Monthly Archives: July 2013

Crash Analysis Support Team: The Walking Dead Escape: Stranger Survival – Guest Post from Cory Brin

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Zombies have long held my imagination as an unstoppable force that really is born from the same darkness as nightmares. I have watched several zombie movies and television shows, played countless zombie video games, and have read a number of zombie related books. I have taken part in zombie pen and paper roleplaying games as well as live action roleplaying games where I have participated as both a player and a zombie. I even helped design and run a theatrical for over ten years where zombies have somehow been involved in the annual theme. Amongst my friends I have been dubbed the “Zombie King” as I have turned into, for better or worse, the “go-to” guy on what to do if the dead should ever actually rise.

Therefore, when I learned that this year at San Diego Comic Con, there would be a bigger and better Walking Dead: Escape event, I knew that I might finally have the chance to put my zombie survival skills to the ultimate test. Could I make it through the legions of undead unscathed, or would I fall prey to the infection that had spread through San Diego? It cost $75 to be a survivor, $80 to be a zombie, and $20 to spectate. Although the price was steep, I feel it was well worth it in the end.

The event itself is a zombie obstacle course that is roughly 30-45 minutes in length. There are challenges such as chain-link fences and wooden pyramids that you have to climb over, broken down cars and hospital gurneys that you have to navigate around, several different areas that you have to crawl under, all while trying to avoid the 100 or so zombies that are awaiting to try and turn you to their side. The course itself is constructed inside of Petco Park in downtown San Diego, and uses all three levels of the spectator portion of the park to maneuver us around. During my run, the baseball field itself was reserved for a screening of Serenity, which was slightly surreal – we could see thousands of people calmly watching a movie, while our small band was running for our lives.

As I stood outside the park with 50 strangers, I wasn’t entirely sure what was to come, and a bit of fear crept in. We were warned, “not to get infected,” and that we would be scanned when we got to the evacuation zone. Up to this point, I had pharaonic expectations of myself. In my head, I saw myself summersaulting under the reach of walkers and army sliding through the tunnels. I would see every single ghoul well before I had to make a move and deftly dash by. I wanted to be the guy that all of the people at the end would cheer on to glorious victory as I was the sole survivor emerging from the physical crucible to tell the tale. I saw other survivors at that moment as competition and, especially in the case of one very large man wearing a “Hoof Hearted” T-shirt and a pair of slides, potential zombie bait.

Viewing my fellow non-zombies in this manner was very out of character for me. After all, my personal Dungeons and Dragon alignment is lawful good. As much as I would like to, I can’t be the bad guy. While playing Dead Rising, I’m the guy who would just beat a very difficult psychopath, only to die before I saved the game because I saw a survivor icon pop up on the opposite side of the mall. I’d be the guy who in a real zombie apocalypse would give the guy pointing the gun at me the benefit of the doubt, even though the Zombie Survival Guide says otherwise. In my head, if you are alive, you deserve to stay that way.

So when I first became aware of this obstacle course, I thought I’d be the one to go out of my way to help others. The more that survive, the better. In the previous year’s recap video, there was a living victim who was handcuffed to a rail. I envisioned myself in one fell swoop picking up a blunt object, destroying the hand cuff, and having the volunteer follow me to safety as a survivor. I’m usually only that epic in my head, so why all of a sudden I was in competitor mode was unbeknownst to me.

The lot of us were filled in on “rules,” that included “not pushing or hitting the walkers,” which drastically decreased my options. Then the gate opened and we filed inside. Immediately, we could hear a soldier barking at us on a loudspeaker, intoning that we were in a safe area. Petco Park was taken over as a government facility and as long as we stayed inside, we would be safe. All we had to do was trundle through to the other side of the park to be scanned for infection and then a helicopter would take us to safety. That was some pretty awesome ambiance. At this point, I found myself in the middle of the pack, which is where I told myself not to be, as I didn’t want to have my motion restricted. As people herd together it can be tricky to be precisely where you mean to be.

