Five Grisly Zombie Films

Everybody the world over loves a good zombie movie, right? For proof positive of that statement, I offer you these five stunning little excursions into the realm of the lurching dead, culled from various international sources – the U.S., Spain, Italy and Hong Kong – each one of them a stunner in its own unique way. And, of course, each one of them an ideal entertainment for this Shocktober season…

CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972)

Back in the dark days of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when none of us had what’s now known as cable TV (remember, kiddies?), Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was often shown late at night on the station then known as WOR here in NYC (now, it’s called My 9 or something). Edited and broken up by commercials though it was, it still pleased us back then, and so I jumped at a chance to see it uncut and on DVD today. And you know what? The darn thing holds up pretty nicely, all these years later. The story concerns an obnoxious, goateed director and his hired acting troupe (four men, three women) who come to an island cemetery and, to even their surprise, resurrect the dead via a Satanic rite. The film’s debt to George A. Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) becomes obvious in the final third, when our band of thespians barricades itself in a house against the pounding undead. While not as scary as the Romero film, or as graphic in its gut munching, Children… does have real atmosphere – taking place solely at night and near a crumbling, misty cemetery – and the background score, consisting of eerie electronic noises and incessant ululations, is pretty darn freaky. It takes an hour or so for things to really get going, but in that time we do get to know the characters a bit, hear some amusing dialogue, and notice the suspense build as we wait for the zombie shoe to drop. No, Children… is certainly not in the top tier of horror films, but at least the filmmakers show that they tried here. Oh … and watch out for that Orville!

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974)

The 1971 giallo What Have You Done to Solange? was the film that first turned me on to the abundant charms of Spanish actress Christine Galbo, and I just had to have more. In Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, an Italian/Spanish coproduction from 1974 directed by Jorge Grau, Galbo plays a redhead but is still oh-so gorgeous. In this one, she accidentally wrecks the motorcycle of vacationing antiques dealer Ray Lovelock in the English countryside, and before long, both of them are playing defense against the horde of reanimated corpses that has been brought to inadvertent life by an experimental, ultrasonic farming device. In one of the DVD’s many extras, Grau freely admits, during an interview, the picture’s debt to George A. Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), and this debt is not only obvious with reference to the gut-munching zombies on display here (a fairly ugly, creepy, intelligent and fast-moving bunch, I must say), but also to the film’s doubly ironic ending. Galbo is as pretty and appealing as I remembered from Solange, and American star on the downslide Arthur Kennedy manages to score as a bigoted police officer who’s convinced that Galbo and Lovelock are responsible for all the gruesome carnage. The film also features gorgeous photography, some well-done gross-out scenes, a tightly plotted story and better-than-average acting. Some of the action sequences unfortunately take place during the dark of night and in gloomy underground crypts, severely limiting the viewer’s visibility, but the film on the whole is a gas, especially during its frenetic final half hour. And yes, I think I will be needing another dose of Christine Galbo very shortly…

ZOMBIE ZOMBIE (1979)

When George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968, it stunned and revolted audiences with its then envelope-pushing images of graphic zombie carnage. Flash forward 11 years, however, and we find giallo master Lucio Fulci pushing the envelope even further in the first of his so-called “gore films,” Zombie. Here, pretty Tisa Farrow goes to the Caribbean island of Matool, accompanied by a newspaperman and a charter-boat couple, to look for her lost father, only to find that the entire population is under a seeming voodoo curse and turning into the gut-munching living dead. Fulci and his FX/makeup man, Gianneto de Rossi, certainly do deliver the goods here to all fans of the zombie subgenre, giving us some of the ugliest such creatures in cinema history, along with oodles of entrails and gallons of the red stuff. The picture boasts at least four very impressive sequences: the rising of the conquistadore dead (a surprisingly well-preserved, 400-year-old bunch!); beautiful Olga Karlatos getting something, uh, stuck in her eye; an underwater dukeout between one of the hungry dead and a monstrous shark (however did they produce this scene?!?); and the final flaming showdown with a massed legion of the carnivorous corpses. As compared to a Romero zombie picture, Zombie has nothing in the way of social commentary, its sole purpose being to offer up as shocking and quease-inducing a time as is artfully possible; call it “Quease ‘n’ Art.” The presence of British actor Richard Johnson – playing a scientist on Matool who is trying to understand the zombie scourge – does add a degree of class to the proceedings. His presence, however, also brings to mind his appearance in what to me is still the most frightening horror film ever made, 1963’s The Haunting, and the reminder that the use of violence, blood and guts is not a surefire way to ensure scares. And indeed, Zombie may elicit more MST3K-type comments from an audience than shrieks. Still, a fun experience, nicely shown on the great-looking DVD that I just watched from the always dependable folks at Blue Underground.

