Showing posts with label zombies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zombies. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stuff and Things for July

1) Because individual "pages" do not really post on the main page, I have been posting lecture notes from my Fall 2012 course called The History of Zombie Films. They appear on Mondays and Wednesdays, and they can be accessed from the Essays/Lectures page linked at the top.

2) I am preparing to move at the end of the month and I am getting rid of a lot of things. I am still throwing stuff up on Ebay on the weekends, which is the only time I have to do that. Right now there are some DVDs, some vintage paperbacks, graphic novels, and comic books. The first Hack/Slash Omnibus, most of the first series of Crossed is up (I have not scanned the cover for #5...apparently I have a super rare cover variant), and I will be placing the issues of The Victorian Undead up this week or weekend (Sherlock Holmes vs. Zombies, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). My Ebay page is here.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Repost from 2010. This series is still going on, albeit under a mixture of authors and with subtitle/sequel titles attached. I believe Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows also occasionally still participate in the series.

Written by Garth Ennis || Illustrated by Jacen Burrows || Avatar Press || 2008-2010, 9 issues

My initial interest in the recently completed 9-comic book series Crossed is pretty much a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" gone awry. I first saw Crossed at a comic book store in Los Angeles last summer, but didn't pick up the series (which was at issue #6 at the time) because they didn't have the first couple of issues. It looked like an interesting zombie comic. By the time I got home, I had forgotten the name, and didn't get around to trying to piece it together until November. Once successful (fanwikis are useful) I ordered the back issues online and from my local comic book store. Before I got each of my orders, I found out that Crossed was probably going to be different from most zombie comics (for one, it's not really a zombie comic in the same way a lot of people will say 28 Days Later is not a zombie movie)

It was probably not good that I got into Crossed after finishing the 10-volume Y: The Last Man graphic novel series. The apocalypse scenario in Y was that a sudden plague outbreak killed all males on the planet at once, except for one male human and his male monkey companion. It's a good, compelling series. Crossed, on the other hand, seems to be Garth Ennis thinking, "let's think of something worse than zombies or the worst case scenario for the world to end". The "crossed" are infected humans who do the worst things in their mind to inflict on and infect other humans. Most of it involves rape, which is one of the ways one can become infected. Men, women, children, the elderly, it doesn't matter (even if children are mostly shown being murdered rather than raped). It also involves mass murder, but that seems to be mostly in the background. Other infected blow up a nuclear facility. So the infected can think, even if it is mostly centered around hunting down or hurting humans. It is never revealed how the infection came to be, and the infected are called the "crossed" because of the scabby series of marks on their faces that form a cross.

The series follows a group of survivors from a diner as they try to make it out to the northwest, then Alaska (under the assumption that there will be fewer infected there, and if there are any, they will freeze soon enough - you know, the obligatory Max Brooks reference). The main characters are a guy and a single mother who assumes the leadership position because she knows how to defend herself (mostly due to being the survivor of an abusive marriage). There is little-to-no character development until late in the series, and the comic is mostly vignettes of fucked up situations the survivors get into while trying to stay away from the crossed. The group's numbers dwindle issue by issue until there are only five left by the final issue. The only character I found compelling was the underused Kitrick, a man who had to see his family murdered by the crossed while he was swimming at the beach.

If I don't sound enthusiastic, it's because other than the artwork by Jacen Burrows, which is what attracted me to the comic in the first place, there is nothing to be excited about in Crossed; unless you really like new, nihilistic endgame scenarios. Once the shock wears off, there is really nothing much to the series. It pretty much ends with the biggest zombie movie cliche line ever, which is "they're us and we're them", it's as if Garth Ennis wanted to remind people of the pain that was Diary of the Dead, or every badly written academic article on zombie movies. He tried to proceed the cliche with an explanation that the infected were the rapists, pedophiles, and terrorists of the world, but that was a gross disregard of his own work and the initial premise and setting of the story, especially when contrasted against Burrows' covers for the series, which depicted people being attacked by the infected in everyday situations (fast food joints, high school, police stations, airplanes). The series does not play well with what it seems to want to say, which is that all humans are capable of evil, regardless of whether they were good or bad people before this infection struck. It wavers on the subject quite often, but abandons it almost altogether late in the series, especially as the survivors become followed by one group of the crossed.

The collected volume of Crossed is supposed to come out in the next couple of months, if Avatar Press can stick to the deadline, which was another problem with this series coming out in a timely manner. The series will apparently continue under a new writer and artist soon.

- And I really need to learn not to stick with things after I learn how awful they are. The casual optimism of "oh, maybe it will get better" gets me nowhere everytime.

- There should also be a moratorium on using the line "they're us and we're them" and any variations thereof in all forms of writing on zombies and other formerly human creatures. Any sort of writer who uses it will get smacked with an automatic "F- -".

Update 03/14/10: Courtesy of a comment someone from Avatar Press left: the collected volume of Crossed should be in stores by April. My local comic book store is already taking pre-orders for the new series Crossed: Family Values, which I think is due in May.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Horde/The Horde, 28 Days Later, and the division of heroines

Repost from 2011.

Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology || Jennifer K. Stuller || 2010
28 Days Later || Dir. Danny Boyle || 2003 || UK
La Horde/The Horde || Dirs. Benjamin Rocher & Yannick Dahan || 2009 || France

I recently finished a book by Jennifer K. Stuller called Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Despite the somewhat academic-y title, it's a breezy read, primarily because Stuller never takes sides in the debates over whether female heroines should be nurturing and sexual while still being protective, or not (i.e., the lone wolf stereotype); at least when these debates are brought up. The book of course covers Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, The Sarah Jane Chronicles, blaxploitation films; and in a radical turn, Dark Angel, the series starring Jessica Alba. Most of these shows and films did allow the main female characters to have romantic and sexual relationships while still fighting for good. So it is only when discussing these shows or movies that Stuller takes the former side rather than the latter.

This crossover has maybe not quite yet made it into film, perhaps because TV is episodic and you get to know characters of the course of several seasons, if you're lucky; and of course you want to see characters develop relationships with each other in some form. When 28 Days Later came out nine years ago, feminist zinester friends of mine seemed to bemoan the fact that once at the military compound and/or she falls in love with Jim, Selena is not much of a fighter anymore and is made fun of by the military men when she attempts to. She is forced to shift over to protect herself and the much younger Hannah over the dreadful fate that looms over them (i.e., rape and forced motherhood). The problem with this argument is that it ignored the fact that Selena was not a superhuman warrior, she was not prepped to become one, and she was not trained by any secret force. She is just a human who had to put up a very cold facade to deal with an ugly situation. The only hint we're given to Selena's life pre-outbreak is that she "qualifies as a chemist!" While I'm sure she would put up a very good fight if she had to battle a dozen or so military officers with a machete, she would probably be defeated. In the scene where she and Mark give Jim the exposition in the subway convenience store, she is the only one who does not share what she had to go through to survive (the actress who played Selena, Naomie Harris, said that she made up the backstory that Selena had to kill her entire family when they became infected, including a 3-year-old brother). This doesn't explain why the recently convalescent Jim sprightly takes down the military group when he is a whisper-thin thing of a man, but it is Jim's story. In battle mode, he's like the wind, and perhaps uses his smallness to his advantage. Then again, he was a bike courier and those dudes are tough. There was an alternate ending or two for Jim. One being that he died from his gunshot wound, the other being a completely alternate storyline where Jim gives himself up by transfusing all his blood to the infected Frank, bypassing the entire military compound storyline. The latter was not shot, just storyboarded.

In zombie films, there is a divide. It can be pinpointed to the two different portrayals of Barbara in the 1968 and 1990 versions of Night of the Living Dead. 1968 Barbara, as portrayed by Judith O'Dea, was completely useless, but dealt with the new situation as some people would, which would be to have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, it's cool that in 2011 people are so inured to the fictionalized zombie world that they think that they could survive if zombies or something similar were to actually happen, but it's just a thought. See civilization and everyone you know fall apart or die, and realize that you actually have never held a weapon in your life, and we'll see what happens. 1990 Barbara, as portrayed by professional stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, becomes the hardcore version of Barbara. She breaks down at first, but becomes an almost cold and emotionless fighter. Tony Todd's Ben is more emotional in this film - he is more prone to crying. This isn't to say that Barbara won't break down later, but she shoots a fellow survivor in cold blood just because he is an asshole. There is no middle ground with the Barbaras in these two films.

Aurore in The Horde is closer to 1990 Barbara, despite being a whisper-thin (and braless) thing of a French woman. However, unlike Selena, she has had combat training because she is a cop. The Horde revolves around a small group of corrupt cops who invade a rundown building in the projects outside of Paris, seeking revenge upon a group of immigrant drug dealers who killed a fellow cop who was undercover. Not too long after the cops come upon the dealers, they realize a zombie infection has broken out. Not just within the dealers' apartment and the building, but also in Paris. The remaining dealers and cops must band together to try to find a way out of the building alive. There is a high level of distrust going on, especially from the dealers, as well as Aurore. Aurore early on is yelled at for crying, and the blame is placed on her for having the undercover cop killed, since she told him that she was pregnant with his child. It is implied that she did this just to mess with his head. She is given immediate care of the other wounded cop who has been shot in the leg.

Aurore and the wounded cop are soon separated from the rest of the group. It is soon displayed that Aurore is not someone you want to trifle with. She kills a zombie by repeatedly punching it in the head and body, then overturning a refrigerator onto it. She nearly kills the other cop, after he expresses some sympathy for her. The plot, character, and motivations in The Horde are not the most well-written. We don't know why Aurore suddenly flips and turns into a mercenary. It is likely that she has taken a lot of shit over the years for being a female cop, but why flip now? Even after the other characters notice the change in her, they still treat her as someone to be protected, when they perhaps should be more afraid that she will kill them all (and the group is soon small enough where she could). She particularly has it out for the leader of the dealers, Adewale, who she believes murdered the father of her child. The most reasonable member of both groups, Adewale is a Nigerian immigrant and refugee from the violence there, along with his more tempestuous younger brother Bol. He is the only member of the group who seems to have some sort of respect for the dead. Yet, he tends to patronize Aurore by calling her "dear", even after she has threatened his life.