The gates were opened at the soldier’s command and we were met with a wall of fog. Course officials led us into the fog as the crowd collectively created a cacophony of fear muddled with excitement. After the first half of the group went through the portcullis, a poignant scream pierced the air from the left of the wave, as survivors from that side bolted toward my position in the middle. Then the same thing happened from the right. Through the mist I could see a large number of walkers coming through the turnstiles right at us. The Officials were shouting at us to turn around, but the poor souls in the back couldn’t hear and were still trying to push forward. Initially I thought this was just more atmosphere, but then I turned and saw that there were Officials behind all of us pointing toward a set of doors. Most of the people in the front were too busy trying to avoid the encroaching ghouls, so I was one of the few to actually see where we were supposed to go. I rushed to the door to find that it lead to a stairwell. A few others had escaped the initial chaos and were following me. Up we went.

Lesson #1: Unless you absolutely have to, do not run up flights of stairs during a zombie apocalypse. I don’t know why I did; it was probably that eagerness to be the survivor, but it was still a waste of energy. There was a ton of people in that fray and the zombies would have had enough to keep them busy for a long time. I don’t remember any of them following us, and even if they did, they’re super slow and have deteriorated motor functions. This was a 45-minute obstacle course, and I spent all my energy at the first leg. Granted I’m not in that great of shape, but still I hadn’t even passed that close to a zombie yet and I already felt like one. Several of the people that I would finish the course with muttered in agreement with me for the duration of the event, “Why did we run up those stairs?” Luckily we started our wave at 9:20 PM, so it was dark and cool.

As the few of us at the top landing were sucking air, we exited the stairwell to find an empty concrete path that under normal circumstances San Diego Padre fans would use to find their seating sections. Now it was a dimly lit corridor, but our only means of escape. I embarked into the darkness and found the first group of walkers. There were four staggering around in this narrow passage way. I sprinted, trying to use speed to get past them, but as they saw me, they reached out and closed in. Employing the best dexterity I could muster, I dipped, dove, ducked, and dodged past the walkers.

Nearing the final zombie in this area, I leapt left as another survivor rushed right. Our ankles collided. I was able to maintain my balance, but I saw this man starting to topple. Before he could hit the pavement, I managed to grab him and help him keep his feet, so we could escape the pursuing horror. We exchanged a simple “You all right man?” “Yeah I’m good, thanks,” and met each other’s pace. He wore a tan shirt, and hence force became known to me as “Tan Shirt Guy.”

There were still about 15 survivors in this early part of the course. Next, we had to crawl under steel grating, forcing us to the ground, where a soldier was already waiting. That soldier under the grating with us was actually a zombie, and we narrowly avoided his grasp. Zigging and zagging past a few more of the undead, we wound up at a water station, where we greedily gulped down the drink. Tan Shirt Guy was still with me. Two people he must have known arrived at the table about the same time. There was a man who was described to me as an actual doctor, and a man who looked to be in supreme physical condition, and was dressed as such. We all agreed it was time to move on up the malfunctioning escalator. Our group was set. Tan Shirt Guy, The Doctor, and Athletic Guy. I don’t know by what name they referred to me as when they told their version of this story to their friends and loved ones. I hope it was epic.

Lesson #2: The initial introduction to others during duress forces you into an instantaneous bond. I didn’t know these three men. Just moments before I helped stabilize Tan Shirt Guy, I had been in “Me, Myself, and I,” mode. I could have easily just let him fall and give me more time to get away from the undead. My lawful good alignment must have snapped into place. They could have thought of me as zombie-bait for all I knew. Even if you forget for the moment that this wasn’t the real zombie apocalypse, these three guys probably just wanted to have fun as friends, yet in this simulated survival scenario, there was a bond that developed as we helped each other. It became abundantly clear to me that as long as you are willing to pull your weight while working together, that bond can become extremely strong, extremely quick.

There were two specific zones that I will not soon forget. One was a very elaborate setup; the other was simply a single zombie. Both encounters etched into my mind complete examples of the type of humanizing moments that develop in a zombie uprising and how they can change your perception of individuals you meet during harrowing situations.

