Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Junesploitation 2021 Day 22: Zombies!


  1. Gregg Bishop's DANCE OF THE DEAD (2008, Amazon Prime) for the first time. Also streaming with ads on Tubi, Roku Channel.

    Coach: 'Little lady, you get the machete.'
    Cheerleader: 'But I don't know how to shoot a machete!'

    Despite a personal seal of approval from "Evil Dead's" own Sam Raimi (who distributed it under his Ghosthouse Underground Label), 2008's "Dance of the Dead" came and went without making waves in a marketplace flooded with lookalike/copycat product. Shame, because if your zombie movie isn't going to re-invent the wheel the least it should do is maximize its premise (the dead are coming back to life next to a nuclear power plant, just in time to spoil Costa High's Hawaiian Hula-themed Prom dance) with as much entertainment juice its limited budget will allow. By "DOTD's" third act its filmmakers and young, mostly-unknown Georgia actors are clicking so well they accommodate a "Die Hard"-ish subplot involving detonators and air shafts... and it doesn't feel forced or even out of place. Because if you're going to emulate Raimi's visual style and OTT gore, you shouldn't forget the sense of humor that made those 80's horror classics memorable.

    Though the early focus is on the high school outcasts that didn't or wouldn't make it to prom (pizza boy, metal band druggies, backyard wrestling bully, President and VP of student council, sci-fi club geeks, cheerleader with sick boyfriend, etc.), "DOTD" hits a new level of funny when coach Keel (Mark Oliver) joins these disorganized kids and uses his survivalist-ready garage to organize a rescue mission to save those attending the prom. You know a zombie horror comedy is working when the middle-aged right-wing nut who's constantly calling kids 'queer' is the most likable, active protagonist. Justin Welborn also makes an impression as Kyle, the town bully everyone hates except when his raging anger can save them. If you can get past its grainy digital night photography and the lack of surprises (it establishes its rules early and mostly sticks with 'em), "Dance of the Dead" would make a great double-bill with "Shaun of the Dead." It's a deceptively cliché zombie flick, but it keeps topping itself and makes you sad the nicely set-up sequel never materialized. A Junesploitation! diamond hiding in plain sight. 4 SETH GREEN-LOOKALIKE GRAVEDIGGERS (out of 5).

  2. Gordon Douglas' ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945, YouTube --English with French subtitles--) for the first time.

    May 1, 1945, the day Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Also the day this unnecessary spiritual sequel to 1932's "White Zombie" was released in theaters, starring Wally Brown and Alan Carney (RKO Studio's in-house, dime store version of "Bing" and Crosby, Abbott and Costello, etc.) as opportunistic press agents. Promising a real-life zombie for the NYC opening of a new nightclub owned by mobster-turned-legit-businessman Ace Miller (a scene-stealing Sheldon Leonard), the duo embark to the island of San Sebastian to meet a mad scientist (Bela Lugosi's Professor Renault) who might have what they're after. Warned by a stranded hotel dancer (Anne Jeffreys) of the dangers ahead, the now-trio try to stay ahead of the superstitious locals while Renault and his personal bug-eyed zombie Kalaga (Darby Jones) seek to capture and use them as fresh guinea pigs for the professor's experiments.

    Even at 68 minutes "Zombies on Broadway" drags in the middle. Jerry and Mike avoid capture from the island locals by doing the typical 'black face' disguise, or playing pretend zombie after digging their own graves. And that's the lesser of the racist stereotypes about black people in this comedy (yikes!). Lugosi gets to be a ham for a handful of scenes, but it's not his finest movie role when a little monkey outsmarts Prof. Renault while the zombie experiments backfire badly on its creator. RKO apparently thought audiences would really care whether 'Zombie Hut' nightclub would have its opening night zombie, because the movie proper ends before the hour mark and we spend the final stretch with Ace Miller and company being played for fools. Passable filler entertainment at best. 2.5 TINY MONKEYS DOING THE ZOMBIE WALK (out of 5).

