Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day of the Dead, 2008. A Review

I haven't been writing in here at all lately. Part of the problem is that it seems like something you have to sit down and do, and nothing seems like it'd be interesting enough for me to bother commenting on. That isn't to say that my commentary is in any way unique or insightful, but by the time I hear of something and convince myself to write about it, it's been written about by everyone, everywhere.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been anything to write about. I could have written a review of the new Indiana Jones movie (better than Temple of Doom, not as good as Raiders or Last Crusade) or yammered on about the fact that if you get into a car-on-bike accident with a laptop (which wasn't my fault, other than biking in Chicago at night, as opposed to me doing something like riding my bike down the wrong side of the road) and then trying to get home in the rain a few months later will eventually kill it, followed by a review of my new sort-of-cheap laptop which is better than what I had. I could have commented on the whole “Lesbians At SafeCo” thing, but that would have been a rather predictable “People shouldn't be so frightened to talk to their children to explain what's going on, but the Mariners are a private organization and can tell anyone to leave for any reason, but they probably wouldn't have done it if it were a straight couple, but I'm bored of this and desire nachos.” I could have continued blogging about the whole “let's try not to be such a fatass now, shall we?” but given my penchant for nachos, that seems sort of hypocritical.

Thankfully, there are things that exist explicitly to get me to break out of these blogging slumps. And those things are really bad horror movies.

I don't think I've seen enough bad horror movies actually. The worst, I think, has got to be House of the Dead, which might be in my top three for worst movie I've ever seen, but that's Uwe Boll and hardly controversial. The worst premise has got to go to The Mangler, adapted from a Stephen King short story in which a laundry folding machine is possessed by a demon and starts killing everything. My standby, even for bad horror, is the zombie genre. There are a lot of terrible zombie movies (the copies of Undead and the more ancient and MST3K friendly Revolt of the Zombies remind me whenever I go by my DVD rack.) But there have also been a lot of fantastic ones. In what can be an abused genre, there is the basis of a terrific story. George Romero's Living Dead movies (at least the original three, and arguably Land are rich studies in social commentary. Ben's level-headedness and fate in Night and the Hari Krishna/Nun zombies as well as the dissatisfaction inside Monroeville Mall in Dawn are what make those movies terrific to this day. Day as well has some interesting insights into the authoritarian mindset and asks, essentially, “Who is a person?” with the Bub subplot.

So when I heard there was going to be a remake of Day of the Dead, I got excited. After all, the remake of Dawn in 2004 was a pretty good horror movie. They discarded more of the social commentary of the original than I would have liked, but overall, it's a fun zombie movie, done really well and very much in the style of 2002's 28 Days Later. Surely, I thought, this Day remake will be along the same lines, and I'll enjoy it and not spend the entire movie wishing for the sweet embrace of death.

Not so much, it turns out.

Netflix, which is my primary source for entertainment given that I don't subscribe to cable, had Day of the Dead on their “Instant Viewing” service, meaning that I could watch it streaming online without having to wait for it in the mail, wasting an actual mailing. I have never been more glad about that. I watched it last night while I was stuffing pipette tip boxes (a tedious task that's relatively mindless, and therefore something during which it's ok to watch a movie) and ... my God.

It's bad enough that it's the first movie that's compelled me to write a Netflix review. Let's start there.

Actually, let's start with this. There are going to be spoilers following this disclaimer. If you haven't seen Day of the Dead (and why should you?) and want to keep things a surprise, by all means, stop reading now. And then don't ever watch Day of the Dead.

It turns out that Day 2008 was initially supposed to be a theatrical release, but after poor reviews during screening, became a straight-to-video project. It discards everything about the original except very superficial concepts, like “the military is involved” and “Bub”, whose role is diminished and is confusing. It starts off as many zombie movies do. The military is quarantining an area in Colorado (which we eventually learn is because there's a virus that kills you, causes you to grow bad makeup and leap across the room, searching for a victim that's been released). There's initially no explanation as to why. People start getting sick. The family members of the protagonists start getting nosebleeds, and we all know what that means.

They'll turn into zombies within five minutes or so (though the timing seems to be kind of arbitrary, with some having enough time to be admitted and given a hospital bed and others, prominently “Bud” being left in a humvee for all of a minute). All hell breaks loose because, apparently, dying and reanimating now gives you goddamn super powers. It looks a bit cartoonish as zombies leap after their victims, but it's basically all lost when they start climbing bare walls and running along the ceiling like they're Spider-Man. I guess this is the next step after “fast zombies”.

Characters we don't care about (Mena Suvari and her brother, who have some sort of dispute in the past that's never actually explored, Ving Rhames, who was in the Dawn remake but is playing a completely different and unrelated character here, Nick Cannon, whose primary function is to run around playing bad-ass and making the lamest puns imaginable, and a motley crew of other survivors that are completely uninteresting) have to try to make it out of the town to, well, someplace that doesn't have zombies. What follows is about an hour of jumping out of windows, Nick Cannon getting a machete, Ving Rhames turning, getting up to eat his own eyeball for some reason (which raises the question of why zombies wouldn't eat other zombies, since apparently they're just really hungry) and Mena Suvari's boyfriend-that-she-met-literally-a-few-hours-before being bitten and reanimating and, for some reason that's not actually explained, being allowed to hang out in the back of the Humvee. There's a handwaving explanation as to why he's docile (“They must retain some bit of what they were, and Bud was a vegetarian”) and they never adequately explain why he's the only one in the town who doesn't immediately tear the flesh off the nearest person. They make it to a barn, then go down the road to the enormous military/medical bunker that's apparently in the side of the mountain in the middle of the woods to find a doctor who deserted them earlier and is working for the government, who released this on everyone. He explains that “certain people are immune to the virus, but if you're bitten that immunity goes away” (which I'm almost certain is now how viruses and immunities work) and shows a video which introduces Patient Zero, the doctor who was working on the virus. The protagonists try to kill him, but he dodges bullets. Because, you see, they retain something of what they were, and all biochemists are Neo from The Matrix.

Trust me. I work with a few and they're always going on about the struggle against the machines and the Architect and it's like whatever, man. Play around with your plasmids and let me eat my bagel in peace.

Anyway, yes. Neo Zombie and a horde of others chase our heroes (minus Nick Cannon, who thankfully finally gets killed by something) to a broom closet full of gas tanks, and what follows is an affront to both physics and special effects. One of the characters knocks the valves off of the canisters to release all the gas (which I'm almost certain would send them rocketing through the wall, not just sitting there slowly releasing their gas, given the pressure those tanks are under), while another lights a spark and the Magical Oxygen follows the zombies around, melting them the way nothing melts while leaving our heroes unscathed to go back outside, where everything's magically ok now. Somehow.

Which brings me to my final complaint. Ok. It's a terrible movie. Whatever. It's even got nothing to do with what it was claiming to be a remake of. Fine. But, and this is the same complaint I had with House of the Dead where there is no House, all of the events take place over about ten hours at night in Colorado.

So, Day of the Dead is not even set during a Day of the Dead.

There are a few “what the hell, why not” moments, mostly comprised of zombies flying over things or, the only decent scene in the film as far as I'm concerned, emerging from a bunker with automatic weapons firing wildly into the air (because you're damn right that's what I'd do if I were a zombie), and at least one memorable line (“What a dick!”, which is actually the most convincing part of the whole endeavor), but overall, it was miles and miles of awful.

So yes. Maybe I'll start writing here again.

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