Looming in front of our company was a solitary snarling behemoth of a zombie. Clearly he was one of the first to get infected. His girth encompassed the entirety of the confined corridor. There was an attempt to lure him out into the vestibule where we would have had more room to sneak by, but this monster was having none of it. We decided to handle this in pairs. Athletic Guy was deft enough to get the zombie to swing at him and then he swerved underneath the creature’s grasp. During Athletic Guy’s feint, The Doctor squeezed past to safety.

Tan Shirt Guy and I undertook the same tactic, but this particular zombie must still have retained some of its memory because it would not budge. I even suggested trying to Superman dive under the creature’s arms, but that would put us in a prone state, which was not good. I remarked that if we wait for more survivors, maybe we could pass in the confusion, which twinged a moment of savagery within me that was greeted with remorse. It was then that Tan Shirt Guy said, “Here, you just go.”

Tan Shirt Guy approached the reach range of the ghoul and this time the walker responded. Tan Shirt Guy back peddled while staying close enough to entice the zombie to take one more shambling step so I could inch by, as my internal system flooded with relief. I ventured on looking to meet up with the others to find that the next leg of the journey required us to crawl under more chicken wire tunnels. There were three tunnels we had to choose from, a la “The Eliminator” from American Gladiators. I selected the right most crawl space and was about halfway through when it dawned on me that I didn’t wait for Tan Shirt Guy, or even attempt to try and distract the zombie for him after I passed. He said, “Just go,” and I did. My instinctual response was a mix of selfish self-preservation and adrenaline. I literally felt ashamed for abandoning my artificial savior.

Ahead I could see that The Doctor and Athletic Guy where already burrowing through a second set of three tunnels, and that a number of walkers guarded the entrance to where I had to go. I was in danger of falling too far behind and if I went back I may find Tan Shirt Guy as one of the enemy and put myself at further risk. It didn’t matter; he helped me and I wasn’t going to leave him. I looked behind me hoping that he would emerge from the passageway but I saw nothing. My heart sunk. Then my eyes darted forward again to find that Tan Shirt Guy was already in the second set of tunnels. He had made it! I kicked into crawling overdrive and had to tumble past a few more walkers to catch up with the gang. We did a quick spot check for blood and moved on to the second encounter that stuck out to me, which happened to be the most difficult area of the course.

What lay before us was a maze of large wooden crates masked by a haunting fog. At the start of this portion were three of these crates in a row, with small channels between them that we could fit through single file. Also in these channels were zombies. The moans of the undead let us know that the sheer number of them was not going to make this a walk in the park. We settled again upon the plan of going in twos, thinking a larger group would be easily spotted. Athletic Guy and I were to leave a split second sooner, as we were more mobile so we could hopefully find a safer path. My tandem took the left crate; the other two took the right crate.

Athletic Guy climbed up and leapt over the nearest ghoul in the channel. After he launched himself, I ascended to the wooden perch. As my eyes quickly scanned for a safe landing point, I froze in terror. From inside the box, a pair of hands grabbed a hold of the edge of the crate and was pulling a deformed face inches from my feet. My retreat was one of stumbled steps that almost sent me sprawling to the floor. That for me was the most terrifying moment of the ordeal.

Regaining my composure, I sidestepped to the box that The Doctor and Tan Shirt Guy had used and barrel rolled over it and head first into the fog. As my vision adjusted, I discovered four walkers besieging The Doctor and each blocked the only exits that I could see. Beyond us were more of the same in terms of wooden chests, dense fog, and legions of zombies. Tan Shirt and Athletic Guy were naught to be found.

The right most ghoul was lining up for The Doctor and hadn’t noticed me yet. It also left the largest amount of space between us and freedom. I yelled some nonsense order along the lines of, “Split him, you go left,” and made the demon aware of my presence by passing close to his ride side, which attracted him just enough to give us the room we needed.

