Monday, April 14, 2008

Three Recent Monster Movies (Plus One)

Last Tuesday I rented the new remake of “Day of the Dead.” Random people bickering pointlessly and lots of high angle shots looking down on a small Colorado town being over-run by rampaging zombies. Last Friday I watched a pre-release DVD of “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem.” Random people bickering pointlessly and lots of high angle shots looking down on a small Colorado town being over-run by rampaging monsters from outer space. Also last Friday one of the high, digital channels on our cable system was playing the movie, “30 Days of Night.” Random people bickering pointlessly and lots of high angle shots looking down on a small Alaska town being over-run by rampaging vampires.

Yech! Talk about cookie-cutter movie making. I suspect next week a movie called “Laundromat Shadows” will be opening up. It will be about random people bickering pointlessly and have lots of high angle shots looking down on a small Kansas town being over-run by rampaging mutant washing machines that can only complete their wash-rinse-spin cycle if their mechanisms are pumping fresh human blood . . .

Listening to the commentary track on “Day of the Dead” we learn there is a pre-existing (that is, already paid for!) set of a typical small US town available at some Bulgarian studio where production costs are very low. So, there you go, we get lots of movies filmed cheaply in Bulgaria and set in small town America . . .


I don’t recommend any of those three movies.

I only saw a few minutes of “30 Days of Night” but what I saw looked so dumb and ill-conceived that I switched off the TV and read a Crichton novel.

Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem” was also without any redeeming features. I did watch it all the way through, but I fast forwarded through a lot. No good monsters. No good characters. No good anything.

Steve Miner’s remake of “Day of the Dead,” however, did have some redeeming things about it. Some of the acting wasn’t too bad. Some of the action wasn’t too bad. But it had none of the interesting conflict and drama (and art?) of George Romero’s original. And it had none of the stunning visuals of Zack Snyder’s pretty good remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” Steve Miner has a long history of making reasonably stupid films that have odd, sometimes intriguing performances. “Lake Placid” was awful but the acting was weirdly interesting. And “Deepstar Six” had some of the stupidest scenes ever in an ocean monster film, but it had really great stuff from actor Miguel Ferrer slowly freaking out until his head, literally, blows up.


But all these bad movies got me thinking about bad movies in general and bad zombie films in particular and there is one really bad zombie film I want to recommend even though every other review I’ve seen says it is worthless.

After Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” made some money, some production company that owns the rights to Romero’s titles released an amazingly low budget movie called “Day of the Dead 2 – Contagium.” This movie has no connection to Romero and no connection to Romero’s “Day of the Dead” and no connection to the current remake of “Day of the Dead.” (Zombie movie titles and their sequences and relative worth can drive a monster movie buff batty.)

However, “Day of the Dead 2 – Contagium” has some redeeming things to it. Enough, in fact, to make me remember the movie fondly. The special effects were pretty awful, there was basically one set and almost no action, but the actors seemed to really put out a little effort to bring their characters—so to speak—alive.

The movie presents itself not really as a typical monster movie. The movie presents itself as telling the story of how the original zombie outbreak occurred within the classic Romero zombie mythos.

The whole movie takes place within a mental institution and the whole story is simply about half a dozen patients talking about why they’re there, what they’re thinking and feeling and what their hopes for the future are. One of the patients randomly finds a thermos that contains secret government gunk that turns people into zombies and, of course, the gunk gets out and slowly, one by one, the mental patients become zombies and start infecting others.

But the movie—as low budget and obscure as it was—gets a little ambitious and tries to add to the Romero zombie mythos, suggesting there is an ‘original generation’ of zombies, those first half dozen or so mental patients, who became zombies but retained their rationality and ability to speak. Some reacted to their new zombie state by, well, embracing it and becoming mad zombies while others tried to fight the ‘infection’ and may have come up with a treatment. The movie ends in classic zombie fashion with the infection getting out of hand and spreading before anybody can do anything about it.

In many ways, this is my favorite kind of movie. It was made with virtually no money. It was probably shot in just a few weeks. But someone on the production team cared enough about what they were doing to try and create something a little different, something with a little value to it mixed in with the low budget schlock.

It’s very easy to give up on movies completely and stop watching all of them. I know a lot of people who have done that. After watching the three movies that I mentioned at the top of this post—well, two movies plus a couple of scenes from a third—I was very tempted to swear off movies for a while. But then I remembered “Day of the Dead 2 – Contagium” and I sighed, and then I remembered another awful monster movie that didn’t even have the redeeming features of “Day of the Dead 2 – Contagium” but which I still had fun watching and I sighed again and I didn’t swear off all movies.

It would be easier to do that, to just give up on movies. But there are some oddly good things getting made, and there are some bad things getting made that are—almost magically—still fun to watch.

I’ll talk about that other movie, the one that is bad with no redeeming features but is still fun to watch, tomorrow or later in the week.

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