City of the Living Dead (1980)
★ / ★★★★
Mary (Catriona MacColl), during a seance, was bombarded with images of a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) who committed suicide. This act opened up the Gates of Hell, caused deceased individuals to rise from their graves, and brutally kill whoever was around. Peter (Christopher George), a reporter, teamed up with Mary to find the town where the priest practiced, now a zombie with psychic powers, and stop him before All Saint’s Day. Written by Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti, “Paura nella città dei morti viventi,” also known as “City of the Living Dead” and “The Gates of Hell,” mainly relied on gore to disgust instead of building genuine tension to scare us. However, I was mostly able to overlook that particular shortcoming because I was in the mood for blood. The special effects, like having too much fog accompanied by a soundtrack which signaled that something scary was happening, and the visual effects, like the a appearing/disappearing priest hanging from a rope, ran rampant. It was just too much that it came off as though Lucio Fulci, the director, did not seem at all in control of his material. While some of it was creative (when was the last time you saw a movie about a zombie that could kill by staring intensely at its victim?), most of it was campy, not helped by the terrible dubbing especially in the beginning. There were three scenes that stood out to me. The first was when a corpse suddenly appeared in Emily’s kitchen. Emily (Antonella Interlenghi) thought she was going crazy so she called her psychologist (Carlo De Mejo) to make sure that she wasn’t just seeing things. When the psychologist came over, it turned out her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her at all. They left the body for minute and when they got back, it was no longer there. There was an unexpected comedy because when they realized that the body was gone, instead of running out of the house like normal people would, the two actually discussed their options: either the body was dragged away (which suggested there was another person in the house, most likely dangerous, who liked to play sick jokes) or the corpse walked away on its own. The second and third scenes were kills. The first was when the priest used his mind to force a girl to regurgitate her internal organs. It was disgusting and unbelievable but it was also quite amusing. The second involved a father who found his daughter with a boy (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) in suspicion of murder. Having no evidence whatsoever that the boy was a killer, the father took the boy’s head through a power drill. What I liked about that scene was, unlike most of the other scenes the film offered, it actually had tension. “City of the Living Dead,” at times unnecessary and mean-spirited especially with its extended scene involving a boy being terrorized by zombies, for better or worse, was an over-the-top interesting mess. At least the zombies didn’t go “Err… Oof… Grr!”
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Nothing much happened in “Resident Evil: Afterlife” other than the fact that Alice (Milla Jovovich) continued on her seemingly interminable quest to shut down the Umbrella Corporation. After hearing a hopeful transmission that promised food, shelter, protection, and no infected individuals, our protagonist hoped to find refuge in a place called Arcadia. But when she reached the promised land, she found nothing but a beach and abandoned helicopters. Meanwhile, off the coast of California, Alice and Claire (Ali Larter) landed their helicopter on a prison where other survivors (Boris Kodjoe, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Kim Coates, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere) hoped to be rescued as they kept a man (Wentworth Miller), who promised to divulge a secret passage that led outside if released, captive. I didn’t expect the film to be insightful or groundbreaking in any way. But I did expect it to entertain. I wasn’t entertained. I was confused during the first thirty minutes because Alice had the ability to be in multiple places at once. For the rest of the time, I grew impatient as the material delivered the run-of-the-mill deaths from our not-so-colorful group of characters. There was only one scene I liked which involved a duel between Claire and a giant man wielding a massive ax. I was at the edge of my seat because I felt like Claire was in serious trouble considering she didn’t have any superhuman powers. And I think that’s the problem with our main character. Alice didn’t feel human so we couldn’t empathize with her when she had to face danger. She was capable of sacrifice but it didn’t feel like she cared for the people she seemed to protect. It felt like she was more interested in the challenge of shooting as many zombies as possible. The only fun fact about her was she liked to stack quarters on her spare time. But she even did it so robotically. Just because the material was inspired by a popular video game, it didn’t mean that each aspect of the film had to feel cold and calculated. When the characters met their demise, I didn’t care. I thought about who was next to be eaten or shot. I also wanted to talk about the zombies. It’s never a good sign when the zombies from television shows like Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” look better than zombies in a movie. I don’t mean “better” as in more attractive; I mean “better” as in more convincing, more menacing. The franchise had about eight years to master its tone. Not once did I see that Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer and director, attempted to use mood to suspend his audiences in suspense. If Anderson had found a way to balance science fiction, action, and horror (with occasional humor), “Resident Evil: Afterlife” would have breathed new life into the series. It should have stayed dead.
Zombi 2 (1979)
★ / ★★★★
After I’ve seen zombies that can run like the wind à la “28 Days Later” or “28 Weeks Later,” slow-moving flesh eaters just don’t impress me anymore unless they’re being spoofed like in “Shaun of the Dead.” But I always try my best to put things into perspective because modern zombie pictures wouldn’t be the same today without the classics. A woman (Tisa Farrow) and a reporter (Ian McCulloch) decided to go on an island in the Caribbean to look for the woman’s father. Along the way, they met a couple (Al Cliver, Auretta Gay) on vacation who were kind enough to take them to the island of interest. But little did they know that the island was infested with the living dead. Although considered now as a classic, I believe “Zombie” was a mess. It talked about voodoo being the reason why the dead were rising from the grave but the word was not really explored nor did it touch upon its source. Voodoo has a variety of definitions depending on the culture–did this one involve dolls and pins? Furthermore, characters would ask something like, “What ARE those things rising from the grave?” in utter disgust. And someone would reply he didn’t know. However, after a few seconds the word “zombie” was thrown around like a football. That inconsistency in the script bothered me as much as the characters choosing to make one stupid decision after another. If the characters are as stupid (and as slow-moving) as the zombies, the fun is immediately taken out of the equation. Time and again the character would purposely run into an area where she knew there would be a dead end. I also hated the fact that characters would stand around and wait to be bitten. Horror movie directors should always ask themselves, “What would I do if I was in this particular character’s situation?” Thinking how we would respond and applying that instinct to the characters would not only make the characters more believable, we would be able to relate to them so much easier. If I saw a zombie a few feet away from me, I wouldn’t even think about trying to find the best weapon. Instinct would tell me to run as if I was in a 200 meter dash. And if I happen to run at a dead end and I had no choice but engage in combat, I would fight like I’ve never fought in my life. The last thing I would do was to stand around and say, “Oh, here I am. Bite me.” This was supposed to be a spiritual sequel to George Romero’s original 1978 “Dawn of the Dead.” “Zombie” or “Zombi 2” certainly wasn’t as intelligent or as ambitious as that film. Although I must say that the zombie versus shark scene was pretty neat. Oh, and I suppose I liked the soundtrack, too.