The Horde is a pretty good film. Not as good as I thought it would be, but better than most. It is interesting because of the characters of Adewale and Aurore, as well as the fact that the characters tend to fight the zombies in hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes this is because there are no weapons, sometimes it is by choice. Aurore especially seems to thrive in crushing zombie heads. However, it is frustrating to watch the characters learn, then almost immediately forget that the zombies stay down if you shoot them in the head (not unlike the doctor in The Beyond). The zombies run in this one, adding to the tension. They also strangely hoard bodies. These are all interesting elements, but not enough is done with them. It is as if the filmmakers did not know whether to make a zombie action film or something a bit more human like the old Romero movies or the 28...Later series.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My New Favorite Bad Movie: Revenge of the Living Dead Girls (1987)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Peter B. Harsone || 1987 || France

Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is perhaps my new favorite bad movie. I have been watching some Jean Rollin films on Netflix Watch Instantly this summer, and RotLDG is likely just a trashier retread of his films (also lacking the atmosphere and melancholy that are in Rollin's films), with perhaps only a vague knowledge of how film zombies typically work. Granted, European zombies have always been a little different. The zombies in Italy's Nightmare City and Burial Ground: Nights of Terror work together to terrorize and catch their human prey, sometimes even using tools and weapons. A running theme through the Rollin films I have watched so far and RotLDG is that the dead were brought back to life via toxic spills, so there is the element of environmentalism to these films. RotLDG is part corporate espionage thriller, part zombie film, and part revenge movie that is almost constantly on the verge of turning into a softcore porn.

The version on Netflix Watch Instantly claims that it is the "Special Uncut Edition", which cannot be true. The film only clocks in at 73 minutes and the last 5-10 minutes of the film are extremely rushed and haphazardly put together; introducing not only Catholic priests who believe the zombie girls are the work of the devil, but random townspeople who are out to destroy the three zombie girls. There are disparities to how the zombie girls look (the main one has full makeup that covers her hands, while the sidekicks do not seem to warrant the full treatment and have living human hands), disparities to how they move (slow, then fast) - and such disparities are not limited to just the three zombie girls. The humans in the film seem to suffer from intelligence and motivation issues that vary at any given moment. In one of the weirder scenes of the film, our supposed human hero who is a chemist that works for the corporation, arrives to the house of his boss because he is having an affair with his wife. Little does he know that the zombie girls just dispatched her (for the zombies seem to run on the old adage, "I'll kill your family, then you"). Our chemist, not realizing anything is wrong, proceeds to drink one glass of champagne, gives a short monologue that seems to revolve around the fantasy that he and the boss' middle-aged wife are newlyweds and she's a virgin (it includes the line "I'm going to caress my expert hands all over your virgin body")...and he fucks the main zombie girl. For the rest of the film, he only has a vague notion of what may have happened and it's apparently not that big of a deal. A messed up hand that's becoming infected? No big deal! Your cute, but dumb wife manages to miscarry her near full-term pregnancy and/or the fetus and uterus turns itself inside-out? Crazy and disgusting; but since this comes in the last 5-10 minutes of the film, this is also no big deal. I know everyone has different tolerance levels for alcohol of any sort, but one glass of champagne typically does not lead to necrophilia.

It is sometimes easy to forget as an American just how good the Europeans are with making trashy films. Revenge of the Living Dead Girls does suffer from some pacing issues, which are basically most of the corporate espionage parts. The gorier and trashier parts (such as the zombie girls having a murderous lesbian sex scene with the prostitute in the film) are somewhat sprinkled throughout the film almost as an afterthought, as if the filmmakers and editors knew that the audience would get bored. Since I cannot find even a solid page on Wikipedia on this film, it is hard to tell if there are other versions of this film out there and if this is one of the many European horror films that were cut up several times in the 1980s and have several different edits to please whatever restrictions a particular country may have against gore, violence, necrophilia, hinted male rape and lesbian zombie group sex/rape onto a female human. I would be interested in hearing any information anyone may have on this movie. I do believe that there has to be a slightly better version of this film out there (and yes, the ending is somewhat bananas in the scheme of film zombies and what they can do).

George Romero did not in fact invent swimming and/or pool zombies. The odd and kind of cool thing about this scene is that the main zombie (the middle one) keeps splashing her hand in the water either as a sign of impatience, to signal the other two zombies as to when to attack, or to just see if the humans would hear. It is at least a sign that someone was trying.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I have been watching lately: Jean Rollin, Red State, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story...

Repost from November 2011.
I should be working on papers right now, although I took an extension on them for Winter Break because of intermittent severe headaches and vision problems leftover from my concussion in October. I have no control over when they happen, and unfortunately they keep happening when I want or need to write or do research. My papers, as I predicted in October, are on Jean Rollin, classical French film theory, and I also have one on Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon that I have been sitting on, unfinished, since the day before my concussion. I have been on a French film and surrealist bender this quarter. I have been watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films this year and this past month. While my paper will only be focusing on The Rape of the Vampire and The Night of the Hunted (one of his three "zombie" films), I have still been watching anything of his that interests me or that I can get my hands on. The only one of his films that I cannot recommend at any level is Zombie Lake, which oddly enough, is his fairly straight zombie picture...I say "fairly straight" because it does have a story line where one of the Nazi zombies has reunited with his pre-teen daughter...although the Nazis were assassinated during of course, World War II by the villagers, and the film seems to take place in 1980, which makes no sense if the daughter is ten years old. Zombie Lake was also one of Rollin's lowest budgeted pictures, and that's saying something if you have ever seen any of his movies or read much on his films. It is one of the few Rollin pictures where you can tell that it seemed impossible to make the most of what little money there was.

Yeah, I don't know either. At least the Italians made their zombies look all arts & craftsy, what with the papier mache faces.