Ahead of us a form materialized in the mist with a tan shirt. The Doctor called out, “Hey, it’s us!” He was answered by a growl. Breaking the fourth wall, I sadly remember shouting, “Oh you’re a zombie.” Shuffling feet echoed off the wooden crates and created a disorienting sensation. We were relieved by the efforts of Athletic Guy racing up to us and waving us on. He had found if we hugged the left wall, there was a relative path to safety. We followed him to where Tan Shirt Guy was waiting and we completed the crate maze.

Eventually we made it through the remainder of the obstacles to where the “Evacuation Zone” was waiting for us. Only a successful screening for infection permitted entry to the zone. The Doctor went first, was bathed in black light, and searched by a team of scientists. He was proclaimed clean, as was Athletic Guy. Tan Shirt Guy went ahead of me and when the UV light hit his back, I saw a handprint glowing that wasn’t visible to the naked eye. A report of “He’s infected,” and “He needs to be decontaminated,” filled the air. A third scientist took Tan Shirt Guy to the side while I was scanned. I was cleared and sent out of the tent to the “Escape Party,” signaling the course had ended.

Athletic Guy, The Doctor, and I gasped in the cool night air, wondering what became of the fourth member of our crew. Tan Shirt Guy appeared with a splotch of red on his forehead. He muttered, “They executed me.”

Lesson #3: Don’t give names until you know you’re in relative safety. If you concern yourself with life stories as the crisis begins, the depression that sets in as you inevitably lose those around you can be overwhelming. There is something more heart wrenching about saying, “Jerry didn’t make it,” than there is saying, “What happened to the guy in the tan shirt?” The bonds the four of us formed saved three because we took immediate action. We didn’t exchange names or any information because we all knew that survival was the only instinct that mattered.

We parted ways with me saying, “I’d ride out the apocalypse with you guys any day,” and we passed out fist bumps. We were at Comic-Con and could have easily traded a multitude of information to stay in touch. We walked off into the night knowing what we accomplished and that had it been real, the four of us had done everything we could have to try and protect one another. The simulated Armageddon instantly transformed me from singular minded survivalist to a group oriented player and showed me the value of taking that mindset should this ever actually happen. Had I not helped Tan Shirt Guy stay standing early on, he may not have helped me pass by the behemoth zombie. I felt like I merely offered a helping hand, but I’m certain that Tan Shirt Guy met his demise when he had sacrificed himself for me. There are good people in the world and it’s sad to think that it could take an undead uprising to bring that mindset completely to fruition.

The Walking Dead Escape was a tremendous experience both as an entertainment and an educational module. Maybe I’m the only one who looked this deep into the encounter. Maybe I’m the only one who cared enough to think about what I could learn about myself. But what I know is that I did learn and hopefully will be a little bit more prepared in the unlikely event I ever need to draw upon this moment in my life for real. I paid $75 for a zombie obstacle course and as I share my recollections with friends and family, I don’t dwell on the walkers or the physical test. I focus on the people that I needed to successfully make it through. I focus on Tan Shirt Guy and wrote this for him. He is a hero.

Cory Brin is a Halloween enthusiast and is the Assistant Project Coordinator at Gravestone Manor, Pennsylvania’s most unique Haunted Attraction. He also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, a BA in History from King’s College, and is currently working on projects for the screen, the stage, and for print. Follow him on Twitter@corybrin.

(Photo from Inside the Magic.)

Crash Discussion: All About American Mary (Even Though She’s Canadian)

PodcastimageBilly Crash and Jonny Numb explore the sophomore feature effort, American Mary, from the Twisted Twins. Story, character, and theme are explored, as well as Katharine Isabelle‘s lead performance. Additionally, why are “good” horrors considered to be “phenomenal” by many horror fans, and what does this say about expectations from the genre?

