Since George Romero’s “night of the living dead” in 1968, the genre seems to have been growing across genres (comedy, sci-fi) and media (comics, novels, video games), and depending on the country of origin, even says something about cultural mores.
“Night of the living dead” had some interesting things to say about race and class relations, which perhaps had to be expected as it was made in the late ‘60s.
And “dawn of the dead” (1978), also from Romero, had consumerism as a subtext and used a mall as location which introduced different dynamics.
But really, zombie flicks are about bloody mayhem which provides relief after a long day at work, dealing with people you might wish were dead. So without further ado, let’s look at a serious offering from France. “They came back” (2004) from Robin Campillo will not satisfy your urges for carnage because there is none to be had.
What “they came back” does offer is more along the lines of what they call “l’etrange, le bizarre, l’insolite”: it is eerie and at times really disquieting, particularly the couple instances reintroducing children to their parents.
The film opens with throngs of people ambling out of a cemetery’s gates, slowly making their way into the town, all dressed in casual clothes of soft pastel tones, no blood nor wounds. They are returning home.
Sadly I couldn’t find a trailer, here is the movie poster:
The town’s mayor and his staff, augmented by the army and health care specialists attempt to re-educate the dead to reinsert them into society, while studying them. This is all done thoughtfully and sensibly. For a period of two hours, people all over the world who had died within the last ten years came back to life, 70 million worldwide.
Re-assimilation does not go well: they seem oddly distracted, and even though fully capable of communicating with the living, do not function as well emotionally and professionally.
And even more worrisome, they do not sleep, and gather at night in empty office buildings. In time, they decide to go away again, but society now intends to ensure they do not come back, ever again.
This is likely the only zombie movie in which the living have to be turned away from the dead with whom they are trying to reunite, as they are embarking busses to re-assimilation centers.
“They came back” gets 4 jellybeans.
Let’s follow this up with, well, a disappointment: “survival of the dead” (2009) from George Romero. After a final breakdown of their chain of command, a group of rogue soldiers from the National Guard make their way to an island off the coast of Delaware after freeing a teenager from a group of rednecks.
The island was inhabited by two rival Irish clans, the Muldoons who are ranchers and the O’Flynns who are fishermen. In other words, a feud based on the Hatfields and the McCoys. The feud began in earnest when the O’Flynn patriarch decided to put down all the zombies on the island, while Seamus Muldoon preferred to keep them chained up in hopes a cure might be found, or the zombies trained to eat something other than living people.
Muldoon banished O’Flynn to the mainland where he convinced the soldiers to go with him to the island… Speaking of genres, “survival of the dead” crosses into Western territory, and sure enough the ranchers tend to use single-action revolvers and wear cowboy hats. But there is no real tension. I found no scary scenes, and the occasional attempts at humor fall flat.
Here is the trailer:
HERE COMES A SPOILER: in the end, zombies end up munching on a couple live horses, giving hope they might be ‘convinced’ to leave people alone. But given the way the living carry on, like sticking severed zombie heads on poles for fun, I’m not sure that’s progress.
Given the relatively feeble budget, “survival of the dead” looks pretty good, but it fails to engage and the characters lack definition. In other words, where it tries to be clever, it’s merely obvious.
“Survival of the dead” gets no beans.
But lo! Another surprise from the “Land of Smiles” this time: “SARS wars: Bangkok zombie crisis” (2004) Thailand. This one’s not simply over the top, it goes sideways far and wide. What did they call it? Something like a romantic sexy comedy rock and roll thriller… Okay let’s start with this: SARS version number 4 is turning people into zombies all over the world except in Thailand.
The virus is transmitted by bugs, and finally makes its way to Bangkok, where it spreads amongst the residents of a condominium. There’s a subplot involving a bumbling gang of bandits who kidnapped a rich schoolgirl and are holed up in the building. Two characters really stand out: old master Thep and the leader of the bandits, a sort of Thai version of Danny Trejo.
You may also want to watch the ‘making of’, in which Suthep Po-Ngam (master Thep) has some pretty funny comments about Shaolin weapons and his role. This movie has a couple catchy songs, a zombie snake who keeps on growing throughout the movie and meows like a cat, two transvestites, one zombie baby, SWAT cops, dodgy effects and Thep’s disciple, Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon) of impeccable morals (he’s a virtuous virgin) but dubious skill. Well, he’s a bit dodgy himself.
Here be the trailer:
This is how you can tell the movie doesn’t take itself seriously: at a couple points, Thep comments on how the film is going… There are a couple animated scenes as well, such as the opening sequence, which explains how master Thep ended up with a bum leg. Another one shows the animated version of the bandits sent flying across a kitchen in his underwear, and if you slow it down a bit, you’ll see a lone testicle poking out of his briefs. Not that you should look for it, but it’s there. Oh yes, much of the humor is schoolyard grade, but there is so much of it, really a gag a minute, that you’ll likely miss something if you blink. I watched it twice and discovered things I’d missed. And it all works because it’s so outlandish and upbeat.
For sheer kinetic energy and fun factor, “SARS wars” gets 5 jellybeans.
And for more great zombie movie reviews, visit Nekoneko’s Movie Litterbox.