  3. Colm McCarthy's THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016, HBO Max) for the first time.

    The opening act of this British adaptation of Mike Carey's novel of the same name kicks things off with the energy of a YA "X-Men" origin tale anchored around young Sennia Nanua's mesmerizing lead performance. The less you know going in the better, but if you've played a PS3/PS4 "The Last of Us" videogame series this feels remarkable close to an 'inspired by' movie adaptation. As the world of "Girl With All the Gifts" opens up the narrative alternates between conventional fast/angry zombie tropes and new-to-the-genre ideas. You know you're watching something special when the resolution of the central conflict involves Glenn Close (a pretty big get for a genre picture) engaging in a philosophical debate with the subject matter she's literally dying to protect. Animal lovers beware, kitties and dogs don't do too well in this post-apocalyptic tale of survival horror. :-(

    "Girl With All the Gifts'" ending should be laughable and not work at all. That it does succeed while making you feel you've watched an upside-down version of "World War Z" is a complement to British cinema resourcefulness and great acting by a well-chosen cast (Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, etc.). Some fake CG blood/bullet effects and false dramatic beats notwithstanding (really, who gives a damn about Anthony Welsh's Dillon?), this one's a winner. 4 E-BLOCKER GEL PASTE TUBES (out of 5).

  4. Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow's THE LAST MAN ON EARTH --Colorized Version-- (1964, CON-TV) for the first time. Also streaming in B&W with ads on IMDB TV, Tubi, Roku Channel, Plex, Pluto, etc.

    The first of several Hollywood adaptations of Richard Matheson's influential "I Am Legend" novel, "The Last Man on Earth" wouldn't be half as entertaining as it is without Vincent Price in the lead role. Half the time Dr. Robert Morgan (no 'Neville' here) is talking to himself describing the mundane routine of his three-year quest (1965-1968) to rid the world of the living dead/vampire plague victims he couldn't find a cure for in time. Price hams up the voice-overs over his own silent acting with his usual prosaic style at the start, becomes suitably melodramatic during the middle-portion (a lengthy flashback to the events leading up to the start of the movie) and becomes a reluctant selfish action hero at the end. The '71 Charlton Heston and Will Smith '07 versions upped the blockbuster spectacle, but for '64 the Italian city "LMOE" takes place in delivers decent production sizzle for its $300,000 budget. Just don't think too hard about how the electricity is still on, why the giant pit is still burning after all these years, or why Morgan doesn't reinforce his home with better protection than fresh garlic and a mirror.

    It has some musical points that feel gothic, but the soundtrack (by two composers) also veers into melodramatic excess. The color tech added to Franco Delli Colli's B&W cinematography in the version I saw feels a little off, but I wasn't in the mood to watch commercials (sorry). I wanted to feel the weight of guilt Morgan carries on his shoulders, but of all "I Am Legend" adaptations this one makes the scientist lead look like the most clueless moron of the lot. And talk about a Bechdel Test failure for the female characters, one of which (Emma Danieli's 'Virge') literally crawls out of a grave to be with her man. Thank God George Romero fixed and polished the formula four years later with the type of biting social commentary missing from this amusing Vincent Price vehicle. 3 FILM REELS OF AMERICA'S FUNNIEST CIRCUS HOME MOVIES (out of 5).

  5. SANTO VS. LOS ZOMBIES (1962) – Watched on Youtube with Subtitles

    El Santo, the famous Mexican luchador known as El Enmascarado de Plata, played the hero in around fifty movies over two decades. This one is very early in his film career and came out the same year as the classic Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (The Vampire Women). Although it is not as good as The Vampire Women, Los Zombies is a fun nonsensical ride. Professor Sandoval comes back from a research trip to Haiti and suddenly disappears. At the same time, muscular men who are impervious to bullets are robbing jewelry stores. Could his research on zombies have anything to do with these strange happenings? Santo has a direct link with the police, who inform him about the strange strong men. Being a wrestler, Santo is more than able to handle them. I love how characters have television links in these movies to events they could never possibly have a chance to watch. (There is a television link to past events in The Treasure of Dracula.) Being a luchador film, there are going to be wrestling scenes to get through, yet I did not find those tedious in this one.

    If you have not seen Santo vs. The Vampire Women (preferably in Spanish), it would be a very appropriate choice to close out this month. It is hard to believe we are in the last third of Junesploitation now.

  6. Zomba di Mare (2014, dir. Sami Pöyry)

    A group of Italians living in Finland (I guess they're exchange students?) get ready for their last night together before returning to their home country, featuring love triangles, backstabbings, an assassin, and maybe a zombie apocalypse?

    A Finnish shoestring-budget indie that's part pretentious art film, part pastiche of low-rent Italian horror, it's told in a (deliberately) disorienting way, cutting between flashbacks, flash-forwards and dream sequences without warning, and with dialogue filled with non-sequiturs, giving it that dream-like quality many Italian horrors share. Oh yeah, and the whole movie is clumsily dubbed in faux-Italian.