Crash Analysis: THE CONJURING (2013)

More like THE OVER-RATED

A ghost story you’ve seen before…

Wonderful directing, acting, editing, cinematography, special effects, and at least three Conjuringsolid scares. Sounds like a perfect movie, right? But the script came from the pens of twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, the duo who brought us 2007’s pathetic THE REAPING, and the laughable idiocy of HOUSE OF WAX (2005), among others. This time around, finally for horror fans, they delivered a tight well plotted tale. The only problem: We’ve seen this all before.

Though nothing was conjured in THE CONJURING, we follow the Perron family as they purchase a new home (never saw that in a ghost story before). And in short order, weird things happen to all seven of them, including the usual clichés: bumps in the night, banging, shadows, hauntings, dead animals, and possession (ala Wan’s other film, the over-rated INSIDIOUS, thanks to a hokey third act). Yes, we’ve seen all of this many times before – too many times in fact. Then again, with the multitude of ghost stories out there, maybe it’s hard to be original.

For highly spirited fair with new takes on maybe the world’s oldest genre, one must look to films that deliver a unique premise, such as THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and its torment of a young boy by the spirit world who seeks help from a child therapist, or THE ORPHANAGE (Spain, 2007), where a mother searches for her lost son. (Other examples will arise from the grave in another post.) But the Haye’s brothers break no new ground for the genre – NONE. Then again, they supposedly captured the true tale of the actual Perron family, which took place over a ten year period (1971-1980). In an article from the Christian Post Reporter, Lorraine Warren states that the filmmakers did “a pretty good job” with the Perron family possession/haunting. However, in the past, the Warren’s have come under scrutiny, especially for their most famous case (as hinted in THE CONJURING), the Amityville horror. Many say the hauntings on Long Island never took place, and owners of the home since the 70s have stated that they never experienced one supernatural thing. In USA Today, Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five girls, “says the film is ‘a beautiful tapestry’ with ‘many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.’” Why the Haye’s twins stuck to the same-old-same-old with their fictional bits, should make one wonder. (Maybe they should put down Blake Snyder’s overly abused Save the Cat, and do something less Hollywood formulaic.)

Regardless of the weaknesses of the writing team, James Wan proves he’s no George Lucas, and can definitely direct children (six of them in this case). But the strength of the tale rests in the hands of the story’s key performers: the always fabulous Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren, rock solid Patrick Wilson as her husband, Ed, and Lili Taylor who steals the show with her emotionally driven performance as Carolyn Perron. All the actors in the film are fully engaged and keep our blood pumping at every turn.

The special effects, whether practical or CGI based, work well with the perfect lighting and color, and sometimes intriguing camera angles thanks to cinematographer John R. Leonetti (INSIDIOUS, PIRANHA, DEAD SILENCE, and others), which only enhance the off-kilter temperament of the goings-on. One of my favorite scenes involves Judy Warren (Sterling Jerins), traipsing through the Warren home in the wee hours – beautiful work. Horror music maestro, Joseph Bishara (INSIDIOUS, DARK SKIES, NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and more) delivers once again, though he and Wan make certain the music does not interfere with the spooky bits, which would have made this a truly run of the mill cheap thrill ride.

As for “scares,” the movie has three memorable ones, and two come at the equivalent of a head fake, adding to the impact. Again, however, due to the trite nature of the story, this prevents THE CONJURING from being a true ghost story standout. Since most horror movies are pure garbage, thanks to shallow-minded filmmaking, I can understand why so many fans of the genre might say this is an amazing venture when it’s only just “very good.”

If the story had offered something new and interesting, a higher rating would be warranted, but when one watches the third act, and can clearly see what’s coming, that deflates the balloon of suspense regardless of the emotional torrent conjured up by the actors. THE CONJURING certainly is no waste of money, but to place it on a pedestal is a rush to judgment simply because horror fans want something better. Sadly, THE CONJURING isn’t it.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Discussion: If the Spirit Moves You: The Last Knock Looks at Ghost Stories

PodcastimageGhost stories are the top sub-genre of horror, and have been a part of storytelling for thousands of years and in all cultures. Why the fascination? Ghost films, from haunted houses to videotapes, will be explored from around our ghostly globe, along with our movie fascinations — or mistakes — of the week. Click down below for a list — and check us out on iTunes!

