Thursday, April 7, 2011

Horror: Dead Alive and Zombies on Watch Instantly

Peter Jackson's Dead Alive has been added to Netflix Watch Instantly this week, inspiring this quick survey of some other zombie films available for streaming. 

Edit 10/6/11: A few "Dead Alive" searches have found this page recently, so I thought I'd update this entry.  Dead Alive is no longer streaming on Netflix.  You might also be interested in my more recent entry on International Zombie Films.

Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, New Zealand, 1992, 97 minutes)
Netflix: Although it's easy to admire the maniacal glee of director Peter Jackson's bloodfest, Dead Alive is nonetheless intense and profoundly disturbing. When a Sumatran rat-monkey bites Lionel Cosgrove's mother, she's transformed into a zombie. She begins killing (and transforming) the entire town while Lionel races to keep things under control. Events culminate at a house party that turns into a blood-drenched zombie buffet. Netflix link.

I have yet to determine if the unedited version of Dead Alive (perhaps someone could help me out in the comments section) but in any case this is one of the most over-the-top horror films of its era.  It's easy to forget with the at-times overblown recent Jackson films (King Kong in particular) that at one point Jackson seemed to be on a more subversive career path.  While they are not available for streaming, if you haven't seen his early work like Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, you should check them out on DVD.  What is great about Dead Alive in addition to some classic lines ("I kick ass for the Lord.") is that just when you think it can't get any gorier or more over the top, it does just that.  Once the lawnmower is brought out, you know that Jackson won't hesitate to provide very memorable splatter spectacle. 

The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, USA, 1981, 85 minutes)
Netflix: During an unplanned stop at a remote cabin deep within the woods, a group of teens falls prey to a mysterious supernatural force. As his pals become possessed and turn into flesh-eating zombies, Ash (Bruce Campbell) struggles to keep his cool and save his own skin. Written and directed by Sam Raimi, this special effects-laden, low-budget cult classic co-stars Theresa Tilly, Betsy Baker and Ellen Sandweiss. Netflix link.

Like Jackson, Sam Raimi has come a long way from his indie horror roots with The Evil Dead, leading him most recently to the Spider-Man franchise. The Evil Dead has had a history of censorship problems, particularly in Germany, and it earned an NC-17 rating when re-released on home video in 1994. Current Anchor Bay video releases (including the recent Blu-ray release) have been unrated. In addition to launching Raimi's career, this is also the screen debut of Bruce Campbell, who went on to appear in every subsequent Raimi film (sometimes just as a cameo), as well as becoming something of a cult star himself.

Dead Heist (Bo Webb, USA, 2007, 75 minutes)
Netflix: Four petty crooks get a tip on a small-town bank job worth millions. Their plan is perfect and every detail is in place, but as the job unfolds, they discover that this little town is overrun with bloodsucking monsters. Trapped inside the bank, the robbers fight to stay alive against the onslaught of mutants hungry for human flesh. E-40, DJ Naylor, Bone Crusher and Big Daddy Kane star. Netflix link.

Bo Webb is a filmmaker here in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I had a chance to see the film at a screening that he presented on the UNCW campus.  What I like about the film is that it isn't an ironic send-up of a b-film, it is a genuine attempt at b-film horror genre filmmaking, designed for the straight-to-video market.  While Netflix Watch Instnatly is flooded with these titles, what distinguishes Dead Heist is its sense of style in the latter half of the film, once the action is centered in the bank location.  By the time of the climax in the bank, there are many clever moments that both adhere to genre conventions but also have a vibrant sense of energy and visual wit.

White Zombie (Victor Halperin, USA, 1932, 66 minutes)
Netflix: Made in just 11 days back in 1932, with a $50,000 budget and sets left standing from Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein, this film remains a horror classic. Keeping dialogue to a minimum, cameraman Arthur Martinelli cuts loose on this odd fairy tale about a newlywed couple menaced by zombies. Avoiding the stagy static feel that pervades many other early talkies, White Zombie shows its story, rather than tells it. Netflix link.

I'm putting this on my "to-see" list as I came across it while I was putting this blog entry together.  It comes out of an extremely interesting period in American studio filmmaking, as filmmakers were still trying to understand the consequences of sound technology and still had some of the freedoms of the Pre-Code era.  Some have called White Zombie the first feature length zombie film, and despite the widespread critical panning of the film on its initial release (especially for its acting), it has become something of a cult classic.  You can preview Gary Don Rhodes's book on White Zombie at Google Books (including his introduction) for more information on how fans and scholars have tried to balance its obvious shortcomings with its genuine qualities.

No comments:

Post a Comment