    If anyone's curious, it's available on Vimeo here.

  7. Ojuju (2014) Available on kweli.tv which has a 7 Day free trial.

    I know that the Nigerian film industry is massive second only to India in terms of sheer output from what I've read, but Nollywood remains a massive blindspot for me. Since I'm overly familiar with the Zombie genre, this seemed like a good opportunity to go outside of my normal comfort zone and after looking around and reading various lists, C.J. 'Fiery' Obasi's debut feature caught my eye.

    It should be made very clear that this is basically a no-budget movie. You're not going to see much in the way of special effects here and the makeup is pretty rudimentary. I'll give them credit through for not trying to cover it by shooting at night. Most of the movie takes place during the daytime. There's quite a bit of padding also, with some scenes, especially of zombies shambling around, go on a bit too long most of the time.

    But, accounting for all the limitations, this is actually pretty decent. Partly it's just seeing a setting and culture I don't get to see a lot in films. The cast are generally believable and natural. The premise, that the infection is caused because so much of the water there is polluted and toxic, is a starting point that makes sense, although we don't get to see the initial infection (the cause is spelled out on the screen at the start of the film).

    Obasi also has a writing credit on Lionheart (2018) which apparently was Netflix's first original Nollywood film (directed by Genevieve Nnaji), and Netflix seems to have a vast Nollywood library on their service so I'll be diving in a little deeper when I get the chance.

  8. Uncle Peckerhead (2020, dir. Matthew John Lawrence)

    OK, maybe not a straight zombie movie, more like zombie/werewolf slasher horror-comedy. A struggling punk band takes on Peckerhead, a mysterious but good-natured older man, as their roadie who turns out to be the best, and worst, thing that ever happened to them. On the road for their first tour, they discover that at midnight Peckerhead turns into a flesh-eating monster for 13 minutes.

    I took a chance on this, mainly from the poster, and I’m so glad I did. There’s so much heart in this picture it makes up for the super-low budget. It has the delight of seeing people working together on a creative project and also how, as Princess Irulan said, a beginning can be a delicate time.

    This was the perfect helping of horror gore, comedy and drama for Junesploitation and it is my favorite discovery thusfar.

  9. Army of the Dead (2021 - Zack Snyder)
    I'm not a hater of anything (except a few "-isms"), so surely not of Snyder - but I'm not a huge apologist for him either. This movie didn't do a lot for me. I like Batista, the cast in general is good, even Matthias Schweighöfer (who is a somewhat annoying figure of German cinema) is a nice choice for this one, and yet there are too many side steps, too much bullshit, that could have been easily removed (if it wouldn't be for some franchise bullshit). Just make it an Ocean's Eleven but with zombies. To get money is enough for a reason to be invested, I don't need some super weapon subplot BS.

    Teens on a waterskiing trip get marooned on an uncharted island, where a female mad scientist abducts them and experiments on them. A quick trip ‘round the internet and back shows that people consider this to be the worst movie ever, but I thought it was an interesting and intriguing slice of ‘50s sci-fi. The lady scientist is creepily seductive to the teen boys, she has a hulking Frankenstein-like servant, and the plot kind of turns into a spy movie as it goes along. Yes, it’s also low budget and campy, but I dug it.

    30 days of Chinese fantasy movies, day 22
    In old-timey Shanghai, a streetwise martial artist takes on the criminal underworld with the help of the head gangster’s daughter. Despite the picture of a dragon on the thumbnail, this is a straightforward action flick and not fantasy. But WHAT an action flick! The fight scenes are a little less dancelike and more brutal, with every punch and kick looking like it really hurts. Star Bai Narisu is another Scott Adkins or Iko Uwais in that he’s just a force of nature when taking on a room full of bad guys.

  11. I remember "Bing" and Crosby; shared a double bill with "Bob" and Hope...

  12. Maggie (2015, dir. Henry Hobson)

    Arnold Schwarzenegger's family man Wade has to helplessly watch as his teenage daughter, played by Abigail Breslin, slowly turns into a zombie after being bitten by one.

    An interesting idea to turn a zombie movie into a quiet family drama, and casting Arnold, who we've used to seeing play unbeatable heroes, as the powerless dad is a nice subversion, but on the whole the movie felt sort of unfocused and aimless.