Crash Reports: My 50th German Horror Film

Rohtenburg Butterfly A Grimm Love Story

I indulged in 1973’s SEVEN DEAD IN THE CAT’S EYE (France/Italy/West Germany), and this has become the fiftieth German horror I’ve consumed to date.

Directed by Antonio Margheriti, responsible for HORROR CASTLE (1963), ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN (1973), and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), among other genre movies, the story involves the MacGrieff family and their Scottish castle of, well, grief. The tale’s a mystery/whodunit, loaded with great color and bright blood, as well as the beauty of Hiram Keller and Doris Kunstmann. It’s a fun romp, and I was happy to learn that I hadn’t predicted who was actually leaving all the bodies around the castle in this one. I’m not sure if thanks go to Antonio Margheriti who co-wrote the script with Giovanni Simonelli, or the novel’s author Peter Bryan. Either way, it was a very entertaining 2.5 out of 5 stars.

I’m glad SEVEN DEAD IN THE CAT’S EYE was my fiftieth German film because little achievements like this often come at the expense of one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, most of the German films I have seen in the horror genre are co-productions, but these are the best of the best. (Note: I removed CEMETERY MAN (Italy/France/Germany, 1994), since it was previously mentioned on my list of Italian films http://crashpalaceproductions.com/crash-reports-my-50th-italian-horror/ and is predominately Italian. The same with THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (USA/Germany) due to the intense American influence.)

 

Acht

Severance (UK/Germany, 2006) – 3.5 stars

The only comedy/horror on the list, this tale features office workers on a team building outing. You can imagine how this one goes. Yet, unlike others of the mixed genre, this movie has some creep ridden elements, and some grueling scenes of mayhem. If you want a laugh with a little blood, this one is far more than that.

 

Sieben

Faust (Germany, 1926) – 3.5 stars

FW Murnau brought us the wonderful story of Faust, with some amazing special effects that blow the mind while chilling the soul (think of Mephisto looming over the city). Gösta Ekman makes for an excellent Faust, who delivers all the emotion and rage the alchemist unleashes throughout the tale. Carl Hoffman’s cinematography is stellar, and works extremely well with the remarkable special effects sequences. This is a silent film you do not want to pass on.

 

Sechs

The Monitor (Norway/Germany/Sweden, 2011) – 3.5 stars

International star, Noomi Rapace plays Anna, a mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Reeling from emotional abuse, and seemingly suffering from PTSD, she buys a baby monitor to pay closer attention to her eight-year-old son. But when the monitor picks up something else from inside their apartment complex, their lives may be on the line. The dramatic tension, bizarre goings-on, and excellent acting, make this movie resonate.

 

Fünf

Daughters of Darkness (Germany/Belgium, 1971) – 4 stars

A great take on the Countess Bathory story, this one involves newlyweds who meet the mysterious countess (Delphine Seyrig) and her “secretary” at an off-season resort. Female virgins devoid of blood turn up in Bruges, and it’s not long before the young groom (John Karlan) finds himself in a dark mystery from which he may not be able to escape.

 

Vier

Vampyr (Not Against the Flesh) (Germany/France, 1932) – 4 stars

One of the last silent films, this one features another great story with very disturbing effects. Some scenes have sadly been lost to time, but there’s more than enough for us to follow a young man with a love for the supernatural as he visits an inn. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, the contrasts and super-imposed elements make this one of the most poignant early horrors.

 

Drei

Black Death (Germany/UK, 2010) – 4 stars

Starring Sean Bean, BLACK DEATH is one hell of a ride. As the first wave of bubonic plague ravages England, a young monk (Eddie Redmayne) is ordered to find out if it’s true that a necromancer is raising the dead in a remote village. What takes place is a riveting, suspenseful quest that ups the ante on the tension scale. Do not miss this one. 