BiozombieBIOZOMBIE (1998)

In the 1998 Hong Kong zombie/comedy Biozombie, we meet a pair of very amusing ne’er-do-wells, Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and his younger sidekick, Crazy Bee (Sam Lee). When not engaged at their regular occupation as clerks at a bootlegged VCD store in the New Trend Plaza Mall, the two boastful cowards can usually be found either smoking pot or gambling and whoring in nearby Macao. As in another Asian horror film that I recently saw, 1960’s Jigoku, their lives are suddenly altered when their car accidentally strikes a crazed pedestrian. But rather than pulling a hit and run, as in Jigoku, Woody and Bee here make the mistake of helping the dying pedestrian, not knowing that the soft drink that they pour down his throat actually consists of an Iraqi biochemical weapon that can transform anyone into the lurching, flesh-hungry undead! Soon enough, the zombie scourge has increased exponentially, and our hapless heroes, along with some hotties from the mall’s beauty parlor AND an obnoxious cell phone dealer and his gorgeous wife, are playing hide-and-seek with the gut munchers in the locked and deserted shopping emporium… Anyway, Biozombie succeeds wildly at both its missions. It is both very funny and a fairly gripping zombie experience. The film is extremely fast paced – the zombies here are a pretty hyperkinetic bunch – and director Wilson Yip does a terrific job at wringing shocks and yucks on his obviously limited budget. Though his zombie makeup and FX are nowhere near the level that fans of Tom Savini may be accustomed to, they are certainly good and effective enough. It’s loads of fun watching our two stoner heroes morph from empty braggadocio to full-fledged, superefficient zombie slayers, and most of the film’s laffs come as a result of the hilarious expressions on these dudes’ faces; they seem to be mugging ALL the time. The relationship between the two is a touching one, especially toward the film’s end, as Bee’s idolization of his older mentor becomes more apparent. The film gives the gorehounds out there any number of pleasing set pieces, too, including a frenzied fight in a security office, a zombie free-for-all in a sushi bar, a nerve-racking attempt to procure some handcuff keys out of an imminent zombie’s mouth, the use of a power drill (!) on a zombie’s head, and that final melee in an underground garage. The picture is nothing demanding or terribly earth shaking, but it sure is fun, right to its surprisingly downbeat ending. The fine-looking DVD from Media Blasters that I recently watched, by the way, offers the option of excellently translated English subtitles or what has been called “Engrish” subtitles, which are hilariously mistranslated in the worst pidgin English style. That latter option is certainly not recommended for use during an initial viewing, largely incomprehensible as these subtitles are, but is highly entertaining later on. Whatever way the film is viewed, though, this cult item should readily be acknowledged as a significant addition to the zombie/comedy subgenre.

ZombielandZOMBIELAND (2009)

For women who want to learn how to (supposedly) catch a man, there is Fein & Schneider’s infamous 1995 book The Rules. However, those who want to know about a different set of rules – specifically, those pertaining to surviving a zombie apocalypse – are advised to check out Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 horror comedy Zombieland. In the opening, perhaps funniest section of this consistently LOL-funny movie, a diffident, IBS-afflicted college kid, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, who later starred as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network; ironic, as one of his funniest lines as Columbus is a Facebook put-down), gives us a half dozen illustrated rules for escaping “the plague of the 21st century”: the remarkably swift-moving flesh eaters. (As in the later 28 Days Later, the zombies here are not lumbering, reanimated corpses, but rather crazed, homicidal victims of a viral pandemic, in this case brought about by contaminated burgers.) Columbus soon encounters three other noninfected humans while traveling from Austin to his namesake hometown in Ohio: Tallahassee, who excels at the art of battling zombies and is very amusingly portrayed by Woody Harrelson, and two young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). (How the two sisters – if they really are sisters – come to hail from different burgs is never explained.) Ultimately, the four decide to cruise over to L.A.’s supposedly zombie-free Pacific Playland (an amusement park in wintry Valdosta, Georgia was actually used). In his first go as director, Fleischer keeps his film zipping along smoothly and efficiently. His picture is perhaps more successful as a comedy than as a horror film, however; the requisite zombie carnage is hardly anything new or original, and no zombie kills on the order of the imaginative flame-up by flare gun, as seen in George A. Romero’s 2010 outing Survival of the Dead, are to be had here. The film veers sharply into the land of the absurd when the quartet crashes the L.A. mansion abode of Bill Murray, and starts goofing around with the big man himself. (The line about Eddie van Halen is a riot.) Actually, the entire film is something of a hoot, with a cracklingly funny script and some very able performances by the four leads. And yet, the gorehounds out there shouldn’t be disappointed; the action scene between Columbus and his crazed neighbor in 406, and the final zombie slaughter in the amusement park, are pretty darn gripping. In all, the film is tremendous fun. And oh … all you Caddyshack fans out there (I have never been one) will certainly want to stick around for that final coda after the end credits…

Anyway, my Fanlit peeps, grab something good to eat (not necessarily brains), settle back in your (not necessarily barricaded) domicile, and prepare to be entertained by some of the very finest in the world of zombie fare, as this Shocktober season continues. And don’t forget to double tap…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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4 comments

  1. Yaay! Sandy’s October movie reviews are back! All hail Shocktober!

    • Sandy Ferber /

      AND we’re shaking things up this year, with shorter, multiple reviews every weekday in assorted categories….

  2. Lauren Jayne Diamond /

    I look forward to reading Sandy’s reviews, they are wonderful. October is especially interesting. Thank you Sandy.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Aww, thanks very much for the sweet words, Lauren. And trust me, I enjoy putting these things together as much as you seem to enjoy reading them. Stay tuned…lots of creepy goodies to come….

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