I think I discovered Rollin at a good point, considering for the past couple of years or so, I have been quite bored with horror at times. While Rollin has his obsessions that anyone will notice if they watch enough of his films, including how entrenched he is in surrealism well after its time as an art movement was over; I like how unconventional his films are. His endings are rarely happy and even if certain films end relatively well for the characters, there is still a sense of melancholia or even a looming sense of death. 

Speaking of unconventional horror films, I watched Red State last weekend. I am not a Kevin Smith megafan. I liked his movies when I was a teenager, but now I tend to see every other one if it sounds kind of interesting. Red State is not a perfect film - it is not subtle in its message, it's final message is kind of mixed, Melissa Leo's acting was over the top, and the opening scene at the high school bugs me to no end because that is not how a public school teacher acts in any era; but it is unconventional. It is almost like Full Metal Jacket how abruptly it switches gears, tone, and the characters we follow. Who we expect to live just based on horror conventions, likeability, or even logic is defied. The only other good thing I can say about the film is that John Goodman is awesome in it. I have missed seeing John Goodman in movies.

I have been watching a lot of bad TV this past week since last Monday night I had the worst headache I have had since hitting my head. My doctor says it is okay if I watch stupid things. So I was bedridden for a couple of days watching nothing but the second season of The Walking Dead so far and whatever episodes of American Horror Story I could find on Hulu. 

I was not a total fan of the first season of The Walking Dead. I maintain that the first episode was wonderful. But if I have to remain diplomatic at some level, I will say that the even numbered episodes were terrible, while the odd ones were better. Other than Rick being Sheriff Exposition for the first five minutes of the second season premiere, the first episode of this season was pretty good. Unfortunately, it has become tedious and like a spinning tire*. I look forward to this week's episode if it means opening up the zombie barn and maybe losing a few more characters. The series likes to project things, then take several episodes, if perhaps another season to get to the issue and/or resolve it. Lori's pregnancy for example. What is being projected this year from the main characters and secondary or even tertiary characters is Rick's leadership, the issue of neglect, and the idea of splitting up the group. Shane and Andrea, obviously. Daryl in last week's episode (and Daryl truly needs to ditch the group, even if it means taking boring old Carol), and in the second episode, T-Dog, even if he reneges on the idea later. What I find weird about T-Dog's "fever" thoughts is that he is right - he, Dale, and sometimes even Glenn are sidelined because of their age (Dale) and races (T-Dog and Glenn). Women on this show are sidelined altogether. The Walking Dead is not exactly Lost, where we learn about each character every week. Granted, Lost was not a perfect show either and harped on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle for several seasons, but at least each character got his or her individual episodes! And maybe The Walking Dead is going in that direction a bit this season, where we followed Shane and his adventure to get medical supplies to help Carl, and last week's episode with Daryl in the woods, but it was too little and did not establish much beyond what we already knew: Shane is likely deranged, and Daryl is a badass...and oh, he's not as racist as his brother Merle because he has saved T-Dog at least three times by now**. I think they fired last season's writers and replaced them with even worse writers. But yeah, the group will at least temporarily disband before the season is over. And maybe Lori will finally tell Rick about her pregnancy and/or her time with Shane, and maybe The Walking Dead will finally have a Maury Povich-based episode. And I guess Daryl better watch it since characters played by noted indie character actors do not live forever on this show, as this season has shown yet again.

We know that Shane is crazy because of the shaved head, vacant stare, mouth agape, and furrowed brow.
American Horror Story is at least fun-bad and thoroughly entertaining. It is truly the most batshit live-action television show I have ever seen. The pregnant wife eats a brain like it's no thing! There is a teenage boy stuck in 1994 who frequently speaks of Kurt Cobain (just Kurt Cobain, never Nirvana), Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro; and the depressed neo-Blossom Russo-dressed teenage daughter of the family nevernever asks him his opinion on the more recent and terrible movies Pacino and DeNiro have been in! I have never been one for haunted house stories, but American Horror Story takes your average haunted house story and amps it up several times over and then combines it with at least one other horror story or trope every week, usually more than one! It is hard to say if there is a bigger meaning to this show, I doubt it even knows. The classmate who told me about this show said it was Ryan Murphy's gay revenge on America. We keep discovering the lives of the previous inhabitants who are now ghosts of the house. There is the drunk surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-mad scientist and his wife, two nursing students, a gay couple, a woman who was raped, the pregnant mistress maybe, the male redheaded twins...but we also have the people from the home invasion episode, and rubber man who may or may not be a ghost. I mean, I guess redheads have been persecuted throughout society. Some people believe that everyone on this show is a ghost! We will eventually find out that the house was built on an Native American burial ground, because why not?

American Horror Story is also fun because most episodes feature at least one "hey, it's that guy!/lady!" moment. 

Rubber Man, Rubber Man. Does whatever a rubber can...except not.
* Yesterday, I read this post at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog that discusses how bloodthirsty zombie movie fans and movie characters are these days. I would not say that I am a bloodthirsty zombie fan or that the characters on The Walking Dead are bloodthirsty (although that is another inconsistency, especially with Rick). I would like The Walking Dead to be a watchable show that like in the first episode, does consider that the zombies were people once. Overall, I would like a good story and some characters I could care about and who are maybe more thoughtful or intelligent. The only thing The Walking Dead has been somewhat good at displaying is the tried-and-true story method of humans being just as dangerous to humans as zombies are, if not more so.