 

Zwei

Possession (France/West Germany, 1981) – 4.5 stars

Have a therapist on call, or a soothing beverage at least, to help counter the neverending emotional explosion between Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. Based on Andrzej Zulawski’s script, he also directed this twisted and bizarre collapse of a marriage. The performances are solid, though Adjani clearly steals the show. After filming, she entered the hospital due to exhaustion.

 

Eins

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006)

This is one of those rare horrors that may leave one in tears, if not bereft in spirit. The story revolves around the true life drama of Armin Meiwes, the “Cannibal of Rotenburg,” who found a willing male subject to be killed and eaten. The story makes no apologies and is far from a melodrama, but shines a light on a disturbing tale of love and loneliness that led to a true and disturbing horror.

 

I hope you find these films worthwhile and enjoyable. Yes, I left out some heavy hitters, but the original NOSFERATU (1922) put me to sleep, and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, though wonderful, fell short due to the altered ending. However, Conrad Veidt is undoubtedly my favorite silent film star. As of 2005, ANTIBODIES received worldwide recognition, but the third act becomes ridiculous as it explores needless forays into fantasy.

But German horror cinema collectively offers thought provoking inroads to darkness and light, and the atmosphere is certainly worth indulging.

(Photo from The House of Horror.)

Crash Discussion: Are You Feeling Zombified?

PodcastimageBilly Crash and Jonny Numb explore the intense passion for zombie films and why we love them. Why do we care so much about the slow-moving (usually), imbecilic creatures? And why have there been so many movies made about them? Check in, listen, and leave us your thoughts.

Crash Analysis: WORLD WAR Z (USA/Malta, 2013)

World War Zzzzzzzzz is more like it…

Zen and the art of killing zombies

How can an action laden horror like WORLD WAR Z put one to sleep? Simple: Get your     world-war-z  marketing idiots to announce that your lead actor (and producer) will return in the sequel. This means that every scene he appears in, where it seems that he’s cornered, doomed, and screwed will be devoid of suspense, shock, and surprise.

So I sat in the near dark of the theatre, feasting on the CGI laden milieu, knowing nothing bad would really happen to our hero, which lead to a sense of boredom. Then again, the movie was flawed thanks to a multitude of writers and subsequent rewrites, three different directors of photography, and several reshoots, thanks to a story that had remained in “Production Hell” for too many years.

As with most every zombie film ever made: Zombies rise and humanity is at stake. This means Gerry Lane (Pitt) must do his damnedest to save his family. But when the moving walls of the undead close in, he must make a deal with a delegate to protect his loved ones – while he travels round the globe to find a way to stop the plague.

The major problem with WORLD WAR Z is Gerry, and it has nothing to do with Pitt, or the character’s choices, but the character’s profession: United Nation’s investigator. In this situation of potential zombie savior, one could see our hero as a scientist working with the CDC in Atlanta. Better still, since this is war, and we need someone who can fight as well as think, a member of USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases) would have been perfect. Instead, our Obi-Wan Kenobi, our knight in shining armor, our Neo is a guy who investigates third world post-war horrors. Don’t get me wrong. On the surface, this sounds like a sure fit, but Gerry’s character is far from developed in the movie. Granted, we quickly learn he’s a loving husband and father, and he wants out of the UN’s clutches (never thought you’d hear it like, didn’t you?). Otherwise, we are never given insight into his expertise. Yet, as for his demeanor, Gerry is practically a monk who finds solace within the nightmare, and can pluck out those little bits of information in the stillness to obtain that much needed answer. He might as well be in a Lotus position.

Regardless, wherever Gerry goes, he’s in trouble – after all, zombies are everywhere. And considering his C-130 was 200 miles off the coast of New York City, then traveled to South Korea, and then onto Israel, it had to have been refueled in the air or on the ground on more than one occasion. Apparently, refueling is only an issue in South Korea. And, of course, Gerry happened to be with a few SEALs (not a complete team), who happened to be the worst special operatives on record: They never briefed Gerry and his compatriot, and the whole group walked off the plane without a plan. I’m sure the servicemen watching that segment vomited out of sheer frustration. But the filmmakers could care little about military accuracy (as in most American films), they just wanted action, action, action.

