be without a little moral quandary for our main characters to deal with? David Anders plays Bart the revenant perfectly. He had a strong sense of right and wrong -- established in the opening moments, debating what he felt his job really was as a soldier fighting in Iraq -- which comes into play as he deals with finding a steady supply of blood. Like any would-be superhero, he decides to feed on criminals, that weak and cowardly lot.
His buddy Joey (Chris Wylde) is a little more fluid in his moral decision-making. Especially when murdering and feeding on drug dealers also means raiding their stashes and stealing their bankrolls. It should come as no surprise when Joey is shot while helping Bart stop a robbery and in order to "save" his life, Bart turns him into another revenant. However, they don't know exactly what they're doing when it comes to feeding and that ignorance comes back to bite Joey on the ass.
I was crying from laughter as Bart found a fairly untraditional way of communicating with Joey's still "living" severed head. If that doesn't go down in history as a classic moment in zombie/vampire cinema, than I don't know what will.
The closing moments of the film shifts gears and takes us into full-on conspiracy territory as Bart finds himself trapped in a government lab with countless other revenants, and as the final credits roll he and the others are airdropped into Iran as weapons of mass destruction. It's a bleak ending but is beautifully structured both thematically and visually, tying the closing images back around to the opening, as planes fly in formation in the night sky over the Middle East.
This is a solid piece of work and another real surprise of this year's marathon. If it keeps going like this, I'm going to have to revise my gut reaction that most zombie films being made these days are just no good.
Juan of the Dead (2011)
Writer/Director: Alejandro Brugués
In yet another very entertaining installment, the Spanish-Cuban co-production, Juan of the Dead keeps the hits coming this year. As I'm finding is usually the case, when you have a writer/director in charge of getting their vision on the screen, more often than not, you're going to get something good. Or interesting, at least.
And Alejandro Brugués does just that, providing another laugh-out-loud funny film that at the same time doesn’t sugar-coat the violence and horror.
With a name like Juan of the Dead, there are going to be obvious comparisons to the classic Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead, and while there are similarities, I found this to be more in the mold of the Greek zombie/action/comedy Evil (To Kako) with its emphasis on the action and the zombie fighting. But to be honest, this is a film that includes a number of nods and tributes to the classics -- my favorite being the zombie-hunting preacher who "kicks ass for the Lord!"
Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his shiftless buddy Lazarus (Jorge Molina) find themselves in the midst of a full-fledged zombie uprising in Cuba. With the help of Juan's daughter Camila (Andrea Hard) and Lazarus' son Vladi California (Andros Perugorria) -- as well as the effeminate La China (Jazz Vila) and his bodyguard El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez) -- the gang make the most of things, setting up a business killing undead loved ones that family members don't have the heart to take care of.
There's also a political subtext here, as you'd imagine, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time dissecting it. Suffice to say, no news released through official channels can be relied on for anything. And any sort of trouble, regardless of the obvious facts, is labeled the result of dissidents or US meddling.
Yet again the Red One Camera was used for this production and I'm beginning to think it can't be beat when you want to really rise above the visual limitations of traditional low-budget film making. As with The Revenant, Juan looks really good. There are a few digital effects that could have been tightened up, but this is the sort of production that would have probably been prohibitively expensive just a few years ago. And as I've said before, when you can save money on your equipment, that budget can be allotted to paying talented actors and providing good effects.
Juan of the Dead is comedy gold that doesn't go too saccharine when it comes to the emotional relationships of the characters. Most of these folks aren't very nice people, which makes it even more impressive that we are able to get behind them from the very beginning -- although Lazarus has a moment where he crosses a line that is then just laughed off, but even that doesn't sidetrack the film.
I mean, how could you not like a film that hilariously plays on the traditional "I love you, man" dying moments and then goes on to close out the film with an animated montage of Juan killing zombies while Sid Vicious' "My Way" plays to the final credits?
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.