** 2011 seems to be the year of the (good) redneck in horror. I finally saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple of weeks ago because it surprisingly came to the indie theater in town (I guess because it takes place in West Virginia, and I live about 40 minutes away from the West Virginia state line now). I was worried that it would not meet my expectations because I have been anticipating this movie for almost two years, but I also had no idea what the film was about past the trailer. It was a good, fun movie that was surprisingly sweet and had some interesting twists to the story and characters. And yes, the film was quite gory at times. So there are surprises out there every once in awhile. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Riddle me this: What are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Image by Szoki.

Since it was somewhat settled this week that my graduate thesis work is going to be on slasher films, PTSD, and whether or not the same people who are frequently attacked throughout a series can be considered empowered (that's a mouthful), I want to discuss one of the things that has been bothering me this summer as I read through the gamut of books on slasher and horror films. While there are series of films where the killer is human, what are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Freddy appears to be the only one who does not shift in his existence, even if it takes almost the entire series of Nightmare on Elm Street films to settle on the fact that he is essentially a dead body possessed by demons. Jason, forever the product of a revolving door of writers, changes in his existence. Human, Frankenstein's monster-type, (a zombie, according to some people), and by Jason X, just plain unkillable to the point where he has to be cryogenically frozen. As of this posting, I am still waiting for Halloweens II-V to come in the mail so I can watch/re-watch and study them. But roughly based on parts I and II, Michael is pure evil that cannot be killed.

The second part of this question is, in one or two words, how can these three characters be defined as a group? Since the majority of books I have read this summer are from the 1990s, they all seem to be reluctant to define Jason, Freddy, and Michael as monsters in the sense of Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman, i.e., the classical Hollywood monsters. "Supernatural killers" seems to be the most popular definition of the three characters, although I am now re-reading Adam Rockoff's book and he calls them "heroes" in the introduction, which does not really settle well with me.

I am interested in hearing opinions, because I think that fans of these series are more likely to have a better grip on this topic. At this time, I do not have access to the one or two books actually centered around the Friday the 13th series, so I would also be interested book recommendations past the 90s standards of Noel Carroll,  Vera Dika,  Carol Clover, and Isabel Pinedo, or newer books from this past decade by Adam Rockoff and Jason Zinoman.

Postscript, April 2014
I ended up not writing a thesis due to 2-3 months of grinding gears and various other issues, and opted to take the comprehensive exam that my program was offering for the first time. As for what Michael Myers is, I think I have forgotten, if I ever knew to begin with. The Halloween series, despite starting off the strongest, falls and fails rapidly before retconning itself to the point where it was just rebooted. It is definitely the worst series to watch in a marathon.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Diary of the Dead

My response paper on Diary of the Dead from my Spring 2012 Independent Study is below, complete with bibliography this time (my professor sometimes asked for one, sometimes did not). This is also somewhat where I began to look at the more formalist elements of Found Footage Horror.

There appears to be no solid terminology to describe Diary of the Dead. The film typically is considered a found footage horror film, but unlike Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, and Cloverfield, there is no framing device stating that the footage has been found upon the demise or disappearance of the characters. The film-within-the-film has been uploaded to the internet, and there are mentions made throughout the film of uploading it to Youtube in pieces as it is being edited. Randy Laist, speculating on what “the Dead” in the title Diary of the Dead could refer to, comments that perhaps “the Dead” means that the three survivors shown at the end of the film are dead, that they died sometime after Debra uploaded the-film-within-the-film, “The Death of Death.” But even with this speculative idea, is footage purposefully uploaded to the internet by the filmmakers for the public to see “found footage”? If so, wouldn’t that make the vast majority of online videos “found footage”? Adam Lowenstein calling Diary of the Dead (as well as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield) “camera confessional” films is no better. The term “camera confessional” seems better associated with reality television shows or films about reality television, since the majority of reality television shows have “confessional” rooms for contestants to express their feelings or complain about other contestants to the camera. Diary of the Dead rarely features confessional scenes. Jason, the film student making “The Death of Death” only makes his friends speak their names and feelings about the new situation to the camera early in the film. Succeeding that, the characters are often bickering or whining while on camera when they are not fighting or running away from zombies. Their disdain for Jason in particular is not secretive, as they complain about his actions (or lack thereof) to the camera that is attached to his face. Jason never turns the camera on himself, but the final scene of the film does feature Jason in front of the camera, perkily giving his mission statement for documenting this new situation of the dead rising. His upbeat attitude is disturbing, but it is hard to determine whether this sequence is an afterthought or not. This late inclusion of Jason being on screen doubles as both an “in memoriam” sequence and an ironic sequence, as Jason is rarely seen in the film, and most glimpses of him do feature him with a camera to his face. However, there are DVD extras for Diary of the Dead that do feature “confessionals” by the characters. Kevin Wetmore alternates between referring to Diary of the Dead as a “first-person camera pseudodocumentary,” “metacinema,” and “citizen filmmaking.” He only comes close to justifying the “pseudodocumentary” comment, by discussing how “The Death of Death” is a construction by Debra, Jason’s girlfriend and editor of the film upon his death, and that documentary films are just as constructed as narrative films. Wetmore claims that we do not see the events as they happened, and the editing occasionally points out what has happened off-camera or left out of the film. Randy Laist’s article comes closest to supporting the idea that Diary of the Dead is a piece of “metacinema,” despite the humorous allusions to both Jason and George Romero as cybernetic beings because they have cameras attached to their faces. He mentions scenes of “cameras filming cameras filming cameras,” and hearkening back to early writings on cinema, when cinema was seen as a way of having life beyond death:

As a visual representation, the zombie personifies the living death of the filmic image. As a filmmaker, the zombie movie cameraman becomes a participant in the conversion of living subjects into living-dead ghouls. As a viewer, the zombie movie filmgoer experiences both the vicarious zombieism of sympathizing with the events on the screen and the immediate zombieism that creeps up from within as a result of his participation in a videotaped mass-culture defined by moving pictures; inanimate things brought to post-biological life, living subjects Internet-facilitated culture of consumer generated video content in which everyone is always simultaneously subject, filmmaker, and audience (104).