    1. I was so distracted by the dye job on his beard that I had trouble paying attention to his scenes.

  13. Surf II (1983)

    Well, that was different. Eddie Deezen invents a soda that turns surfers into zombies (not entirely unlike Mountain Dew) and (very) mild hilarity ensues. It’s cute, there are some scattered funny moments and game performances (Lyle Waggoner in particular seems to be having a blast) but it’s all pretty slapdash. The title is Surf II despite there never having been a Surf I, which is a joke that sums up the movie’s sense of humor pretty well and should tell you if this is gonna be your jam.

    My favorite thing about it was the terrific soundtrack, especially since it features Hold Me Back, a song by Oingo Boingo that has never been officially released (there was a soundtrack release planned but the movie tanked hard enough for it to be canceled). There’s other good stuff on the soundtrack as well (including another Boingo track) and I deeply appreciate labels like Vinegar Syndrome for getting oddball movies like this back into the public eye even when they’ve been understandably forgotten.

  14. Zoombies(2016) Dir Glenn Miller

    Asylum version of Jurassic World were the dinos have been replaced by
    animals in a zoo. When a monkey dies a scientist injects it with an experimental epinephrine. The monkey comes back from the dead, attacks all the scientist and infects its fellow captive simians. After accidently being released from the lab, the monkeys infect the other animals of the zoo causing them to want to kill all the humans as well.

    Like other asylum projects the cgi is far from great and the acting is fine. But much like other asylum projects it relishes in what it is and thus becomes a fun watch. The type of movie were not only do giraffes attack some people, two of them rip a guys limbs off fighting over him.
    Filled with some intentional laughs and many unintentional it may not be good but it is very very watchable.

    Its on Prime

  15. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (Jorge Grau, 1974)
    Great atmosphere, eerie music, exceptional sound design. I really liked it!

  16. Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981, dir. Andrea Bianchi)

    In case you don't know, the most notable aspect of this movie is a young boy is played by a full grown small man, and it's incredibly bizarre.
    I watched this for the first time many Junesploitations ago and haven't been able to get that little dude out of my head since! On top of that there is some awesome zombie action that takes place in an incredibly beautiful and eerie castle and its grounds. This is a must-watch for any zombie movie fans. A classic.

  17. Zeder (1984)
    Zombies are boring. Let's face it -- the best things that had to be said about them really didn't escape the 80s. And outside of perhaps Train to Busan, how can you improve upon movies like Dawn of the Dead, Zombi and Return of the Living Dead? People try and well, you have to give them credit for it. But I was really trying to stretch during Junesploitation and find a zombie movie that no one would choose, as well as one that might rekindle my love for these movies.

    Released in the U.S. as Revenge of the Dead, Zeder doesn't go for the Fulci throat -- or eyeball -- like nearly every zombie movie made in the wake of the Godfather of Gore's tribute to the living dead.

    The film begins in 1956, as a psychic girl named Gabriella is brought to the French mansion of Dr. Meyer. As a test of her abilities, he takes her into his basement where she immediately begins to claw and dig into the dirt, searching for something. Soon, she's attacked and taken to the hospital and a corpse is discovered that is identified as Paolo Zeder.

    Fast forward three decades and change and we meet Stefano (Gabriele Lavia, Inferno, Deep Red, Sleepless), a novelist who has been given the gift of a typewriter by his wife. He starts to investigate the ribbon of the ancient machine and finds a series of letters from Zeder that detail phenomena he called K-Zones, which are places where death does not exist and even those deceased may be reborn.

    Our hero soon loses everything -- his wife, any semblance of normalcy, his mind -- to penetrate the web of conspiracy that surrounds Zeder and the K-Zones. His wife is even murdered by those who want to keep the existence of the undead world a secret, so the film closes with Stefano attempting to bring her back.

    Beyond the dependable as always score by Riz Ortolani, there's a great scene near the end where a tower of video monitors replays the rebirth of the supposedly dead priest Don Luigi Costa arise in grainy glory.

    This was written and directed by Pupi Avati, who is still making movies to this day, but is probably best known for House with the Laughing Windows.

    The American VHS art for this -- when it was released by Lightning Video -- made it seem like this was going to be everything you expect from a zombie film. I'm happy to report that it is not. Instead, it's a dark mediation on secrets and death.