Granted, WORLD WAR Z is not much different from other horror Apocalypse ilk, such as George A. Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973), RESIDENT EVIL (2002), or 28 DAYS LATER (2002). A virus has spread, humanity is on the brink, and we need a cure – dammit. The only thing different in WORLD WAR Z is what Gerry discovers, and what humans must do to survive. That element was one of only two cool parts of the film.

Otherwise, it’s hard to watch a horror cut down at the knees to meet the Draconian guidelines of a PG-13 rating. Why not an R rating? To do so would have meant small audience turnout. To pack ‘em in, Paramount made a damn “family friendly” zombie picture. And the use of the visual equivalent to purple prose detracted from the story. On several occasions, when the camera should have focused on the horrible and disturbing to keep us in the reality of the moment, it was avoided like an old time sequence where the camera moves away from the blood spatter so only poor Gerry would have to cope with the trauma. Besides those missed opportunities, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when a poor guy is swarmed upon by the zombie hoard. No, he isn’t “mauled” as David Denby says in his The New Yorker review of WORLD WAR Z, but the man turns into a zombie in twelve seconds – with the equivalent of a love bite on his arm. Please. All the fury of a fullblown, chaotic attack and only one little nibble? Those speed freak zombies are revved up for no damn reason.

Besides the unique “cure” to the zombie curse, the movie thrives on one other item: actress Daniella Kertesz. She plays the quiet yet hardcore Segen, an Israeli soldier. Since the actress is an actual Israeli, the casting couldn’t have been better. What Kertesz brings to the role is a master mix of femininity compiled with a well-trained soldier’s nerve, as well as controlled fear – just the right touch to be precise. Kertesz was perfect and honest in her execution of delivering a subtle yet strong character with minimal dialogue. In the sea of the undead, and over-trodden action film mania, Kertesz was the bright, shining star.

I only laughed one other time in the film, and it was due to a cultural faux pas thanks to the filmmakers. In Jerusalem, the Israelis allow anyone to enter the walled state as long as they’re human. While Gerry is in attendance, a group of Palestinians enter by bus, and with microphone in hand, a girl starts singing, and her people rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, zombies respond to noise, and you can imagine what happens next. The creators of WORLD WAR Z failed to notice that audiences may go “Palestinians screwed up the sanctuary.” Hopefully, people won’t come to that conclusion, but the mistake was made. Then again, since noise is the culprit in attracting the walking dead, how did that bus enter the city without dozens of zombies in tow? Again, Forster and the producers didn’t care about covering all the bases and following their own rules, they only wanted action when it suited them best.

As far as zombie films go, WORLD WAR Z is weak in spirit, and I’m sure Max Brooks is in a rage. Then again, he sold the rights to his novel without reading the fine print, or wanting to take part in the production. Too bad. If he had taken a lesson from Tony Burgess, who wrote the wonderful book Pontypool Changes Everything, and who penned the screenplay for the unique and exemplary horror film PONTYPOOL (Canada, 2008), he could have helped reel in any commercial craziness.

But Hollywood cares little regarding plot holes (one can turn into a zombie within a twelve second to ten minute window it seems), real life inaccuracies, or what have you, as long as we pay at the door, buy the DVD, and await the sequel. I have no doubt a WORLD WAR Z trilogy will ensue, though I doubt I’ll be in a seat for the next venture.

Best zombie films to indulge: PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (UK, 1966), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), CEMETERY MAN (Italy, 1994), DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), THEY CAME BACK (France, 2004), DEADGIRL (2008), PONTYPOOL (Canada, 2008), and THE HORDE (2009). (Although I love Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973), some call them zombies, but I’m still mulling that one over.)

A generous 2.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Hero Complex/LA Times.)

Crash Discussion: THE LAST KNOCK and World War Z

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Jonny Numb and Billy Crash explore World War Z: the summer film’s merit, including novel versus movie, Brad Pitt’s character, and how too many writers spoil the story.