This later supports Laist’s suppositions of what “the Dead” in the title of the film refers to: the shown survivors of Debra, Tony, and Professor Maxwell (who may be dead after the films are over); the zombies – as Diary is supposed to be a re-boot or re-imagining of the Dead series, complete with a somewhat new origin story for the disaster; all the characters; dead in the “abstract sense” while making the film; “…the filmic reanimation of our heroes”; death itself. The W.J.T. Mitchell piece on “metapictures”, while concerning two-dimensional works of art, discusses how “metapictures” thrive on multistability and the ability to be viewed several different ways. The multistability of Diary of the Dead is its saving grace, as it can be easily read as an unsubtle allegory for the dangers of an overmediated society.

The majority of the footage in the film is constructed, but it comes from a variety of sources: Jason’s footage, footage the characters found on the internet (including the opening scene of the film from a news cameraman), security camera footage from two sites visited in the film, constructed news footage, and footage found on a camera that was found in the hospital the group visited for help. All of the footage is digital. But amongst all the constructed footage is real news footage, primarily news footage of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This is the film’s single foothold in the current world and the world where the films’ spectators will come from. This footage is watched within the film on a variety of sources: laptops, the cameras themselves, televisions, and a flip phone. So not only are there multiple ways to create media in Diary, but unlike Night of the Living Dead, there are multiple ways to consume this media. It is not just an issue of finding a television or radio anymore in times of crisis. The internet appears to be given more privilege in Diary than any other medium, although it is debatable as to whether or not the internet would remain up for very long in an international crisis. The cell phone coverage is realistically spotty in Diary, not just because of the crisis, but also because the characters are driving through rural Pennsylvania for much of the film.
Surveillance footage or security in general plays a small part in Diary. The warehouse compound of Stranger, the ex-National Guard member and his community is full of surveillance cameras, as is the mansion belonging to Ridley’s parents. The house of Debra’s parents does not have surveillance, but she has to disengage the security alarms upon entering the house. There is no surveillance recounted from Debra’s dorm or the hospital, places that would logically have security cameras. But in Diary, surveillance is used to protect things and property – it is never used to find zombies. After one of Stranger’s people dies of a heart attack and disappears, they have to find him to put him down. They never use the security cameras as a way to find him. It is merely implied at the end of the film that Debra, Tony, and Professor Maxwell finally use the extensive security camera system at Ridley’s to figure out where the zombies are and how much time they have to shut themselves into the panic room. And although Diary exists in a world where no one has ever heard of zombies (any jokes about horror film clich├ęs are directed at horror films in general), no zombies approach Debra or her parent’s house before she disengages the security alarms. The general reasoning in zombie media is that zombies are attracted to loud noises.

Audio also comes from a variety of sources, although Debra has voiceovers over the majority of the audio: film, constructed news, radios featuring celebrity voice cameos, internet, the CB radio in the hospital, and even audio news footage from the original Night of the Living Dead. It all serves as a form of static, almost as something that can be easily ignored because it is not visual. Since Debra speaks over most of the audio pieces in the film, it is as if she is treated as the voice of authority amongst even reports that may be valuable or at least more interesting to listen to. One of the major points of Diary is how the media will play up or downplay a situation on any particular whim. But as “citizen media” is portrayed as not much of an improvement either, what are the characters to do? They appear to have an incomplete moral compass or a lack of survival abilities. The first response or idea many of the characters have to the situation is to want to go home to their parents.

Randy Laist brings up the issue of objectivity versus subjectivity in Diary. The opening scene is unedited footage from the news cameraman at the scene of the apparent first sighting and zombie attack. He uploaded the footage online, of course. Debra edits “The Death of Death” to make it a horror film, complete with horror music cues. She claims that “The Death of Death” is meant to scare “you” and to show you to not make the same choices that their group did. This brings up two questions: Could Debra be a stand-in for Romero? Or is Romero covering his bases because he is making a film, a (somewhat) commercial product in the horror genre?

Bibliography – Diary of the Dead

Laist, Randy. "Soft Murders: Motion Pictures and Living Death in Diary of the Dead." Generation            Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and, 2011. 101-12. Print.

Lowenstein, Adam. "Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film." Representations 110.1 (2010):       105-28. JSTOR. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.    <>.

Mitchell, W.J.T. "Metapictures." Picture Theory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1994. 35-82. Print.

Shaviro, Steven. "Diary of the Dead." The Pinocchio Theory. Steven Shaviro. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.            <>.

Shaviro, Steven. "What Is the Post-cinematic?" The Pinocchio Theory. Steven Shaviro. Web. 13    Apr. 2012. <>.

Shen, Sigmund. "Issue 18: Film Reviews: Diary of the Dead." Scope. Department of Culture, Film and Media, University of Nottingham. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.          <>.

