Archive for October, 2009

365 Days of the Dead Revisited: Stacy

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Movies on October 2, 2009 by Scott Emerson

(Note: This review was originally published as Day 11 of 365 Days of the Dead.)

A life-affirming zombie movie? Though it sounds like an improbable concept, Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s STACY manages an unlikely feat, creating a splatter movie you can watch on a first date. Equal parts love story and gorefest, 2001’s STACY blends these strange bedfellows into one unforgettable experience.

In the near future girls all across the globe ages 15 to 17 are inexplicably dying, only to revive themselves as flesh-hungry zombies (dubbed “Stacies”), a phenomenon threatening to bring about the apocalypse. In order to properly dispose of a Stacy is to cut the body into exactly 165 pieces, a process known as a Repeat Kill. There’s even a commando team dedicated to wiping out the Stacies, the Romero Repeat Kill Squad (just one of the many homages the film has on hand).

Tomomatsu manages to pack a lot into this surprisingly dense 80-minute film. In addition to the Romero Squad, we’re introduced to a puppeteer named Shibukawa who meets a Stacy-to-be named Eiko. Eiko is in the grips of Near Death Happiness, an all-consuming euphoria that overtakes the girls before they die. Eiko urges Shibukawa to promise to kill her once she returns as a Stacy, setting up the central storyline of the film. (Did I mention the renegade Repeat Kill Squad made up of young girls who emulate Drew Barrymore?)

What follows is a beautifully-crafted combination of horror, romance, and comedy,  and Tomomatsu assuredly handles each element with style. The movie works itself toward classic status simply with its unabashed fanboy affection for the films of George Romero; check out the underground lab where a crazed scientist, reminiscent of DAY OF THE DEAD’s Dr. Logan, conducts his experiments (in fact, one of the soldiers bringing in Stacies pauses to ask if this is DAWN OF THE DEAD or DAY OF THE DEAD). Or how about the infomercial for Bruce Campbell’s Right Hand 2, a special chainsaw attachment you can slip over your wrist for convenient Stacy-slicing.

Though for all its gleeful bursts of gore (which call to mind the early works of Peter Jackson), STACY has a permeating melancholy tone. This of course is best exemplified in the Shibukawa/Eiko storyline, as they fall in love despite Eiko’s inevitable death. The state of Near Death Happiness works perfectly as a counterpoint to our fears of death, and is especially poignant as an all-loving and forgiving Eiko teaches a Romero Repeat Kill Squad how to deal with the epidemic. Live for today, Tomomatsu tells us, embrace those who bring you happiness.

If there’s any justice in the world, STACY will go on to be revered as one of the new century’s best zombie films, deserving to stand alongside the likes of DELLAMORTE, DELLAMORE and Romero’s original trilogy. A thoroughly enjoyable movie, STACY            holds the dubious honor of being the only zombie movie–yeah, I’ll go on a limb here and admit it–to bring me to tears. But, as Eiko tells us, it’s okay to cry until you feel better.

Highly, highly recommended.

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365 Days of the Dead Revisited: Zombieland

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Movies on October 1, 2009 by Scott Emerson

Here’s a tip for you budding filmmakers out there: if you want me to fall instantly in love with your movie, open it with a splattery slow-motion death montage set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Director Ruben Fleischer does just that with ZOMBIELAND, which means his movie became my favorite genre outing this year before the Director of Photography’s title card appeared. This is a smart, fun, and thoroughly enjoyable ride.

ZOMBIELAND accomplishes what so many fan-oriented undead flicks have attempted to do and failed: it embraces tropes of the subgenre without being dictated by them, it echoes modern classics like 28 DAYS LATER and Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD without resorting to parody, and it never, ever lowers itself by naming any of its characters Barbara, or Peter, or Shaun. Thank you, Zombie Jesus.

Remarkably, the undead play a somewhat limited capacity in the film, acting more as a catalyst for an apocalyptic coming-of-age story. I usually hate when that happens–the film could just as easily be called VAMPIRELAND or WEREWOLFWORLD and remain basically the same– but Fleischer, along with screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, do a commendable job with the interactions with their human characters that’s easy to forgive; they don’t really bring anything new to the table, but the clever gags and brisk direction maintain such a gleeful momentum that the relatively routine plot feels much more inventive and unique.

The cast is uniformly solid, but the real spotlight is one the scenery-gorging Woody Harrelson (in easily his most engaging role since THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT), who will no doubt join Bruce Campbell’s Ash as the genre’s most quotable, imitiable zombie-killer–and rightfully so. With the exception of the film’s not-so-secret secret cameo–whose subplot could’ve made an entertaining flick in its own right–he practically carries the movie on his shoulders.

ZOMBIELAND joins Grace Lee’s AMERICAN ZOMBIE as the decade’s undead high-water mark. It’s the kind of rare experience that not only thrills horror fans, but also holds plenty of crossover potential for those who don’t normally dig fright films. (A sequel is inevitable, which I actually wouldn’t mind.) Catch it this weekend if you can.