  18. Zombi 2 a.k.a. Zombie (1979)

    My second Fulci this month and while I liked The Beyond, I REALLY liked Zombi 2. Like Dawn of the Dead, it has a relentlessy bleak vibe that I find super effective in zombie movies, but Fulci takes things up a notch with the actual gore and zombie make-up. There's so many amazing images that stay with you after it's over: the incredible zombie vs shark underwater showdown, zombies rising slowly from the ground at the cemetery, zombie fingers geting squished on the doorframe, corpses in body bags with the bloodied heads, THE EYE... A terrific movie that lives up to its reputation and one I'll be revisiting for sure.

  19. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

    I've been trying to watch mostly new stuff this month, but I haven't seen this movie in probably ten years. It definitely holds up! Not only is it a great zombie movie, it's a hilarious comedy with a ton of heart. I just might be watching Hot Fuzz for cops day...

  20. Zombie aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombi 2 (1979)
    Directed by Lucio Fulci

    Found this more visually arresting than The Beyond.

    Some high points:

    -Doctor’s wife/girlfriend/prisoner (Olga Karlatos) getting eye-paled on a broken door by the zombie pulling her head into the splinters. Her facial acting in this sequence sells it.

    -The underwater shark vs zombie sequence. Not that the effects are so great but it’s an unforgettable dreamy image that foretells some of the best ideas in the World War Z

    -“…zombies? That’s just superstitious horseshit.”

    -the electronic score by Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Cassio. Those atonal synth washes really lend the zombies an alien, gross quality.

    -Contrasts: gorgeous Caribbean island scenery, palm trees, blue skies, green foliage vs red Red RED blood, guts, and gore and olive flesh decay.

    -Climax: Fulci really cranks it up to 11 in the last 20 minutes of this movie and The Beyond. He seems to like getting all the pieces in place, and letting ‘er rip.

    -the super bleak ending with unforgettable NYC image of the Dead on the bridge.

    There’s cheesy ‘70’s styles, gratuitous nudity, some not great performances, terrible dubbing, but it’s still really strong in spite of it’s defects.

  21. I Survived a Zombie Holocaust(2014) Dir : Guy Pigeon

    While filming a zombie movie a real outbreak occurs forcing the crew to flee for safety in this a comedy horror film from New Zealand. Its entertaining enough and does its comedy and gore well enough its just not on the level of some of the other comedy horror greats from New Zealand. The biggest problem is the ending or the non-ending which while predictable will still leave you wondering was that it? Predictable applies to a lot of the movie that would rather point out tropes than try to subvert them. But there's enough laughs and good enough gore that you could do worse.

    its on plex and tubi

    1. Fun drinking game? Take a shot every time I say enough.

  22. Dead House (2014, dir. Brini Amerigo)

    I don't know. It's on Tubi and sounded like a zombie movie, but I guess it's technically more of an outbreak movie like PLANET TERROR. Speaking of which, I liked the bedroom with the. PLANET TERROR and TERROR FIRMER posters on the wall.

  23. Cemetery of Terror (1985; dir. Ruben Galindo Jr.; Vinegar Syndrome)

    Not my favorite of the 3 discs VS has put out.

  24. Day of the Dead (1985, dir. ROMERO)

    Some interesting ideas introduced into the mythology. Glad I wasn't watching that last act with a full stomach!

  25. Peninsula (2020)

    Or Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, which is a dumb name so of course that's what it's called in North America.

    I liked it. Lots of anxiety, but not cause the zombies...people in bad situations become bad people.

  26. City of the Living Dead (1980)

    It's interesting to see a different take on the "brain eating zombies" which I guess wasn't even a thing yet. These zombies can teleport and mostly just stare at people until their guts fall out. There is some head ripping open, however. And it's all because of a wayward priest. You don't usually get religious themes mixed in with zombies.

    My favourite scene was where they just sprayed maggots at the actors. Must have been a fun day on set!

  27. I Walked With a Zombie (1943): Decided to go pre-Romero and try a different flavor of zombie movie. Creepy vibes, great performances, and excellent direction. It's a slow burn that never quite explodes, but I enjoyed it.

    1. It is good to see that I am not the only one enjoying some vintage Hollywood this month.

      Though 1940s Hollywood horror is very different in style than modern horror, it does have its good qualities. I appreciate the focus on atmosphere and story in a film like I Walked With A Zombie. The producer of that film, Val Lewton, created a string of memorable horror films around that time.

    2. Lewton was a big selling point after watching The Black Cat recently.