Wetmore, Kevin J. ""Isn't That What We're Doing? Pretending to Be Alive?": Land, Diary, Surviving and the World of the Dead." Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their times. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and, 2011. 201-25. Print.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec and Quarantine

In the Spring of 2012, I did an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror. So for the next week or so I will be posting my short response papers, then my final paper.

My response paper on [REC] and Quarantine is below the cut. This is where I began to find formalist holes in the [REC] series (my third viewing of the first film), and found that I kind of preferred Quarantine.

Rec and its American re-make Quarantine are the first films I have encountered in this study that have no framing device. They are also ongoing series of films, with Rec 3 currently screening in Europe. The American sequel to Quarantine has apparently dropped the “found footage” structure, while it is rumored that Rec 3 has also dropped the “found footage” structure for a straight narrative (despite apparently taking place at a wedding, an event rife with video cameras). The mythology for the Rec series is either being made up as it goes along, or Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero just like to tamper or even combine genre conventions (as also seen in their film X-Mas Tale, a disturbing take on the children’s films that Steven Spielberg produced in the 1980s). Their penchant for tampering with genre conventions becomes more apparent in Rec 2, which provides the only clue for how the footage from the first and second films was found.  Although I have not seen the sequel to Quarantine that takes place on an airplane or at an airplane hangar, presumably it has little connection to the first film past taking place in Los Angeles.

Both of the films follow the same storyline: a reporter and cameraman for a television show about what working a night shift is like follows two firefighters on a call to an apartment building where the neighbors have called about an elderly woman screaming. They meet most of the neighbors and two police officers in the lobby. The building is soon quarantined after the firefighters, police officer and TV crew check in on the elderly woman in her apartment and she attacks and bites one of the police officers. Quarantine is often remarked upon or criticized for being a shot-for-shot remake of Rec. This is not exactly true. While Quarantine features many of the same key scenes that were in Rec, some of these recreated scenes are extended. There are original scenes. Quarantine also has features typical of American horror or American horror remakes: there are more people living in the apartment building, which means that there are more victims-turned-attackers; there is also a clearer explanation for the outbreak, although the ending, which is highly similar to the ending to Rec, muddles this explanation (although not nearly as much as it is muddled in Rec). The main differences lie in how the characters are adapted and portrayed. Angela, the reporter, and Pablo, her cameraman are more professional and ambitious in Rec, compared to their American counterparts Angela and Scott. Angela and Pablo panic very little until the final scene of the film, whereas Angela and Scott have several emotional and prolonged outbursts throughout the film, as do the police officers. Quarantine is also a slicker-looking film than Rec, and this is displayed by the camera used by Scott, and how Angela directs him to use it. Angela frequently tells Pablo to cut off the camera to save tape if an interview segment becomes boring, and Pablo is forced to shut the camera off frequently by authorities within the film, although it is indiscernible until the end of the film whether the camera is just shorting out or if Pablo is actually cutting the camera off and on. This often leads to two or four images being on the screen horizontally. In Quarantine, presumably because of the use of a higher-end camera, Angela does not ask Scott to cut the camera off except for one time, when they use a fire extinguisher either kill the rabid dog or the man the rabid dog has just killed by opening the elevator door that the man and dog are stuck in. Scott is a more prominent figure in the film than his Spanish counterpart, and we do see him in front of the camera more often, and he and Angela have a better camaraderie. Scott uses the camera twice to kill an infected person, signifying that a camera is a weapon in a more subtle way than Diary of the Dead.

An article by Catherine Zimmer on post-9/11 surveillance horror, while primarily discussing the Saw series and Cache by Michael Haneke, lists Rec and Quarantine (as well as Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and Paranormal Activity) as being surveillance horror. With the exception of Paranormal Activity, which frequently uses a stationary camera, I am not sure where the other four films fit in. The cameras in Rec and Quarantine are frequently moving because they are attached to a cameraman who is often running. The inhabitants of the apartment building implore the television crew to film what is going on “so the world will know their story” and how they are being kept without information by the authorities. The desire to film the events is not entirely based in Angela’s ambition. Surveillance, other than in the Paranormal Activity films, does typically imply that the person being watched is ignorant to their surveillance or does not desire surveillance.

An article by Brigitte Nacos about 9/11 news media coverage discusses how religious terrorists require media coverage, that it is “like oxygen” for them and their messages. The ending of Rec, although perhaps simultaneously debunked and confirmed to an extent in its sequel, does imply a level of religious terrorism at play. The mysterious, half-abandoned attic apartment in the building is full of newspaper clippings and files about an exorcism, perhaps one that failed. The two people or creatures found in the apartment are a small boy-like being and an adult being that appears to suffer from Marfan Syndrome more than anything else, although the adult being is violent. The terrorism angle, albeit perhaps secular terrorism, is a bit more obvious in Quarantine, because the newspaper clippings that Angela and Scott find on the wall concern a terrorist group that wants to bring about the Apocalypse through bioterrorism, including a hyper strain of rabies. They find the same beings as their Spanish counterparts. However, it does seem highly unlikely that the Vatican official who rented the attic apartment in Rec and his doctor counterpart in Quarantine knew that a television crew for what seemed to be at-best a syndicated program or at-worst a late night local news show would be in their apartment buildings. It is never known who Patient Zero was, if it was a human or one of the pets in the building (or a rat in the building from Quarantine), and if the infection was unleashed on purpose.

