Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. There are only four days left before Halloween, and we are counting down with alacrity! Today my topic for our little 31-day overview of the Ghost Wonderful Time Of The Year is a subject that is actually our least favorite subject: zombies.
Zombies are not well liked by us. For my own part, I consider them either (sometimes) decent staff or target practice, and we in the Monster Shop are not amused by the recent unchecked spate of zombie movies currently clogging the video shelves and mental states of the general public. Nonetheless, we too have our favorite zombie movies (oh, don't go all down the nose at me, everyone does), and my purpose today is to share those with you in order to provide an alternative to the more despondent and apocalyptic diatribes out there, such as the new version of Dawn Of The Dead. (Some people will cling to their tortured post-collegiate kneejerk liberal angst.)
Our first is, of course, the true progenitor of the zombie movie, 1932's White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi. This film is considered the first motion picture to prominently feature zombies, and is a rather simple tale involving a young woman, Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and her fiance Neil Parker (John Harron), who are traveling to Haiti to be wed at the plantation of Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazier). Unfortunately for the young couple, Beaumont falls in love with Short and engages the services of zombie master Murder Legendre (Lugosi) to transform her into a zombie love slave. The zombies in this film are true zombies: not the hyperkinetic brain-munching gorehounds of today, but dead bodies that have been brought back to life by evil means who shamble about, eyes wide and staring, unthinking, unfeeling. Those expecting Lugosi to do his usual Dracula shtick will view a master actor at work, and the film itself is a dreamlike foray into darkness. Though White Zombie is not full of scares, it is certainly macabre, and would be a good start for someone wanting to veer off the "eaten path" of the modern undead, as it were. I suggest you shop around for the best version possible, as this film is quite old and has been through several restorations. Do check with your video stores and Netflix for a version released by a company called Roan Group; we hear this version is exemplary.
Next is Hammer's 1966 entry into the zombie arena, The Plague Of The Zombies, which predates the perennial zombie favorite Night Of The Living Dead by about two years. As with most Hammer horror, Plague is Gothic-flavored, and somewhat of a mystery story, which makes for a more interesting if slower and veddy British film. A mysterious plague is killing the residents of a small Cornish village, and medical professor Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) travels with daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) to visit former student Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) and his wife Alice (Jacqueline Pierce), who is a friend of Sylvia's. They encounter the brutish and unpleasant Squire Hamilton (John Carson) who more or less runs the town but cannot provide any information for Forbes. Enlisting the aid of the local constable (Michael Ripper), the heroes eventually uncover a terrible plot by Hamilton, who is raising dead villagers as zombies to work in the abandoned tin mine on his property. While this all may seem a bit Masterpiece-Theatreish for newcomers to this film, the scene where a zombie rises from its grave in the local churchyard is as chilling as any shambling Bosco-chocolate-stained undead that Mr. Romero ever dreamed up.
Recently the zombie comedy has taken hold of moviegoers' imaginations, and while most of them are far from funny and generally excuses to wallow in gallons of fake blood and latex gore, there are some exceptions. Our last two entries for today's musings fall into this category: Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and Fido (2006). SOTD was written by the British comedy team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and stars Pegg as the titular Shaun, a slacker whose despondency over the breakup of his girlfriend is interrupted by sudden zombie outbreak. Though unapologetically gory, Shaun shows real wit and excellent comic timing, and may be one of the few films that lives up to the aforementioned genre title. Fido is even stranger, and documents a post-zombie-apocalypse world that has reverted back to 1950's Red-Scare society, where everyone has a zombie in a special tranquilizing collar as a pet, servant or companion (as in the case of one very odd gentleman portrayed by actor Tim Blake Nelson, whose undead female companion proves most unnerving). In the midst of this demented suburban landscape, a young boy named Timmy Robinson (K'Sun Ray) who is rightfully paranoid about zombies receives a new undead friend named Fido, played by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. Since I've actually been in Glasgow on Saturday night, zombified Scotsmen are not new to me, but Connolly manages to create the first true sympathetic performance of zombiedom with his Fido, who must be protected by Timmy after accidentally eating the next-door neighbor, which begins the obligatory ensuing mayhem.
So there we are: four alternative films for the discerning zombie fan. And I'm sure if you speak to the Mad Doctor, he will gleefully plug Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, which features demon-possessed zombies. From my point of view, you could do a lot worse. Do return tomorrow to see what's next in store for our final countdown of the 31 Days Of Halloween, and warm felicitations, as always, to all our readers.
POST-MORTEM: There is also a new self-help book based around the lowly zombie. Click here to view the Mad Doctor's post on same. --B.R.