Postscript 08/01/12: There is actually little-to-no hint as to how the footage from Rec and Rec 2 got out in Rec 2, unless someone came across the SWAT team van that may or may not have had screens showing the footage from the team members's helmets. Angela does not take the camera with her at the end of Rec 2. Also, I did end up watching Quarantine 2 a month or so after I wrote this originally, and the infection was unleashed on purpose and rats were the carriers. Rec 3 is apparently being released in the US on VOD and ITunes next week, I think. Maybe I'll watch it, or I'll wait for DVD or Netflix Streaming. I have read that the "found footage" format is dropped about 1/3 into the film for a straight narrative. Because Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero are just subtly trolling everyone anyway.

Postscript 2014: Perhaps it is because I have been reading/proofing through a friend's thesis on modern surveillance films that I can confirm or say that Cache and the Paranormal Activity series are surveillance horror films. I guess the Saw series might be as well, although I have only ever watched the first one, which did involve a variety of surveillance of the characters. I still maintain that for the most part, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and the Rec/Quarantine films are not surveillance horror. Diary just dabbles in it or the issues surrounding it occasionally.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec 2, Troll Hunter, Apollo 18

In the Spring of 2012, I completed an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror.

My response paper on Rec 2, Troll Hunter, and Apollo 18 is below This was written during the time of the quarter where I was becoming more pressed for time and burnt out and frustrated not just with school, but with this actual project. Rec 2 caused me to run through a gamut of emotions from laughter to sadness to anger, because I think this could be a good series if the makers actually gave a shit. Apollo 18 in particular was pretty awful and I fast-forwarded through at least half of it. This was one of the impetus' (impetii?) for my professor to direct me towards the earlier Found Footage Horror films for my final paper.

Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero appear to spend a lot of time devoted to making sure the actual temporal continuity of the Rec series is correct, but at the sacrifice of everything else*. They appear to want the entire series to take place in the space of one night. The first two films take place at the same apartment building in Barcelona, and it is not until the third film that the location is changed. Rec 2 is a largely silly film that answers no questions posed in the first, and messes with or changes many of the ideas put forth in the first film. This seems to be a mockery. At the end of the film it is still unknown as to who found all of this footage and why it was released. Rec 2 is almost two films in one. The first half focuses on a SWAT team with helmet cameras plus one cameraman who go into the quarantined apartment building with a Ministry of Health member thinking that they are there to try to find survivors. The Ministry of Health member is actually a priest looking for a vial of the blood of the possessed girl in the attic at the end of the first film. Her blood can create an antidote, although the virus is not rabies, it is actually demonic possession. This part of the film seems to become one homage on top of another – Aliens, The Thing, any given demonic possession or zombie film. There is very little obvious editing throughout the first half of the film, perhaps because there are so many cameras involved. The second half of the film follows a group of obnoxious pre-adolescents with a video camera (running on half battery power when they are introduced) as they follow the father of the sick little girl and a firefighter who drove the truck belonging to the two firefighters, all from the first film. The father and firefighter manage to sneak into the building from the sewer, and the kids follow, but they are soon sealed into the building as the police are welding the entrances and exits from the building to the sewer shut. As a result, the SWAT team and the second group soon meet in the building. The most amusing thing about Plaza and Belaguero is that they have no qualms of portraying children terribly and in an unsentimental manner, although this is nothing new in Spanish horror**. The second half of the film features more editing via the kids’ video camera frequently having to be turned off to conserve battery power, and it eventually dying altogether.

Troll Hunter, on the other hand, appears to be pretty open about their mockery of found footage horror. It is likely the first film I have watched in this study that is clear in every aspect. The footage was anonymously sent to the studio that produced Troll Hunter, all 283 minutes of it, which was then edited by the studio. The cuts are noticeable. Troll Hunter seems to double as a parody of found footage horror films and as a film promoting tourism in Norway. Its premise is that three student filmmakers have disappeared after following around a troll hunter. There is frequent running through the woods, night vision, and fallen cameras. The footage appears to have been released to reveal that there are trolls in Norway and to aid in finding the three filmmakers – the two women appear to have been grabbed by the government, and the director may have been hit by an 18-wheeler while running away from government agents. The only mystery to the film is whether or not Hans the troll hunter was the one who betrayed them.

Apollo 18 confused its chronology within the first five minutes of the film. The footage processed in post-production to look as if it came from the early 1970s. While The Blair Witch Project was genuinely shot on older cameras, Apollo 18 genuinely looks like something filtered through a video version of the Instagram app. Apollo 18 features frequent voiceovers. It is a good example of asynchronous sound, but beyond that, it is a hard movie to watch. It is not very interesting, and seems made to appeal to people who are into moon landing conspiracies. I fast-forwarded through much of it and have no desire to look at or study it further.

Postscripts 2014:
* I have come to the conclusion that Plaza and Belaguero are trolling everyone with the Rec series. After my disappointment in re-watching Rec and Rec 2 for this project, I watched Rec 3 in the Fall of 2012 and rather enjoyed it. Rec 3 drops the "found footage" premise 20 minutes into the film and moves into a straight and rather fun narrative. Rec 3 manages to connect to the first two films rather loosely, but cleverly manages not to dwell on it, although taking place the same night as the first two films.
**See also Plaza and Belaguero's X-Mas Tale (an older review of this film will be posted soon enough), Who Can Kill a Child?